Bush’s Speech on Freedom

by | Mar 14, 2005

This past Tuesday, President Bush gave an important, and generally excellent, speech on our foreign policy re the middle east. He reiterated, and further explained, his Forward Strategy of Freedom. The highlight of the speech was this remarkable passage, strategically placed near the end: “Americans, of all people, should not be surprised by freedom’s power. […]

This past Tuesday, President Bush gave an important, and generally excellent, speech on our foreign policy re the middle east. He reiterated, and further explained, his Forward Strategy of Freedom.

The highlight of the speech was this remarkable passage, strategically placed near the end:

“Americans, of all people, should not be surprised by freedom’s power. A nation founded on the universal claim of individual rights should not be surprised when other people claim those rights.”

I have not heard the phrase “individual rights” used in a presidential speech since perhaps Barry Goldwater’s nomination acceptance speech. Actually, I just checked that speech on the web, and though Goldwater does use word “rights” once, he does not use the phrase “individual rights.”

The only time I hear the phrase “individual rights,” other than from Objectivists, is from liberals, usually worried about the loss of the right to free speech or civil liberties. I Googled “Bush individual rights” and the first hit was for Capitalism Magazine. Then there was an opinion piece by Joseph Farah on WorldNetDaily, from September 3, 2001, arguing that Bush was an enemy of individual rights because he was embracing communitarianism.

I never hear “individual rights” from conservatives, and rarely from libertarians (note that their two-time presidential candidate, Harry Browne, wrote a book with an entire chapter attacking the idea of rights).

Terminology is important. The term “individual rights,” as it gets more use and acceptance, orients people to the individualist frame of reference, rescuing social-political thought from collectivist practice of thinking in terms of community, race, or family.

But more than that, Bush has now stated that America was founded upon individual rights. In an age in which intellectuals vilify America as the most violent, racist, imperialist nation in history, it takes courage to proudly assert that America was founded upon the principle of rights. Making that point means something; it takes a stand. Can you imagine John Kerry uttering such a statement?

There was much more of value in the speech. Here are some excerpts (in the order in which they were given):

Our strategy to keep the peace in the longer term is to help change the conditions that give rise to extremism and terror, especially in the broader Middle East.

Parts of that region have been caught for generations in the cycle of tyranny and despair and radicalism.

When a dictatorship controls the political life of a country, responsible opposition cannot develop and dissent is driven underground and toward the extreme.

And to draw attention away from their social and economic failures, dictators place blame on other countries and other races and stir the hatred that leads to violence.

This status quo of despotism and anger cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or bought off. …

By now it should be clear that decades of excusing and accommodating tyranny in the pursuit of stability have only led to injustice and instability and tragedy.

It should be clear that the advance of democracy leads to peace because governments that respect the rights of their people also respect the rights of their neighbors.

Note that here he goes to the core issue: not merely that, as even Kant saw, republican governments are controlled by the people and the people generally don’t want war because they are the ones who have to fight it, but that dictatorships don’t respect the rights of foreigners because they don’t respect rights anywhere, not even for their own subjects.

Across the Middle East, a critical mass of events is taking that region in a hopeful new direction. Historic changes have many causes, yet these changes have one factor in common. A businessmen in Beirut recently said, “We have removed the mask of fear. We’re not afraid anymore.”

Pervasive fear is the foundation of every dictatorial regime, the prop that holds up all power not based on consent. And when the regime of fear is broken and the people find their courage and find their voice, democracy is their goal and tyrants themselves have reason to fear. …

The fact that dictatorships rule by fear is true and important. However, it is also true that they are able to succeed because of ideas. But the last sentence of the above is shockingly strong: he is actually saying that “the tyrants themselves”–i.e., the Iranian Mullahs, Syria’s Assad, Saudia Arabia’s despots, North Korea’s Kim, Egypt’s Mubarak–have reason to fear for their personal safety. He probably means fear of what their own citizens might do them, but it almost sounds like a threat. I can only hope it is.

The time has come for Syria to fully implement Security Council Resolution 1559. All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for those elections to be free and fair. …

Syria as well as Iran has a long history of supporting terrorist groups determined to sow division and chaos in the Middle East. And there’s every possibility they will try this strategy again.

The time has come for Syria and Iran to stop using murder as a tool of policy and to end all support for terrorism. …

The Iranian regime should listen to the concerns of the world and listen to the voice of the Iranian people who long for their liberty and want their country to be a respected member of the international community.

We look forward to the day when Iran joins in the hopeful changes taking place across the region. We look forward to the day when the Iranian people are free.

As you can see, this speech is not the one that an Objectivist would give. It contains some wrong concepts (e.g., the smear-term “extremism”) but surprisingly few. It invokes the names of Wilson, FDR, and Reagan. But there’s almost no religion in it. It is a secular statement, and one phrased in terms of the security needs of the U.S. (but also of every other nation).

Yes, it can be reversed by Bush’s next speechwriter. But it is a stronger and better statement than his original enunciation of the Forward Strategy of Freedom.

And for proclaiming that America was founded upon individual rights, he has my gratitude.

Related article: President Bush’s Inaugural Address: A Betrayal of the Concept of Freedom

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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