Montreal, March 15, 2008 No 254

 

Bradley Doucet is QL's English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.

 

 

ILLIBERAL BELIEFS

EXPANDING LIBERTY BY CHALLENGING ILLIBERAL BELIEFS

 

by Bradley Doucet

 

          Liberty is won and preserved not primarily with guns, but with ideas. Spreading freedom requires that we spread an understanding of the benefits freedom brings, that we explain to whoever will listen how freedom is really in everyone's best interest. In making the case for a truly free society, however, we will inevitably come up against a wide array of illiberal beliefs that keep others from embracing our vision of a better world. The more we seek to understand those beliefs, the better we will be able to counter them and address the concerns that underlie them. In this ongoing series, I address some of the issues we can expect to face, along with brief outlines of the kinds of responses I think can be helpful.

 

BELIEF # 12: You're either with us or against us

March 15, 2008


          Falsehoods and politicians, sadly, often go hand in hand. Whereas Bush senior gave us "Read my lips: no new taxes," and Bill Clinton gave us "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," we have current US President George W. Bush to thank for, "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror." The nature of these falsehoods varies from one to the next. Bush the father's statement is a promise about the future that was not kept. Clinton's statement is a declaration about the past that depended for its truthiness on a very unorthodox definition. Dubya's statement is false because it illegitimately excludes the middle.

          The law of excluded middle is a foundation of logic. If Bush had said, "You're either with us or you're not with us," his statement would have been logical. This, of course, is a far weaker statement than the one he made, because contained in the "not with us" camp are both antagonists and neutrals. In a hockey match, for instance, the statement "Everyone is either on my team or not on my team" makes perfect sense. It excludes no one, for everyone really must fall into one of those two categories. On the other hand, the statement "Everyone is either on my team or on the other team" is absurd. It leaves out the fans, the referees, the taxi driver who drove you to the game, your great aunt Doris who could not care less about hockey, the starving multitudes of Africa, and George W. Bush himself.

          The purpose of Bush's illogical declaration was clear: he wanted to intimidate his political opponents, and the American people as a whole, and bully as many other nations as possible into committing their armies to his war. Lest we misunderstand him to mean "with us in spirit," he also said, "Over time it's going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity." Inaction will not be tolerated. You must choose sides. If you think your interests legitimately lie elsewhere, or that other problems are more pressing, or that there are better ways of meeting the threat of terrorism, you must sacrifice your interests (and your judgment) to Bush's crusade.

          Other politicians have, of course, promoted sacrifice as a noble duty. Perhaps most famously, JFK chided his countrymen for being self-interested and told them they should start doing more for their country. GWB was merely continuing a long tradition when he told everyone to start doing more for the world. Or else. From each according to his ability, to the State according to its voracious warfare/welfare needs.

          Bush was also not the first political figure to try this particular trick with regard to the War on Terrorism. On September 13, 2001, in an interview with Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, Senator Hillary Clinton said "Every nation has to either be with us, or against us." In her defense, maybe she did mean "in spirit." Or maybe she didn't. And historically, this trick dates back at least to Biblical times, when none other than The Son of God himself is said to have said, "He who is not with me is against me." Politicians never change. Five years into the Iraq War, maybe it's time we did.

 

PREVIOUS ILLIBERAL BELIEFS

Current Illiberal Belief >>>

 

11. The environment is steadily deteriorating
10. Resources are limited
09. It's a small world
08. Morality must be enforced

07. The truth is obvious
06. Good intentions are enough
05. Charity must be enforced
04. We are our brothers' keepers

03. Theft can be justified
02. Order comes from above
01. Government is good