The Freedom Fallacy
Friday, November 25, 200532 Comments
Since the French Revolution in particular freedom has been the word that one uses if one wants to rally mass support around a cause, any cause. Liberals used it first and perhaps most successfully to rally popular support for the American and French Revolutions. Socialists used it to rally working class support against the status quo. Conservatives, while originally wary of the term, have now embraced it as part of the neo-conservative creed and used it in a large part to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Ever since the masses of common people appeared on the political stage in the 18th Century it has been the desire for more and more freedom that has driven them to follow often criminal ideologies and policies. The Nazis promised freedom in racial terms to the German people and freedom from past national humiliations. The Soviet Constitution under Stalin promised an incredible range of freedoms even as millions were being sent to their deaths in the Gulag.
Freedom motivates, probably more than any other word in our vocabulary. People make money and buy luxury goods largely because they believe and are often told that they will bring them a measure of freedom they otherwise would not have. People seek social status and political status for the same reasons. They believe that power brings freedom along with it and will enable a person to ignore the mundane concerns of everyday living.
Of course all these perspectives are incredibly naïve. You might make a certain amount of money and enter a higher tax bracket and be able to afford a fancy car or house or whatever. For a while you might be happy and empowered but then you see that so many others are in the same situation and so you must now work to distinguish yourself from them with more wealth and more and better trappings of material success. You end up back at square one essentially.
Someone might gain in social and political status attaining high positions of authority and might at first be in awe of their new found power and see it as a release from the mundane activities of lower station. What they soon come to realize is that they must now take on responsibilities they never had to take on before and the consequences of mistakes and of failure are now infinitely higher than they were. They will realize that with power comes responsibility and not freedom to do as one wants all the time. Mature minds realize this fact early on but immature minds fixated on getting away from responsibility and unconcerned with the concept of duty find themselves trapped.
Freedom as a concept is quite naïve unless you have duty as a precondition. Personal fulfillment through doing one’s duty and fulfilling one’s purpose is perhaps the only real way of attaining freedom. When you serve the broader interests of society you are effectively serving yourself as a member of society. The common good is of paramount importance.
Winston Churchill is a prime example of this. Throughout his life he had a very strong sense of duty and sought to fulfill himself through accomplishments that benefited his country and ultimately the world as a whole. While Hitler promised an immature, tyrannical freedom to the German “master-race,” Churchill promised “blood, toil, tears and sweat…” but promised ultimate victory in World War II no matter the cost. What he did was for the common good of humanity laid out in the starkest of terms.
Often people do not wish to hear what must be done to attain real freedom. They feel freedom is theirs by right and should be taken at liberty like a child reaches into a cookie jar. If Churchill had said what he had said during peacetime he would have been mocked and other less astute politicians would have won over the people with promises of instant gratification. Those who speak the truth are rarely welcomed except in times of crisis and we are indeed very lucky that Churchill emerged as he did to take charge of Great Britain in one of humanity’s darkest hours. While Remembrance Day as a tradition continues, we as a generation are rapidly losing sight of what the concept of duty means and it is no surprise given our society of material affluence which preaches instant gratification and ultimately childish values. What will we do when all the veterans are gone, when there is no one left alive to remember what must be done and what sacrifices must be made to achieve real fulfillment and real freedom? I wear a poppy year round in remembrance of the war dead of all wars and I can only hope that others share the sentiment that in an age of laziness, the concept of duty and honour must never die. For if they do humanity will be in great danger largely from our own childish impulses. Impulses that misguided notions of freedom merely reinforce.
In conclusion I wish to leave you with a quote from one of the greatest philosophers of all time and one of the true founders of Western Civilization itself. Plato said the following: “So from an extreme of liberty one is likely to get, in the individual and in society, a reaction to an extreme of subjection. And if that is so, we should expect tyranny to result from democracy, the most savage subjection from an excess of liberty.” Balance is essential and duty and purpose are the best defenses we have against extremism of any sort, these form the source of human dignity. We must never forget this.