Magi Mike's Blog

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Capitalist and Communal Freedom—Negative and Positive Freedom

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A free man is he that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 21:2

Not to be hindered from doing what you have the strength and wit to do is freedom, and it has been increasingly important to western civilizations in the last four centuries. Before then few men had much idea of what it was at all. Freedom was a word that meant nothing to them. They might have felt oppressed by their lord, but to leave their village seemed impossible for them. It meant no role in society, no income at all, no home, no family, and abandoning everbody they knew. They would have been horribly alone, pennyless, anxious and fearful.

Note that Hobbes speaks of being free to do what one has the “strength and wit” to do, but also the “will to do it”. The villein in bondage to his land and lord might have had the strength and wit to survive as a free man, but he would rarely find out because he would not have had the will to do it. Had the serf known that leaving his plot and his manor was what freedom was, despite the advantage the lord often will have taken of him, he would most likely have rejected it in favour of the security, companionship, and kindness that he could rely on among his fellow villagers.

Today, the situation is reversed. Ordinary people are feeling less and less secure in the situation which, they are assured by their bosses and rulers, is the best of all possible situations—freedom. Most people are getting increasingly anxious, even successful people. Middle and working class people are joined in their anxiety about the future—where will they get a job, or how will they keep their job, and how will their children get a job, how will they pay for their pension, how will they pay their sickness insurance, how will they pay their mortgage, and their kids university places. Being free is not looking that attractive, and part of the unpleasant feeling is that there is nowhere to turn—there are no friends to help, few friends to confide in, help and kindness is at a premium.

People have quite enough freedom—negative freedom, freedom from this and that restrictions—yet our present day lords and masters tell us we haven’t enough of it still. What we certainly do not have enough of is the security one has from having a loving and kind society to fall back upon when we feel tense, stressed and insecure. That is positive freedom, freedom to help others and ourselves, to rule ourselves by extending the hand of kindness to others. More and more negative freedom seems to mean less and less instinctive kindness and care. Our society is no longer a caring society. Care now has to be paid for. It is hardly ever instinctive, these days. Commercialization, capitalism, is destroying society, and everyone is cheering it on. The Christian God is the God of love, they tell us, so what are they doing about the destruction of society by the siren call of the mirage of total freedom. They are often the cheerleaders! More on positive and negative freedom

Written by mikemagee

20 June, 2011 at 1:28 am

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