George Walford: Freedom to Oppress

Political movements vary in many ways but all of them, when in power, promote freedom. To meet the inevitable protest head-on: Nazism promoted freedom of action for anti-Semitism. To demand merely freedom, unspecified, is like asking for more without saying of what. For the demand to be capable of realisation we have to specify which freedoms we want, and in selecting them we have to make choices, for the exercise of freedom invariably entails the promotion of some activities and suppression of others.

“The only freedom which deserves the name” said John Stuart Mill, “is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so, long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” [1] If the quotation is correct (our source gives no reference and Mill wrote a great deal) that phrase ‘which deserves the name’ shows Mill making the same claim as almost everybody else who speaks or writes on the subject; the freedom he values is the only real one. It is only too obvious – much of the trouble in the world comes from it – that a great many people value the freedom to interfere with the freedom of others, but this freedom Mill would not allow. He does not stand simply for freedom but for promotion of the freedoms he values and repression of those he does not. Nazis and governments and anarchists and communists and conservatives and libertarians and the (A-)SPGB and IC also behave in this way; if there be a difference it is that IC shows greater awareness.

THE NUMBER of classes we have may be debatable (it is certainly often debated) but even if we accept lower-upper-middle and other variants of that type, there can hardly be more than a dozen or two. India, according to Anthropology Today, has 3,187 castes, ranging from Brahmins to Untouchables. Imagine having not just one, or two, or a dozen or two, but 3,186 groupings above you in the social scale.

ON FIRST acquaintance with ideologies as forming a developmental system it looks like a matter of increasing understanding, so that the higher understand the lower but not vice versa. This gives a comfortable feeling of superiority, but it’s not so. Each step upwards opens new vistas and closes old ones. From the top of a mountain you see much that was invisible from below, but you also lose sight of much that you could see from down there.

TRANSITION from eidostatic to eidodynamic brings ‘holism,’ a concern with wholeness, a comfortable feeling that one has finished with parts, moved onward and upward to this new, fuller, wider, better conception. But a whole that is merely a whole is not really a whole. To be whole in the fullest sense it must fully and explicitly incorporate and recognise each and all of its parts in their fullest individual and particulate development, including their conflict with each other and its own conflict with them.

ISAAC Deutscher and E. H. Carr used to review each other’s books enthusiastically. Reminds one of the couplet on an earlier pair of mutually-approving historians: ‘And, ladling butter from alternate tubs / Stubbs buttered Freeman, Freeman buttered Stubbs.’

DANGEROUS dogs have to be insured, to provide compensation for victims of their attacks. They also have to be muzzled outdoors. Under the policies the insurance companies do not have to pay out if the dog owner has broken any law. A dog cannot bite if it is muzzled, and if it is not muzzled its owner has broken the law. So if the dog bites anybody outdoors that invalidates the insurance.

This question has been raised with the insurance companies, but: “it’s impossible to get a straight answer.” (Evening Standard 15 April)

FOR EDITORS
The editor knocked at the Pearly Gates, his face was worn and old.
He stood before St. Peter there, for admission to the fold.
‘And what have you done,’ the great saint asked, ‘to gain admission here?’
‘I’ve been an editor, Sir,’ he said, ‘for many and many a year.’
The Pearly Gates swung open wide, St. Peter touched the bell.
‘Come in,’ he said, ‘and choose your harp. You’ve had your share of hell.’ (Source unknown)

[1] Quoted by Jack Schwartzman in: The Devil and the Reformers n.d.1991? London: Libertarian Alliance)

from Ideological Commentary 56, May 1992.