Typos p. 91: Everytime [= Every time]
On examination, of course, the proposition "men are born free" proves to be wholly and wildly fantastic.
Freedom implies, one would suppose, the right, the capacity, and the opportunity to choose one course from another, one kind of life from another. But how much can a man really choose?
At birth, for instance, all kinds of conditions are imposed upon the future adult conditions which are bound to determine the whole of the principal events of his or
It may be assumed, for instance, that a baby might like to choose its nationality and the language that it will speak in later life. Can it do so? It may reasonably be taken for granted that a baby might like to choose its parents, its brothers and sisters, and its other relatives. Can it do so? Its very constitution and health are dependent upon the kind of mother and father it has; its very happiness and success as an adult may depend upon the way in which it is treated as an infant. Has it any choice, any freedom, in regard to any of these matters?
It is not fanciful to suspect that the baby might like to choose its particular form and features, its ultimate height as an adult, etc., etc. The most vital and important issues will hang upon this question of its face and form when it is grown up. But it has no power whatsoever to determine any one of these most vital and important conditions.
An imaginative baby, realising the inexorable fate which hangs over certain gifts, certain endowments, and a particular sex. might regard it as all important to be able to select these freely.
But the rigidity of natural law, the impossibility of controlling any of these matters, ordain that at birth a baby has all its important ultimate characteristics, and therefore all its proclivities, tastes, vices, virtues, and even aspirations settled for it. Its nationality, its language, its parents, its other relatives, its constitution, its degree of beauty, its stature, its physical and mental endowments, its sex, all these things, upon which the
If this is freedom, then what does constraint, what does oppression mean?
It may be objected that this is not what Rousseau meant; that Rousseau maintained that man was born free, because in a savage state he would really be free from the conventions, laws, and constraints of civilisation.
This appears convincing enough. The savage is certainly free from the laws and constraints of civilisation, but the savage race has yet to be found that is free from all conventions, laws and constraints, nor is it by any means certain that these obstacles to freedom are the more pleasant for being barbarous instead of civilised.
But even if we suppose that Rousseau's alleged freedom of babies is a reality, at what point, it may be asked, is it exchanged for bondage?
Most people would reply: when the child goes to school. It is at school that the shackles of civilisation are first fastened on the free infant's wrists. It is the work that civilisation ultimately holds in store for the child that necessitates his being trained and "educated."
To this the naturalist and anthropologist might reply: is there now, or has there ever been, a race of men or animals that did not have to undergo some process of training in childhood in order to learn to be efficient adults?
Iron necessity again precludes the possibility of this alleged freedom even in childhood.
In manhood, again, freedom is purely a will-o'-the-wisp. No man who wishes to continue living is free. He is bound to procure food and clothing for himself even in the cannibal islands. If he have passions, he is bound to find some means of gratifying them. This means shouldering responsibilities; for no community, even of animals, undertakes to rear the fruits of other people's passions. He cannot even select his calling, for his calling will depend upon his special aptitudes. In fact, the more gifted he is, and the more marked his capabilities, the less will he be able to choose how to earn a living. Only a man of mediocre and insignificant gifts is really free to choose his calling, because he feels no irresistible impulse in a given direction. But these mediocre people who are free to choose their calling, don't really choose a "calling" at all the very idea of choosing something to which one is called is absurd what they choose is a more or less characterless and humdrum means of earning a living, which requires neither very special gifts nor any marked proclivities. To be free to choose what one will be, is always a sign of hopelessly humble tastes and endowments.
Putting it at its lowest, however, we might concede the point that as far as choosing a means of livelihood is concerned, there are a certain number of very mediocre men whose gifts are so indistinct and feeble, and whose
Apart from these unhappy individuals, then, if Rousseauesque freedom exist at all, it exists only between the hour of birth and the hour when the child first goes to school. We have seen that even this is untrue. But has it even a semblance of truth as a conclusion?
Surely nothing could be clearer than the fact that even in those years freedom is as remote as ever; for quite apart from the reasons already adduced above, it will easily be seen that the infant is as much the victim of convention and form as any adult could possibly be. It has a home, its life is subjected to rules, to a time-table, it cannot eat or do what it likes, except within very well-defined limits severely imposed.
"It can think what it likes," somebody may object.
But even this is not strictly true. Its thoughts are as much necessitated by its environment and its constitution as is its food.
If it is born in England or France, for instance, it will be brought up to believe in "immanent justice," in "equality," in "freedom." It cannot escape these imbecilities. They are its fate. It will be taught the inanity that "every man has a right to his own opinion," and that "Britons never never never shall be slaves," whatever that means, if it means anything at all. Later in
* But even this amount of freedom in the mediocre is limited by the fact that the mediocre cannot choose a means of livelihood in which super-mediocre endowments would be necessary.
Rousseau then was talking nonsense when he said that men were born free; but both his reading and his education were so pool that it is doubtful whether he knew that he was talking nonsense.
Apart from Rousseauesque freedom, however, has the word no meaning?
It will be seen that, in the end, it has very little.
Voluntary actions, or actions that are performed as the result of a free choice between two or more alternatives, are not known. They never occur. Even when they appear to occur, they are generally, if not always, associated with a weak or useless personality.
Strong natures have no choice; they have no alternative; they have therefore no freedom. They are driven to their deeds by an iron necessity. If they speak or write, it is out of the fulness of their hearts. It is a phenomenon akin to the mechanical overflow of a flooded basin. If they go in search of big undertakings and of vast responsibilities, in order to shoulder them, it is because they have a store of accumulated energy which must discharge itself over a large area, over a large mass of material.
When Napoleon took leave of his comrades in Egypt, before embarking on that gigantic enterprise, the reconstitution of anarchical bleeding and devastated France, he said: "I am going to drive out the lawyers."
His strength demanded a gigantic task, just
Indeed the character of all strength is precisely that it gives those who possess it no choice, no "freedom." The moment choice enters into the domain of action, the moment there is apparent freedom or self determination, weakness, or a lack of native impetus may be suspected.
Thomas de Quincey, that profound psychologist of the artist's soul, explained the matter very well in his Autobiography. Discussing the nature of true poetry, he said: "By far the larger proportion of what is received in every age for poetry, and for a season usurps that consecrated name, is not the spontaneous overflow of real unaffected passion, deep, and at the same time original, and also forced into public manifestation of itself from the necessity which cleaves to all passion." * It will be seen that de Quincey here speaks of a "spontaneous overflow" which is "forced into public manifestation of itself from the necessity which cleaves to all passion." There is no freedom about it, no choice. It flows from an impetuous and imperious abundance.
In the light which this throws on all human greatness or strength, what does the value of freedom appear to be?
* Collected Writings. (London: A. C. Black). Vol. I., p. 194.
Let another example be taken. A young man A. has just reached the age of one and twenty without having had a serious affair of the heart. His friends regard him as free to pursue any pastime, any sport. When once he has discharged the duties by means of which he earns his livelihood, he is always free to join a tennis party, a cricket team, a bridge party, or a debating circle. His mind can devote itself to the task of choosing what he shall do, is it to be tennis, cricket; bridge, or argument? He has no overpowering inclination for anything particular, consequently he is free to choose.
Suddenly, however, he meets a young lady B, who strains a certain fibre in his being almost to snapping point. The tension of this strain is so powerful that, like the main spring of a watch, it presses its host to constant activity in a certain direction. The direction in this case is B's person. Now choice falls out of the question altogether. It is no longer a matter of dwelling critically upon cricket, tennis, bridge or argument, and selecting that which seems for the moment. the most alluring pastime. The tension in A's being relaxes only at one sound, at one
But who would long for freedom in such circumstances? Who longs for freedom when bondage is sweet?
It may be taken for granted, then, that strength and greatness know nothing of freedom. The strong man is not free; the great man is not free; nor for that matter, as history or the observation of our fellows can show, do they wish to be free. Only weakness is apparently free, or is conscious of desiring freedom; because, having no strong native impetus to drive it willy nilly in any given direction, it appears to be able to choose its own direction. Thus only weakness can even desire freedom.
The obvious inference would be that as fast as the mass of mankind decline in strength and greatness, the louder would become the cry for freedom. Is this conclusion valid?
It is only partially so; for there are cases when freedom is demanded not from weakness, but from strength.
Let us abide by the examples we have chosen.
Napoleon, driven by the iron necessity of his native strength, leaves Egypt to make
It is conceivable, in that case, that he would have longed for the freedom which would have allowed him to fall into the bondage of his own overpowering impulses to rule and to direct the destiny of France.
For the first time the idea of "freedom" begins to assume a definite shape. It begins to acquire the appearance of a genuine reality.
Judging by Napoleon's case, therefore, we may say of the desire for freedom, that although it never arises in normal conditions, it begins to make a definite appeal when it signifies a release from bondage that is incompatible and inharmonious with strong innate impulses, for a bondage that is compatible and harmonious with strong innate impulses.
The bondage consisting in being a harem servant is incompatible with innate impulses of a stronger order; therefore, although the obedience to impulses of a stronger order also constitutes bondage. Napoleon, as a harem servant, would have longed for the freedom to fall into the bondage of his stronger impulses, because it was there that his "calling" lay.
Reverting to the case of the young man A who became enamoured of a young lady B, we are confronted by a case that is somewhat different; because, although A was apparently "free" before meeting B, he nevertheless
He finds his strength on meeting B. He finds one of his powerful impulses taking possession of him. He is therefore happy, because, though he is in bondage, a vital impulse is directing his life, a necessity of his being has found a pursuit for him. If his cricket club now kidnap him and imprison him in the cricket field, in order to play in a cricket match, he will make a determined attempt to escape. He will endeavour to obtain freedom. Freedom for what? Freedom from a bondage incompatible with the powerful impulses of his being, for the purpose of falling into a bondage compatible with the powerful impulses of his being.
Has the "liberty" of our political agitators this meaning? Has it any meaning?
We know that man can never be free. We have seen that from his very birth conditions are imposed upon him which direct his subsequent career as inevitably as railway lines direct the course of a train. Nothing that lives in finite conditions can be free. And no other conditions are known. Life even in the animal world means work, battle, struggle, the observance of certain very strict habits. Human life means work, the observance of social conventions; even the necessity of eating, drinking, breathing and performing the other bodily functions entails responsi-
What then does the political agitator mean when he offers "Liberty" to those whom he would induce to support or follow him?
It has been seen that the only sense in which liberty as an idea bears any relation to reality, is when it signifies the opportunity that can be given to a man to enable him to exchange a bondage incompatible with his strongest impulses for a bondage that harmonises with them.
Is this the meaning of the cry for freedom to-day? When the newspapers told us that the Great War was fought by us in the cause of "freedom", is this the freedom they meant?
How many of those who believe they aspire to something definite and real when they aspire to "freedom," fully understand the limitations of their ideal? How many of them really possess stronger impulses than those that actually find expression in their daily work?
Some people might reply, "very few." I reply that the number of men and women to-day, who yearn for freedom vaguely, fretfully, and insistently, because they realise dimly that they seek a kind of bondage in which their stronger impulses would have more scope, is very much greater than is generally supposed.
One of the results of the industrial revolution, and of the vast increase of mechanical
This. as I understand it, is the fundamental meaning of the cry for freedom to-day. In any case it is the only meaning it can have. For freedom in the sense of non-relation, non-dependance, absence of duties, absence of work, and absence of responsibilities or conventions, is utterly impossible. Not only is it utterly impossible to-day, but it has always been impossible. Even animals in a state of nature cannot achieve that condition.
It behoves all those, therefore, who nowa-
Modern governments in their nature can do little for the spiritual requirements of the working man. As far as that freedom is concerned which consists in finding expression in one's daily duties for the strongest impulses of one's being, the masses of the working people in this country were infinitely more "free" under the despotic Tudors than they are at present under the benign rule of the people's elected representatives.
Thus the only kind of freedom that the most honest politician can definitely promise, political freedom is in itself one of the most wanton deceptions ever practised upon humanity. For what does this political freedom consist of? It begins and ends with the vote. But in what manner does this constitute freedom? To what extent does
There is only one kind of freedom that bears any relation to reality, only one kind of freedom therefore that can be striven after, that can be realised; and that is the freedom to exchange a bondage incompatible with
* See Considerations on Representative Government, Chapter VII., par. 4: "There is not equal suffrage when every single individual does not count for as much as any other single individual in the community. But it is not only a minority who suffer. Democracy thus constituted does not even attain its ostensible object, that of giving the powers of government in all cases to the numerical majority. It does something very different; it gives them to a majority of the majority, who may be, and often are, but a minority of the whole. All principles are most effectually tested by extreme cases. Suppose then that in a country governed by equal and universal suffrage, there is a contested election in every constituency, and every election is carried by a small majority. The Parliament thus brought together represents little more than a bare majority of the people. This Parliament proceeds to legislate and adopts important measures by a bare majority of itself. What guarantee is there that these measures accord with the wishes of the majority of the people? Nearly half the electors, having been out-voted at the hustings, have had no influence at all in the decision; and the whole of these may be, a majority of them probably are, hostile to the measures, having voted against those by whom they have been carried. Of the remaining electors nearly half have chosen representatives who, by supposition, have voted against the measures. It is possible therefore, and not at all improbable that the opinion which has prevailed was only agreeable to a minority of the nation, through a majority of that portion of it whom the institutions of the country have erected into a ruling class."
Nothing else has any meaning.
The very success with which voluntary recruiting proceeded directly after the declaration of war against Germany in 1914 is one of the best demonstrations of the truth of this conclusion. For it was the opportunity to exchange an occupation incompatible with the strongest impulses of their being, for an occupation that harmonised with those strongest impulses, that led the majority of those young men to embark for the shambles in France. I mixed with them, so I ought to be able to speak with some knowledge of the subject.
Now the fight for this freedom, for the freedom that, as we have seen, has some meaning, really is worth while. It is a noble fight, and a decent fight. But it is a fight with which no modern Government, Liberal, Socialist, or Bolshevik, can possibly have any sympathy. For Liberal policy has always meant commercial and industrial expansion; Socialist policy must, if it is honest, include in its programme, compulsory labour, whether compatible or incompatible with the strongest impulses of our being; and Bolshevik policy, as we have already seen, insists upon this kind of labour. It is, however, precisely the Liberals, the Socialists, and the Bolsheviks who have been loudest in their cries for freedom. If, therefore, this humble attempt at investigating the meaning and limitations of the idea of freedom has done nothing more than demonstrate the hollowness of this Liberal catchword, it cannot have been written or read in vain.