Delivered April 24, 2007
DR. KIM R.
HOLMES: It is an honor to be here with all of you this morning
to introduce today's special guest and speaker, who will
deliver the third of the Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lectures.
are part of a series that we kicked off last year, the purpose of
which was to bring greater clarity and attention to the values,
principles, and policies that undergird freedom.
The first lecture
was given by Natan Sharansky, who explored a question at the heart
of the debate on the future of the Middle East, "Is Freedom for
Everyone?" He looked mainly at the question of political
freedom and civil liberties.
lecture, by renowned Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto,
explored the question "Is Economic Freedom for Everyone?"
For this third
lecture, we will be examining the question of whether religious
freedomis for everyone.
This is a burning
question not only for parts of the Middle East, where extremism
tries to ban all forms of religions except one's own. It is also a
question for Western societies. How do we, for example, in
America and Europe, react to politically charged religious
movements that attempt to carve out special legal and political
protections in the name of religious freedom? And what happens when
doing so infringes on the religious and civil rights of others?
We couldn't think
of anyone more qualified than Michael Novak to answer these hard
Michael Novak is
one of our country's most esteemed political scholars. He is the
George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy and
Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
It is fitting
indeed that Michael deliver this lecture in Lady Thatcher's
honor. Michael has been a fan of Lady Thatcher from the moment he
first met her at Heritage many years ago, at a lecture shortly
after President Reagan took office. Over time, the favor was
returned by Mrs. Thatcher as she grew to know Michael's work. When
asked about The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism a couple of
years ago, she called it "a marvellous book," showing how
capitalism is "morally superior to any other economic
Because this book
helped eviscerate the allure of socialism and communism, Lady
Thatcher presented Michael Novak with the Anthony Fisher Prize
in 1992. And two years later, he received the 24th Templeton Prize
for Progress in Religion at Westminster Abbey.
Michael Novak, of
course, is many things besides being an insightful author. He's a
gifted teacher; he's been an advisor to presidents, a public
servant, and a very successful editor. Indeed, he co-founded
several important magazines that look at religion, economies
and culture, including This World, Crisis, and First
He has written 26
books on the philosophy and theology of culture and the roles of
capitalism and religion in free societies. They include: The
Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations
Is Not Inevitable, and On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common
Sense at the American Founding. He also has published two
Michael tells us
he is writing a book on the limits of secularism and the future of
religion in the face of today's "new atheism." I certainly look
forward to reading that book as well.
Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming a very good friend of
freedom, Michael Novak.
Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D., is Vice
President for Foreign and Defense Policy and Director of the
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies
at The Heritage Foundation.
NOVAK: Thank you all very much. It is wonderful to be with
I want to talk a
little bit about three different approaches to religious liberty:
one in atheist countries such as France and two different
approaches within the United States. Then I will conclude with a
few words about Islam-a story not yet fully developed but of great
importance to the rest of this century.
Europe have their own approach to religious liberty. In personal
life, they take religion seriously, as a dangerous social reality
that needs to be curbed. Politically, the atheist aim since the
French Revolution of 1789 has been to expel religion from
public life, and to confine religion to the private sphere. They
have attempted to place the state firmly over the church,
synagogue, and mosque, in such a way that the state dominates all
spheres of public life. They keep religious bodies on the margins.
This process goes by the name of "laicization" (in Europe),
and in America as "secularization." The secularists'
unexpressed hope is that religion over time will wither away, along
with other "old-fashioned" things that are inexorably being
abandoned. They think that the future will be less religious, more
secular than today-and that that will be a good thing.
In America, the
pattern has been somewhat different. Some Anglo-American
atheists do share the sentiments of the French atheists. But most
have recognized that religion has a serious place both in the
public and the private life of nations. The Anglo-Americans have
developed two different defenses of liberty of conscience, one of
which is based on non-religious premises, open to atheists, too-at
least those atheists who value philosophical argument for its own
sake. The other is based upon religious conceptions, and
expressly on the Jewish and Christian vision of a Creator and
Sovereign over all things.
view has two versions. The first is that in the state of nature,
humans are a danger to one another. For their own safety,
therefore, they form a social contract by which they eschew
personal and private violence-in exchange for a "social contract"
by which the state guards theirrights. This reason grounds rights
in fear and has a base in pragmatism. Humans are a danger to one
another, we need to be afraid of one another; therefore, we
need to make a practical arrangement for our safety. That's the
social contract reasoning.
The second reason
is that, by nature, each human person is responsible for accepting
or rejecting evidence presented to his or her own
consciousness; and each is responsible for deciding upon his
own way of life. This responsibility gives rise to a human
right-where there's a responsibility there's a right-to make
such decisions and choices. And this right is inalienable. No one
person can make those decisions or choices for any other. In
this sense, the conscience of all must be respected as
While these two
non-religious defenses-one in terms of nature and rights and one in
terms of fear of one another in the social contract and the
emergence of rights from civil society-do not
specifically mention "religious" liberty, they do defend
liberty of conscience, and in this sense respect religious
liberty as one serious option of conscience. Even if atheists
reject the religious option for themselves, they see the social
merit, and the intellectual consistency, in respecting it in
others. They may not approve of the choices of religious people,
but they respect their freedom to make those choices.
defense of religious liberty or, more generally, liberty of
conscience, is somewhat different. Here I follow the reasoning
of Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, James Madison, and other
Virginians who had a hand in drafting, arguing for, and passing the
Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. I have described this logic
in more detail in the epilogue of my book, On Two Wings. The
epilogue is called "How Did the Virginians Ground Religious
Rights?" Allow me to state the argument briefly.
expressed the belief of most persons in America at that time (and
also today): that the world was made by a benevolent Creator and
Governor of all things, Who wishes to extend His friendship to men
who are not slaves but free men, and Who wishes to be thanked and
worshiped in purity of conscience and in spirit and truth. It is
self-evident, Thomas Jefferson wrote, that a creature recognizing a
creator owes an unpayable debt of awe and thanks, and indeed of
worship of a power so far beyond his own.
This God cannot
be deceived by mere gestures or rituals, but sees directly into the
human heart. Here is how they expressed the nub of this
argument in expressing the underlying principles of the
That religion, or
the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging
it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or
violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free
exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and
that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian
forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.
Now, try as I
might, I don't see that quite as a deist declaration-that it is the
mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and
charity toward each another. I find it difficult to read through
these documents and not recognize that you're not talking about the
Islamic god, and you're not talking about the Buddhist god, and
you're not talking about the Hindu gods. The only god who meets
this description is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.
And it is essential to founding the principle of religious
liberty in their view, because God offers friendship and wants
humans to be free. And freely accepted or not, He leaves up to them
the decision they make with it. And there's no use trying to fake
it. You're not going to do it by mere gestures or showing up at the
right rituals, because He reads the heart and He needs to be
worshipped in spirit and in truth. That's a quite original and
unique conception of God in history-and it is not universal. Its
effects are universal, but the recognition is not
In brief, the
outlook behind this argument includes four affirmations: the
benevolence of the Giver of life and liberty (His offering
friendship); the duty of the creature to recognize and be
grateful to that Giver; third, the freedom of soul that the
Creator deliberately and freely endowed in humans for exercising
that duty; and fourth, the friendship with humans that God
desired, and invited humans to share, which explains the divine
gift of freedom to every woman and every man.
With these four
background affirmations in mind, the Virginia Declaration, and also
the famous Remonstrance against the Governor of Virginia
circulated for signatures by James Madison some years later-a
Remonstrance, by the way, that George Washington refused to
sign-made the following argument. Every rational creature,
contemplating the great gifts bestowed on him by the Creator, is
conscious of a duty to give due worship to that Creator, in
spirit and in truth, in the pure light of conscience, under no
coercion whatever. Almighty God, Who could have obliged the human
mind, Jefferson said, freely chose not to do so, but allowed
the human mind to work in the light of the evidence available to
that mind. Since this duty is sacred, and prior to all other
duties either to civil society (even to one's own parents or
friends) or to the state, since it is a duty owed by the
creature directly to the Creator, without intermediary, this
duty also implies a right.
In other words,
contrary to Locke, this right does not arise from the emergence of
civil society, and contrary to many moderns, it doesn't arise from
the state. It arises from a direct link between the free human
conscience and its Creator. And the creature, the human, is free to
do with that whatever he or she wants. But if you have a duty to
recognize the greatness of the Creator then you must also have
a right to do it or not, to recognize it or not. But that right is
grounded in a particular conception of God and of conscience, and
their relationship. Now, it must entail a right to exercise that
duty, which may be abridged by no earthly power whatever. It is an
inalienable and an inviolable right. It is directly
between the human soul and its Creator. Your mother and your father
cannot say "Yes" for you, to the Creator. Neither can your
brother nor your sister nor your uncle nor your aunt-you alone.
It's inalienable. You can't shirk it off onto somebody else. And
it's inviolable. No one dare sit between the creature and the
Creator. This duty is prior to every other duty. It must be
exercised in conscience and without duplicity or coercion, in the
direct sight of the Creator.
foundation for religious liberty, therefore, begins with (1) the
nature of God (the sovereign Creator, who wishes to be worshiped in
spirit and truth, without deception or coercion; and who offers to
humans His friendship, to accept or to reject in inner liberty, but
with full responsibility for the eternal consequences of their
choice), and (2) the nature of human beings: that man was born
free, and equal to all other men in his freedom before God. We're
not equal in anything else-I would love to have a singing voice but
I can't carry a tune. By nature we are not equal; in fact, we're
unique, unrepeatable, with different strengths and weaknesses.
But where we are equal is in the sight of God. No matter how great
or how powerful or how rich or how successful any person is, in the
eyes of God that's nothing, it's not impressive. He sees into the
heart directly for something else. That's the way in which we're
That is, I think,
a very important note. The Enlightenment takes liberty, fraternity,
equality as self-evident. But they're not. They come out of a
certain set of preconditions of thinking about God and human
beings, which the Enlightenment gets from Christianity-and
Christianity from Judaism. One of the political effects of
Christianity is to spread knowledge of the God of Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob to the whole world. So man was born free, equal to all
other men in his freedom before God, and independently of the
state or even civil society, each owes duty to his Creator.
Based upon these
two convictions-about God, about man-the religious justification of
religious liberty as expressed by the Virginians is founded
upon the natural rights of human beings, as these have been endowed
in human beings by their Creator.
I want to point
out that this is a philosophical argument, but what it borrows from
Judaism and Christianity is its conception of God and its
conception of human beings. So it's not purely a
philosophical argument, but in another sense it is. You do not
have to be Jewish or Christian to see the merit of it, or to see
the practical effect of it. But it is important to recognize, I
believe, that it was reached by Jews and Christians. Once they have
seen it, anyone can make use of it. You don't have to be Jewish or
Christian to make use of it. But it's significant to
understand the historical genesis; otherwise you easily lose
the foundations of the argument.
justification is particularly beautiful because those who first
proposed it for formal ratification established it for all other
human beings equally, far beyond their own immediate circle. One of
the provisions of the Declaration talks about the divine
author of our religion and in the Virginia legislature a motion was
put to say it was Jesus Christ; why beat around the bush? It was
defeated on the grounds that, no, this applies to everybody. It's
sufficient we say the divine author of our religion shows the
genesis of this. There was no need to spell it out more. It's open
to Mohammedans, they say expressly: Buddhists, atheists, and
others. So the rights they are talking about do not belong to
Englishmen and Americans and Christians and Jews alone. They belong
to everybody. That, I think, is particularly beautiful as a
conception-a very generous conception.
nothing for themselves that they did not recognize also belonged to
all other human beings. That is why they named it a natural
right. Such rights are founded not in culture nor ethnicity nor
tribe nor religious denomination, but in all human beings equally.
Their historical root may have been discovered by one particular
religious group in human history, but their philosophical and
practical application (if they are true) is universal.
In the early days
after World War II, Friedrich Hayek argued at Mont Pelerin in
Switzerland that if liberty is to prosper in the new age, all who
believe in liberty, whether believers or unbelievers, will need to
end the fratricidal feuding they have indulged in since the French
Revolution. The proponents of liberty are not too many, but
too few, he said. These few must learn to cooperate on behalf of
always fragile, always endangered, yet also hardy liberty. In other
words, atheists, non-believers, believers, Christians, Jews must
cooperate to defend liberty. Liberty has lots of enemies. It's an
always-fragile achievement; it can be given away by a single
generation. A single generation can think that it is too onerous
and give it away. That is why liberty is the most fragile, most
precarious regime. It needs to be freely understood and freely
accepted by each generation in turn. The chain can break down at
In most of the
world, fortunately, the love for liberty has two main sources.
The first springs from human experience, common sense, and human
reason, the second from those religions that address the human
conscience in its radical liberty.
Of course, even
today, freedom is not understood everywhere in the same way. Right
after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, to mark the return of freedom
to the Czech Republic, the first thing that opened up was a
pornography theater in Prague's Wenceslaus Square. It broke
your heart. The point is: freedom does not mean the same thing
to everybody, even in our own (as we imagine it) free society.
On the other
hand, by a kind of via negativa (the negative way, the way
of hardship), the wars, oppressions, holocausts, and other
cruelties of the 20th century have taught practically the entire
world a revulsion against certain "crimes against humanity." Many
have been driven, in ways they did not foresee, into clear
opposition to flagrant violations of their human rights. In
addition, the bitter sufferings inflicted upon hundreds of
thousands by recent tyrannical regimes in every part of the world
have given many peoples an understanding of democracy they had
never received in a more positive way. In other words, they
are driven into it by the effects of its absence.
against real abuses, in turn, have given new currency to moral and
religious reasoning about the deeper nature of human beings.
What is it within us that leads us to scream: "This is not right!
This cannot stand!"? These revulsions have raised questions about
the grounds of human rights, and the deepest origin of human
This is exactly
the sequence by which Natan Sharansky-whom I am deeply honored
to follow as a lecturer in this forum-came to return to his faith
in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When he was in prison,
someone slipped him the book of Psalms. (It was in Hebrew and
apparently his censors couldn't read it, and they let it
through.) He was stunned by reading of sentiments and ideas from
thousands of years ago that spoke immediately to his condition. And
he suddenly recognized that there is a community of conscience of
not just generations but millennia in which we share, and its
roots are mysterious and profound. This rediscovery of
conscience was not positive. He was driven to it by punishment.
Further, it has
become clear that in order to appeal to all peoples and all
cultures, a merely secular articulation of these questions
would be too narrow, too non-inclusive, and altogether
unsatisfactory. It would leave unattended the religiousness of
the great majority of people on the planet. Jürgen Habermas,
the German philosopher who describes himself as an atheist, was
shocked on September 11th to suddenly glimpse the fact that
atheists are a small island in a huge sea of religiousness on this
planet. He had not looked at it quite that way before. Therefore, a
point of view that is aimed only at atheists is inadequate for
By the same
measure, the intellectual and linguistic traditions of no one
among the world's global religions (Judaism, Christianity, and
Islam are the main religions that even claim to be universal in
their purpose) would alone be satisfactory. Nonetheless, all
nations on this planet need a way of thinking and speaking about
religious and moral reasoning that is open both to believers and to
unbelievers. Taking religion into account in a fair and open
fashion is now required. It is required by the necessities of
building free societies open to all, and by the necessity that all
of us, believers and unbelievers alike, must live together in
reasonable amity and mutual respect.
I want to return
to something I just alluded to in the large prison literature of
the 20th century. It is one of the unique aspects of the 20th
century that there is a large number of journals and
remembrances and reflections on the prison experience. Most of
the Christian Democratic leaders in World War II had spent time in
Nazi prisons, and hundreds more thinkers and writers were to
spend time in Communist prisons. I have made the main point, so I
am going to abbreviate that they learned from their own
something in them that forbade them to lie, to be complicit in
that. All the jailers wanted them to do was to sign a statement:
"Not true, but just sign it. Who is going to know? It's going to go
in a big file. No one is ever going to read it." And here Sharansky
was again protected by that idea of the community of conscience. He
was reminded by his jailer (or more exactly by his cellmate, who
was no doubt put up to this by his jailers) that even Galileo, his
great hero, lied in order to get the inquisition into his work set
aside. He knew what was at stake, and he just lied and it passed.
So this guy is saying, "Galileo is your hero-just lie."
Sharansky thought to himself the reverse of that-this is that
community of souls again: "Galileo has been dead between four
hundred and five hundred years, and they are still using his
example to corrupt me." So the effects of his life are felt
for centuries afterwards, and everybody they break in prison
they use to break the others. So your surrender is not just for
you. It is for others.
This is how
Sharansky came to the proposition that "Give to Caesar that which
is Caesar's and give to God that which is God's" is the great
obstacle to totalitarianism. It says that Caesar is not responsible
for everything or does not have command over everything. The power
of government is limited.
I want to come as
quickly as I can to some pure reflections on Islam. You heard
Sharansky's argument that in the contest between dictatorship
and democracy, the freedom of all is unsafe so long as
dictatorships abuse the rights of their own peoples and try to stir
up violence elsewhere, as the countries of the Middle East do,
disguising their own tyrannies by preaching hatred against
Israel, and shuffling all the dissatisfactions and hatred and sense
of rebellion against Israel to deflect the attention from
themselves. This, Sharansky says, is a fatal property of
dictatorships. They must create enemies and they must deflect the
blame onto them, lest they lose their own power.
So this is why
President Bush, the Heritage Foundation, and other friends of
liberty have committed themselves to spreading knowledge of
democratic principles in every culture of the world. They want
to give assistance to democratic associations and individuals
in all cultures on earth. For it is the hard-earned conviction of
Americans, for reasons of both philosophy and faith, that the
same natural rights we declare for ourselves belong to all other
human beings as well. After all, these origins have their origin in
the Creator of all, and these rights belong to all who share in the
same human nature. Moreover, where they are absent, their absence
becomes a tremendous danger to us: to our own security and our own
circle of life.
In our time the
world must either live in fear of terrorism or in freedom. Freedom
for the individual is not likely to be secured, nor the rights of
individuals kept safe, except in democracies constituted for
that purpose. Nor is freedom from terrorism likely to be secured
except by offering to the young the alternative of prosperity,
opportunity, and freedom. In any case, the maxim bears repeating:
Democracy is the new name for peace.
not banish human sin and folly. On the contrary, it was with human
sinfulness in view that democracy was invented, with its checks and
balances and limited powers. One of the sources of the idea of
democracy as we now understand it is the Calvinist notion of the
omnipresence of sin. We condensed this on our coins and the dollar
bill. We say "In God We Trust," whose operational meaning is
"Nobody else-for everybody else there are checks and balances and
In conclusion, I
am trying to learn about how to think of freedom in Muslim terms.
Some Muslim friends have told me that these are days in which there
is a great deal of turmoil in the breast of Muslim peoples, a
longing for public recognition of the dignity of the individual
conscience of each of them. They have insisted that this is a
profound search, in four different dimensions: personal, religious,
philosophical, and political.
I have heard
Muslims say that they wish to be devout Muslims and live under the
protection of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both. They
want to remain devout Muslims and they want those protections. They
want to enjoy the same liberties, dignity, and economic
opportunity as other peoples. It can't be true that liberty and
dignity and opportunity are restricted only to Jews, Christians,
and humanists-that they don't also count for Muslims. It's
just not believable on its face.
I have been told
that there is a great inward pressure driving this longing for
liberty. It comes from the last hundred years of bitter suffering,
repression, the failure of many dreams, and the painful reality of
much bloodshed among Muslim peoples.
For decades, the
human rights and sense of personal dignity among Muslim
peoples may have been more seriously neglected by the world
community than those of any other people. This via
negativa is a harsh road, but a powerful incentive. When I
was at the Human Rights Commission in 1981-1982, I think only
once-and then only tangentially-did anyone bring up the abuse
of rights in the Muslim world. The Soviets did not want to do it
because it was a powder keg on their southern border, and we did
not want to do it because of the strategic importance-not only the
oil but the straddle across the crossroads of civilizations of the
Middle East. But in any case, by a kind of tacit agreement nobody
I have several
questions I would like to pose to Muslim thinkers in dialogue. I
look forward to benefiting by whatever light they can shed
upon these propositions.
Can it be said
that, buried in the rich traditions of Islam, is a philosophy of
liberty, even a philosophy of democracy and religious pluralism,
whose full flowering is yet to become evident to those outside
Islam? It seems plain that any religion based upon reward and
punishment must have buried within it a profound theory of liberty.
Reward and punishment for human action makes no sense if you
don't believe in liberty. This is a point Thomas Aquinas made in
his encounters with Islam in the 13th century. There has got
to be a theory of liberty buried within there.
course, has at least three dimensions: personal, social, and
political. And it may be examined from more than one point of
view-from personal experience and observation, and also
philosophically, juridically, politically, culturally. It is not my
purpose to request of Muslims an entire systematic treatment. Only,
I would like to request of Muslim colleagues some guidance on
questions that seem to me of potential fruitfulness for mutual
harmony and clear understanding. In order to have mutual respect,
we do not have to agree. But it is certainly better if we do not
misunderstand one another unnecessarily.
In any case, am I
correct that in the moral analysis of individual actions,
Islamic thought is clear enough about the conditions of free human
action? In other words, there is a theory of liberty in moral
action? I've satisfied myself to that effect. I've seen Muslim
treatments of ethics which have a remarkable notion of
freedom, analogous to the way we think about it. Not developed in
the same way, not out of the same conceptual framework, but not so
There seems to
be, in fact, a very broad pluralism of different systems of
political decision-making- now moving from the ethical to the
political- among various Muslim jurisdictions across time and
space. If you study Muslim history and even Muslim
geography today-I'm no expert at all-there is a very large variety
of regimes, both in time and in space. And because the conviction
"Allah is great" is so powerful, none of these can be given us.
They all must be relativized in Muslim thought, because no one
alone can pretend to be of God. This, I think, is a powerful
argument for a kind of pluralism. The practice of that pluralism is
present; we can see the variety. The theory about it is not so
developed, it seems to me.
There is also, by
the way, a significant number of democracies, defined as places
where citizens have removed a government in power peacefully, by
the vote, at least twice. Have some practical proposals or negative
warnings been derived from these examples? In other words,
what can we learn in the history of Islamic democracy? There
have been some where there has been an emphasis on one vote, one
time: you have the vote, and then the majority votes for Shari'a
law and that's it. That is a negative warning. But there are
others where that has not happened, and it would be
interesting to have a better picture of the variety.
It is one of the
advantages of democracy that it is compatible with many different
cultural and religious models. Are there lessons to be learned
about different types of Islamic democracy?
different experiences of Christian Democratic parties in different
parts of the world shed any light on Muslim experiences? It is not
the case that Christian Democratic parties all have the same
experience in Latin America and Spain and France and Germany and
Italy and Belgium and the Netherlands, in Scandinavia.
In what ways will
Islamic democracies provide new principles to international
democratic theory? And show significant originality? I do think
this contest for the democratic idea and democratic practices and
habits in the Muslim world is one of the great stories of our time.
On its resolution depends the safety of all of us, eventually.
I wish we all
knew much more about it. I wish Muslim thinkers were more explicit
about it. I have seen it written that there have been more articles
and books and discussions on radio and television about liberty and
democracy in the Muslim world in the last three years than in the
last 150 years altogether. So I think something really is
percolating. I wish we had a better grasp of it, and could learn
how we could apply some of those lessons that have been learned the
hard way there, also shed light on our own perplexities. It is not
as though we have achieved a state of democracy in which we are
I apologize for
going on so long but I thank you very much.
HOLMES: Michael, thank you very much. I know of no one who has
the breadth of knowledge to be able to go in detail to the Virginia
founding and ending on a detailed discussion of Islamic democracy
than you. It's just really a pleasure to have you here for the many
insights that you have given us here this morning. We have a few
minutes for some questions.
STEVENSON: I'm Bill Stevenson, I teach at Calvin College in
Michigan. In thinking about the potential for Muslim societies to
"catch the vision," so to speak, of the possibility of religious
freedom, let that seed germinate and so on, I wonder about
your thoughts as to how that might best be effected. Is there a
sense in which the American model which has become-and maybe this
is a good thing-increasingly individualistic on this subject? In
other words, the focus is on individual freedom of conscience and
not on the coherence of religious institutions; religious freedom
is something that individuals exercise but not institutions.
In terms of our Supreme Court decisions and so on, this is the kind
of message that you get. Is that kind of emphasis going to be
helpful in drawing out from Islam more of an emphasis on healthy
religious freedom, or is it actually going to be counterproductive?
Would it make sense for this to develop more naturally within the
institutional framework? Could the West be doing more harm
Well, the truth about history is yes, that happens often. Even the
Christian Church was itself corrupted and is constantly open to
corruption. So in the political order it is the same.
One reason I
think the study of the Founding is so important is that the
founders were not thinking only in terms of individual
liberty. So from Washington through Lincoln, declarations of
days of thanksgiving-which government was recommending to all
the people and declaring a holiday for-began with the principle
that nations as well as individuals have a duty to thank God and to
offer Him such worship as seems fit to each: nations have
obligations. Now I am not sure I really agree with that, but
that is what our founders thought. It wasn't just the federal
government that made recommendations; the individual states did so
many things too. The founders kept alive communities at many
levels. Today, we've abandoned the richness of that tradition
in the name of personal liberation-much to our detriment and much
to the detriment of liberty.
I think it might
be better sometimes for us to talk about human dignity rather than
liberty or freedom because in the French context, which is what
influences the Islamic world more than anything else, freedom
and liberty mean license, libertinism. They don't think of it as
self-control. That is an Anglo-American presumption that is absent
LIVINGSTON: I am Gerry Livingston from the German Historical
Institute. Mr. Novak, you began your talk by referring to atheist
France and to the secularization in Europe. Now Europe is becoming
more secularized and that is a concern of the Pope's. Yet that
secularization has been accompanied by the longest period of
peace in European history. Don't you see a connection?
Yes, I do, but it is not necessarily a positive one. I think that
the welfare state has generated such a sense of security and
prosperity and satisfaction that it has in effect put people to
sleep with regard to the dangers they live under. I think the
welfare states of Europe will have a very difficult time in the
next 20 years meeting the obligations they are now under. They will
not be able to pay for many of the old-age benefits, with people
living much longer and medical expenses so much greater. That is
Secondly, I do
think that the threat to liberty in Europe from Shari'a law is very
real. And I don't see Europeans as alarmed about it as it seems to
me they ought to be.
there is secularization there is also a diminution in demography.
Secular people do not have as many children as religious people do.
Even in nominally Catholic countries like France and Italy, the
parts of the population which are still having families of three,
four and five are the religious parts, the church-going parts, in
terms of Christians.
So I think the
blessing of Europe is they've experienced this 50-year period
of peace and prosperity, which in my opinion was largely brought
about by America's financial commitment and defense, as sort of an
umbrella over them. And by the bitterness and hostility of the
world wars, so that people really wanted to turn away from that and
think of war no more. I think that is admirable as far as it goes,
but it does make you vulnerable to attacks on liberty. Anyway, I
think there is reason to worry about the capacity of secularism to
motivate people morally and spiritually.
NICHOLS: Alan Nichols, Washington Diplomat magazine. I
am just thinking about the founding of the country and Alexander
Hamilton, all the other founders. They brought over to this country
a culture, but they had a blank slate. Alexander Hamilton
created an economic system which exists today, the basis of
capitalism and economic freedom along with religious liberty.
And then I am
thinking of the ancient civilizations of the Middle East which
formed a culture, a tribal culture of nomadic peoples with trade
already established. They did not have a blank slate. So to try to
inoculate these people with democratic principles-there is no
seed-bed there because the culture is not amenable to it,
because it is so ingrained in them. How men treat women is
primarily cultural; the economics of that region are so
historical, so embedded, that to have religious liberty would be to
change virtually all the aspects of that culture including having
economic freedom and social freedoms. It's not just religious.
It's not just creating an ability to see oneself as being
religiously free but in every other aspect of their society, which
makes it so hard to get Iraq to become democratic. Would you
comment on that?
I want to repeat the main line of reflection that I put before you:
Don't underestimate the role of the via negativa in changing
the consciousness of Middle Eastern peoples. Until
Afghanistan and Iraq, eighteen out of eighteen of the Arab
nations were tyrannies, and of a very bloody sort. The normal way
which they changed power was by assassination (the most frequent
way) or sometimes by birth, but only protected by the most amazing
overlay of secular secret police and religious secret police and so
forth. People lived under observation and in fear. And in
remarkable poverty: despite the oil wealth they are among the
poorest countries, not in the world as a whole but in worlds of
comparable GDP. So there is a search for a way for that.
Finally, on the
question of Iraq, I am not nearly so pessimistic as most writers
and thinkers. Maybe I ought to be; maybe I am missing something.
But what really counts to me and has counted for me from the
beginning are the number of newspapers, magazines, radio stations,
television stations that are not run by the government. That is the
basis of civil society, and those have multiplied in a
spectacular way in Iraq. What also matters is the number of
free associations, and I believe there are 4,000 plus-I have been
told this-non-governmental associations operating in Iraq. I have
watched them in these most incredible elections. Elections are the
tip of the iceberg-all that goes on below is, I think, very
important. I think it is too early to make a judgment about
Iraq and which way it is going to go. It's in the balance and it
might end horribly-I can see that. But it might end much more
happily than most people are now expecting.
My mind goes back
to 1864, when it was clear Lincoln was going to lose the election,
when he was described in terms of opprobrium and ridicule that
equal or exceed the terms in which President Bush is described
today, on every front: his attacks on liberty in the name of
war, his bumbling manner, his lack of experience, his lack of
sophistication, and so on and so forth. And it all changed around
in the following year-by the end of 1864 it was all changed around.
So I think these historical reverses happen not infrequently in
life, and while the issue is in play, I think one must do the best
one can. But I do agree with you that one needs to fight for
liberty on a very broad front. I was just asked to speak about
religious liberty. I have written a lot about democracy and
capitalism and economic and political liberty as well. This is
the third leg of the stool, the cultural and moral. Those are the
three great liberties: political, economic, and