"By our efforts we have lit a fire," said George W. Bush at the West Front of the Capitol, "a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corner of the world." The phrase comes from Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed," a novel about a provincial town inspired by new revolutionary ideas. After a turbulent literary evening, a fire breaks out, and one townsman says, "The fire is in the minds of men, not in the roofs of buildings." Historian James Billington, now Librarian of Congress, used the phrase as the title of his history of 19th-century revolutionaries, "Fire in the Minds of Men." Bush is routinely characterized as a conservative and castigated by political opponents as a reactionary. But in his Second Inaugural, he revealed himself to be a revolutionary.
Four years ago, Bush talked of "shaping a balance of power that favors freedom." He said, "Through much of the last century, America's faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations." But Sept. 11 taught Bush that America needs to do more than shape a balance of power or let seeds blow with the wind. "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world," he said last week. And, bluntly, "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."
There is no concession in this to the complaints of his critics, no defensiveness about the course of events, no reference to the counsels of sophisticated nuance. He set out a breathtakingly ambitious goal: to bring democracy to the entire world. One would like to know the reaction of Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. Or the Iranian mullahs. Or Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Or China's rulers.