Essay on True Spirit of Freedom

Outline:

  • Introduction
  • Cry for freedom at its zenith in modern times
  • Freedom is not merely an absence of Restraint
  • Freedom must positive and purposive
  • Bounds of duty and discipline
  • Governed divine system
  • Liberty is one and invisible
  • True freedom is personal freedom
  • The restriction of human will
  • A truly free man
  • Conclusion

It is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven

This quotation is taken from Milton’s “Paradise Lost”.

The appeal, which the ideal of freedom makes to human mind, is at once universal and eternal. In every age and country, poets have composed fine verses and minstrels have sung moving songs in adoration of the Goddess of freedom. The savages and the civilized alike have. felt the necessity of freedom for the full growth of their physical, mental and moral capacities. The history of the world, as Hegal has observed, “is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom”.

In the modern times when human civilization is said to have reached its zenith, the need and importance of freedom is universally recognized. There was never a time in the history of humanity when cry for freedom or liberty was more intense than today. We feel that we cannot live without freedom as much as the need of freedom is not felt and a protest against restraints is not made. We consider academic freedom necessary for high education. We regard a free press and a free electronic media as the last means of defense of the security of country. Freedom of enterprise is needed for the commercial and industrial growth of the nation. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech are equally necessary for the growth of healthy democratic traditions in a Country. Freedom from want, hunger, and poverty is considered to be the most desirable condition for the progress and prosperity of the people. In short, as Franklin, an eminent English politician remarks, “Liberty is ordered, Liberty is a strength. Look around the world, and admire, as you must be an instructive spectacle. You will see that liberty not only is power and order, but it is power and order predominant, and invisible, that is desired all-other sources of strength.”

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But despite the great demand for liberty or freedom, few people have been able to understand its real meaning and significance. Goldsmith has rightly observed in his famous poem, the Kings and their subject have abused “The Traveller” that freedom equally. He writes:

“Thou fair Freedom, taught alike to feel

The rabble’s rage and tyrant’s angry steel,

Thou transitory flower a like undone

By proud contempt or favour’s fostering sun.”

Generally, people think that freedom consists in the absence of all kinds of restraints and restrictions. It is an allowance to do whatever we like. A cynic, commenting on the three principles popularized by the French Revolution, says that liberty means, “I can do as I like. You are no better than I am and Fraternity, “What is yours is mine if I want”. Such a conception of. human values has obviously led to anarchy, mediocrity and interference.

Freedom to be a source of peace and happiness, virtue and benefit, must be something more than a mere absence of restraint. As Robert Hutechins writes, “Freedom must be something more than a vacant stare. It must be something better than the absence of restraint or the absence of things we do not like.” For freedom of whatever sorts it may be, political, social, economic or religious is empty unless we know that to do with it when we get it. It is true that we must be set free from the restraints that obstruct our liberty but the important question that faces us when we get such a freedom is, What shall we do with it? What shall we do with ourselves? The President of St. John’s College, America, has låtely said, “Under our Bill of Rights, Congress may not prohibït you and me from worshipping God but suppose we know no God to worship? It may not forbid us to speak our minds but suppose we have no minds to speak? It may not prevent our daily paper from telling us the truth or which truths are worth telling? The government may prevent you and me from peaceably assembling. but why assemble if we have nothing worth saying to each other”? What this comes down to is that negative freedom enjoyed for its own sake without any purpose or plan, any end or aim, is unnatural and meaningless. It is not freedom but frivolity, not liberty but license. It does more harm than good, and helps us only in wasting our energy in the pursuit of fleeting whims. Such a life is narrow and highly exacting and the so-called freedom is tiring, if not killing,

“To me this uncharted freedom tires,

I feel the weight of chance desires.”

Freedom and liberty are relative terms and they imply their opposites, duty and discipline. Those who break the bounds of duty and discipline and aspire for uncharted freedom are like the mouth less rivers which loss themselves in wastelands and sandy deserts, nameless and lost. Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains, so said, Rousseau. Those chains are the chains of duty – duty towards his parent, towards his neighbours, towards his society, towards his country and towards humanity at large. Human society is a complex whole and it is at the willing co-operation of the component parts that the smooth and healthy functioning of this whole depends. We know what happened to the body of the man when all parts began to work in their own free way and refused to yield to law. Similar is the case with society where if everyone aspired for right and privileges and neglected the corresponding duties and obligations, there would be nothing but disorder and unrest.

It is the will of God that every phenomenon in the system of the universe from the starry heavens above down to the dusty earth below should be governed and guided by law, not by impulse. The sun, the moon, the stars, the planets-all move in their appointed course, and it is in their mutual co-operation and absolute loyalty to the divine law that the rhythm and unity of the universe consists. The sun cannot have the freedom of rising in the west and setting in neither east nor can the stars have the freedom of shining in the day and extinguishing at night. We do not know what will happen if the object of nature in their passion of unrestricted freedom go on strike, if the oceans over flow their shores, mountains fly in the air instead of being confined to the top of earth, and the stars dash out of their orbits. Perhaps that would mean paralysis, the final end of all things that exist. In life itself, therefore, is it individual or national security lies in restraint and discipline. In a life, which is bound with the chains of duty and discipline, there is no beating about the bush, no fruitless chase after chimeras. At first, such a life may appear joyless and arduous, it may lack the wild freedom and romantic thrill of a life guided by impulse but in the long run it is found that there is greater satisfaction in this life than in the other.

The fact is that the liberty of one individual is inseparably linked with that of others. Private liberty has to be compatible with social liberty. Similarly, national freedom has to conform to the principle of internationalism. In order that every nation and individual may enjoy freedom it is incumbent on them to curtail their freedom to a certain extent in order to accommodate the interests of other nations and individuals. Hence, the concept of liberty is an all-embracing one and its main spring is regard for others’ interests and affairs. We know what happened to the old lady in A. G. Gardiner’s essay on the ‘Rule of the Road’ when she gave up all consideration for others and dislocated the whole traffic of a big city by maintaining that she was free to do what she liked and to go where she willed. Similar in the case with the rule of the bigger road we call Life’. In our journey across the Road of life, we have to abide by certain rules, which are meant for the common good of all. Otherwise each would be getting in the other’s way, everyone would be going everywhere, and no one would go anywhere. For mutual benefit and happiness, therefore, we should not do simply what we like but what we consider to be right and good. As Matthew Arnold said, “there is nothing so very blessed about doing what one likes. The really blessed thing is to do what right reason ordains and to follow her authority.”

Freedom assumes various forms – political, social, and religious, etc. But each of these valuable no doubt, so far as it goes, cannot give man real happiness. Even when he has broken the chains of political slavery and false social and religious conventions, he still finds himself unhappy – a bonds-man to thousand desires and passions. The real freedom, therefore, is a freedom of the mind from the domination of ignorance, cowardice, intemperance, stupidity and selfishness. Generally, people emphasis political freedom in exclusion to everything else. They forget that political freedom is not sufficient unto itself. We want political freedom not for its own sake or for the sake of thinking, speaking or doing what we like but for the sake of enabling us to think the truth, speak the good and do the right. Political freedom is only a means. The end is personal freedom — freedom to train our personality in the most suitable way. John Dewey has said,

“The discipline that is identical with trained power is also identical with freedom.”

The human powers are the will and the intellect. The object of the will is the good. The object of the intellect is the truth. A man has personal freedom if he wills the good and knows truth. “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The human mind is not free to reject the truth. It must account those principles, which are self-evident, and those conclusions, which follow by a correct course of reasoning from them. The man who says he must be free to say two plus two equals five is not a liberal; he is a fool.

The human will is not free to seek what seems evil. It must seek what appears to be good. A man can be free in the matters of social and political opinion, but he cannot be free in the choice of moral good and evil. A person who wants freedom to pursue ends that seem to him evil is not a liberal; he does not know what he is talking about. He is never a free man. He is slave of evil. In fact, slaves are those who surrender themselves to the forces of evil and darkness. The famous Indian Dr. R.N. Tagore has rightly said:

“They are slaves who fear to speak

For the fallen and the weak;

They are slaves who will not choose

Hatred, scoffing and abuse;

Rather than in silence shrink

From the truth they needs must think;

They are slaves who dare not be

In the right with two or three.”

A truly free man, therefore, is one who has conquered the evil passions of his heart and resolved to think the truth and will the good. As Robert M. Hutchins says, “The discipline of the intellect to distinguish truth from falsehood, the discipline of the will and the passions to seek the real and not the apparent good, this is the path to personal freedom.”

On the whole, freedom is an empty word. It is not charged with a spirit of duty and discipline. True liberty should be based upon the ideals of truth, beauty and goodness. Cowper says: “He is the freeman whom the truth, makes free and all are slaves beside”. In fact, the freedom of mind or personal freedom is much more important and valuable than any other kind of freedom, political, social, economic or religious. Other kinds of freedom are matters of outward conditions and circumstances, and they cannot be our permanent possession at all times and in all places. But personal freedom has a reference to our mental states and since it is a thing of mind it can be least affected by the changes that take place in the outward aspects of our life. A tyrant may deprive us of political freedom but he cannot rob us of our freedom to think and feel in a way, which our conscience sanctions. The stream of personal freedom flows in a gentle and placid course, without being ruffed by the storms of economic, social and political revolutions. Richard love-ace has rightly sung:

“Stone walls do not a prison make

Nor iron bars a cage;

Mind innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage.”

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