Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, January 21, 2005


Here's one of the most potent and troubling images in Bush's speech:

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.

William Safire suggests a substitution:

A metaphorical nitpick: he said our liberation of millions lit "a fire in the minds of men ... and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world." I would have replaced "this untamed fire," which could be dangerous, with "the light from this fire," which would have illuminated the "darkest corner." (Once a speechwriter ...)

I prefer the metaphor as it stands, because it hints at the dark side of revolution. Freedom is like a fire: it can energize, it can warm, but it can also destroy. Against Bush's metaphor of freedom-as-fire, consider another metaphor: culture, which can describe both human civilization and plants, and which describes human civilization as a metaphor to the growth of plants, gradual, intricately structured, fragile. They are beautiful in a more enduring and wholesome way than fire is.

As fire burns plants, so the revolutionary embrace of freedom can destroy authority, tradition and culture. Sometimes fire is needed, to clear away overgrown growth, or to melt ice.

A post on an old blog of mine, "In Defense of Tradition," may be re-read as an answer to Bush's radical ideology.

Arguments in defense of tradition and culture against "untamed" freedom have been misapplied as arguments against the Iraq War. Saddam did not represent a culture or a tradition, but the rape thereof. His rule was based not on tradition but simply on systematic murder and pure fear. Iraq was a rare case of a country where even the worst-case scenarios of anarchy and misrule which were likely to follow a war of liberation were better than the status quo.


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