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More Reflections on the Inaugural: Freedom is not Muscular


By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

This morning I received a letter from a brilliant young woman lawyer who has, for the most part, been a consistent supporter of the President. We have therefore disagreed on some issues. She is also, as am I, a great admirer of Peggy Noonan, the gifted Catholic political speech writer for President Ronald Reagan and current columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

She wrote in her E-Mail to me:


"For the first time in as long as I can remember, I did not like Peggy's editorial today. Why? Because ...she was too polite.

Did the President's speech sound good? Sure. It was full of imagery and poetics. There were buzz lines. He didn't fumble words. His cadence was ...ok.

But as I sat and listened to it, I kept thinking, this is NOT a modern Republican speech. It's a Teddy Roosevelt speech. Which is not inherently a bad thing, but given the past four years, that speech makes me very nervous about the next four....and the possibilities of more war."


I wrote the following letter back to my young friend:

"I agree with the thrust of your comments as well as with Peggy Noonans' caution about this speech. I thought it was both inspired and inspiring, but it also revealed a conflict that could have serious implications for our future.

I would simply say it a bit differently. There was an inherent conflict in the use of the word freedom in this Inaugural address.

For example, the President proclaimed:

"There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."

In these words he spoke of freedom as a "force" that engages in "expansion." This kind of language causes me deep concern. It can become the language of aggression.

Yet he went on to say:

"So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way."

In this context he spoke of the nature of freedom as a voluntary choice, which it is. It is a good of human persons, which must be chosen freely.

Many political pundits will place this apparent conflict within the ongoing struggle between the "neo-cons" and the "realists" within the so- called conservative movement. I am sure there is some truth to this analysis. However, I believe it goes much deeper. It is both ontological and etymological. It speaks to the very nature of freedom and how we will define the word that has so defined us as a Nation. Our future depends on the choice we make.

By its very nature freedom cannot be forced on anyone. Freedom is not muscular. It invites. It draws. It attracts. It persuades. It does not coerce.

As you know, I believed that Afghanistan, though regrettable as is all war, could at least be justified under a proper just war analysis. However, as you know, I did not believe that the initial entry into the current Iraq War could be justified. I parted ways on this issue with some people with whom I have worked on other vital causes and concerns.

I believe that it is the "rationale" behind this latter decision to engage in a "pre-emptive" action against Iraq which is reflected in the first quote from the President's speech. It reveals a dangerous mistake and portends more militarism if it becomes the way that "freedom" is defined by this Administration in determining its foreign policy over the next four years..

We need to pray for this good man, our President. He is in an extraordinarily powerful position. He needs good counsel, more prayer and some different advisors around him.

He also needs what Pope John Paul II has called an "education to freedom."

Depending upon which definition and paragraph becomes the basis of our foreign policy, freedom will either flourish or, it could suffer."


I now share these words with my readers and ask that we all pray for our President, for our Nation and for authentic freedom to flourish in our day.


Deacon Keith Fournier is a Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with approval. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. Fournier is a human rights lawyer and public policy activist. He is the Senior Editor and Correspondent for Catholic Online.


Third Millennium, LLC VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580



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