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Freedom, order, and security in a globalized world: Part One

By Mark Wegierski
web posted October 1, 2007

It could be seen that planet-wide cultural struggles over definitions of freedom, order, and security will determine the shape of the future.

Issues of balancing freedom, order and security in society have clearly been given a higher profile because of the elevation of Western political philosophy in the world. Outside the West, many empires, kingdoms, nations, and peoples have been content to live for centuries in societies that offered order, without much of what is today defined as freedom. Even as the planet today moves towards a post-Western, globalized world, the urgency for freedom in many countries of the world can be partially traced to the impatience with traditional arrangements which has characterized many Western thinkers and societies.

The conventional definition of freedom is doing precisely what one wants to do (presumably as long as one does not harm others). Freedom, to many people today, is defined in terms of personal and sexual freedoms, i.e., listening to whatever music one wants, indulging in whatever tastes one wants, and living whatever lifestyle one wants, without reference to “received” traditions of religion, nation, or history – or, on the other hand, to various politically-correct guidelines, for example, against sexism.

Conservative and some classical liberal thinkers have defined freedom in terms of persons aspiring to a more reflective existence, based on at least some study of the so-called “liberal arts” (philosophy, literature, classics, and history), which would allow people to live a more “rounded,” worthwhile life, and to exercise the full obligations of citizenship. According to this view, people have to be fairly strongly aware of the literature, history, and politics of their nation, in order to be able to meaningfully participate in its political life. Freedom is defined as the responsible exercise of one’s civic duties (being highly aware of politics, frequently engaging in responsible political debate, voting in elections based on very responsible assessments of the candidates, possibly standing for office, doing one’s jury duty if one is called to do so). Freedom defined in this way is considered supportive to notions of security, social order, and virtue.

The third type of freedom is that as defined by many left-wing thinkers today. While it offers a lot of personal lifestyle freedom, it also establishes very strong guidelines against various public behaviors and expressions considered impermissible and punishable by law or by social and professional ostracism. It also usually believes that one’s personal freedom is to a large extent dependent on one’s economic status – so a society where there are large disparities between rich and poor is criticized, as limiting the freedom of the poor. It is often claimed that “economic democracy” (i.e., a more equitable distribution of economic goods in society) is more important than “political democracy” (such as the right to vote – which is often not exercised). Left-wing thinkers claim to encourage the obtaining of knowledge about politics and society, especially among those who are not economically privileged, and claim to embrace the idea of widespread political participation.

The fourth type of freedom is that as defined by libertarian or capitalist thinkers. They believe to a large extent in freedoms defined as personal and sexual freedoms. At the same time, however, they wish to free individuals from almost all government taxation and regulation. Libertarians believe in political participation (if one voluntarily chooses do it), and if it is directed towards creating an ever-smaller state. Libertarians seem to combine aspects that could be conventionally seen as ultra-conservative, and as ultra-liberal.

It could be argued that within many Western societies today, one sees the triumph of the most polymorphous sexual and lifestyle choices, along with the strengthening of various types of left-wing political-correctness, especially in academic life. However, despite the strengthening of the left-wing, there are also marked advances in corporate capitalism, for example, corporations are growing ever-larger and more powerful, society is becoming consumption- and brand-driven, and an ever-smaller proportion of the population is controlling an ever-larger share of economic wealth.

The condition of many Western societies today has been characterized by some critics as decadence or decay. However, these critics -- who stretch across various political outlooks -- are often attacking  the West from different angles, and criticizing it for different things.

The condition of the West today has introduced great strains and difficulties in the relations between West and non-West on the planet today. For example, American pop-culture is being spread around the globe, and is bringing what is considered sexual decay into many non-Western societies, notably the Islamic ones. At the same time, the virtually open borders of the West mean that there is a huge influx of non-Western peoples into the West. Concurrently, the birthrates in Western countries have plummeted owing to the primacy of sexual and personal freedom and lifestyle choices in many of those societies. This combination of factors could introduce great stresses into Western societies.

To be continued next week. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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