Saturday, February 04, 2006

Virtue, Freedom, and Cartoons

Re(1): 'Land of the Free', National Review, Dinesh D'Souza

Virtue without Freedom is a mere echo of itself…

The recent Islamic and Western uproar regarding the Mohammad cartoons remineds me of a Dinesh D’Souza debate on competing values of Virtue and Freedom in the West and Islam.

To Summarize:

A second problem, Qutb wrote, is that the core principle of America is liberty — the right to determine one's own destiny — and this, he argued, is a highly defective principle. The reason is that liberty can be used well or liberty can be used badly. Given what Immanuel Kant called "the warped timber of humanity," the human propensity for selfishness and vice, Qutb argued that freedom will
often be used badly.

This, in brief, is Qutb's defense of Islamic theocracy. Islamic societies may be poor, Qutb admitted, but at least they are seeking to implement the will of God. Even if they are failing at this, Qutb said, at least they are trying. And that — he concluded — makes Islamic society superior to Western society.

But if freedom brings out the worst in people, it also brings out the best. The millions of Americans who live decent, praiseworthy lives deserve our highest admiration because they have opted for the good when the good is not the only available option. Even amid the temptations that a rich and free society offers, they have remained on the straight path. Their virtue has special luster because it is freely chosen. The free society does not guarantee virtue any more than it guarantees happiness. But it allows for the pursuit of both — a pursuit rendered all the more meaningful and profound because success is not guaranteed but has to be won through personal striving.

By contrast, the theocratic and authoritarian society that Islamic fundamentalists advocate undermines the possibility of virtue. If the supply of virtue of insufficient in free societies, it is almost nonexistent in Islamic societies, because coerced virtues are not virtues at all. Consider the woman in Afghanistan or Iran who is required to wear the veil. There is no real modesty in this, because the woman is being compelled. Compulsion cannot produce virtue; it can only produce the outward semblance of virtue.

Why does the Mohammad cartoon confrontation remind me of D’Souza’s discussion on the two basic building blocks of our two very different civilizations?

That is easy to answer:

  1. The West may deride the stupidity of choice that led to the confrontation – but will never challenge the freedom to choose the action. A denial of the freedom to proceed as these editors did implies that brilliant and valued decisions of these selfsame editors are forever thus coerced.
  2. On the other hand, Islam cannot amend itself to accept ridicule of its cultural heritage – and will strike those who challenge it even if they ultimately fail, because at least they are trying to attain and/or retain virtue. The graven and churlish and ridiculous images of ‘The Prophet’ – by the infidel, no less - cannot be countenanced.
  3. Islam seeks coercive action from the state to resolve the issue – because the state, no matter how impure, must submit in some way to Allah.
  4. The West seeks resolution through free expression of opposing views, shame, and other ideas – because opposing ideas are freely expressed; let the best win.

Now the question:

Are the barbaric acts of violence a result of virtue or coercion or both? Since the question must be asked, the answer is provided.


I am hardening...

My steel is tempering…

1 comment:

Marcus Aurelius said...

I saw D'Souza speak a couple of years ago.

He spoke on the same topic as the article of his you quote.

As a former resident of the UAE I know all about this. There is quite a bit of coercion by law in the Middle East.

The problem with coercive virtue (again a faux-virtue) is scarcity of enforcing resources.