Thursday, May 14, 2009

Douthat on Freedom language

Ross Douthat had an interesting thing to say on the use of the word freedom in contemporary debates over social/cultural issues:

He says whichever side is able to phrase their argument in terms of expanding freedom will win the debate. This means proponents of gay marriage are likely to win in the long run since their view fits in well with such a framework.

Douthat is right about this. Traditionalists have two possibilities then. They can either redefine their ways of thinking in terms of ideal of freedom or they can call into question the ideal itself. Obviously, most modern conservatives take the first route and would think it is reactionary or backward to suggest the second. They believe that if we do not speak in terms of freedom, rights, and individualism, then we will not be "dealt into the game" so to speak.

But there are people who take the second route. For example, Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and Alisdair MacIntyre have called into question the modern project and its Enlightenment presuppositions.

My own thought on this is that we have to change the terms of the debate because the first route has problems of its own. The main one is the Traditionalist understanding of freedom is not the one shared by the wider public. Unfortunately, what the public understands as freedom is Justice Kennedy's version: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

The Traditionalist and Secular Humanist are using the same words, but mean very different things by it. Having been dealt into the game, the Traditionalist soon realizes he is playing Solitaire.

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