The Philosophy of Freedom in Iraq


by Tom Last


In the first paragraph in Chapter 1 of Rudolf Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom we find moralists who proclaim freedom as our most precious possession and scientific thinkers who declare free will as the most fatal illusion of humanity.


The idea of the freedom of the human will has found enthusiastic supporters and stubborn opponents in plenty. There are those who, in their moral fervor, label anyone as having limited intelligence who can deny so patent a fact as freedom. Opposed to them are others who regard it as the acme of unscientific thinking for anyone to believe that the uniformity of natural law is broken in the sphere of human action and thinking. One and the same thing is thus proclaimed, now as the most precious possession of humanity, now as its most fatal illusion.

Moral Responsibility

Most of us would prefer to think we have free will. That is, we make choices and decisions that are uniquely our own. If we make 'good' choices our self-esteem is elevated and this gives us pleasure. On the other hand most of our knowledge says we live in an orderly universe that operates according to natural laws. How can we have free will while the rest of the universe is deterministic? This is resolved by presuming we are special within the universe. The divine creator gave us free will. Simple as that! The downside of this is that it is not based upon knowledge. It is faith.


The idea of free will is central to most religions. You cannot have moral responsibility without free will. If we were all automatons, we would simply do whatever we were pre-programmed to do. We would lack the ability to act ethically or unethically, to choose between good and evil. We are given a choice to live for God or not. Christian fundamentalists would say we have a choice to accept Jesus or not. If I chose not to accept Jesus I would not be punished by God but.... the price would be hell for eternity when I die.


Science is Based on the Authority of Scientific Thinking

To acknowledge freedom as an act of faith is not agreeable with science. The scientific view cannot accept what someone proclaims as revealed to them by some deity or supernatural power. This is not reliable because it cannot be checked by others and is not repeatable. Science is a method that allows a person to possess, with the highest degree of certainty, reliable knowledge. The method used to justify scientific knowledge and make it reliable is called the scientific method. This method is practiced within the context of scientific thinking. Scientific thinking is based upon three things: empirical evidence, logical reasoning and a skeptical attitude. Empirical evidence is evidence that one can see, hear, touch, taste or smell. It is evidence that is sense perceptible. This is evidence that others can experience. It is repeatable so it can be verified by others. Logic allows us to reason correctly. Many illogical statements are accepted and go unchallenged in society leading to tragic results. Skepticism, especially the questioning of our own beliefs, can prevent self-deception and it can prevent us from being deceived by others.


Faith is Based on the Authority of Revelation

Where a person stands on the question of freedom may be established by whether it is the authority of faith or the authority of reason that convinces them of something. The religious accept human freedom on the basis of faith, and scientific naturalists reject freedom on the basis of research that cannot find freedom from within the natural processes and phenomena they study.


Religious faith usually involves the authority of revelation, which is considered higher than reason. Revelation presents the intensity of immediate knowledge with conviction but is considered unscientific as it deals with subjective impressions and fails to deal with the reality in the outside world. Natural science is considered limited as it can not establish reliable knowledge beyond that which can be perceived by the senses.


War Became a Moral Responsibility

Conviction based on faith results in a different approach to life than one based on reason. Comparing the decision-making process of two presidents can serve as an example. George H. W. Bush and his son George W. Bush both were presidents of the United States who were faced with a decision to invade Iraq or not. The son's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was faith-based while the father's decision not to invade in 1991 was reason-based.


The noble ideals of freedom and liberty are enthusiastically supported by George W. Bush who believes that freedom is our most precious possession, Almighty God�s gift to every man and woman in this world. Bush Jr., who became a born-again Christian at 40, is one of the most overtly religious leaders to occupy the White House. He believes America has a moral responsibility to bring freedom to the Middle East.

I believe that America is called to lead the cause of freedom in a new century. I believe that millions in the Middle East plead in silence for their liberty. I believe that given the chance, they will embrace the most honorable form of government (democracy) ever devised by man. I believe all these things because freedom is not America's gift to the world; it is the Almighty God's gift to every man and woman in this world.

According to him his decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq originated in a revelation from God. God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq according to sources interviewed by the BBC:

President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven! with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did.

These words are declarations of divine wishes. We have a moral responsibility to obey God. As such, they are in some measure immune from rational critique and evaluation. Absolute faith doesn�t need empirical evidence or rational analysis. When the president's decisions and policies seemed to collide with acknowledged facts the president would say that he relied on his 'gut' or his 'instinct' to guide the nation, and then he 'prayed over it'.


President Bush met with three Iraqis who described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein if he chose to invade. During their conversation with the President it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites. The three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam--to which the President allegedly responded, "I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!"


Jean-Paul Sartre speaks of moral responsibility:

If an angel comes to me, what proof is there that it's an angel? And if I hear voices, what proof is there that they come from heaven and not from hell, or from the subconscious, or a pathological condition? What proves that they are addressed to me? What proof is there that I have been appointed to impose my choice and my conception of man on humanity? If a voice addresses me, it is always for me to decide that this is the angel's voice; if I consider that such an act is a good one, it is I who will choose to say that it is good rather than bad. . . . We have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us. We are alone, with no excuses. . . . man is condemned to be free.

Ending Suppression in Iraq was not our Responsibility

In contrast to his son, President George H. W. Bush made a decision not to invade Iraq after the Gulf War. The senior Bush brought more foreign policy experience into the White House than any president in generations. His knowledge of the complexities of global politics and diplomatic experience informed his every foreign policy decision. His reasoned prediction was that if we had gone into Baghdad after the Gulf War we would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. The U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power today 16 years later in a bitterly hostile land. As a realist, he was doubtful that democracy could be imposed by force. There's no non-partisan center in Iraq. There are no objective and impartial citizens who are needed for a democracy. We are dealing with tribes motivated by clan loyalty. He saw no alternative other than isolating Iraq and remaining uninvolved.


Critics contend that the great shortcoming of the realism of Bush Sr is its disregard for human rights, the belief embedded in realism is that what countries do to their own people is not our responsibility and shouldn't be our concern. They have fought for thousands of years in the Middle East and they will continue to not get along. Bush Sr's realism lacks the idealistic vision of 'freedom for all' and holds no faith in the people of Iraq to overcome Sunni, Shia, Arab, Kurd, and Turkoman ethnic and sectarian differences to build a unified country.


Does Belief in Free Will Lead to Violence?

In contrast, Bush Jr. lacked the scientific realism needed to work with the existing facts on the ground. His faith-based foreign policy is a battle between good and evil. God gave us free will so that we have a choice between good and evil. This rests on the assumption that all things are either good or evil. This premise leads into a whole thicket of reward and punishment, heavens and hells, condemnation or adulation, guilt, shame, contempt, pride - a host of mean destructive attitudes and behaviors among humans. Iraq was placed into Bush's axis of evil. In short, a religious belief in free will may promote man's viciousness to man as demonstrated in the Christian crusades and Osama Bin Laden's terrorism. Bush Jr's blind faith-based absolutism removed any interest in diplomacy or intellectual curiosity toward understanding the Iraqi people. Iraq is viewed as an empty vessel to be filled with his administration's moral and cultural values. When he rejected the scientific approach of acquiring knowledge of the world, which is required for diplomacy, in favor of faith alone, he was left with no other choice but force or failure. Failure was unacceptable as his intuition was considered divine edict. The high ideal of freedom was subverted into a military crusade.


In contrast to the son's moral fervor, the father Bush considered it ridiculous to deny the research that said Democracy would never work in such a strongly traditional culture and felt no moral obligation to end the suppression in Iraq. He lacked the driving force of moral intuitions to sustain the will needed to take on the obstacles posed by the complex social structure of Iraq. With all the power and wealth of the United States at their disposal one president did nothing and the other made the greatest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history.


Integration of Moral Ideals, Creative Imagination, and Scientific Knowledge

Unfortunately, they do not teach The Philosophy of Freedom at Yale University, which both Bushes attended, or they would have learned how to have and integrate moral ideals with knowledge of the world through the use of creative imagination. Once understood one can begin applying it immediately, though of course it involves a lifetime of further development of intuitive, imaginative, and technical abilities.


Moral Intuition

From White House insider accounts it appears George W. Bush had a moral idea or moral intuition of the great importance of freedom. He would strive to bring this great ideal to nations. As president he would support freedom around the world. It is his intuition and its realization would be his highest pleasure. It empowers his will to give him the strength to endure any opposition.


For it to be a free moral impulse this ideal should be arrived at without reference to Iraq but the result of pure intuition out of the ideal sphere; otherwise it would be the situation in Iraq that determined the idea rather than the individual.


Moral Imagination

To take this abstract ideal of freedom and turn it into a picture that is to be realized is moral imagination. He would free Iraq from the suppression of a dictator. Until the Iraqi people are secure within a functioning free society Bush Jr's work will not be done. An idealistic vision of a new Iraq was shaped with new government institutions supportive of freedom. This vision becomes the source of action. It is our highest motivation to express our intuitions in action.


Moral Technique

Now the picture of a free Iraq must be implemented. This is where the process unravels for the Bush administration. Without an interest in the science of diplomacy or in understanding the will of the Iraqi people the son's only option is to use force to implement his moral revelation with fatal results.


In order to bring a new form into the world or move things in a new direction we set to work in an existing world. Iraq is not an empty vessel to be filled with another's vision, but already exists according to social and cultural laws that shape the attitudes and behavior of its people. In order to transform the society into one allowing greater freedom requires knowledge of the existing principles at work and a procedure to change these principles into new ones. This requires expert knowledge of the Iraqi people and expert diplomatic skills. The ability to transform the world without violating the existing natural laws is called moral technique in The Philosophy of Freedom.


The whole process never began for George H. W. Bush as he lacked any inspired moral imagination involving the Iraqi people and their plight other than to contain them and stay away as if he had chosen to withdraw into the isolationism of a gated community. He wrote them off as fixed in their cultural ways with no hope of individualism. His was a science without morality.


According to The Philosophy of Freedom, moral responsibility is freely determined, creatively imagined, and expertly applied by a free spirit. The action is empowered by love each step of the way. Spiritual activity integrates spiritual ideals, artistic imagination, and scientific technique into each moral deed. The world needs graduates of the Philosophy of Freedom in addition to graduates of Ivy League universities.

This essay is part of an online course in Rudolf Steiner�s book The Philosophy of Freedom.
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