Notwithstanding the talk show debates ad nauseum about the reasons for the U. S. intervention for regime change in Iraq, WMDs, etc., it cannot be denied that a high priority, maybe the highest priority, for George Bush is the expansion of freedom in the world and the introduction of democracy in the Arab Middle East. As the war continues, it has occurred to me that we should take a moment to examine our own version of these concepts, what has become of them since our founding, and what exactly we hope to export. An insightful publication for me has been “Propositions”, published by the Institute for American Values. Recently, I revisited their Fall 2001 edition, which speaks to this question. In it is this passage: “We are the only country in the history of the world defining itself and organizing its affairs principally on the basis of an abstract and universally invitational philosophy. No other fact about this country is more amazing.” Similarly, I am reminded that Lady Margaret Thatcher once said of America that it is the only country with a culture defined by an idea. This idea, of course, is freedom. But, if we are honest, we must admit that our concept of freedom has morphed itself into a certain libertinism, a value-neutral, consumer-driven autonomy without rules. And we should also admit that this perception, as much as anything else about us, helps feed the hatred that many in the Islamic world feel toward America. As Graham Fuller explains so well in his The Democracy Trap, the first brand of freedom introduced by America was the “freedom to do” as ultimately embodied in our Bill of Rights. The next phase was “freedom from”, as we sought to spare the public from want, hunger, disease, etc. Today the issue we confront as we advance the exportation of our values is “freedom for”, and it is likely to be the most difficult phase of all, for freedom is an instrumental good, not an end. Answering the question, freedom for what?, will force us to examine our very existence and who we are, and hopefully renew our own ideas and ideals in the process. It is this that I believe will be the most enduring legacy of 9-11.
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