chapter  9
26 Pages

Freedom’s freedom: American enlightenment and permanent war

America’s autobiography begins with the love of freedom.3 This paraphrase of Agnes Heller’s wry comment on the self-image of European modernity seems particularly apt in the wake of 11 September 2001 – a paraphrase in which the sign ‘America’ replaces ‘Europe’. Since then we have been reminded how the United States of America sought to replace Europe in the grand narrative of western enlightenment, recasting it as American ‘exceptionalism’, ‘manifest destiny’ and ‘the American century’; of how it then replaced Europe as a global power and Idea4 after 1945; and of how it continues to struggle with Europe to be a hegemonic maker of twenty-first-century global order.5 What are we to make of America’s relentless autobiography in the wake of 9/11, its obsession with narrating its own story as freedom? Warrior autobiography, where war on terror is named ‘enduring freedom’, war on Saddam Hussein ‘Iraqi freedom’, where attacks on buildings and bodies are named attacks on freedom, where freedom is an ‘operation’ and justice is ‘just war’?6 ‘America’ replaces ‘Europe’. What are we to make of European enlightenment made American, of American enlightenment made permanent war?