Freedom and Its Abuses

By D'Souza, Dinesh | The American Spectator, May/June 2002 | Go to article overview

Freedom and Its Abuses


D'Souza, Dinesh, The American Spectator


WHEN VIRTUE LOSES ALL HER LOVELINESS

The most serious charge against America is not that it is an oppressive society, or one that denies freedom and opportunity to minorities. It is the charge that America is an immoral society Islamic fundamentalists hold that the United States and the West may be materially advanced, but they are morally decadent. As Sayyid Qutb observes, at least the West used to be Christian; now it is pagan. Qutb argues that modem America is suffering from jahilliya-from the same polytheism, idolatry and moral degeneracy that the prophet Muhammad found in the Bedouin tribes in the seventh century. In 1978, in his famous Harvard address, the Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn charged that in the West freedom has become another word for licentiousness, and "man's sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer."Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, recently termed the West "the first atheistic civilization in the history of humankind."

Many American conservatives and evangelical Christians share these concerns. Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attack, the editor of one evangelical magazine described the World Trade Center as a modern Tower of Babel dedicated to the "false deities" of materialism, secularism and relativism. On the right, figures such as Robert Bork, Bill Bennett and Gary Bauer have warned that American culture has deteriorated to the point that, in Bork's expression, the US. is "slouching toward Gomorrah."

Some Americans will find this portrait of their country to be exaggerated and unduly harsh.They will point out, correctly, that many Americans are deeply religious, and that of all FirstWorld countries, America has the highest percentage of people who believe in God and go to church. They argue, too, that Hollywood movies and TV shows are entertainment-they should not be seen as representative of how people really live. The weirdos that we see on daytime talk shows, for instance, are the modern equivalent of circus freaks. Finally, we should note that in recent years crime and illegitimacy rates have declined, so that American culture is healthier in these respects.

While these are valid points, the criticisms of Qutb, Solzhenitsyn, Havel, Bork and others cannot be so easily dismissed.True,Americans are probably more religious and socially conservative than Europeans, but that is not saying much, considering how decadent the Europeans are. Despite all the picturesque churches that dot the American landscape, religion seems to have little or no public authority over society. And the "death of God" appears to have resulted,just as Nietzsche said it would, in the collapse of traditional morality and the rise of moral relativism.

The disastrous consequences of this moral upheaval have been compiled by Bill Bennett in his "Index of Cultural Indicators." But they are evident for all to see. America is a country where the traditional family seems to have irretrievably broken down:The typical marriage ends in divorce, and illegitimacy is now common across racial and socioeconomic lines. Behavior that is considered wrong and deviant in many cultures--such as premarital sex, homosexuality and the use of pornography-is tolerated, if not accepted, in the United States. Newcomers are often shocked by the vulgarity and shamelessness of American popular culture that, even as entertainment, shapes the general tone of society. Perhaps one should not be surprised at the barbarism and weirdness of many American teenagers-their role models are people like Howard Stern, Dennis Rodman, Madonna and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, formally known as Prince.

All of this adds up to a powerful critique, which states that in America freedom has established itself as the highest value and has fatally undermined other cherished values. Freedom in America means choice, and from the perspective of the critics, choice has been deified without regard to the content of choice. …

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