A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Thursday, January 27, 2005
"THIS UNTAMED FIRE OF FREEDOM": WHERE IS THIS GOING? So, there is a distinction between freedom and liberty. Liberty is a constrained freedom that we appreciate in functional democracies: it limits the extent and scope of my actions but also those of others so we can get along and enjoy the fruits of our labours. Freedom refers to freedom without constraints in the state of nature where "anything goes."

It is clear (to me at least) that the President and his administration sees the world not so much as a community of nations subject to one law (akin to the state of civil society), but rather as a state of nature in which individual nations use force to ensure that threats to order and stability ,as they understand them, are properly dealt with. A version of this would be the "UN is useless and we need to go it alone with other like minded nations to get this thing done" argument. It is also consistent with the desire not to sign the Kyoto accord, mine use prohibitions, etc.

Putting these two claims together leaves me feeling troubled by President Bush's speech.

"Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well - a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."

The image I have is of complete anarchy, and of a state of "a war of all against all." I know that the President does not intend to present that image, but rather the image of the US coming to the rescue of beleagured freedom lovers everywhere. However, the use of the "freedom" rhetoric has gotten a run elsewhere, especially with Donald Rumsfield's notorious press statements following the looting that occurred in Baghdad after the city fell. "freedom is messy." For those of you who feel unconvinced, a careful look at the phrase "this untamed fire" is instructive. To be warmed by fire and not burned by it, one must control it (a.k.a liberty). A bushfire in Australia will warm you just before it incinerates you. It is, by definition, untamed (a.k.a. freedom). What we want is it to be tamed and under control.

That is why I am troubled. The image I have is of a well-dressed urbane gentleman putting petrol on a smouldering pile of tree litter. Somewhere, a siren is sounding ...
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Thoughts on What One Experiences These Days

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Blogs I Read


Mike Spenis

Megan McArdle

Juan Cole

Joshua Micah Marshall



Emperor Misha I

Andrew Sullivan

Bob Somersby

John Quiggin

John Rogers


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