The Price of Liberty

September, 2001


Contents List:

Wake Up!
Danger!
The Vigilance of Fear
The Vigilance of Love
The American Example

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The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt. — John Philpot Curran, 1750-1817.

Wake Up!

The fundamental principle underlying this essay is that without personal liberty, the quality of human life anywhere on this beautiful planet falls far short of what it should, and could, be.

The audacious and dramatic public relations exercise engineered and executed on Tuesday 11 September, 2001, by a consortium of fanatical opponents of the existing world economic and military order shocked and saddened many people throughout the world. For others it was a cause for rejoicing, presumably because they saw it as a means of drawing attention to the injustices inherent in a world order which perpetuates the oppressive exploitation of the many to sustain conspicuous over-consumption by the relatively few. For all of us, it was a "Wake Up!" call.

If God gave liberty to man, there can be no denying that He gave it to all men and women everywhere. Similarly, the condition of eternal vigilance applies equally to every human individual who possesses the minimal attributes needed for the exercise of personal responsibility. But vigilance is tiring and irksome. Many of us can't be bothered with it, so we leave it to the few who are prepared to exercise responsibility for themselves. Here we have the root cause of inequalities and injustices, because we leave ourselves open to exploitation. It also gives rise to the conditions which make terrorism possible. Once we have opted out of making our personal contribution to vigilance, we cannot rely on a minority to maintain vigilance on our behalf. So whether we decline to be vigilant for ourselves and our neighbours, or just "nod off" thinking that "nothing like that could ever happen here", the occasional "Wake Up!" call is inevitable.

Danger!

There are two great dangers inherent in the immediate aftermath of such shocks to the system. The first danger is to look for scapegoats among the "leaders" and "regulators" to whom we have abdicated our personal responsibilities and who, in defence of their own reputations, may seek to impose new "restrictions" upon us on the pretext that this will enable them to be more vigilant on our behalf in the future. Thus liberty is further eroded.

Once the initial shock is absorbed and grief begins to subside, it naturally tends to give way to self-righteous anger. So the second, and greater, danger lies in ignoring the import of the call, and lashing out wildly against anybody and everybody who may be supposed to have contributed in any way to the machinery by which such a raucous and "barbaric" call was delivered. This is to respond to terrorism with terrorism; and this, too, is inimical to personal liberty.

So it may be helpful to consider two contrasting aspects of vigilance, one of which is too often overlooked.

The Vigilance of Fear

Vigilance born of fear makes us suspicious of anything that we perceive as potentially threatening to our persons, possessions, or preferred way of life.

Fear gives rise to hatred, which gives rise to hostility. Aristotle said that no one loves the man whom he fears; and Ovid wrote: "Every man wishes that the man whom he fears would perish". Once such a wish is established in the human mind, the first casualty is respect for human life. Terrorism is the practical realisation of that wish.

The targets for last Tuesday's violence were outstanding symbols of Western economic power and military might. It behoves those of us who may reasonably be associated with these symbols to reflect upon what it is about our political and economic activities which attracts such obvious hatred and enmity. Are we guilty of such flagrant disregard for the concerns of those who so conspicuously lack economic power and might that a minority of dedicated, if self-appointed, representatives should be persuaded to sacrifice their own, as well as a large number of "enemy", lives in order to deliver a message? They clearly did not do it for personal gain. They must have thought the message important enough to be delivered at all costs. Should we not carefully consider the import of the message before we decide how we should act upon it?

A matter for particular concern at this time is the political rhetoric that seeks to stir up popular fervour with emotive words like "war", and brackets "terrorists" with "states that harbour terrorists". There is probably not a state in the world that does not "harbour" terrorists in some sense. The United States quite clearly "harboured" the individuals who hijacked the aircraft by which the deed was done. Modern terrorist organisations are much too subtle to be infallibly detectable by official "security" agencies — even in the most sophisticated countries. The most fervent idealists do not associate themselves with any particular nationalist or religious cause. They certainly do not form themselves into identifiable armies which can be opposed by conventional military means. "War" is no longer what it used to be. In the era of the ad hoc "virtual" organisation, old-fashioned military might has been reduced to the status of a "paper tiger". When the blood cools, as it eventually will, it will become clear that war is no longer a practical proposition.

So there can be no justification for any kind of military assault against any state that can be shown to have for a time accommodated a number of individuals who can conclusively be shown to have participated directly in, or knowingly contributed to, a terrorist enterprise. It would be unjust to punish the government, let alone the civilian population, of any country in which violently dissident individuals contrive to hide themselves. By self-immolation, the individual perpetrators of the provocation have already placed themselves beyond the reach of human justice. But their example will have inspired others who share their views to continue their campaign. Any attempt to wreak vengeance on the perpetrators' friends and relations will merely convert assassins into martyrs and swell the numbers of their successors.

The vigilance of fear cannot be practised effectively by any means short of engaging all the inhabitants of a country in an endeavour to identify and isolate those individuals living and working among them who may be suspected of plotting against the people and institutions of that country. But this would give free rein to the irresponsible ignorant bigots who form an uncomfortably large proportion of the population of every country and would inevitably generate such an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, distrust, and factional conflict as to stifle personal liberty altogether.

The Vigilance of Love

In contrast to the negative self-defeating vigilance of fear, the vigilance of love commonly gets too little attention. But God gave liberty to ALL mankind. It can therefore be realised and maintained only in conditions which serve the life interests of every creature on the globe. Our most pressing current global problem arises from the fact that economic conditions are artificially biased in favour of the selfish demands of a privileged few to the disadvantage not only of the great majority of mankind but also of the other species which share the planet with us.

The vigilance of love looks not for possible threats to one's selfish interests but for possible opportunities of being helpful to the legitimate life interests of all others. Zoroaster advised us to "Be good, be kind, be humane, be charitable; love your fellows; console the afflicted; pardon those who have done you wrong." People who habitually follow such advice are unlikely to be feared or hated, even by the envious.

The vigilance of love cannot be delegated. It cannot be exercised simply by making donations to charities or paying taxes to organisations that purport to exercise it on our behalf on a large scale — although such institutions have a part to play. To be most effective, it must be exercised by everybody — personally, locally, and on a small scale.

We must all be on the lookout for people who clearly need whatever help we can give. I am not recommending merely unsolicited handouts of personal surpluses of goods or the kind of do-gooding that diminishes personal liberty instead of enhancing it. I am recommending that neighbours help each other to protect their hard-earned liberties, whether from the local bullies and vandals or from persecution by petty officials. I am recommending the removal of the politico-economic regulations which distort Natural Law in order to make it difficult for individuals and states to help themselves lest they adversely affect the vested interests of the states and organisations which impose and maintain these arbitrary restraints on national and personal liberty. In short, I am recommending that individuals be encouraged to oppose oppression and arbitrary restriction whenever it becomes apparent in their own immediate environments — preferably by legitimate means, but by any means where legitimate means do not exist. Tyranny of any kind is not to be tolerated.

Terrorists cannot thrive in a neighbourhood in which there is a culture of mutual concern. Once such a culture pervades society at large, the institutions of that society will automatically fall in line. And it is the personal responsibility of the members of that society to be vigilant in ensuring that they do.

Like Zoroaster, the Master Jesus enjoined us to "Love one another". He did not ask us necessarily to like one another. But he did expect us to recognise that all the peoples of the world are from the same Source and that the laws of Nature are such as to promote the welfare of the entire Creation, not of individuals. God has no favourites or "chosen people". The chief law for mankind is to maintain and enhance the liberty in which individuals can express their innate sense of personal responsibility and make it possible for them to love one another. The expression of love cannot be anything but voluntary.

The American Example

The Statue of Liberty still stands proudly at the entrance to New York Harbour. The United States was founded upon the principle of liberty. The War of Independence was fought and won by freedom-loving individuals who were convinced of the justice of their opposition to oppressive regulation. Since its foundation, the USA has harboured individuals from many national, racial and religious backgrounds, and encouraged them to take whatever steps they felt necessary to alleviate their own adverse conditions. It is this spirit that made the United States the great nation it is.

Like all nations, even America is prone to lapses, particularly when prosperity and affluence erodes its idealism. Friends of the United States will fervently hope that the current Administration will be ready to concede that there may be a case to answer and, instead of burying its collective head in the sand of self-righteousness, acknowledge the pressure of the conditions which resulted in such a spectacular explosion. If it is, the "Wake Up!" call so clearly sounded last week will have the effect of re-establishing the principle enshrined in the United States Constitution, and the Vigilance of Love may predominate over that of Fear.

The world waits, anxiously but hopefully.