Freedom Revisited

Once again, dear readers, I give you a  tid-bit from past blogs that will be included in my upcoming book! Enjoy!!

Consider, if you will, the Tory philosopher Edmund Burke who expressed a fundamental truth about human freedom. Freedom, Burke suggested, is chaos if it is not restrained by wisdom and virtue.
There are two sorts of freedom according to Isiah Berlin, positive and negative freedom. Negative freedom is the freedom we brag about, the freedom to choose the cereal we want from a shelf filled with countless varieties of cereals. The freedom to come and go as we please. It connotes the absence of restraints. And taken to the extreme, negative freedom is “folly, vice, madness.”  Imagine a throng of people trying to get on a tow line to reach the top of a ski hill. If they do not line up and take turns it will be hell to pay. Order makes true freedom possible. Freedom without restraint is chaos.
And that suggests the other kind of freedom, positive freedom. This requires thought, “wisdom and virtue,” as Burke suggests. This is true human freedom, the freedom the liberal arts are concerned with, based on the assumption that we are not free at birth and we are not free simply because our hands are untied or we have a huge variety of cereals to choose from. Freedom comes with effort, self-discipline, and education. Freedom comes with knowing which of those cereals are worth eating, which are healthy and which will make us obese and eventually sick.
One of the winning cards that was played in the recent political game we call an election was the freedom card. There are many among us, more than we had imagined, who have felt restrained and held back by “the establishment,” those with money and power who control the strings of government. A man came along speaking in tongues but making clear that if he were elected there would no longer be any restraints, the game would be changed and the disenfranchised would be empowered. These desperate people bought into the lies and empty promises that were tossed at them, huddled together screaming obscene epithets at their opponents and the power-brokers. And they made themselves heard. For better or worse, there are more people who feel free today than they did a year ago.
But that freedom is negative freedom and it may well lead to “folly, vice, and madness” because there is no suggestion that it will allow restraints and the tempering effects of wisdom and virtue — two words that have become lost in the screaming hatred coming from the mouths of those who happened to win the election.
Given that the ideal of the founders to establish a Republic was based on their understanding that true freedom requires wisdom and restraint, as Burke suggested, we can say with confidence that we are growing further and further away from that ideal. Our system of government is in the hands of a demagogue who has no sense of history and has exhibited a total disregard for wisdom and virtue. His promise of greater freedom translates to the removal of restraints and the encouragement of unfettered feelings, including hatred of those who differ from themselves. The freedom he promises is just a nudge this side of chaos.


11 thoughts on “Freedom Revisited

  1. Dear Hugh Cutler,

    This is the best blog that I have read which paints the picture of our current condition in the USA. i love the way you describe the folks who voted for President Trump. The concept is easy to convey to others that with the gift of freedom, comes the need to act in a responsible way for this freedom to be positive instead of destructive.The human spirit. is lifted up with positive freedom but broken with the negative. I plan to tweet your blog to a lot of legislators.

    Thanks for a great blog.

    Hugs, Gronda

    • Thanks, Susan. It won’t be a best-seller. But it will be an earnest attempt to say what I think needs to be said about where we are and where we seem to be headed! It’s in the works!

  2. ” Freedom, Burke suggested, is chaos if it is not restrained by wisdom and virtue. ”

    Yes, we need more leaders who posses those important ingredients of wisdom and virtue… it would be refreshing to live in a world where those in power or with wealth did not try to manipulate others via slick marketing or scare tactics – but were honest and wise.

  3. Excellent post, my friend! As I see it, the entire problem is that a) ‘wisdom and virtue’ are in short supply these days, and b) the me-istic tendency of our citizens seem not to mind chaos so long as they get to choose their cereal.

  4. Hugh, well done, again. If our freedoms are equal, without order, how do we make sure they remain that way? The acknowledgement of another’s freedoms goes part and parcel. These religious freedom laws miss this subtle point. So, do those against gay marriage – those against have no standing on the issue. Keith

  5. Very accurate description Hugh!
    Sometimes, I think we interchange ‘Freedom’ and ‘Choice’ when in reality, choice only comes when we have the Freedom to make a choice. It is kindness, wisdom and sensibility that allows us to make good choices and not misuse our freedom.

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