Self-Preservation, Rightly Understood
In "Those Hell Hounds Called Terrorists" (Fall 2001), Harvey Mansfield undertakes to "expound on the place of terror in the tradition of modern political thought in the West." The place of terror in the aforesaid thought arises, he says, from Hobbes founding a philosophy of rights on the timorous character of the multitude in a "stae of nature." Locke, he says, "continued Hobbes's reliance on a fearful state of nature and the right of self-preservation." This preoccupation with physical self-preservation was an invitation to the seizure and maintenance of power by terror by the Committee of Public Safety in the French revolution, a precedent followed by the Bolsheviks a century later. But Robespierre, and other leading Jacobins, did not look to Hobbes or Locke; they looked to Rousseau. It was Rousseau's doctrine of the General Will, by which everyone was bound, and by which dissenters would be "forced to be free," that aupplied the theoretical foundation of the Terror. This doctrine had no counterpart in the American revolution, which was mainly Lockean (as the founders understood Locke). In the American Founding, majority rule was legitimate only within a boundary of minority rights, such as those set forth in our Bill of Rights.
Mansfield ends by invoking the authority of Edmund Burke, who stood for "the dominion of conscience over mind," and who combined the rights of conscience "with manly freedom which replaces the right of self-preservation and promises to keep democracy powerful and brave." Burke was as much an admirer of the American Revolution as he was an opponent of the French Revolution. No one represented manly freedom, or the dominion of conscience, better than George Washington. But Washington and his Revolutionary cohorts did not replace the right of self-preservation with manly freedom; they believed that self-preservation rightly understood issued in manly freedom.
Harry V. Jaffa
Claremont , CA
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Bringing Order to Chaos
In his optimistic review of five policy areas positively affected by "The Return of Public Seriousness" (Fall 2001), Andrew Busch is badly amiss on two counts. He rushes to say that "After September 11, it is hard to argue that society is safer as long as law-abiding citizens are disarmed." Hardly. The fact that "the airliners were vulnerable precisely because the terrorists, though vastly outnumbered, were the only armed people on the plane," in itself, proves rather the need for trained air marshals to patrol the skies as our police patrol the ground. Civil society needs order, not cowboys.
After several astute points, the essay closes with a wayward swipe at term limits, saying that "The travails of New York City, forced by term limits to surrender the services of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at its moment of maximum need, must cast serious doubt on" the idea of term limits. Mr. Busch would do well to recall Thomas Jefferson's example in 1808. A dangerous war with Great Britain was approaching and Jefferson was encouraged to think that his personal leadership in the form of a third presidential term was indispensable in such a crisis. Yet, Jefferson, a stalwart of free government, would not presume any one man to be greater than that very system of government. George Washington's example of two terms in office would continue until Roosevelt's fit of hubris during World War II. Notwithstanding the title of a recent Giuliani biography, New York doe not need an emperor.
R. William Eubanks, Esq.