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I.: FREEDOM AS A MANNER OF LIVING - Kenneth Minogue, The Liberal Mind 
The Liberal Mind, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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FREEDOM AS A MANNER OF LIVING
Freedom as a political slogan is an ideal, a goal to be pursued. But an ideal can only be something constructed out of what we have already experienced. In studying freedom, we may, on the one hand, consider it simply as a set of facts about social and political life; or, if our enquiry is ideological, we may seek those of its characteristics which are suitable for erection into criteria. What makes freedom difficult to study is that most investigations succumb at some point or another to its desirability; and an interest in what it is gives way to a concern with how it may be promoted.
Among the conspicuously free groups with which we are familiar are the citizens of Athens, and the enfranchised of Britain and America. In each case, these peoples, finding themselves in conflict and consequently attempting to define what they were and what their struggles sought to defend, discovered that they were free peoples. This discovery was attended by a considerable outpouring of rhetoric; and all of it was subject to the fallacies inevitable when a moral characteristic like freedom is confused with a concrete historical situation. But embedded in the rhetoric, and susceptible of extraction by enquiry, was a theory, not of how freedom might be attained but of what it was. Let us consider some of the characteristics of a free society, taking as our model one of its earliest formulations, the Periclean Funeral Oration.
Pericles was concerned not with the statement of an ideal but of those characteristics of Athens which Pericles considered to make her distinctive and great. These characteristics are not so much political as moral. Further, all of the characteristics interlock, one with another, so that the presence of one leads to the development of the others.
It was courage which Pericles identified, partly for topical reasons, as the first quality of Athenians. But it was courage of a very complex kind. For Aristotle, courage was a mean between rashness and cowardice, and for Plato it was the knowledge of what is not to be feared. The courage we are trying to identify is thus not the kind which is often evoked by the presence of an enemy; it contains no element of hysteria. It leads to a special kind of reaction to crises. In a national emergency, two extreme reactions may occur. On the one hand, the populace may fuse together to such an extent that they resemble an organism. They think and feel the same way, and their social fusion is generally capped by adoration of a leader. Tribal behavior is predominantly of this kind, and so was the totalitarian cohesion of Germany and of Japan during the Second World War. It has the advantage of simplifying matters, so that all problems seem technical problems related to an overriding objective. Alternatively, we may find that a national emergency evokes social dissolution; the State breaks up into institutions, families and individuals whose main concern is to cut their losses and survive. People distrust each other, and few are prepared to take the risks of political organization for fear of treachery by others. Something like this occurred in the French collapse of 1940.
These are both entirely different social reactions, and we are only tempted to see them as polarities because under most circumstances both reactions are likely to occur; some people will risk everything for the national effort, others will attempt to profit from the situation. Politicians have an understandable preference for the former kind of behavior which they describe as unselfish and heroic.
A free reaction to a national emergency is difficult to describe but clearly distinguishable. It consists in a kind of social cohesion which combines cooperation with the full maintenance of individuality. There is neither blind devotion to a national cause nor utter scepticism about it. All that happens as a result of the emergency is an unusual consensus of opinion about priorities, but there is no complete capitulation to an overriding goal. As a result, free societies do not drastically alter their structure and their customs as a result of the emergency, perhaps because they are in any case highly flexible. One celebrated instance of this would be the maintenance of civil liberties in Britain from 1939 to 1945. But that instance depended entirely upon the fact that unity already existed; had there been deep divisions the British government would, like any other, have had to use repression to deal with them. But then again, the behavior and policies of the government were an important cause of whether or not deep divisions might occur.
If we take it that free co-operation is a special and distinguishable social relationship, our problem is to discover why it occurs. Pericles, as we have seen, attributed it to courage; but for Plato it was a form of knowledge. It has at times been called rationality, in the sense of a refusal to succumb to passions like fear or the desire for security; but the distinction between reason and passion is moralistic and narrow. Certainly full co-operation depends upon a populace accustomed to facing new problems, and confident that it can deal with them successfully. Another way of describing it would be in terms of balance; political issues are extensively discussed, and this can only happen if some individuals resist the strong impulsions of panic that often cause people to accept any solution with a majority behind it. Small groups with unpopular policies need a good deal of courage to continue advocating their policy in circumstances where their enemies are liable to invoke charges of treason and disloyalty. In moral terms we discover courage on one side and a kind of tolerance on the other, and the whole picture is of a community involved in conflict, but deliberating, and capable of coming to a decision. If we can explain the elements of this situation, then we will have discovered much about freedom.
One crucial element of free co-operation is a respect for truth. Under all circumstances, the pressure of expediency causes considerable distortions of fact. In a crisis, this pressure increases. Further, if the national goal is taken to be an overriding criterion of action, then truth, like everything else, must take a subordinate position; always to some degree essential to the success of any operation but twisted for convenience in many particulars. This fact is most clearly seen in the case of totalitarian societies which feed on crises, and depend upon a set of dogmatic beliefs whose questioning would indicate a threat to the whole system.
Now a respect for truth is never the result simply of an act of will. It can only exist as part of a tradition which has continued for a considerable time. In particular, it must gain support from independent institutions in society, for whom truth is a concern overriding everything else: primarily, universities. In all our examples, a tradition of enquiry was sufficiently powerful to impose its standards in other areas of the life of the State: a truth-respecting integrity was part of the conception of honor prevalent in those States. Further, this kind of honor is irrational and imprudent, for there are many occasions both in political and personal life when there are advantages to be gained from suppressing the truth. The temptation to deceive becomes more pressing in times of crisis, and each side attempts to gain allies by distorting the ends of its policy and evading the unsavory facts about its own position. Too great a desire to persuade others is fatal to truth; it leads rapidly to the strident and rigid world of propaganda. In free States, then, there are always people who are irrationally attached to the truth, in the manner of Socrates and Zola, and who will not be turned aside from this by appeals to national interest or slogans like “national survival.”
But this fact tells us even more about the character of a free society; for universities nurturing a tradition of free enquiry cannot exist in isolation as the only independent institutions of the community. There must be a wide variety of institutions independent of the government and capable of cultivating their own interest within a political framework. Freedom has often been associated with variety, and even eccentricity; it is certainly hostile to the notion of a single dogmatically held truth. The existence of such a variety of independent institutions is both politically and intellectually necessary for a tradition of truth. Politically, because universities cannot remain free whilst other institutions are carefully regulated by the government, for their independence would undermine the dependence of others. Intellectually, because the clash of ideologies which goes on between institutions—between churches, or the various organized interests of the economy—generates many of the theories with which investigation deals. For there are always some areas of life which are most thoroughly cultivated by some particular institution, and it will, for its own purposes, turn up problems and solutions which for scientists, philosophers and historians, have other meanings.
These institutional arrangements are closely linked with tolerant behavior, another moral characteristic which waxes and wanes in people. “We are free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law,” as Pericles expressed it. Now this condition only arises as a social custom; it is a manner of life rather than the product of a desire. It lies outside the control of individuals; governments may encourage or discourage fanaticism, but they can neither create the fanaticism they want, nor destroy the fanaticism they do not want. In a State which is radically divided by fanatically held opinions, a government has no option but to repress or be overthrown. But whilst fanaticism is not a calculable growth, some forms of political organization are more conducive to it than others; one which holds strongly to the distinction between a “public” and a “private” sphere is less likely to suffer from fanatics than one in which government regulation of everything is commonly accepted. It is difficult to define the private sphere in terms of natural rights or self-regarding actions; but if some such privacy is respected throughout the State, then governments cannot easily invade it.
These conditions are part of the lives of individuals. They describe the way people think and feel. In developing our account of freedom, we may employ a distinction commonly made between technical and deliberative thinking.
Technical thinking is the solution of problems within fixed limits, as in the discovery of means to ends.
Deliberative thinking, on the other hand, is the reaction to a situation made by something which is itself capable of changing. I am referring here to what is commonly called “free choice” or “man’s freedom to choose.” The objection to these terms is that they are individualistic, assuming a fixed (but mysterious) human identity which opts for one kind of principle or act rather than others. In deliberation, however, the crucial fact which determines the outcome is the character of the chooser, and that is not known until the choice is made; for choice is a determination of character, something which happens when we are making up our minds to “take a stand” on some issue. But it may also happen unconsciously, which suggests that the term “thinking” ought to be avoided. We may distinguish three possibilities in deliberation. In one, the kind which normally draws the attention of moral philosophers, a moral problem is posed and solved by means of an intellectual effort whose course (in terms of principles held or ends considered and rejected) can be plotted at each stage. Much more commonly, however, life poses for individuals a moral problem which they seem almost to solve by impulse. Without consciously thinking about it, they come to a decision, finding that the issues have become clarified in a manner analogous to the solving of intellectual problems in sleep. Finally, there are occasions when the problem is both posed and solved before the individual is even aware of it—often because he is strongly resisting.
This last fact about deliberation is significant; it indicates that deliberative problems are often painful, and therefore avoided. In fact, avoidance of these problems may become the solution. Such problems can produce anxiety, and a political solution to the problem posed by anxiety is the tribal social cohesion mentioned earlier. The effect of such a political development is to convert deliberative problems into technical problems: or, at least, so it seems to the members of the tribe.
Now in a free State, characterized as we have seen by a wide variety of independent institutions, individuals must constantly face deliberative problems about what they ought to do. They become highly skilled either in solving such problems or (which is also a solution) refusing to meet them. Children learn to behave in this way, partly because they are taught to, and partly because they have to. They are subject to a considerable bombardment of propaganda, and there is little in the way of an established intellectual orthodoxy on political or religious questions to serve as a protection. Given an education of this kind, people are less often tempted to succumb to the hysteria of indecision, which often leads to the desire to submit to a striking and dramatic orthodoxy.
In such varied social circumstances people cannot be generally judged in terms of their status and function, for there will be many sources of status— money, birth, place of education, intellectual distinction, celebrity, popularity and so on. This fact, too, is a source of confusion to people who are not accustomed to deliberation, and they may therefore prefer a single system in terms of which everyone can be conveniently assessed at a moment’s notice. This dislike of different sources of status often gives rise to a virulent dislike of snobbery, leading to some single criterion of “true worth” which would clarify our judgments about people.
A free State is one in which there is a strong resistance to professionalization; it is marked by that “versatility” which Pericles claimed for Athens. The sort of personal behavior indicated by versatility is one in which people are ready to “try their hand” at anything they have to. It is for this reason that pioneering communities have many of the characteristics of free States; the more difficult question is how freedom exists in States with a stable social structure. The situations which most contrast with this kind of versatility are a caste system, a rigid form of feudal system, and a bureaucracy, for here each person has a fixed status which determines the kind of work he does, and usually the only kind of work he will do.
Individuals in a free society may be described as independent. This means, for one thing, that they will organize themselves, and resist attempts by other people to dominate them. But that is only possible if such people dislike not only domination by others, but also submission by others. Independent individuals have no desire to crush the independence of others, for independence is not simply a social relationship, but a characteristic which only exists by rejecting both domination and submission—a point which Plato made in arguing that the despot himself was a slave.
It is a mark of the interlocking signs of a free State that this immediately brings us back to truth. For in considering the circumstances in which free independence is possible, we must observe that it depends to a very large extent on an intellectual interest in how things are, in contrast to the desire to make things conform to a pre-established plan. A passion to control is the attempt to create dependence from a fixed position, as a father may attempt to control the development of his children not simply by insisting upon fixed standards of behavior, but by crushing any signs of independence or deviation. Truth is frequently a deviation from our explanatory categories and from our ideas of what the world must be like, and philosophy and science are therefore marked by a respect for the independence of facts, a characteristic which is likely to be carried over into other kinds of social activity.
Free individuals can modify themselves in a traditional manner in the face of the possibility of the breakdown of order. They are not “slaves of the passions.” In social terms, men who are afraid will abandon their liberty to a protector. Men who are covetous and acquisitive will abandon their freedom to rulers who will leave them free to acquire wealth. Men dominated by gambling or drugs will not be able to see clearly enough to recognize threats to their liberty. Further, wilful men, hungry for fame and ambitious to command, will soon cease to respect the liberty of others.1 Historical generalizations of this kind indicate the connection which the idealists have always seen between virtue and liberty, however difficult it may be to elucidate this connection.
One further fact about free societies may be noted: they will show a considerable degree of institutional creativity. One consequence of freedom, and one mark of its existence, is the proliferation of institutions and associations created by groups of people, often for ad hoc but also sometimes for permanent ends. States in which this happens will show what de Tocqueville2 observed in Anglo-Saxon States—a craving for public affairs and a thirst for rights. The work of creating and maintaining social institutions is something which has to be learned; one cannot simply make up one’s mind to do it, and then go ahead. Many traps lie in wait—from futility to dissension and on to the possibility that the institution may misconceive its social importance and enter into violent conflict with the authorities; further, in a despotic society, governments are likely to assume that all initiative on the part of citizens is subversive in character, or will quickly become so. Thus to state the social and political conditions under which citizens may be spontaneously associative is to outline once more the various marks of freedom which we have already described.
This account of freedom attempts to set out the materials from which an explanation of freedom might be constructed. Inevitably it raises a great number of questions, some of which can be summarily considered here. In particular, it requires us to distinguish between freedom as a moral character and a free society. Freedom is something spontaneous and unpredictable in human affairs, and is likely to be found anywhere. A free society, on the other hand, is a society in which institutions have developed which are peculiarly suited to conserving a tradition of free behavior. We will find in free societies, as in any other, all those kinds of behavior which are most antipathetic to freedom. Any historical society will be a mixture of kinds of behavior, a location of moral struggle. It is only in the propagandist circumstances of war that countries are thought to stand for abstractions like Liberty, Democracy, Aryanism, or the Homeland of the Proletariat.
It is a historical commonplace to find many groups and nations claiming that they fight for freedom. And in many cases, at the end of the struggle, they find that they have merely substituted one kind of oppression for another. It is common to believe, when this happens, that the revolution has been betrayed. Yet it is more often the case that the betrayal is simply the measure of the illusion that one can literally fight “for” freedom. When slaves rise against their masters, it is usually the particular domination they object to, not to domination itself. The revolution, in other words, is always betrayed not by the leaders but also by the character of the followers. When the English struggled against the Stuarts, they were not slaves rising at last against a tyrant; they were men already free striving to maintain that freedom against what they took to be a new threat to it. Again, when the American colonies rose against the British government, they fought not “for” freedom, for they were already free; but to establish circumstances in which their manner of life might expand unfettered. What made the politics of the French revolutionaries so ambiguous in this respect was that the forces of dependence were so strong that when men shouted Liberté they had, in many cases, only a dreamlike notion of what the term meant.
When men claim that they love freedom, they can mean many things. In part they are admiring the independence of freedom, the refusal to obey masters no matter what orders may be given. But they will often mean by freedom a fantasy in which all the frustrating restrictions under which they suffer have been removed. And they will also associate this, in most cases, with an upper-class status which they have coveted from afar. It is out of these latter elements that a new bondage may be constructed for them. Most modern freedom movements have been closely associated with nationalism, and while freedom may be the flag they carry, it is nationalism which is likely to win in the end.
For while men may love freedom, they also love dependence. Those who come new to individual responsibility are likely to fear its risks and burdens. They like to take refuge in a function, desiring to be told not only what to do but also what they are. It is only clear directives from outside which can resolve the stalemates in the personality resulting from barely conscious conflicts. Such conflicts are personal problems which men unaccustomed to freedom can only solve in a dogmatic way, by unquestioning adherence to an organization, a role, a principle, or a person. The reason why freedom generally succumbs to nationalism is that a free man is an abstraction; he does not know what he is or what he may do. But in the nation, a man can find an identity and a set of satisfying duties. If freedom can only be attained by a prolonged military struggle, then what is attained is unlikely to be freedom. Actual warfare often generates demands for loyalty and solidarity of a dependent kind; and whilst there will always be some voices raised against the plea of common interest, they may not carry much weight against an established leadership and organization. The classic modern situation of this kind occurred on the Republican side during the Spanish civil war. Under these circumstances— where those who claim to be fighting for freedom are an unstable alliance of groups, each with a precise and uncompromising vision of a future condition—a free condition does not exist, nor can a free State be attained.
This raises a question to which we can only afford to give a sidelong glance, and about which nothing very much is known. What are the circumstances under which freedom can develop in a society? Taking a hint from Wittfogel’s study of oriental despotism,3 we may observe that the free societies which we are considering originated out of a combination of feudal and commercial circumstances. A decentralized feudal situation, in which honor and birth were the dominant considerations, was weakened and forced to compromise with the growth of cities and commercial activity. Freedom in each case arose out of a compromise of a peculiar kind between an established feudal class and a vigorous commercial one. Once the character and institutions are established, however, they can prove flexible and strong, and be transmitted to later generations and colonial extensions.
If this account of freedom is correct, then it is an ideal only in that it is widely admired, and like anything widely admired it can sometimes guide our efforts. But there is no question of approximation to some unattainable condition. For freedom refers to a complex set of moral facts. What might we mean by saying, for example, “Britain is a free country”? This proposition might point to the existence of free institutions in Britain—freedom of speech, opposition parties, habeas corpus. Such is the liberal view of the matter, and as far as it goes it is perfectly correct. But we may then enquire: Under what circumstances are such institutions possible? When the people arise and throw off their chains? When the victims rise against their oppressors? Hardly, for that kind of insurgence seems uniquely to produce a new set of oppressors. It may be that the conditions permitting free institutions lie beyond our conscious control; we cannot have them merely because we want them. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the proposition “Britain is a free country” refers not merely to political institutions, but also to a type of behavior which is sufficiently widespread among all classes of the population (but especially the political classes) to permit and maintain free institutions.
[1. ]It is difficult to describe free men without making them seem like paragons of virtue. Any of these virtues will no doubt make only an intermittent appearance in the lives of particular men. But in free States, these virtues are available to men in their public capacity, and they dominate the situation. Where this is not so, free political institutions will not long survive.
[2. ]See the passages quoted by A. V. Dicey in Law of the Constitution, Ninth Edition, London, 1945, pp. 184–87.
[3. ]Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism, Yale, 1957.