We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Thursday, October 11. 2007
Some further thoughts about The Barrister's fine post Freedom? No Thanks, and a word about Erich Fromm:
Freedom is about the relationship of the individual to the State. I think of freedom as being a zero-sum game: either freedom, and the heavy responsibilities that go with it, belong to the individual or the power belongs to the State (but that may be a bit too black-and-white).
Even in democracies, the State is not "the people" and is not "the nation." Institutions have a power-seeking dynamic of their own. Our Founders knew that - and rightly feared that.
Does "security from the vicissitudes of life," when provided by the State, result in a diminution of individual freedom? Our Libertarian-minded Barrister often speaks dramatically about "selling our birthright of liberty for a bowl of lentils."
Ed Driscoll quotes a piece by Orin Judd. A snippet:
This is why we sometimes refer to FDR, except for his role as a wartime leader, as the worst President of the US. In his noblesse oblige socialist fashion, he shifted the psychology of the nation to one in which people were encouraged to look to a government as parent (while grossly mis-managing the economy, and while viewing the Depression as a "market failure" rather than partly the consequence of mis-management).
I understand very well the human desire for security: emotional, material, physical, spiritual, etc. These are things most of us strive for. However, the psychological shift from "Uncle Sam" to "Mom and Dad" government has been momentous and has, I believe, weakened the American spirit by appealing to the dependent child inside all of us and the notion that somebody else can do it for us. Naturally, many politicians jump on this opportunity to win votes by the transfer of money from neighbor to neighbor.
We are ambivalent about freedom and autonomy, and our ambivalence is exploited by politicians. Even those who do not chose lives of wealth-seeking unashamedly covet the wealth of others through government programs and benefits - from corporate farmers to single moms to those on Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare and SCHIP to those on government pensions, etc. etc.
That is why we find ourselves in a place where people can complain, with a straight face, that "Bush doesn't care about the health of our children" - as if the care and feeding of our kids were the job of the federal government, instead of ours. The thought contains an infantile assumption and an infantile wish. The trend leads to a royal, if not god-like, view of the State, as if reality no longer counted, and as if the State had the power to immanentize the eschaton. As Robert Parker would say, "Pretty to think so."
The conservative JFK tried to reverse this trend. "Ask not..." was an appeal to the best in the country, an effort to right the ship, to redefine the country as something that depended on us, the people, rather than something we looked to for care and parenting. He was trying to say that "the country" is not "the government." He was saying that the duties of citizens of a free republic and large, and serious. But then we had Johnson.
Addendum: Our blog pal Shrinkwrapped happily picked up on the theme with a thoughtful piece which focuses on the psychology of freedom - On Autonomy and Regression.
Late Addendum from Dr. Bliss: Lest this post, with which I entirely agree, sound too heartless, we are entirely in favor of a safety net for the unlucky, the feckless, the mentally ill, and for those who, for whatever good reason, cannot make it in the modern world. We are not in favor of policies which put every able-bodied soul on the dole, and reduce them to political and literal serfdom. We resist anything which causes or tempts the able-bodied towards dependency in some way: that is not the American spirit nor does it do justice to the human spirit. Plus, if we do that, who will be motivated to take the risks and to create the wealth to pay those bills? That has been tried, and it failed, because of human nature. Governments cannot create wealth: they can only help create conditions under which people can create it. On the whole, humans will rise to challenge, but will take what they can get, if their pride and conscience permit.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
BD, thanks for a great post. There is enough material there to contemplate for a long time. Many of the Roosevelt supporters came from backgrounds in Europe where freedom was still a concept and not a reality. And Roosevelt had a charisma that seemed to appeal to the best in Judeo-Christian charity no matter how dangerous and misplaced it actual was. Our legacy since FDR has been a tragic dimunition of that God-given freedom of which only humans are capable--that of choice. And which, to my knowledge, only those coming from a deeply rooted Judeo-Christian background can appreciate for the utter gift and demand that it is. And that does not include those who think of themselves as progressively spiritual.
I shall return to follow up all of your links.
A tragic era. Progressivism, Bolshevism and Fascism were on the rise. Versaille and the hubris of Wilson left Europe and America easy prey for spirit of the time: social engineering. The empty headed Roosevelt and his vacuous 'new deal' ran the table. WW2 solidified the administrative state. We're stuck with it. There may have been a chance of returning to first principles when the embodiment of progressive, statist thought fell with the Soviet Union but our home grown ideologists just can't give it up. The dream is too strong as they keep saying to themselves, "If only I were in charge.."
What has really gotten to me is the lack of those in the West understanding citizenship as a duty, not a right. To be a citizen requires being not only supportive of society at the low end, but, in a democracy, of participation so that one may be represented. Today those on the political Left and Right have problems expressing that - the duties of being a citizen. We have wanted to get a society where everything was free and easy and give up our responsibilities to the least accountable thing mankind has ever invented: government. The name for that is tyranny, and we are seeing the long term effects of that day-in and day-out.
As I've put before, I see President Wilson not only as the worst President in peace but in war, also, setting the foundations for shifting liberty out of the hands of individuals and into government. That change of outlook to cap the 'progressive era' would lead to worse, of that there is no doubt, and even more outlook that government owned the Nation. We forget that government is produced by our wickedness and needs to be kept in check by the People. A longer piece extending from 'progressive' to FDR points out that we have forgotten the basis of government: http://ajacksonian.blogspot.com/2007/09/when-change-is-not-progress.html
BD--thanks for this post. for some reason, about 1500 light bulbs just went off in my head. great stuff.
also, is today thursday, or is today thursday? where is bob's free advertisment?
Slightly OT, but somebody’s got a bit of work to do if they’re gonna to change the common wisdom:
Interesting how the Libertarians top 3 are routinely polled as among the worst by non-Libertarians.
Good job, BD, except that there is more to noblesse oblige than FDR's somewhat sleazy, morally flawed take on it. Not all those animated by it are socialists....I know some generous folk from Maggie's Farm who are charitable and compassionate out of a sense of having being blessed by God and who, having been rewarded for their own hard work, share with others less fortunate...
I realize that this is mostly a political blog, but personally I still tend to wince a little when you all trumpet freedom as the main thing. Not because I reallly disagree with you politically, but because the professor I most admired (scholar of early Patristic theology) used to hammer on us daily about how our generation of Christians was selfish, narcissistic, a bunch of kids who wanted freedom above all else, and usually used it poorly, liberty become licence, with no accompanying sense of responsibility to others. Having watched enviously as a kid as the Woodstock generation before me had a wild free time, I took his message to heart.
I have tended ever since to put my own freedom very far down the list of priorities, with my family's needs way ahead. Hard for a nursing mom to be free (and she doesn't want to be--the bonds of love feel good), hard even for the mother of those same infants metamorphosed into cranky teens to do anything freely. Somebody else needs shoes more than she does. Somebody else needs college more than she needs refresher training in her old profession.
It was a regular theme in my mothers' Bible study: how the men of all ages, and the single women and mothers of launched children were preoccupied with freedom, and the proper use of it, in life as well as in BIble study. Whereas we moms were more focussed on responsibility, juggling loyalties, being pulled apart by commitments to others that we either could not or would not break free of. We cherished our families, we were not there whining about wanting to get out of a domestic dungeon, but we knew that we were not free, and knew that we would not be for at least the next 22 years.
I find that I periodically make foolish gestures in the name of freedom like threatening to go hike the Himalayas on my own and leave the video gamers at home. A lifelong dream, but I am of course not free to pursue it, with two kids entering college and tuition to pay next year....
Please do not dismiss this as a whine or pc twaddle, but consider that freedom may be experienced very differently by men and women, depending on where they are in the child rearing cycle. I chose freely, for example, to marry and have children, but the choice did not free me by society's standards. It entailed producing a brood of hostages to fortune, stepping into a set of responsibilities and demands that externally took away all my freedoms. And yet, of course, as any loving parent (male or female) knows, the vacuous freedoms of youth one sets aside are not half so enjoyable or rewarding as loving one's kids. Some days my kids bug me, infuriate me, weary me, but they never bore me, and they are the light of my life. Some who value individual freedom above all else might say that my external life since them has been nothing but drudgery, endless chores, etc. But kids have a way of setting your heart free to love, opening your eyes and your mind, blasting your frozen gloom away. At least on a good day...
oh, i'm a heartless republican. i don't care about the enviornment. light bulbs. lightbulbs. the former still looks right to me.
holy careless typing! it must be the end of the work day. or, i'm simply unable to post on this blog without spelling something wrong. i think i'll just keep going with it.
an email my free-mkt goldbug pal sent t'other day:
There was a Chemistry professor in a large college that had some
Exchange students in the class. One day while the class was in the lab
the Prof noticed one young man (exchange student) who kept rubbing his
back and stretching as if his back hurt.
The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told
him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while fighting
communists in his native country who were trying to overthrow his
country's government and install a new communist government.
In the midst of his story he looked at the professor and asked a strange
question. He asked, ' Do you know how to catch wild pigs?'
The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line.
The young man said this was no joke.'You catch wild pigs by finding a
suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs
find it and begin to come everyday to eat the free corn. When they are
used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place
where they are used to coming. When they get used to the fence, they
begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence.
They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you
have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in the last side.
By now the pigs, who are used to the free corn, start to come through
the gate to eat, you slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd.
Suddenly the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and
around inside the fence, but they are caught. Soon they go back to
eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten
how to forage in the woods for themselves, so they accept their
The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees
happening to America. The government keeps pushing us toward
Communism/Socialism and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of
programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income,
tobacco subsidies, dairy subsidies, payments not to plant crops (CRP),
welfare, medicine, drugs, etc. while we continually lose our freedoms-
just a little at a time.
One should always remember 'There is no such thing as a free Lunch! God
help us when the gate slams shut!
Awesome story, Buddy! Maybe they should do that with the feral hogs down in Texas that the blog had a link to earlier today...
fnuny tinhg, as lnog as a wrod biegns and ends wtih the cerorct letetrs, and contians the cerroct nubmer of letetrs, the hmuan bairn wlil esaily fgiure out waht is bineg siad.
it would work --it would take lots of bait-dumping visits well-spaced over some weeks, but it would work.
But that is not what is meant by freedom. That is "freedom from." That's the whole point.
You're right, BD. But you have to admit that the "freedom from" is the most prevalent view of freedom in our culture. Hence, when people ask us "wouldn't you like a little more freedom?" (as I phone home to see if anyone will mind if I delay my return to visit with a friend I just bumped into) they mean not having to check in with anyone, not having to answer to anyone, being a "free agent" etc.
Or when men at the office snicker about a devoted daddy being "whipped" as they overhear his logistical planning on the phone with his wife about how to get the kids two different places at the same time--the snickerers quite miss the happy pride with which same "whipped" guy feasts his eyes on beloved family in picture on desk after his horrid boss has just been tongue-lashing him. You know who he puts up with it for....
Those of us who are prisoners of love would not trade it for all the lonely freedom from logistical planning in the world...
BD: I stuck an addendum on the piece. I know we all agree with it.
I like the addendum. It's wrong to tempt. It may even be evil. Wish i knew the Owner's Manual better--I'd quote something.