18 January 2007

About freedom

Dear readers,

I had a couple of very pertinent messages from Mohamed about freedom. They were about the Nichane magazine issue in Morocco and the question of freedom of press and freedom of expression in general. But for some reason, the same issue is now being debated in the EU, due to the current German attempt at imposing a general European ban on all public display of extreme right symbols, negationist opinions and neo-nazis ideas. As was to be expected, the main opponents to this new directive proposal are Hindus. They are affraid (and rightfully so) that any display of swastikas would be banned, while this religious symbol of peace, they claim, was actually highjacked by the nazis. They make the point that the symbol is much older than its use by Hitler's party.

This brings me back to my messages about freedom and one of the purposes of this blog: I was trying to collect ideas on what should constitute a "right" political system and a just set of laws. In fact, freedom is much more than a simple right, a kind of item you put in a declaration and then that the State can more or less ignore in the name of other "more pressant" issues. Freedom, and especially freedom of expression, is what makes us different from animals. There is a main opposition on this topic between utilitarist philosophers like Bentham and humanists like Kant. But no one can really make a strong case anymore that humans are purely determined by their nature and social environment. Rousseau and Sartre have proven, once and for all, that both nature and culture shape humans and that they also have the possibility to make free choices, even purely "gratuitous acts". A gratuitous act is the absolute proof that freedom is what makes us humans.

This means that freedom should be the first thing that any kind of government should be protecting. This goes beyond the limits of religion or culture, social or mental setups. It also shows, in my opinion, that Churchill was wrong when he was saying that "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time". Democracy is actually the political true expression of the humanist ideal. It is not just one regime amongst others, it is (in its perfect form) the ultimate philosophically and ethically just regime. Any tenants of political and cultural relativism should think about this a great deal before defending the idea that democracy is not right for other cultures than the Western one.


Casper said...

"Be to others as you want them to be to you", could probably summarize it.

The issue is more broad that just defining freedom, diffrent people look at freedom diffrently. Like if you do not have food and water, then it does not matter how free you are in expressing your oppinion - you will be more concernd about how to feed yourself and your family.

Or if one look at some places in the world where women are oppressed by traditions (read: men), in these pleaces the people who surpress the women will tell you that they have freedom - they can do that as they have the power to do so.

Year back, I either read a book, or saw movie, where the main character was told, that people do not care about war, if they lack food, wather, oil, gasoline, etc. And that it would be a good cause to go to war over these issues.

That brings me back to your comment on political systems; if you have more than 2 people who is trying to make a decission on anything it will not work, as we are people who would like to see our ideas put to life - no matter how stupid they are.

So on finding the perfect political system; will not happen as long as people are selfish. To make good political decissions require that one will sacrifice something...

Jean-Baptiste Perrin said...

Well, I certainly agree on the fact that people are more concerned about the daily survival issues than their actual freedom, seen as an abstract idea. This is the old Maslow pyramid idea. But one can also see the problem the other way. An ideal political system, which tries its best to provide freedom to its citizens in the most humanist way, will automatically provide simultaneously the possibility to survive, as the first freedom people thrive for is the one to live, then to procreate...

Your other comment is I think more difficult to answer, as you are absolutely right that the main obstacle to such a system is usually the citizens themselves. It is my main disagreement with Rousseau, by the way: people are absolutely not good by nature. They are not evil either, just selfish and short sighted.

And that is why a system which provides freedom for everyone as long as one freedom does not cancels the one of another would in theory prevent this. In your example, the men opressing women wouldn't be allowed to do so... But the issue is of course the one of power. Who has the power tends to misuse it. I will treat this specific problem in a next post, as I think its is the main issue with democracy.