On the Dangers of Liberal Society, part I

On the Dangers of Liberal Society, part I June 15, 2009

To go along with my posts on postmodern theology and Jean-Luc Marion (see: post 1 and post 2), I am re-posting a short series I began some time ago on the dangers of liberal society. I am ambivalent about much of it, but think that it would be fruitful to engage with it again and, perhaps, continue writing on the topic in a slightly different way. At the very least, it should offer a different, more accessible, flavor of writings for those who find the other stuff to be a bore or nonsense.

The saying goes, “You get more bees with honey than vinegar.” In other words, there is really nothing “sweet” about the honey used as a trap other than being really good at trapping bees.

In a similar way, it might be plausible that other seemingly sweet, innocent, and good things can serve as “honey” for less than sweet, innocent, or good purposes.

Many times, when I begin to think in this kind of way, people remind me that the very fact that I am free to question and even dissent is proof that things are better than they seem. And, of course, this is a very reasonable thing to assert. The fact that I feel confident enough to show strong disagreement without repercussions is certainly a good thing, one would think. Nonetheless, I wonder: Is it sweet or is it “sweet”? In other words, could it be the case that the hallmark “freedom” we supposedly enjoy in the US and other countries is largely a means of appeasement or even oppression?

I think this could, in many cases, be true. You see, when freedom serves as the sole idol, then, as long as things are not overly intrusive no one will complain. And, paradoxically, if intrusiveness is needed for more freedom, then, most will agree to it and those who disagree will do so thinking they are already free enough. But these are all relative judgments about how “free” we assume to be, when, in fact, we may be quite indoctrinated.

For example, the idea of compulsory school attendance was considered a radical intrusion on American freedom from the revolutionary period to the last state (Mississippi) to ratify it in 1916. Now, even school choice advocates agree that school attendance is a perfectly normal—and good—thing to have.

This is not to digress on to the issue of schooling (frequently confused for education); rather, it is just one case in which there is historical proof that what we consider to be “freedom” is a rather elusive thing that, over time, erodes silently. As it erodes, we find that we are peddled a different types of “freedom” that, many times, are used against those who assume to be free—you and me, in other words.

So, it seems (at least to me) that the greatest marketing icon of liberal society (liberty or freedom) might be one of the very things that oppresses us. It is much more effective to let people do things you don’t want them to, and then remind them that they are “free,” to suppress their ability to effectively protest or revolt, than to beat or kill them. Do not be mislead, whether violent or benevolent, oppression is oppression.

As the saying goes, “you get more peasants with freedom…”

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