Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Do We Think We Can Be Free?

The true liberal wants and expects to be left alone by authority. He does not need it, it just gets in his way. He makes his own living, looks after his own family and contributes to the community he lives in. The modern socialist wants and expects to have his needs taken care of by somebody else, to be given work to do where there is no demand, or money in lieu of it, to be made happy, to be listened to and taken seriously, offering little or nothing in return. The instinctive right-winger solves, or expects to have to solve, his own problems; the left-winger waits for someone else to do it. It is a difference in their approach to life so fundamental that it suggests they will never understand each other.

They will also understand freedom in different ways. To the rightist, freedom means not being prevented from doing anything which is of no concern to anything else, including thinking, having and expressing opinions, disposing of his free time and his money in the way he sees fit. To the leftist, freedom means that others must provide the means to allow them to do what they want. The left expects others to sacrifice their time, money, ideas, opportunities and possibilities in an attempt to be made free. The rightist can be free. The leftist cannot, because he does not know how to be.

And he probably doesn’t care very much. He fears and loathes the rightist’s kind of freedom. It is something his character does not allow him to aspire to or even understand. To him, the rightist’s freedom is selfishness and oppression.

I read libertarian writings (which I don’t necessarily understand), libertarian blogs (which I don’t necessarily agree with), have libertarian ideas (which are not necessarily coherent), and my instinct is to politely ask the world in general, and the government and all its irritatingly self-important little paper-pushers, the press and its irritatingly self-important little commentators, to go away and leave me alone. I do not need people constantly telling me what to do; I do not need people criticising my actions, opinions and interests, from a position of almost total ignorance, and expecting me to listen or care; I do not like having my money taken away from me by force in order to buy votes for some demagogue or just to punish me for being a professional, working hard, not needing or expecting charity, and supporting a centre-right party.

This is not a rant, nor is it about me. I just wanted to make it clear what I mean by freedom here and that I am well aware that it can be understood to mean other things than this, so the following question can be asked and considered in a meaningful way:

Why do we expect to be free? Why do we imagine that it is a natural state of affairs which, if we fight for it, we can achieve? Is it even desirable for most people? Many people assume that if we were not tyrannized by politicians, bureaucrats, trade unions, journalists, irritating neighbours, busybodies in general and anyone with a bit of power we would have freedom.

But it may not be true. It is nice to think so, but the world is full of people who believe they can achieve beauty, or slimness, or wealth, or happiness, and who have neither the means nor the will to do anything about it, other than to waste money on the latest supposed miracle that has been mentioned on the television.

We accept that not everyone can be rich, that not everyone can be good, or pleasant, or successful, or fulfilled or happy, or have power. But we do like to believe that everyone can be free. Perhaps it is a substitute for all the other things we know that we, or if we are generous in spirit, the whole world, cannot have. Throughout the documented history of humanity very few people in very few places have ever been free. Today there are not many countries in the world where it is even possible to talk freely about wanting to be free. And most people in the world who are not directly enslaved by the workers of the state that others have built around them, are enslaved by ignorance, hunger, fear, insanity, indolence or confusion.

Lupus est homini homo. In all societies and all groups, clubs, families, nations, there are those who lead and those who follow, and those who complain about having to follow but who are not capable of leading. To seek freedom from leaders is to recognise that you yourself cannot lead, which invites others who can to try to lead you. Individual men may be free, in certain ways and at certain times, but a free society, in the sense that we are using the term, is very likely impossible. We are but men, and not everyone is like us, nor are they what we should like them to be. The left often forgets this, and we rightly call them foolish. Let us not imagine we can actually reach the stars, but the journey might be fascinating and rewarding.

Perhaps with freedom, as with beauty, as with happiness, as with comfort, as with morals, belief is everything. The man who believes himself to be free is free. Those of us who merely aspire to freedom are doomed never to experience it.

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