Many a careful and penetrating student of politics — Burke, Oakeshott and Weaver come immediately to mind — has made a distinction between freedom as enjoyment and freedom as power. The former is tethered firmly to the historical and the particular, and even to the personal. This freedom, as Weaver put it, “is something that gathers around the hearth, inheres in local associations, and endears to a man his place of habitation.” It is not about action or force, but rather appreciation. Its spring is gratitude and its provocation the threat of change or deprivation. The man aware of this liberty will be more aware of his obligations than his rights; and he will feel, deep in his bones, the honor and joy it is to fulfill obligations honorably. He will not hesitate to embrace sacrifice.
Freedom as power is ahistorical and idealized. Not enjoyment of the things that exist, but the potential of those that one day might, is what gives it life. Its mark is that it almost has no tether, but rather a balloon that carries it to and fro according to the wind. Its spring is concepts spun out of the minds of men. It is adventurous and dissatisfied with the present; it needs no external provocation, but often demonstrates a complicated lineage of influence. Though this freedom is dismissive or even contemptuous of history, it is perfectly unintelligible without it. That is to say, the observer must consent to enter the history or world of this theory of freedom in order to understand it. Its historical roots are deep, tangled and long, but we may take the French Revolution as its great exemplar and solidifier. Its parlance is “rights”; its aspiration is to rule or possess; its currency is force. It operates on human desires, downplays obligation in favor of privilege, which its construes as right, and is oriented toward the future. Men possessed by this version of freedom tend toward grandeur of theory, stridency of debate, bafflement at reluctance, and exasperation at dissent.
The first liberty — freedom of enjoyment — is resistant to conceptualization. It does not translate well into the strict rationalism of modern political philosophy. It starts in the world, and because concepts in the human mind can only ever be analogies of the world, its concepts are limited and often dissatisfying in the abstract. This does not mean it lacks the power to move; on the contrary, it possesses a singular power to move men, but only specific men, particularly situated so as to be touched by its appeals. It is universal as sentiment but not as theory. In this sense we might say there is a myriad of “liberties of enjoyment.”
Liberty of power thrives in the world of abstraction. Indeed, it cannot exist before conceptualization. It is a doctrine first, then a passion or enthusiasm. It does not arise out of human experience. It starts in the mind, is carried forth in the mind, but it does not, alas, end in the mind. For the mind is a powerful organ indeed, and there can be no doubt at all that doctrines may be made to move men to action. Dialectic is the native form, in debate and controversy, of this freedom of power: the implications of ideas, the logical interplay of mental concepts. It tries for logical demonstration, and takes leave of history and experience whenever necessary. Because modern philosophy has grown ever more complex and rarefied, this sort of freedom makes abundant use of catchphrase and slogan.
Rhetoric is the native tradition of liberty of enjoyment. It aims to persuade by appeal to the whole man, not merely by logical demonstration or slogan. It language is symbolic and poetic. Its appeals may therefore be called “emotional,” but this is only because the rhetorician is the very last person on earth to forget that emotion is a part of man. As Aristotle put it, “What makes a man a ‘sophist’ is not his faculty, but his moral purpose.”
The quintessential object of the orator of liberty of enjoyment is to make the listener feel that his home is threatened; the quintessential object of the other is to make him feel that his rights are oppressed. With the first, he is called to a duty of defense and protection; called as a citizen, a father, an inheritor of a tradition worth preserving. With the second, he is called to an adventure of progress or advancement; and called as an individual, or called as a member of a collective abstraction, i.e., the People. In a crisis the former aims at reformation, restoration, repair; the latter, revolution. (In this context, it is important, in fairness, to recognize that an important aspect of a revolution is that it ends; the Communist notion of “permanent revolution,” which has by a really astonishing irony been roped into service for the great bogeyman of Communism, namely Capitalism, is a piece of nihilism or mere anarchy, antithetical to freedom of either type.)
Let us give names, both abstract and particular, to these two theories of freedom. The first is the Patriot. The second is the Nationalist. The first wants to preserve and shelter the patria; the second to advance and expand it. That is in politics. In religion, say, the first is the Dualist; the second the Puritan. The first never loses sight of the bifurcation of man into his animal and angelic nature: that man is a creature of both matter and spirit, and by this perpetual division a limited being, is a truth never far from the first’s mind. The second is greatly impressed by man’s potential, or by his depravity; and his emphasis on one or the other issues in the Puritan’s characteristic restlessness, and carries him into the realm of abstraction where concepts may be purified. The Puritan, that is, may be “pure” in his concept of human sin or of human glory — Emerson and Thoreau were both of New England puritan stock, though hardly Calvinists.
The modern archetype of the first is Edmund Burke; the second, Abraham Lincoln. Now it is vital to see that in great men such as these, the insights and strengths of the rival principle of freedom are abundantly employed: anyone who doubts Burke’s power as a dialectician may merely consult his treatise On the Sublime and the Beautiful; and anyone (be he so unutterably foolish) who doubts Lincoln’s rhetorical power, may read any of his speeches.
These two principles of freedom have formed the two great parties, in various institutional guises, in American history. They have provided the framework of debate, dissension and even war. There are, of course, ample ironies in this: The Southern secessionists, and later the theorists and politicians of the Confederacy, though defending a liberty of enjoyment, spoke the language of liberty of power. Arguably the greatest Southern general, Stonewall Jackson, was a severe Puritan in a world of Dualists. On the other hand, one of the greatest American statesmen of freedom of enjoyment, Calvin Coolidge, was a New Englander through and through. And the preeminent spokesman for the late revival of freedom of enjoyment, called by our age Conservatism, hails from Connecticut: Mr. William F. Buckley. Ironies are even heaped upon ironies: Lincoln’s party in time became Buckley’s party; and even now is reverting to a party of liberty of power.
It is doubtful whether the tension and conflict sketched out here will ever be reconciled; it is even doubtful whether such reconciliation is possible or desirable. It might issue in ruination. What is less doubtful, it seems to me, is that liberty of power has been in the saddle for quite some time, and has pushed the train of its notions and doctrines pretty durned far down the line of logic. Almost down to the last station-house where all merely logical propositions must end: absurdity. We live in an age where a man may be called nasty names, may be dismissed as a crank or bigot, for (1) opposing the unlawful transformation of his country under insipid universalist slogans like, “family values do not end at the Rio Grande”; (2) opposing as impractical in the extreme the transformation of a Arabic and Islamic nation along the lines of the French Revolution; (3) preferring his own people and fellow-citizens to foreigners; (4) resisting or lamenting the reductionism that would make men subject to abstracted economic principles. These are but four examples off the top of my head.
As a statesman, the Patriot’s desire is for self-government. The Nationalist, by contrast, is often seduced by imperialism. Perceiving great wickedness, or perceiving none, he desires to spread his doctrine to all. Eventually he will be frustrated, and it is very tempting then to attribute opposition to perversity or base interest. His charity fails because men are not as real to him as ideas.
The Patriot does not deny that a self-governing people may govern themselves poorly, may fall into wickedness, or may be carried to ruin by their own faults. But neither does he give in to that impatience with an ordered and measured relation between parts and whole that has become the hallmark of modern politics. His world is that which exists, not that which may exist — the world to come he leaves to God. He wants to be left alone with his inherited goods; and his sense of history suggests that there have been far more examples of aspired progress transforming rapidly into tyranny, than of good things achieved and preserved in the face of progressive aspirations. Thus when he believes he has a good thing, he feels deeply the duty to preserve it, and perhaps even more deeply, a loathing of its proffered transformation.