Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Zen of Politics

So, I'm reading an op-ed piece on the New York Times web site about the different and distinct meanings of Freedom and Liberty, and I get to thinking...

I started to write the above post probably around the time the linked article first appeared...in February. I've been sitting on this post for a while because I wanted to reflect on the ideas a little more. I have and haven't been reflecting on the ideas. I mean, in a general sense, there are central ideas that are regularly turned over and over again, but specifically, I haven't been thinking about these ideas. The title even threw me for a minute. I've been reading a book about Zen because I wasn't really sure what Zen is. Zen seemed to me to be a synonym of balance, like yin and yang, and I think that's how I meant to use Zen in the title here. The following passage seems to be what I focused on:

Equally surprising are the origins of our English words liberty and, especially, freedom. They have very different roots. The Latin libertas and Greek eleutheria both indicated a condition of independence, unlike a slave. (In science, eleutherodactylic means separate fingers or toes.) Freedom, however, comes from the same root as friend, an Indo-European word that meant "dear" or "beloved." It meant a connection to other free people by bonds of kinship or affection, also unlike a slave. Liberty and freedom both meant "unlike a slave." But liberty meant privileges of independence; freedom referred to rights of belonging.

We English-speakers are possibly unique in having both "liberty" and "freedom" in our ordinary speech. The two words have blurred together in modern usage, but the old tension between them persists like a coiled spring in our culture. It has inspired an astonishing fertility of thought. Americans have invented many ideas of liberty and freedom. Some are close to independence, others to rights of belonging. Most are highly creative combinations. For most people they are not academic abstractions or political ideologies, but inherited ideas that we hold as what Tocqueville called "habits of the heart." They tend to be entire visions of a free society, and we see them in our mind's eye through symbols and emblems...

The most pertinent line to me was: "The two words have blurred together in modern usage, but the old tension between them persists like a coiled spring in our culture." The idea that there is tension between these concepts and the author's use of the coiled spring imagery were very intriguing. Since college, I've wondered about the balance between the needs and rights of the individual and the needs and rights of the larger community, and that seems to be the gist here. This balance is a key aspect to American society, in particular, between the Individual States and the nation as a whole. A similar tension exists internationally. The needs and rights of the United States must coexist with the larger global community's needs.

The political process in the United States should be regular reviews of and adjustments to the underlying tension to both maintain the society and advance necessary changes.

Post a Comment