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  • Enduring Freedom
  • Peter Fitzpatrick (bio)

The lie of the ideal has hitherto been the curse on reality....

— Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, Foreward, para. 2 (his emphasis).

The seemingly progressive point was already banal but of late it is being made with renewed intensity. It is to the effect that hostility to the United States would diminish or cease if only there were an export of that country’s virtuous attributes, pre-eminently freedom and democracy, rather than their being checked through military and other oppressions. The more solipsistic, and it would seem more common, view would have it that the extraversions of the United States are in any case always in the cause of the good. The near-corollary is that “anti-Americanism” can be countered by promoting a more adequate picture of the United States and its deeds.[1] That such hostility may amount to more than this is for George W. Bush inconceivable: “Like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.”[2] Focusing now on freedom alone, what these positions affirm or import is an idea of freedom as immune to its effects. This is a self-sufficing freedom, complete in and of itself — an “enduring freedom,” to borrow an accessible phrase. What will be brought to bear here, in the refracted light of recent and continuing “events,” is a contrary idea of freedom once offered by Nietzsche and since amplified in empathic thought, of which more shortly. For Nietzsche “freedom is measured…by the resistance which has to be overcome, by the effort it costs to stay aloft.”[3] Such freedom is an affective “superiority over him who must obey;” it entails a readiness “to sacrifice men to one’s cause;” and, when “viewed more closely” in the setting of liberalism, it is a “war for liberal institutions.”[4] Perhaps, then, freedom and war may not be so contrary. Perhaps if freedom were less distanced from its effects, it could become more attuned to responsibility.

The notion of freedom against which Nietzsche inveighs is one of a freedom which is quasi-transcendent and universal, yet one which is also possessed of a sealed immanence, of an enwrapped completeness. It is, for instance, the freedom espoused by Arendt when, with an apt resonance, she declares that “we [that is all of “us”] hold human freedom to be a self-evident truth,” an “axiomatic assumption.”[5] As such, this freedom is not only the well-spring of “practical” or “political” action but also its validation.[6] But, Nietzsche again, “the raising” of such an idea always involves a “breaking” and a “sacrifice.”[7] When the raised is instantiated, when it is enclosed in particularity, there is an inexorable exclusion and sacrificing of others — of those who are “other” to that emplacement of universal freedom. That exclusion, in turn, takes on an irreducible intensity because those excluded others, being beyond a universal good, can only “be” absolutely beyond. They can only be “enemies of freedom,” as George W. Bush put it in his address to the Congress of the United States on September 20, and this is why they “hate us.”[8] Yet, being universal, that good also extends incipiently to them. Here an apt rhetorical charge is provided by British Prime Minister Blair. The clarion that was his speech to the annual conference of the Labour Party on October 2 would spread the “values of democracy and freedom round the world,” and would bring into the fold “the wretched…those living in want and squalor from the deserts of northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: they too are our cause.”[9] In all, yet another variant of the frustrated algebra impelling the Occident’s universality — the impossible combining of exclusion with inclusion. This is not exactly “wanted dead or alive,” to borrow another presidential aperçu, but rather “wanted dead and alive.”

From what position can “the lords of humankind” thus bestride such an ambivalent world? How can universal arrogation be conjoined with particular location? There are many expedients but the most prominent in the current situation is that of the exemplar. A universal value...

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