Reflections on Freedom

JOHN DAVEY recently left school where he edited a magazine with the superscription "if we have offended our offensive community, we are not offended."

ANARCHY, DECLARES THE POPULAR POLITICIAN, is the philosophy of criminals and sex-maniacs. In an anarchist society, where there are no morals, no laws, and no governments, these types thrive and can do as they please. It is a place, in other words, where all our hard-earned security is lost, and where everybody fends for himself in a useless and never-ending fight for survival. Take my advice, he says, and vote for a government.

Naturally enough, we take his advice and as a result we benefit from the security which is so dear to us and is given by our tradition of stable government. However, we are vaguely interested in this anarchy business (you know, it sounds rather romantic and all that) and so we look it up in the dictionary. The dictionary, we find, explains that anarchy equals no order, equals confusion, equals nil. From this, and from what we have already heard of them, we conclude that the anarchist himself is a nasty, rather untidy, little man who throws bombs at every opportunity, makes a nuisance of himself wherever be goes, and, oh yes, generally disturbs the peace.

All this has much the same effect on me as the dictionary definition of jazz — it gives me a feeling of utter despair and of red hot anger.

The true character of the anarchist has been revealed to us by short definitions in the last two issues of ANARCHY. But I do not see that these will have had much effect on the misconceptions of the majority, since they do not read ANARCHY, and in all probability, have never heard of it either. As a result one of the major tasks of the anarchist is explaining to enquirers the true meaning of anarchy. It is all very well to say simply, "Anarchy means the doing-away with all tyranny, and the giving of liberty to all", but the inevitable reply to this is "But what shall I do with this liberty when I have it?"

It is my belief that the confusion results from believing that anarchy is an end in itself. It is not this, but a means to an end. Anarchy does not mean liberty, but empty liberty means not a thing — absolutely nothing.

It is a universal fallacy that liberty and freedom are the same. This is not at all the case. Liberty is merely a state of environment, while freedom is the result of personal achievement and is a state of existence; liberty is the last rung in the ladder before freedom. Becoming free is an immense task, and philosophers have provided an immense number of solutions to the problem, none of them easy. A common existentialist view of freedom is that of a never-ending series of decisions — a cycle of repetition. "Whoever fails to understand that life is repetition" said Nietzche, "and that this is its beauty, has passed judgement on himself; he deserves no better fate than that which will befall him, namely to be lost."

And on the trials of choice, Kierkegaard wrote, "In general it is quite inconceivable how ingenious and inventive human beings can be in evading an ultimate decision. Anyone who has seen the curious antics of recruits when they are ordered into the water will often have had occasion to perceive analogies in the realm of the spirit." And on the importance of choice: "Nobody can be free unless he knows what to do." (John McMurray: Freedom in the Modern World).

It is impossible to define freedom in detail, for freedom is entirely personal and up to the individual himself. This is why Nietzche's idea of freedom probably sounds very unsuitable for ourselves; but to him it was a revelation, a release, the discovery of his life. One of the most successful attempts to describe freedom was that made by McMurray:

"Self realisation is the true moral ideal. But to realise ourselves we have to be ourselves, to make ourselves real. That means thinking and feeling really, for ourselves, and expressing our own reality in word and action. And this is freedom, and the secret of it lies in our capacity for friendship,"

But the half-convinced anarchist, having discovered the meaning of anarchy, will now question the morals of human beings when freed from all law. For one thing, there is no such thing as a moral law, and it is my belief that the so-called "basic evilness" of mankind is not basic at all, but the reaction to centuries of oppression. The idea that to be free is to be moral and to be moral is to be free, is argued by McMurray (again in Freedom in the Modern World). To be a good human being is to realise true human nature in oneself; that is to say to be really human in one's way of living. This is the same thing as to be free, for anything is free that realises its now proper nature spontaneously in its behaviour. Thus to be moral and to be free are the same thing. Instead of saying that any freedom is bad which is immoral, we ought to say that any moral is bad that is against freedom. A moral rule which is a limit to human freedom is a bad rule. Freedom is the criterion of good conduct.

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Sep 5 2016 22:34


Anarchy: a journal of anarchist ideas

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