“On the threshold of the moral world we meet the idea of freedom. ‘One of the weightiest conceptions man has ever formed,’ once a dogma, in course of time an hypothesis, now in the ideas of many a fiction; yet we cannot do without it, even although we may be firmly convinced that our acts are determined by laws that cannot be broken." 1
Havelock Ellis 1859-1939
This subject has a special interest for me in more than one way, since it’s said that at least one branch of my family has an escutcheon or coat of arms that bears the motto of ‘Libertá’, which means Liberty or Freedom in Italian. But, in a real way, this concept, freedom, is the basis and core of everything, I have said on this site. It is both the panacea of all the ills of mankind, and the cause of every problem he has ever encountered; and, the source of all the misery that he has or will ever know.
Aristotle said that there were two varieties of every governmental type: a good form and a corrupt form. He categorized Democracy as the corrupt form of the type called Polity or constitutional government. The corrupt form, Democracy, is bad, because it breaks down into a form, where governmental decisions are made only with the idea of personal gain, resulting in the prosperity of certain groups and hardship for all others. Also, it is a government, where the license of the few replaces the freedom of all.
Today, the very government he calls Polity, we call Democracy, ironically, after his so-called corrupt form of the same. And, the freedom of our Democracy is the real "freedom", not the license of the corrupt form. But unfortunately, in the United States today, many still think that the freedom that our Democracy represents is unlimited freedom; a freedom to do whatever we like whenever, and regardless of the consequences. The latter is called license, not freedom. As I have shown in many places, in the other essays, the probable cause of this sort of thinking about freedom is a result of the capitalistic economic system we have adopted; but now, let’s just see why all this talk about freedom is so very important after all.
If we think about it, freedom is at the very core of every human being; it has to do with his will. Remember, we said that the human has a free will. Will is the basis of all purpose or design in a human, and the instigator of all human behaviors (except for maybe primitive reflex behaviors). When we say a free will, we mean that the human being is essentially unlimited to choose whatever course of action he ordains for himself. This, in a way, gives him God-like power over his environment. If he lived alone, this probably wouldn’t matter too much; but he doesn’t live alone. From birth, the human being is a dependent creature; he probably could never survive, if left entirely to himself. Therefore, the family has grown up to support him in his dependency; and the society has grown to support the family and its needs. But if any of you have read Homer’s book the “Iliad”, you know what the interference of too many "Gods" can do to the soup! And, too much freedom can cause a god-like mess! So the real God, in his wisdom, added some few little restraints in the structure of man’s psyche, to better allow him to handle all this freedom. We have spent many words, in other places, discussing these agencies; namely, the GOOD and the human conscience. Here, we will mention another aspect of these that we haven’t really talked about much, and that is a concept, and in fact, a word that modern American society doesn’t use much – duty.
Duty was once something that was very important in the lives of men, but unfortunately, in this consumer oriented world we live in today, we rarely hear it spoken of, except, maybe, in reference to ourselves. Duty is that very thing that holds that wild and seemingly uncontrollable will of man’s at bay. It was found out, very early on, that man doesn’t like to be commanded too much; it would seem that commands are very rarely capable of curbing the will. So, the internal mechanisms we have mentioned above, use a somewhat different tool to handle this; that is duty. And, that is how the GOOD works in man; it makes him feel an intuition towards in-born duty to his fellow men, and to "God", himself (in the religious), through a duty to a Will of a much higher magnitude. It doesn’t coerce the will or force it in any way, but it merely points out its duty towards these entities.
So, we see that internally, the freedom that man possesses, is more likely to turn into license, if left to itself. The conscience works similarly, but it uses a duty more in line with social authority, parents, teachers, religion, government etc. These duties are man’s morality or ethical nature. They are, in turn, past on through his customs, culture, religion and society.
Man must have an ethic or morality tied to all his behaviors for the very reason that all his actions always affect someone else; just as others' always affect him. So, the duties, I have mentioned, tie him to the others around him, without the coercive force of what we will speak of next, law.
Duties are internal mechanisms; and bind those, they rule, under their obligation through the feelings and intuition. Since the restraint on the will is internal, and not really coercive, the chief result being a feeling of shame; many ignore the duty imposed on them, lured on by the external physical gratifications of power, wealth, passions and all those things, which are derived from the unlimited restraint the will experiences. This is the result of the freedom of the will being turned into license, or a desire to control without limit of any kind. This want, or desire without bounds, is what we call greed; and, it not only applies to material possessions as usually taken, but is also an insatiable desire in everything or anything at all. This concept of “insatiability”, or something without bounds or limits, is the source of all the evils of man, when it is tied to a human will. In fact, we might term it "the primary disease of the human will". It is freedom that has gone awry, or chaotic. In societies, this disease has always been known by the more familiar term "crime", or antisocial behavior. Societies that must deal with so many wills, find that when duties are not enough to check the will, much stronger restraints are needed, so laws are created to protect society and every member of it, from such disruptive behavior. So, governments were originally formed to create these restraints through the imposition of law; and, that is what Democracy through its constitution and elected representative legislature does, create laws, to control individual freedoms, so that citizens do not impose on other citizens’ freedoms. What I have described here is what I have referred to as “responsible freedom” in other essays. Laws, unlike duties, impose coercive control over the will’s behaviors to keep them in line with society’s needs. This entails punishment imposed by society upon the individual will, to act as a deterrent to further encroachments upon the laws of society. But society’s first line-of-defense against the unfettered will are the duties imposed by society’s unwritten laws, or mores, customs and taboos of its culture. And they are, as mentioned above, imposed by the conscience through the effects of society and its authority on it. What gives rise to these mores are indirectly the effects of the GOOD, because all people in a society must establish a reciprocal trust or cooperative attitude to allow society to prosper. These mores establish the trust that, in turn, create the basic cooperation and fairness that society is built on. From these emerge all the rights and duties we will now discuss.
The nature of duty is that it is reciprocal; that is, it expects something in return. What it expects in return is usually called its rights; and visa versa, rights entail obligations or duties. So society, in imposing order on its participants for the purpose of the prosperity of all its members and their mutual survival, through a system of representative or equitable government, creates a constitution, which defines the rights and duties of all its members; and this constitution thereby defines a society as a social contract between its members; all of whom mutually respect each others rights, and perform the duties thus entailed. This definition of society, through the delineation of mutual rights and duties, also defines the limits of society’s freedoms, and the methods by which society will enforce those freedoms through its laws. But it must be emphasized that this contract is built on top of the mores or customs of the people, who form it, as delineated in the proceeding paragraph. Culture precedes, but, is also modified by the formal social contract of government. And, the rights and duties of culture are further refined in this formal contract. But, the ultimate derivation of rights and duties are with the individual. We have shown in another essay, on morality, how the individual obtains the basic morality for his reality; and how and where the concept of justice enters into the picture to allow an absolute form of morality to possibly form the morality of his society. This allows the society to be in conformity with the overall purpose the Universe (or God) has destined humanity to follow throughout History. This purpose shows itself in History through the overall progress that societies have made, despite the local reverses and wild fluctuations imposed on them through the struggle with the fate of the mortal world, and the battle of the individuals to reconcile their own wills with the same Will of the Universe (fate for the unbeliever or God for the believer). This "end" that the Universe shows, is the final unification of mankind; and the elimination of the separations and miseries caused by the greed engendered by the license of his unfettered will.
History has indeed shown overall progress, but still the purpose is far from completed. Man has progressed; but he is only now realizing that the final frontier of his quest is in the conquest of his economic freedom. If he can bridle this freedom, with the principles of equity and cooperation, as he has the freedoms of the rest of his society, with an equitable constitution and Democratic government, he will be able to bring his society in line with the justice that the Universe has shown is necessary to unite his world.
Aristotle realized what was needed centuries ago, when he enunciated the concept of balance in society; although the limited outlook of his society, which was one that favored the aristocratic minority over the popular majority, hindered the scope of his solution. Today, we have achieved that popular outlook, but have failed to see the ruinous effects which an unbridled economic freedom can produce. The economy must be brought in line with the Democratic freedoms we espouse in our government, and made to always fully benefit the society it represents; thus eliminating economic risk, by also eliminating economic windfall. We need more than the mere majority of the middle class, that Aristotle recommended; we need stabilization by the establishment of a single middle class, where all in society are truly equal and responsibly accountable. The concepts of rich and poor must be for once and all time done away with; where equal prosperity eliminates the greed of unlimited freedom, and all the corruptions in society that go with it. The right of prosperity for all will impose the obligation of duty toward society, and all will benefit equally.
Oriental philosophy has for thousands of years recognized the importance of a “balance”, the so-called "mean”; or “walking in the middle”. Its philosophy, primarily concerned with the effects of human conduct, rather than with the analysis of principles for their own sake, has shown that all society is interconnected, and the real purpose in life is in its effects on the world around it. As such, we immediately see that the effects of economic privation, reproductive irresponsibility, unlimited desire and insatiable want are contrary to all the principles of human conduct.
Yet, history shows us that the generations, although progressing, never seem to grasp the lessons of History; each generation again makes the same mistakes, because they get lost in the raptures of a false prosperity that greed holds out to them. Today, the false idea that unlimited success is attainable, is again baiting man to the very same mistakes, he has made before. An economy that relies on unlimited growth is a chimera; but much worse than this, it is a disease that is destroying man’s society by beguiling man into ignoring the very rights and duties that society demands of him. Free will is a gift that God (or fate) gave to man, and it has given him the freedom of a God; but, unless he can responsibly control it, this same freedom will ultimately destroy him.
1 "The Preactical Cogitator", Charles P. Curtis, Jr., Ferris Greenslet; Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1945 This quote on Freedom by the famous Doctor of the "Studies in the Psychology of Sex", is made in reference to Vaihinger's "Philosophy of the As If". Vaihinger felt (as I do about objects) that many ideas are "fictions" created by the mind to make life more manageable. Here Ellis seems to hint that freedom is a fiction created by man, who is totally determined by physical law, i.e. without free will. This is the opposite of my position in this essay, where freedom is a part of the natural disposition of man's will. See Additional Notes in Errata Section.
Originally Published:May 7, 2008
Revised:October 1, 2015