Notes on the Way [III]
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166 ] Notes on the Way [III] Time and Tide, 16 (19 Jan 1935) 88-90 There seems to be, at the present time, a good deal of chat going on about Liberty, and no wonder. We have not only the shadow of the Totalitarian State abroad, but smaller creeping shadows at home. There was the Lord Chief Justice thundering about encroachments upon the liberty of the judiciary; and at every other street corner we are reminded that we are no longer at liberty to get ourselves run over.1 It occurs to me that the subject of Liberty may be treated in the same way as the subject of Peace and War. We all love Peace, and we all love Liberty. Of course there are many who say that to be prepared for War is the best way to preserve the Peace; some even may hold that the only way to obtain a real peace is to wage a successful War; but this belief seems less tenable. Similarly there are strong men among us now who maintain that the only road to real Liberty is through Dictatorship. The Communists tell us that the Dictatorship is temporary, but refuse to provide an exact timetable;itshouldlastuntilweareallofthesamemindastheDictator.The Fascists, on the other hand, seem to maintain that the Dictatorship will be permanent, but that the Dictator is willing what we ought to will; and that surrender of imaginary liberties is the only way of gaining real ones. Just as men of every opinion agree that Peace is the goal, and that their way is the only way to get it; so there is a complete unanimity of opinion that Liberty is the ultimate goal, and that their way is the only way to get it. It is true that both Peace and Liberty are sometimes decried, but usually for local political reasons; to cheer up the vanity of the people, or of those who count upon being among the ruling caste in a régime of diminished liberty. But, on the whole, Peace and Liberty are still admitted to be good things. Here again, as I am prepared to condemn War in the abstract, though willing to condemn almost any particular war, and certainly prepared to condemn what are likely to be the causes of any war we may see in the near future; so I think I am likely to be on the side of liberty in particular instances, while unable to attach any meaning to liberty in the abstract. I dare say that Mr. G. D. H. Cole, Mr. Ervine, and myself, would all be [ 167 Notes on the Way [III] equally indignant over particular infractions of liberty. I dare say we all feel the same about Sedition Bills, and that sort of thing.2 But when I read their correspondence, I wonder whether the abstract Liberty they both love so much more than they love each other, is anything but a phantom.3 For instance, Mr. Cole agrees with Mr. Ervine in the latter’s assertion that “The only society that is fit for mankind is one in which every individual has the utmost freedom of thought and action and speech that is compatible with the freedom of thought and action and speech of his neighbour.”4 I can’t exactly disagree with such an assertion; I wonder whether practically it means very much. How much freedom of thought and action and speech is compatible with the same freedom on the part of others? In practice, does not an extension of freedom on the part of some mean a diminution of that of others? And whose freedom is the more valuable ? And what Mr. Ervine seems to me to be glorifying, in these words, is something which is essentially a compromise; and a compromise is hardly an ideal. And what is it, exactly, to be free? The statement itself sounds at first acceptable to everyone. Yet one can conceive a “society in which every individual has the utmost freedom of thought and action and speech that is compatible with the freedom of thought and action and speech of his neighbour” which should be, at the same time, a thoroughly intolerable society to live in. Freedom is not enough. I think that any conception of liberty which is merely political is vitiated from the start. We have already, in fact, enlarged our conception of liberty from that of the politically minded nineteenth century. We have discovered that even if one man...