From Serfdom to Quasi-Serfdom

Freedom is a desire to be independent. It is fair to say that it is the ultimate aim of all modern political philosophies. Any government in the world is judged according to how it weighs in the freedom balance. Whether for an individual or a minority, freedom is non-negotiable.

Since the desire to be free is natural it is also natural to praise those individuals or communities who have achieved or who aspire to independence. Certainly the desire to be free is not some sort of illness. On the contrary, it is a good sign and something commendable. Slavery, true slavery, is that condition where freedom is not even sought after.

Having said that, the desire to be free has historically been matched by the promotion of ever more controls on people, even in free countries. There is also the discomforting acknowledgement that previous epochs, most notably the Medieval era, were periods of great liberty, periods where governments found it difficult to act and periods whence our modern notions of liberty gestated.

The paradox can be encapsulated as one of ‘what comes next?’ Aristocrats of old were independent but they embodied the noblesse oblige. Their freedom was a springboard to duty. Nowadays people want freedom but they often do not want the responsibility that comes with such freedom. How many times do we see someone adopting a personal position of ‘splendid isolation?’ Yet if someone is free they are more independent than someone less free, thus their freedom is really a door to duty and not a door to licence.

What often happens when people liberate themselves is a failure to realize that they have only passed from one situation where there are free and dominated individuals to another situation where the furniture has been re-arranged. So a new serfdom has risen out of the ashes of the old.

So next time you cheer on someone crying for freedom be sure to ask them: ‘how will you handle the onerous and difficult responsibilities that come with this freedom?’

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