Freedom stays

Many people speak of, for example, governments or political systems as granting or denying people freedom. Which is, of course, totally false and maybe, especially in the mouths of politicians and officials, not only in the sense of being incorrect but also in the sense of being deceptive and illusory. Because freedom is a basic human capacity, and can no more be given or rescinded by others than can basic motor skills or the ability to speak. What people call freedom in these contexts is usually having an adequate number of choices to be happy with, and the ability to choose between them they call free will.

So this might seem to be nothing more than a semantic distinction, and maybe it is–but models, symbols and verbal shorthand have a way of taking over the concepts they represent, and if the at-first-perhaps-merely-verbal association of something seemingly so necessary to a good life as freedom with the transitory and ever-shifting realm of having “enough” choices, rather than with the ability to choose what is best and most worthy, which can never fade or disappear, deepens enough, a quickly disenchanted life seems near. Americans especially have a tendency to let social idealism confine them in a prison of permanent political expectations. In other words, the illusion that the choices are limitless, that you can find somewhere anything that you desire or that through political action you can “change” society to make it so. Even in a more moderate form this attitude is bound to lead to disappointment.

And that is why, despite the farce of the current and former “people’s republics,” I can imagine that a dictatorship really might be more popular than a more “democratic” regime. Because people can always content themselves with that which they can resign themselves to, whereas when they have the belief that they can control a situation, the disappointment when things don’t hold up to their individual expectations, as they almost inevitably will not in a society of millions where most people’s influence is so insignificant to the whole, can lead to greater and more unsettled discontent.

You not only can’t have everything, you can’t choose from everything, especially through politics, but the power to choose what’s best from what’s at hand always will exist. Many “liberal” minds claim that a choice between two options in an election is a perfectly adequate manifestation of political freedom, and in even the deepest totalitarian rule there are always at least two alternatives of what to do. Solzhenitsyn said that in the gulag one only has a chance at spiritual growth through not valuing one’s own life above all else, and maybe that’s not just true there. Because when power and right are totally opposed, decency is dangerous. And if no alternative to self-preservation can be considered, then one really is hedged in without escape, but not because one has no freedom.

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