Tag Archives: freedom

Serious Conversations, 8

There’s a serious aspect to what Stuart jokingly says here. Philip Pettit and Michael Smith put a finger on it in their discussion of what they call “the conversational stance” in “Freedom in Belief and Desire” [pdf].

When we engage in serious conversation about what to believe or do, Pettit and Smith observe, we assume, among other things, that our interlocutor can, and will, change her beliefs (about the way things are) and evaluations (about what to do) in light of evidence. We assume, further, that she will adjust her desires and assess her plan of action in light of these evaluations. (So, they will go on to argue, we hold her responsible as a free thinker and as someone possessed of free will.) Otherwise, there is no point in having the conversation, and there might even be reason to fear that we are involved with a zombie or psychopath:

Were you to think that your interlocutor lacked the dispositions to register and respond to the demands of the norms governing evaluations that you both countenance, and lacked them even in the provisoed measure allowed, you would either have to put his evaluative understanding or commitment in serious question or you would have to regard him as something close to a zombie or a psychopath. How could your interlocutor agree that doing such and such is irrational, so you will ask, but not see that the prescription applies to him? Or, if he does admit it applies to him, how could he fail to adjust his desires and actions accordingly? In particular, how could he fail to do these things, when the failure is not to be explained by reference to familiar obstacles [such as fetishes and obsessions, disabling moods and passions]? The only answer available would seem to be that he is not seriously or sincerely involved in the business of practical evaluation, or that if he is, then he is not reliably attuned to the practical values in question. In either case, you lose solid grounds for authorizing him as a conversational interlocutor. You must cease to see any point in conducting a conversation that is supposed to bear on how he should behave.

Philosophy and Coercion: Boethius on Torture

I’ve written a few posts about non-coercive power and how it can be created and shared through genuine co-deliberation — or what I’ve been calling serious conversations. In the course of my work on this topic, I’ve discovered that good examples of non-coercive power, the kind of real-world examples that illustrate the concept with anecdotal detail and stick with you after you read them, are not so easy to find.

More often than not, history shows us the other side of the coin — namely, coercive power. This is the case when it comes to the history of philosophy as well; and philosophers have written and thought about coercive power and its exercise by the state at least since the days of Socrates.

The release of the Senate CIA Torture Report today sent me back to one of my favorite philosophers: Boethius (480-525 AD), who discussed coercion and torture in a work called The Consolation of Philosophy.

Boethius wrote the Consolation while he himself was imprisoned — and, according to some sources, tortured — before being executed by Theodoric the Great. The Consolation takes the form of a dialogue between Boethius and Lady Philosophy, who appears to Boethius when he is at his most wretched.

Philosophy consoles Boethius

The  passage I remembered today is from Book 2 (Pr 6), where Philosophy argues that what we ordinarily prize as power is actually weakness, or just a temporary advantage that we are likely bound to lose. Another turn of Fortune’s wheel, and the torturer might suffer the very torments he inflicts: a vicious circle. Virtue lies in self-possession:

What, indeed, is this power which you think so very desirable? You should consider, poor earthly animals, what it is that you seem to have in your power. If you should see a mouse seizing power and lording it over the other mice, how you would laugh! But if you consider only his body, what is weaker than a man who can be killed by the bites of insects or by worms finding their way into him? For who can force any law upon man, except upon his body, or upon his fortune which is less than his body. You can never impose upon a free spirit nor can you deprive a rationally self-possessed mind of its equanimity. Once, when a certain tyrant tried to torture a free man into betraying the partners of his conspiracy against the tyrant, the man bit off his tongue and spat it in the raging tyrant’s face. In this way the torments which the tyrant inflicted as the means of his cruelty, this wise man made the means of virtuous action. Indeed, what can any man do to another which another may not do to him? We recall that Busirus, who was accustomed to kill his guests, was himself slain by his guest, Hercules. Regulus had bound many of his African captives in chains; but before long he was himself chained by his captors. How slight is the power of a man who cannot prevent someone else from doing to him what he does to others.

Everybody’s A Beginner

This passage from Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition has come up again and again as I think about asking, action and non-coercive power — or what I’m calling the power of asking — so I thought I’d share it. It’s a little dense, but it repays careful reading.

With word and deed we insert ourselves into the human world, and this insertion is like a second birth, in which we confirm and take upon ourselves the naked fact of our original physical appearance. This insertion is not forced upon us by necessity, like labor, and it is not prompted by utility, like work. It may be stimulated by the presence of others whose company we may wish to join, but it is never conditioned by them; its impulse springs from the beginning which came into the world when we were born and to which we respond by beginning something new on our own initiative. To act, in its most general sense, means to take an initiative, to begin (as the Greek word archein, “to begin,” “to lead,” and eventually “to rule,” indicates), to set something into motion (which is the original meaning of the Latin agere). Because they are initium, newcomers and beginners by virtue of birth, men take initiative, are prompted into action. [Initium] ergo ut esset, creatus est homo, ante quem nullus fuit (“that there be a beginning, man was created before whom there was nobody”), said Augustine in his political philosophy. This beginning is not the same as the beginning of the world; it is not the beginning of something but of somebody, who is a beginner himself. With the creation of man, the principle of beginning came into the world itself, which, of course, is only another way of saying that the principle of freedom was created when man was created but not before. (pp. 176-177)

Pay close attention to Arendt’s distinction of action from labor and work in the first few sentences. That’s crucial. For Arendt, action is “never conditioned” by “others.” Unlike labor or work, action isn’t something we undertake because it is “forced” upon us by necessity or “prompted” by utility. It is not prescribed, commanded or ordered, nor are its terms to be set down for us by others in the form of rules or requirements. Its “impulse,” for Arendt, springs from within, or rather from that within us which responds to the fact that we are, each of us, a beginning.

You might get the impression from this passage — which places emphasis on initiative and invokes “the principle of freedom” — that acting is something one does, something one can only do, entirely on one’s own. That would be a misreading. There is a difference between autonomy and isolation, and a difference between being free from constraint or necessity and acting freely with others. We are all self-starters but we are also capable of starting things together.

It takes coordinating, and that’s where asking comes in.

One of the things that interests me about asking is that it can prompt action while recognizing and respecting freedom and autonomy. It can be a way of coordinating our actions with those of others, or of entering into league or “company” (the word is Arendt’s) with others — acting together. The power of asking is that it doesn’t set down rules or requirements, or set up a chain of command. It is a different kind of prompt: more like a cue for improvisation than a script to follow.

Asking doesn’t mean we have to do away entirely with all those rules, protocols and titles that structure human society and human institutions, but we also don’t have to take them so seriously and assume they are the primary condition of our lives. They are, at best, secondary agreements.

Leaders — the first to ask, or the first to act — may be primus inter pares, but in this view a leader is always inter pares, among equals. When we ask and when we act we are all on equal footing, and all of us, by the very fact of our birth, by nature, have the capacity to act, to begin, to set things into motion. We are all beginners.

Are the Seventies Finally Over?

Adam Nagourney had a piece in yesterday’s Sunday Review about the changing political allegiances of the Sunbelt and how those changes might signify “an era’s end.”

The Republican Party has grown used to having “a lock” on the region stretching from Florida through the south, and to Western states like Arizona, Colorado Nevada and California; but with the nomination of Frostbelt candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, the region looks up for grabs.

“Pummeled by the collapse of the housing market,” the Sunbelt suburbs have “soaring” poverty rates; and that, according to Harvard’s Lisa McGurr, “will transform the ability of the Republican party to appeal to suburbanites with private, individualistic solutions.”

What’s more, the Sunbelt’s demographics are changing – to illustrate, Nagourney mentions Latino and Asian “enclaves” in Orange County, and Latinos moving in large numbers to Texas and Arizona – even as Republicans have been pushing an anti-immigrant agenda.

If this week’s Republican convention marks the end of an era, it’s the end of an era that began in the 1970s. Then, a demographic shift from the industrialized Frostbelt to the Sunbelt precipitated the political realignment now on the wane. The northeastern liberal elite lost its exclusive hold on power; the liberal state came under assault. And when the barbarians arrived at the government gate, we gleefully let them in. All across the country, Americans were fed up with taxes, had lost faith in government, and began to disengage from public life. By the end of the 1970s, writes Bruce Schulman:

Americans not only accepted that markets performed more efficiently, but embraced the previously outlandish idea that they operated more justly and protected freedom more efficiently than government. The entrepreneur became a national hero, and suspicion of business, a mistrust of unregulated corporations that had anchored American politics since the 1930s, all but vanished from American political discourse. (The Seventies, p. 249)

Those were the days when Milton Friedman assured us that business had no greater obligation to society than to “maximize shareholder value”. This doctrine went hand in hand with Friedman’s hostility to the liberal state, his contempt for the inefficiencies of government, and his contention that free enterprise, unfettered by regulation and unburdened by taxes, would deliver political freedom and prosperity. What’s most striking is that by the end of the Seventies the majority of Americans had enthusiastically came around to that point of view. We all but abandoned the commons:

The slow march of privatization had pervaded the entire Seventies. It complemented all of the decades’ changes in attitudes: impatience with taxes and centralized authority, experimentation with new forms of community [including self-taxing private entities like homeowners’ associations and Business Improvement Districts, which supplanted and suborned municipal governments], Sunbelt self-reliance, and the fiscal crises that deepened municipalities’ reliance on private funds. (249)

The push toward privatization and “Sunbelt self-reliance” in the Seventies was also a retreat from the idea that we rely on each other – a retreat from the idea of “society” itself.

Hurricanes like Katrina or the one bearing down on the GOP convention this week don’t just threaten Sunbelt serenity; they are crises that heighten and exaggerate the shortcomings of the Sunbelt ethic. The same could be said for the financial tsunami that overtook us in 2008, and forced many people in the Sunbelt from their homes. (Foreclosure rates are high throughout the region.)

Despite the impending hurricane and the financial storm most Americans are still weathering, it’s unlikely anyone on stage in Tampa this week will speak about the limits of Reaganesque self-reliance or the things markets cannot do. But we have obligations to each other markets sometimes threaten, and sometimes simply cannot help us meet.

I’d at least like to think that with the Sunbelt’s eclipse more than the electoral votes of a few states are in play. Maybe, just maybe, the Seventies are finally coming to an end.

Citizen Investors and Citizens United

Home Depot’s Spring 2011 proxy report will include a proposal seeking shareholders’ say on political spending done by the corporation. This proposal is the first of its kind. Chances are it will not be the last.

If shareholders approve the resolution, where and how Home Depot funnels money into the political process and influences elections will be subject to shareholder approval.

Home Depot did not exactly welcome this development. According to documents filed with the SEC[pdf], the company resisted the proposal, arguing that such a resolution would impinge upon and restrict “ordinary business of the company.”

More specifically, Home Depot took three legal tacks, all involving various clauses of SEC rule 14a-8, governing proposals of security holders. First, they invoked SEC rule 14a-8(i)(3), “that the proposal is [too] inherently vague or indefinite…to determine with any reasonable certainty exactly what actions or measures the proposal requires.” Second, they tried rule 14a-8(i)(7), that the proposal seeks “to micromanage the company.” Last, they tried invoking rule 14a-8(i)(10), “that Home Depot has substantially implemented the proposal.”

These are hardly original arguments – we don’t know what you’re asking, you’re trying to tie our hands, we’re already doing this — and they did not carry the day. Writing on behalf of the SEC, Attorney Bryan J. Pitko found all three arguments to be without merit.

“In ruling in favor of allowing the proposal,” writes Sanford Lewis, an attorney who defended the proposal on behalf of Northstar Asset Management, “the [SEC] has essentially determined that after Citizens United, corporate political spending is a significant social policy issue and shareholders can seek to have input on management’s decisions.”

How this will all turn out remains uncertain. As Lewis admits, “a majority of institutional investors typically support whatever the management of a company thinks is appropriate.” But in the absence of any new law restraining corporate speech, “citizen investors” like those Lewis represents may be able take back some of the ground that was lost – or given away by the courts — in Citizens United.

Doing Business With Bad Regimes: Vodafone in Egypt

Last Friday, Access Now put out a link to a petition urging Vodafone, Orange and all ISPs and mobile operators in Egypt to “get Egypt back online.”

We call on you to immediately open the Egyptian telecommunications networks. We ask that you stand firm against the Egyptian government and allow the people, and your customers, to communicate freely and openly at this vital time.

On the face of it, putting pressure on ISPs and telecoms companies operating in Egypt seems to make good sense. One might assume that appealing to Western companies might be more effective than putting pressure on Mubarak, which is what President Obama tried to do last week when he urged the Egyptian government “to reverse the actions that they’ve taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cell phone service, and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st Century.” (The President failed to persuade Mubarak, but inspired Steve Denning to float the idea in a column on Forbes.com that Internet access may be “a basic human right.”)

It’s unclear, however, how much the ISPs and mobile telephone companies operating in Egypt can do. On Saturday, for example, Vodafone Egypt announced that they had resumed services but expected further interruptions, and they explained their decision to take the network down as a pre-emptive move:

Statement – Vodafone Egypt
Saturday 29 January 2011. Vodafone restored voice services to our customers in Egypt this morning, as soon as we were able.
We would like to make it clear that the authorities in Egypt have the technical capability to close our network, and if they had done so it would have taken much longer to restore services to our customers.
It has been clear to us that there were no legal or practical options open to Vodafone, or any of the mobile operators in Egypt, but to comply with the demands of the authorities.
Moreover, our other priority is the safety of our employees and any actions we take in Egypt will be judged in light of their continuing wellbeing [sic].

Salil Tripathi at the Institute for Human Rights and Business takes issue with this official statement, saying that Vodafone could have done more before “instantly” complying. Why didn’t they “push for answers” by asking the Egyptian state to provide instructions in writing and explain its rationale? Why didn’t they more forcefully argue the case for keeping service uninterrupted? At the very least, he says, they should have warned their Egyptian customers before shutting down.

These recommendations would seem sensible enough, but for the fact that the Egyptian authorities, according to Vodafone, have the “technical capability” to shut down the mobile network. (I am unclear why it would be even more difficult for Vodafone to restores service after a government shutdown, but I imagine it has to do with the fact that a government shutdown would not exactly proceed in a careful and methodical way.) If this is true, and Vodafone is not just taking refuge in technical hocus pocus, then no amount of protesting or arguing or pushing for answers would really matter, when push came to shove. It’s easy to imagine that defying the Mubarak government, refusing to comply, or delaying would put Vodafone employees at risk. Affiliation with a Western company is no guarantee of safety or immunity; consider the fate of Google’s @Ghonim.

John Morrison, Executive Director of the London-based Institute, followed up on Tripathi’s remarks with a letter to the Financial Times in which he pointed out that Vodafone’s “dilemma could hardly have been unexpected,” and telecoms and ISPs should exercise due diligence before doing business in a place like Egypt (or China, Iran or Sudan). “The clash between local law, albeit that of an authoritarian regime, and international law will be a key theme for the information and communication technologies sector for years to come,” he writes.

These companies will need to exercise comprehensive human rights due diligence before signing contracts with the governments or joint venture arrangements with national companies. The risks need to be managed as effectively as possible in the wording of the contracts themselves, something that is rarely the case at the moment. Without such action by the industry, some will say that UK or European Union law should be amended to require them to do so.

It is not too much to ask a company wishing to do business with an authoritarian regime to balance concerns about human rights and international law with its business interest. But that balance may be very difficult to strike, and due diligence should also take into account the crucial role mobile telephony and information technology have already played in opening closed societies.

Let’s say, for example, that Vodafone did human rights due diligence before signing a contract with the Egyptian government, and decided that the risks were too great – or that it could not include meaningful human rights agreements in its contract with the Egyptian government. Would it then have been better for the company to decide not to do business in Egypt? Would Egyptians really be better off today if Western mobile operators had decided, long before the events of January 25th, that it was just too risky, or too difficult, to do business in Egypt?

To ask the question is not to apologize for Vodafone. But it is worth asking what sorts of compromises are acceptable, especially since mobile telephony and mobile-based services like SayNowhave stepped into the breach now that Egyptian ISPs are offline, allowing Egyptians to communicate – albeit not without interruption – with each other and with the outside world.

Beyond the Axis of Evil

Not too long ago President Bush was calling Iran part of the Axis of Evil. Now Iran stands for the hope of the whole world. This stunning reversal is not due to any new formulation of policy or act of diplomacy. It is a tribute to the Iranian people and – no matter what may happen in the course of the next few days — we already owe them an enormous debt for reminding us what a precious and powerful thing human liberty is.

The Axis of Evil was a way of mapping the world, or of making the world conform to a very particular agenda. It implied and entailed a grand Theory of The World, and it relied on distortions that still inform the political debate and frame perceptions.

It’s part of a tangled web of lies and deceit we still need to undo.

Delivered on January 26, 2002, Bush’s Axis of Evil speech was one of the first loud drumbeats for the war in Iraq. David Frum came up with the phrase after being ordered by head White House speechwriter Mike Gerson to find some pithy way to make the case for toppling Saddam Hussein in the first State of the Union Bush would deliver after September 11th. In his speech, Bush described an alliance of rogue states and terrorists who threatened world peace and were intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction. That, we now know, was meant to scare us into war and stifle dissent. And it was the start of a terrible campaign.

Frum claims the phrase “Axis of Evil” was meant to recall Roosevelt’s urgent summons to action against the Axis powers. But it was clearly also an attempt to give Bush the Younger some of the historical stature and moral gravitas of Ronald Reagan, who drew a hard line against the Soviet Union in his “Evil Empire” speech. And yet for all his talk of liberating the Middle East, Bush never found his “tear down that wall” moment, perhaps because by 2002 the world had so changed from the time of Reagan that we were the only imperial power left standing.

Now, ironically, the Supreme Leader Ayotollah Khamenei claims this is a battle between good and evil, between “old friends and brothers” and “hungry wolves in ambush.” Western style diplomacy, says the Supreme Leader, is and always has been a charade: now the powers of the West “are showing their enmity against the Islamic Republic system and the most evil of them is the British government.” The Foreign Office lodged an official complaint; but Khamenei knows that right now his best chance is to tap into old resentments against the imperialists.

That requires another bizarre distortion of political realities on the ground, and a denial of the horrors perpetrated against ordinary Iranians. Maybe that makes those men evil, and maybe theocracy is one of the great evils the world has known. But that’s not really the urgent point and it’s not really time to debate it. This isn’t a morality play or a moot.

Bush’s Manichean rhetoric and its accompanying narrative of good, exceptional America fighting the evil masterminds who plot our destruction and that of the entire world was a Cheneyesque cartoon, a vast oversimplification. Even Peggy Noonan (no raving liberal, but a Reagan speechwriter) pointed out in her column today that what’s happening in Iran right now doesn’t conform to any images or preconceptions we have of Iran. History is being made before our eyes; but it certainly isn’t happening along any axis that George Bush or David Frum were capable of delineating, let alone seeing.

The scenes from the streets of Iran – of ordinary people out in the street, grappling with security forces, coming out against all odds to demonstrate, a young girl killed, people beaten and slashed and shot by the Basijis – should make us grope for new words, or leave us speechless. They defy neat descriptions and pat phrases. In Iran, right now, people are out in the streets, redrawing the map of the world.

Universal Rights are Not Just American

Obama issued a new statement on Iran today, saying that the United States stands with those who seek to exercise the “universal rights to assembly and free speech.” While this seems like exactly the sort of thing the Republicans have been urging the President to say all along, there are nevertheless some who are ready to take offense at the very idea that Iranians might value the same freedoms we do.

Just this week, for instance, Charlotte Hays took a swipe in the National Review at Obama’s “tepid response” to events in Iran, arguing that the President is “unaware of the historical sources of America’s moral strength.” This is because

the president hailed democratic process, freedom of speech, and the ability to select one’s own leaders as “universal values.” But they aren’t. A quick glance around the world’s totalitarian regimes, including most especially that of Iran, should convince anyone of that.

Only a very quick glance indeed could convince anyone of Hays’ argument. But let’s take a closer look. It’s downright odd to argue that human liberty is not valued under repressive governments because repressive governments suppress human liberty; or that since our ideas of democracy and freedom come “ from America and the West,” there can be no other, competing ideas of human freedom and democratic politics. Haven’t the people of Iran done enough in the past week to prove that they, too, aspire to self-determination?

In fact, as Afshin Ellian points out in a piece that appeared this week in the Wall Street Journal, the current regime in Iran represents a betrayal of the “basic freedoms” and values for which a previous generation of Iranians fought: “the basic freedoms of Azadi-e Baian, Azadi-e Qalam, Azadi-e Andish-e: freedom of speech, freedom to write, and freedom of thought.” Those are the values of an open society. It is myopic, chauvinistic and ignorant to say they are ours exclusively.

Nostalgia Hour at the Club for Growth

Daniel Henninger has one thing right: the Republicans had better start talking about economic growth. But first they have to stop dithering and consorting with buffoons like Rush Limbaugh or threatening to go beyond the cutting edge and get really hip hop.

Then (one hopes) they will join the conversation about growth that’s already underway in many quarters — not just within the Obama administration, but also and especially in the private sector, which, if we are to believe Henninger, is the Republicans’ political bailiwick.

But (please) the public should not have to suffer through more teary-eyed sentiments or television specials about Ronald Reagan. Nor should we be asked to consider Ronald Reagan one of the great economic minds of the 20th century. He was not; and to put Reagan on a par with Milton Friedman or Henry Hazlitt is to misread history and to ignore the difference between political leadership (which Reagan provided) and philosophical range and depth.

What’s more, invoking the ghost of Ronald Reagan and hoping that he offers a way out of the darkness is just bad political strategy, unless of course the Republicans are intent on being the party of — well — sentimental old Republicans. Many young voters (most of whom were Obama voters this time around) were born during Reagan’s second term. To them, I’ll wager, “Ronald Reagan” sounds a bit like “William McKinley” or “Teddy Roosevelt.”

‘A Thought That Stops Thought’

Reading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, I was struck by this passage:

“The peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, ‘Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?’ The young sceptic says, ‘I have a right to think for myself.’ But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, ‘I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all.’

There is a thought that stops thought.”

It’s hard to believe that this was written a century ago: Orthodoxy first came out in 1908. The chapter as a whole, entitled “The Suicide of Thought,” anticipates many of the arguments that were advanced in the culture wars of the 90s; and it is not too far from predicting current complaints about the pre-emptive surrender of self-doubting, liberal, uncertain, wavering, tolerant Western intellectuals in the clash of civilizations.

For Chesterton, “free thought” was already no longer a threat to anything but itself, having “exhausted its own freedom” and surrendered the objects of thought as well as the thinker himself to a indeterminate, Heisenbergian “flux.” (The quark, had he lived to know and understand it, would have terrified him.)

It’s worth remarking that if Chesterton was documenting the “ultimate dissolution of free thought,”as he puts it, by now we must have well exceeded the ultimatum. So the real question that this chapter of Orthodoxy raises is about where we are now. Are we living on after the dissolution of free thought? Are we witnesses to nothing less horrible than the survival of our own attempt at intellectual suicide?

Of course we may have moved well beyond feeling threatened by pragmatism or Nietzschean will to power or evolution, H.G. Wells or Bernard Shaw — all of whom filled Chesterton with dread or prompted his derision. But there’s small comfort in that observation: it could simply mean we no longer take the time to comprehend a thinker like Nietzsche or Wells, or that we take for granted the positions and attitudes in these writers that Chesterton found so alarming. We may be incapable of reflecting on the loss of our freedom, because the failure of free thought long ago made us unfree to reflect, or because we have a jingle in our head that tells us we’re free when we are not.

At the same time, it doesn’t make a lot of sense simply to assume that “thought” of the kind that Chesterton is talking about — philosophy, for lack of a better word — proceeds along a linear historical trajectory, making progress, gradually liberalizing and growing more dissolute. That’s one way of telling the story of the West. But the corrosive power of scepticism to undermine all certainty, including the sceptic’s own belief in himself and in his thinking, is hardly a new theme. Western thought is decadent from the very start, displaying at its inception a tendency to collapse in on itself, to deconstruct, to offer no quarter to those who look for objective certainty or refuge in the Absolute, to find stories within explanations, to make other stories of them, to drift in the ebb and flow of language toward, then away from things.

And yet, and yet: even if you want to quarrel with Chesterton about the shape of intellectual history, even if you can’t find a suicide note among the philosophical papers of the late 19th century, it would be foolish to deny that we are as vulnerable as he says we are. It may be that we are intellectually disarmed, as many critics now allege. It may be (as Chesterton would probably assert) that we are insufficient in our faith, without which reason cannot rule.

And it may simply be that we no longer believe there is, or can be, or ought to be such a thing as intellectual freedom, because we no longer believe in the liberty or the autonomy of the thinking individual, the reality of freedom or faith, the reality of reality, or in anything, really, but might. So we can bluster and bomb and beat them, but in our quieter moments we must admit that we have no idea what we are defending or fighting for.