The “Freedom” Liturgy
LETTER FROM ENGLAND
It’s always good manners to listen to what the other man is saying. But one can be tempted to do otherwise. A phonetician, for example, might be so fascinated by another man’s articulation and accent as to overlook his actual words, his message.
A new book published in the U.S. subjected me to just such a temptation. The book is On Freedom edited by John A. Howard (Devin-Adair, $12.95). Its nine essays started off as lectures, given at a conference that was held in Frankfurt in 1982. The well-known speakers explored the title subject on lines that were successively philosophical, economic, cultural, and religious. By way of conclusion, “The Russian Question” was considered historically and with admirable sobriety. Hence the book under review. Its intellectual and literary standard is high at every point; and while it contains no mind-shattering novelties, it can be warmly recommended to anyone who wishes to reconsider its subject in some depth.
Yes, I did pay attention to what these people were saying. But that took an effort: all the time I was tempted to pay closer attention to the kind of thing they were doing.
Here are a few disconnected observations to indicate the area of my distractions: Human beings show a consistent tendency to be more interested in myth than in factual reality. Confucius said that it was the chief business of government to organize ceremonies. Psychology and anthropology suggest that humanity needs “sacred kingship” far more deeply than it needs government and politics, as now understood by ourselves. Here in England, there’s a marked contrast between the State Opening of Parliament — with all the antiquity of royal splendor — and the moral and intellectual squalor of the Parliament which is thereby opened. Conor Cruise O’Brien once described the proceedings of the United Nations in terms of Sacred Drama.
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