Sunday, December 05, 2004

Liberty and Justice

I pledge Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Most of us learned these words before we could write very well. They were written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister. Ironically, he was a Christian Socialist. Originally, although he was a minister, he did not include “under God” in his pledge. Congress added those words in 1954 after an extensive campaign by the Knights of Columbus. Earlier, in 1924, the National Flag Conference, under the leadership of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, changed the Pledge's words, “my Flag,” to “the Flag of the United States of America.” Bellamy disliked this change, but his protest was ignored.

It’s fairly short. But it is pretty packed. There is the “Republic” idea for which the country stands. There is the “one nation under God, indivisible” thing. I’m not about to touch that. And then, there is the “liberty and justice for all” thing. It is said the Bellamy would have added “equality”, but at the time of the writing, women still did not have the right to vote.

Since most of us learned these words before we really thought much about anything except maybe how much more attention our younger brother was getting than we were, it’s likely that you haven’t thought much about it since.

I would offer that this country is founded on liberty and justice. These are the two great pillars of the Republic. But, the pillar metaphor is not really a good one. For it seems that liberty and justice come out of the same bucket so to speak. Liberty and Justice are two constituents of a single pillar. They are more like the yin and the yang of the Tao.

Liberty would hold that we should be free to drive down the freeway at whatever speed we choose. Justice would hold that we must drive at a safe speed so that innocent drivers are not injured or killed by your need to drive like an Indy want-to-be. Liberty would hold that we should be free to live as we choose; justice asserts that we must abide by laws that protect us all.

Liberty would hold that we should be able to discharge whatever we want into our air or waters with impunity; justice maintains that these emissions should be regulated to protect the health of those who breath the air and drink the water. Liberty would defend the right to use our private property any way we choose; justice says you can’t build a chemical plant next to an elementary school or a hospital.

Lovers of Liberty value their right to own guns. Lovers of Justice believe that gun manufacturers should be responsible somehow for the natural result of the use of their product. (or should just the bullet manufacturers be responsible?)

Whether the issue is States Rights, a woman’s right to choose, corporate behavior, universal health care, the environment, or the way we choose to build our homes, there is always a tension between liberty and justice.

It is this tension that has made the two party system function so well in this country.

In general, although it has not always been this way, the Republican Party represents Liberty, and the Democrats represent Justice. It is within this tension that good law and good public policy is conceived and implemented. Big business likes the Republicans because they want to be free of regulation. Big labor likes the Democrats because they want justice for their membership. Republicans don’t like big government. Democrats are not supposed to like unregulated corrupt corporations that pollute and steal, and then bribe our leaders to look the other way.

Look at any list of issues and see for yourself. The tension between liberty and justice is the foundation of our two party system and the Republic itself. Those groups outside of the margin on the right are called Libertarians. Those on the left are concerned with environmental justice, social justice and other justice issues. We just don’t call them Justicians.

And, like the yin and the yang of the Tao, one is constantly turning into the other.

To "not be able to use your land the way you intended when you bought it" turns into a justice issue. The justice of equal opportunity turns into a liberty issue for those who suffer from discrimination. It turns into a loss of liberty for those who wish to discriminate (Sometimes for justified reasons)

Republicans view the right to life as a justice issue for the unborn. Democrats see abortion as a woman’s right to choose, a liberty issue.

The tension between Liberty and Justice is the lifeblood of this Republic. The constant turmoil of these two basic rights makes our system work.

The system, however, does not work when those who should be arguing the virtue of their principles argue instead based on their desire to maintain power. Then, the system breaks down.

The President says he wants to “get to the bottom” of a leak from the White House that has revealed the name of a CIA operative. Yet, he has not publicly called for the resignations of those who participated in the crime. He has not called on those journalists who know the names of the perpetrators of the crime to help him preserve the rule of law in his own administration. His sense of justice is therefore subordinated to his need to maintain power.

When Democrats do not pursue justice for fear of the loss of power, we all lose.

When Republicans condone the loss of civil liberty in the name of national security in order to maintain their grip on power, they are abandoning their basic principles. When both sides of the aisle choose to confuse liberation with occupation, we are truly lost.

When we are no longer guided by our great principles, truth becomes a prisoner to the mendacities of power.

And the Republic is endangered.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is good. thank you

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

may I use this?

1:17 PM  
Blogger oZ said...

yes, if you use it in total or link to the site.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Urban Denizen #512 said...

First and foremost, thanks for the invite, OZ. Pursuant to my typical hunger for anything remotely argumentative and based on our past correspondence, I thought I'd contribute.

I read all of your posts, and most left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Some are quite inspiring. Perhaps I'll respond to the "Borders" post sooner or later, perhaps not. The post regarding the justice/liberty dichotomy, however, agitated me--compelled a response post haste.

In the name of understanding and being understood...

Caveat: There seems to be no way of securing moral agreement in our culture.

Imagine humanity suffers a catasrophe akin to partial annihilation. As consequence, imagine the remaining global population accuses the natural scientists and their overall failure to predict or even approximate this disaster promulgates the discontinuation of natural science in schools and public discourse to an extent that books burn and scientists die. Imagine a future generation returning to natural science with little to no foreknowledge of the subject, rushing headlong into physics, cosmology, and the like with a connotative, cursory knowledge of the subject matter, thus creating a largely false canon of information, concepts and ideas that future generations learn by heart and recite on command.

This is the state of value debate and ethics, today. On top of this, there is no real terminus in discussing much of anything, as reason and objectivity slowly whither in the corner of some abandoned laboratory.

Regarding your post, I take issue with your [contextual] definition of liberty. Liberty is not license; and lovers of liberty know, understand, and recognize that true Liberty ends where another Liberty begins.

Further, the real nexus of the problem is not the fluidity of values, as waves flow into waves, from one to the other, but rather, in accordance with THE Hierarchy (metaphysics--epistemology--ethics--politics--aesthetics.) Individuals have next to no knowledge of the metaphysical and absolutely no grasp the epistemology that gave birth to our democratic-Republic. We never get that deep, though we might speak of both, "knowing it" or not. And this is a real problem.

More later.

3:42 PM  
Blogger oZ said...

I agree that one freedom stops where another begins. But this is linear. The freedom\justice tension comes about from two competing mind forms or thought domains.
Thank you for your imput stagiras?

9:50 AM  
Blogger Urban Denizen #512 said...

Caveat: We have entered a value debate.

Although synonymous in most respects, there is an important distinction between “liberty” and “freedom.” In fact, “liberty” is a very specific kind of “freedom.” “Liberty” connotes freedom of choice and freedom from past restrictions, while “freedom” is a more general term and includes the ability to do whatever one wants without restriction, not unlike license. To this end, so as not to confuse, let us stay with liberty.

“Liberty” also implies responsibility--choice tempered with deference for the good. The individual, of course, has responsibility for the choices made and the defintion of the good. And a society, if it truly believes that individuals have an unalienable right to liberty, has an obligation to ensure that its citizens have an opportunity to succeed in their pursuit of liberty. While it may be freedom, merely raising the expectation of freedom, without also providing the reasonable means to achieve it, is not liberty.

The American political tradition was founded on the precepts of liberty, alone. One need only read the declaration; and though most hold the Constitution as the primary founding document, I believe the Constitution is nothing without a direct, organic connection with the Declaration.

To bring everything full circle, one will find that my argument rests on the value of the concepts alone. And this illuminates my point, most precisely: Liberty, in the context of our democratic-Republic--our social compact, is requisite to nothing, while justice is requisite to the absence or loss of liberty, therefore Liberty is the over-arching value.

9:08 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

I would offer that justice is just as requisite to the presence of liberty. The idea that either one is a priori to the other is outside of my notion that they are both relativistic concepts and that they both issue from the same thought domain.

It reminds of the joke with the chicken and the egg in bed together. One was very satisfied, the other was not. The one who was not says, "Well I guess that settles that issue."

Thanks for you comments S G

5:09 PM  

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