February 01, 2007


Caption: Seamus, like his fellow rebel, Frida Kahlo, fights for bread and roses.

I don't get to Washington very often, but when I do I gravitate to three monuments.

One is dedicated to Jefferson, the brilliant but flawed poet of freedom. Another is dedicated to Lincoln, its suffering servant.

The third is for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who demonstrated that in modern societies, freedom and economic and social justice are compatible.

Roosevelt's reforms not only helped save the nation from depression, competing totalitarian visions, and the unrestrained greed of what he called the "economic royalists"--they have made possible a better, more dignified life for working people, the elderly, and the less fortunate.

Recently, I came across this passage by Latvian-born British philosopher Isaiah Berlin which elegantly sums up his accomplishments:

...Roosevelt's greatest service to mankind (after ensuring the victory against the enemies of freedom) consists in the fact that he showed that it is possible to be politically effective and yet benevolent and human; that the fierce left- and right-wing propaganda of the 1930s, according to which the conquest and retention of political power is not compatible with human qualities, but necessarily demands from those who pursue it seriously the sacrifice of their lives upon the altar of some ruthless ideology, or the practice of despotism--this propaganda, which filled the art and talk of the day, was simply untrue. Roosevelt's example strengthened democracy everywhere, that is to say the view that the promotion of social justice and individual liberty does not necessarily mean the end of all efficient government; that power and order are not identical with a strait-jacket of doctrine, whether economic or political; that it its possible to reconcile individual liberty--a loose texture of society--with the indispensible minimum of organizing and authority; and in this belief lies what Roosevelt's greatest predecessor once describes as 'the last best hope of earth.'

For the last few decades, we've been force-fed the poisonous notion that justice and freedom cannot mix--and as a result both have suffered. Roosevelt showed that both are not only necessary but possible.



Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

I truly love DC, even lived their in the early '70s. I often visited the monuments, especially Lincoln's. However, when I would drive around the Lincoln Memorial I would usually get in the wrong driving lane and end up crossing the bridge into Arlington Cemetery.

Freedom without justice is anarchy; justice without freedom is oppression.

El Cabrero said...

Speaking of anarchy, I hate driving in cities...