Monday, February 08, 2010

The rhetoric of freedom

OK, I understand, dear LD.

You want an answer to the second of your quibbles. I delayed, because it is much harder to give. You object to the opportunity of raising the question of discrimination, more suited, you say, to an academic discussion, than to a press conference, where journalists will pick up your words and use them as they like. It is enough, you fear, to discriminate on the use of the word discrimination, to open oneself to the accusation of favoring "discrimination".

You might be right. And I indulged in lingering on the question of how we got there: at the point in which we should expect that that word would be taken the way you fear.

It is a question of rhetoric, you rightly say: knowing how to address one's audience.

Now, ancient theoreticians of rhetoric – which is the same as saying the Socratic philosophers Plato and Aristotle – teach something that is almost common sense, but of which it is always good to be reminded: to have a conversation, or to persuade an audience, it is necessary to find some common ground – tropoi (Greek) or loci communes (Latin) – from which to proceed.

The question is then: what loci communes can Church spokesmen find when addressing an audience of not very sympathetic journalists, more prone on raising scandal about her that anything else (also because, as you suggested in the last post, it sells better).

At stake, in the British equality bill on the background of this discussion, is the freedom of the Church, you say. It's here, perhaps, the common ground we are looking for. Because it is not at stake the freedom of the Church only, but everybody's freedom: the very idea of liberty on which our liberal societies are grounded.

Not easy idea, this of "liberty".

Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his Four Essays on Liberty, distinguished between "freedom from" and "freedom to": i.e. a negative idea of liberty, as freedom from constraint, and a positive idea, that gives to liberty a positive content, the state of things at which we have to aim by liberating ourselves from constraint. Only the first would be compatible with liberal society, the second would tend toward totalitarianism.

I humbly disagree from the eminent theoretician of liberal society, or at least I disagree from his overt formulation of the question. Once we include "freedom from" in a theory of society, we are ipso facto envisaging the whereto of liberty. Let's call it a civil society, in which people feel free to be in conversation, without constraints. And, let me add, there is no conversation without the truth of it.

My disagreement in not as such of great momentum. I only remark it, to point out why and how I see in liberty the common ground for a rhetorically sound approach on the side of the Church to present days' liberal audience.

And this takes me back to the first point, on which I lingered in the previous posts.

The letter of a theory of liberal society, like that of Isaiah Berlin I took as example, overshadowed its spirit, and liberty has come to be understood exclusively as freedom from all constraints: first of all, that of truth, and, with it, the truth of what conversation requires to be effective. The main preoccupation appears that of assuring liberty, in its wholly negative sense, equally to everybody. But in this way equality, no longer warranted by the cultivated capability for good conversation, has to be imposed from on high. Made into indifferent sameness, it enters in contradiction with liberty.

With affection



Gabriella said...

I do appreciate the fine work you are doing ;)
I love reading your posts ... they get me thinking deeply!
Thank you.

Lazy Disciple said...

Thanks to you, Gabriella, from both of us!