Thursday, November 09, 2006

Free societies versus despotism

The fourth brief essay on the Enlightenment is up at Way of the West.

Here's a brief snippet:

A free society is one where customs and habits of freedom of speech, action and association are inculcated, respected, and protected. These customs and habits will constitute an atmosphere, an ambience; easy for a external observer to identify if he examines practices within the family, the school, and the public arena. Concomitantly, in a free society there is toleration of a degree of diversity of behaviour and self-presentation; uniformity isn't regarded as always and automatically good. Likewise, order and unanimity are not seen as the only instrumental political values; they aren't seen as values which should in every case overrule and negate all others. In such a society, when things are going OK people see themselves as diverse individuals and at the same time as loyal members of their particular society. In a despotism this would be a difficult and precarious tension for a person to maintain, but not hard within a free society -- i.e. if you are brought up within it...

Once upon a time there weren't any free societies. As far as we know there were none before the rise of the Greek City States, the poleis, between, say, 800 BC and 500 BC. It was the Greeks who first tackled the immensely difficult task of creating the customs and institutions, and mapping the limits not to be overstepped -- liberty within the law -- which enable such a potentially disorderly bunch of people to hold together as one, to satisfy fundamental human needs and to function without an unacceptably high level of cacophonous turmoil, near-anarchy and routine violence.

The whole essay's as brief and as informative as the others. Read it!

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