Freedom and Democracy October 2012
In Britain, or anywhere else for that matter, if we are going to evolve into a happier, more civilised and rational society, there has to be a major cultural shift in our values and understanding and acceptance of the nature of freedom and democracy: Without more freedom and democracy, the facilitating of success and self-realisation for increased numbers of individual aspirations is severely limited. In the West we talk about the importance of democracy and how we inherited many of our democratic ideals from the ancient Greeks. However, democracy in ancient Greece only applied to Greek male citizens and did not extend to women or the many slaves that oiled the wheels of Greek society.
In our society, democracy and freedom are merely relative concepts and it is frankly disingenuous, in the ‘real world’, to pretend that they can they can be practised as absolute values. One man or woman’s freedom might well be to the detriment of the freedom of another. Eric Fromm wrote about freedom in 1941 and some years later, Isaiah Berlin reached similar conclusions in his essay defining the concepts of ‘positive freedom’ and ‘negative freedom’. This idea of ‘negative freedom’ is one that allows freedom without external restraints. Berlin’s idea of ‘positive freedom’ is of a kind of qualified or somewhat restrictive freedom that might mean sacrificing negative freedom but will be for our own good in the long run. This type of transcendent freedom supposedly releases us from our baser instincts and provides us with a richer and truer sense of real freedom. The trouble is (and Berlin recognised this) that governments often use the pretext of positive freedom to impose unpopular and draconian measures ‘for our own good’.
Karl Marx described how the ruling class controlled society through capitalism whereby workers received wages for their efforts but profits went back to the bosses or shareholders instead of being shared among everyone involved in the enterprise. In the days when Marx was alive, workers really did have a hard time: Marx saw society as being structured by economic factors. Understandably, in those hard times, he saw society as a conflict between the ruling capitalist class and the workers: He visualised a society where the workers would eventually take over control of their lives. I strongly suspect that if there was a revolution and the workers did take over, we would still have a similar situation - a nouveau riche and "nouveau self-seeking" elite class at the top of society and those much less well off at the bottom. In other words, it would be like the pigs’ revolution in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” - back to square one: That is because I think all humans are alike - we’re all animals, after all - and there is greed, self-seeking, intelligence, and stupidity throughout all the strata of society.
My view is that we can never begin to extend our freedoms and democratic values or allow more people to have a voice in their nations affairs unless we put a stop to big business sponsorship of political candidates. This would enable bright, less self-seeking candidates from all ‘classes’ to emerge and represent people from all walks of life without being tied to the puppet strings of big business.