Tag Archive: liberty

Pragmatisch zusammengekuschelt

Der neue Pragmatismus, der gegenwärtig so populär ist, das Bestehen auf dem Unmittelbaren, als sei dies ein Wert an sich, ist so blind, wie der Utopismus blendet. Ohne ein Bild der Zukunft läuft der Pragmatiker Gefahr, uns im Kreise herumzuführen – um am Ende noch zu behaupten, daß es nicht sein Fehler war, wenn wir nichts erreicht haben. Es ist sein Fehler. Eines der dringenden Erfordernisse der gegenwärtigen Politik ist die Ergänzung und Korrektur des Prag­matismus der Macher durch das Bewußtsein mittelfristiger Perspektiven. Jemand muß über den Rand der Untertasse hinausblicken, in der sich die meisten Politiker zusammengekuschelt haben, und ihnen sagen, was jenseits ihrer lokalen oder nationalen Wahlkreise, ihrer Wahlperiode, ihres notwendigerweise und zuweilen weniger notwendiger­weise begrenzten Horizonts geschieht. [108]

Die neue Freiheit

Die neue Freiheit läßt sich nur erringen, wenn jeder Bürger Zugang hat zu dem vielfältigen Universum der Lebens­chancen in einer komplexen Gesellschaft. Die neue Freiheit wird aber sogleich wieder preisgegeben, wenn solcher Zugang begrenzt bleibt auf belangloses Auswählen zwischen gleichartigen Dingen, zwischen Handball und Fußball oder Philologie und Mathematik. Es ist, mit anderen Worten, an sich nichts falsch an Ungleichheiten des Einkommens, des erworbenen Status in jedem Sinne. Gewiß verlangen wirksame Bürgerrechte die Schaffung eines Sicherheits­netzes, durch das niemand fallen kann, also eines gemeinsamen Grundstatus. Ebenso gewiß verlangen wirksame Bürgerrechte die Beschränkung des Status jener wenigen, deren oft ererbte Vermögen sie befähigen, die Bürgerrechte anderer zu schmälern. Aber zwischen dem gemeinsamen Fußboden garantierter Rechte und der gemeinsamen Decke erlaubter Privatmacht bleibt ein breiter Raum. [59]

The paradox of freedom

Now this argument which tries to show that ‘liberty’ is the same as ‘a liberty’ and therefore the same as ‘law’, from which it follows that the more laws, the more liberty, is clearly nothing but a clumsy statement (clumsy because it relies on a kind of pun) of the paradox of freedom, first discovered by Plato …; a paradox that can be expressed by saying that unlimited freedom leads to its opposite, since without its protection and restriction by law, freedom must lead to a tyranny of the strong over the weak. This paradox, vaguely restated by Rousseau, was solved by Kant, who demanded that the freedom of each man should be restricted, but not beyond what is necessary to safeguard an equal degree of freedom for all. [ch. 12, 296]

Some people’s opinion of what is good or bad for other people

On questions of social morality, of duty to others, the opinion of the public, that is, of an overruling majority, though often wrong, is likely to be still oftener right; because on such questions they are only required to judge of their own interests; of the manner in which some mode of conduct, if allowed to be practised, would affect themselves. But the opinion of a similar majority, imposed as a law on the minority, on questions of self-regarding conduct, is quite as likely to be wrong as right; for in these cases public opinion means, at the best, some people’s opinion of what is good or bad for other people; while very often it does not even mean that; the public, with the most perfect indifference, passing over the pleasure or convenience of those whose conduct they censure, and considering only their own preference. There are many who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot, when charged with disregarding the religious feelings of others, has been known to retort that they disregard his feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or creed. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it. And a person’s taste is as much his own peculiar concern as his opinion or his purse. [107-8]

Growing by mutual criticism

Reason, like science, grows by way of mutual criticism; the only possible way of ‘planning’ its growth is to develop those institutions that safeguard the freedom of this criticism, that is to say, the freedom of thought. [499]

Capable of being improved

It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury. For the same reason, we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage. The early difficulties in the way of spon­taneous progress are so great, that there is seldom any choice of means for overcoming them; and a ruler full of the spirit of improvement is warranted in the use of any expedients that will attain an end, perhaps otherwise unattainable. Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. [ch. I, 14-5]

Popper as a pale reflection of Mill

An account and a truly humanitarian defence of this position [“The separation between the history of a science, its philo­sophy and the science itself dissolves into thin air and so does the separation between science and non-science”] can be found in J.S. Mill’s On Liberty. Popper’s philosophy, which some people would like to lay on us as the one and only hu­manitarian rationalism in existence today, is but a pale reflection of Mill. It is specialized, formalistic and elitist, and devoid of the concern for individual happiness that is such a characteristic feature of Mill. We can understand its peculi­arities when we consider (a) the background oflogical positivism, which plays an important role in the Logic of Scientific Dis­covery, (b) the unrelenting puritanism of its author (and of most of his followers), and when we remember the in­fluence of Harriet Taylor on Mill’s life and on his philosophy. There is no Harriet Taylor in Popper’s life. [34]

It’s not morality, it’s bigotry

It remains to be proved that society or any of its officers holds a commission from on high to avenge any supposed of­fence to Omnipotence, which is not also a wrong to our fellow-creatures. The notion that it is one man’s duty that an­other should be religious, was the foundation of all the religious persecutions ever perpetrated, and if admitted, would fully justify them. [ch. IV, 117]

Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke

In our times, from the highest class of society down to the lowest, every one lives as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship. Not only in what concerns others, but in what concerns only themselves, the individual, or the fam­ily, do not ask themselves—what do I prefer? or, what would suit my character and disposition? or, what would allow the best and highest in me to have fair-play, and enable it to grow and thrive? They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usu­ally done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is cus­tomary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke: even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they like in crowds; they exercise choice only among things commonly done: peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes: until by dint of not following their own nature, they have no nature to fol­low: their human capacities are withered and starved: they become incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or properly their own. Now is this, or is it not, the desirable condition of human nature?[ch. III, 78-9]

The limits of freedom and individuality

No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an ex­cited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard. Acts, of whatever kind, which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the more important cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavourable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind. The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people. But if he refrains from molesting others in what concerns them, and merely acts according to his own inclination and judgment in things which concern himself, the same reasons which show that opinion should be free, prove also that he should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his opinions into practice at his own cost. That mankind are not in­fallible; that their truths, for the most part, are only half-truths; that unity of opinion, unless resulting from the fullest and freest comparison of opposite opinions, is not desirable, and diversity not an evil, but a good, until mankind are much more capable than at present of recognising all sides of the truth, are principles applicable to men’s modes of action, not less than to their opinions. [ch. III, 71-2]

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