Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rosett: Liberty as a Future Republican Platform?

So says commentator Claudia Rosett in this piece in, in regard to the creed and concept of liberty:

In the American system built around that creed, the monstrous original failing and contradiction was the institution of slavery. America paid for that with a civil war, followed by another century in which, finally--about the time of Obama's childhood--segregation and discrimination began to give way to the equality and opportunities that Obama has now surfed to the presidency. Liberty prevailed.

The irony is that Obama arrives at the threshold of the White House steeped in ideas that subordinate individual freedom to the collective.

In his campaign and his victory speech, Obama declares that America's "timeless creed" is now, "yes, we can." This is not a defense of liberty. It is a declaration so malleable and generic that it could have applied to anything from Lenin's Bolshevik Revolution to the Little Engine that Could.

Obama has called repeatedly upon America's people to sacrifice. What's not yet clear is whether this will entail sacrifice in the common defense of liberty, or whether it is liberty itself that will step by step be sacrificed in the name of the common good. If the latter, the implications are indeed world-changing. For the past century, America has stood as the world's great bulwark of freedom. That can no longer be taken as a given. Americans will be hard pressed to support freedom elsewhere if they do not protect it at home.

If Rossett is right, the U.S. may be seen to be in, or entering an historical phase analogous to the time of Julius Caesar and his nephew, heir, and creator of the Roman Empire, Augustus Caesar, in the sense that the fear and apprehension in the people, with leaders willing to exploit it, can lead to the willing abandonment of principles previously considered timeless and unchanging. The extinction of the old Roman Republic was not so much an overthrow of the old order, but rather the deliberate, albeit improvisational, replacement of an existing system from within: the creation of a a new, less-free political amalgamation centered around a cult of personality, all the while using the rubric and structures of the old system to neutralize and dismantle itself. By the time Augustus was done, little of the old system but the formalities, titles, and rubric remained. What had once been a vigorous republican government was left with little more than empty forms and pious ceremonies. Yet, if one were to ask the average Roman of the time, he would have insisted, of course, that Rome was a republic, despite the vast and obvious increases in the powers of the government at the expense individual freedom, and the pointedly public quashing of dissent, if only because Augustus told them so (well, he also provided them with free food and cash donations from the treasury).

It's going to be difficult to gin up much excitement about the concept of liberty if it's defined by the governing class to be in opposition, as well as a risk to the people's meal ticket.

No comments: