Friday, July 20, 2007

The Opinionator: A blog at the New York Times by Tobin Harshaw & Chris Suellenthorp

If freedom isn’t free, how can it be a gift from God?: David Brooks’s Tuesday column reported that President Bush admitted last week to having a self-described “theological perspective” on foreign policy (”It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist”).

Conservatives seem to be growing tired of Bush’s rhetoric about his Higher Father’s international agenda. National Review editor Rich Lowry, who attended the same sit-down with the president that Brooks did, says that “Bush’s theology of freedom” is “something that has long bothered me.” Lowry writes at The Corner:

You can believe freedom is a gift from the Almighty and still recognize that some cultural soil is more or less compatible with supporting political systems that protect liberty. But Bush believes the spread of liberty is “inevitable.” If that is the case, why not spare ourselves all the effort and let the inevitable flowering of liberty take hold? Now, he does say that there will be different expressions of liberty and a different pace—”but we’ve all got the same odds of achieving the same result.” That strikes me as flat-out wrong, an otherwordly leveling of all the culture and history that separates various societies. In my view, people don’t desire freedom first and foremost, but order, and after that probably comes pride (liberty can be an important expression of pride—because people, as a matter of pride, want to govern themselves, and free systems are the most apt to produce the sort of outcomes in which people can take justifiable pride).

The Atlantic’s Ross Douthat says he is “fed up with the President’s messiah complex” and his “world-historical delusions.”

“The gift of freedom that Christ promises is far more real than anything else in this world, if Christian teaching on the matter is correct. On the other hand, there’s nothing that’s political about that promise,” Douthat writes at his blog. He adds that “Christians and conservatives alike ought to be appalled” by the President Bush’s “attempt to transform God’s promise of freedom through Jesus Christ into a this-world promise of universal democracy.”

Douthat elaborates in a follow-up post:

[N]either Christianity nor Anglo-American conservatism is necessarily [incompatible] with the following propositions: That human beings have political rights that are a gift from Almighty God, that democracy is to be preferred to tyranny, and that the U.S. has a moral obligation to support human rights-recognizing, democratic governments abroad.

But what Bush seems to believe is something more sweeping - that the fact “a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom” means that the universalization of “forms of government that are based upon liberty” are historically “inevitable.” This may be true, but it is not Christianity, and it is not conservatism.