Liberty and Peace

Is it possible to retain individual liberty and still experience peace? For some, liberty and peace seem almost oxymoronic. They imagine individual liberty puts humans at odds with each other. They believe individual freedom causes outbreaks of violence and unrest as people compete for money, land, resources. Each individual’s instinct toward narrow self-interests seems to undermine creating a world of on-going peace. It may seem ironic, yet some consider peace only plausible through the stranglehold of authoritarian regimes. Solutions For Peace believes the opposite: that liberty of the individual is essential for creating lasting and universal peace on the planet. The persistence of tyranny, any brutal force placed upon individuals, results in instability and disharmony; the condition of autocracies ultimately grow the seeds of war. Every conflict in history reveals that power, when imposed upon individual rights and liberty, is a festering wound in the body of peace, spreading its disease of discontentment and strife. Oppressed peoples who do not experience the fruits of liberty will also more easily fall prey into committing violence and unnecessary wars, as demonstrated in so many of our wars in the past hundred years. Liberty for the individual then is a vital path to achieving peace.

But let’s consider this concern that free individuals will result in more war and strife than those who are not free. In the United States prior to the Civil War, when slavery was still in full-force, slave-holding quarters constantly feared that freeing slaves would result in a similar bondage against whites; freed-blacks would enslave or dominate over whites, especially their slave-masters. They believed freed-men would hunt down their former masters as retribution. Yet, after the Civil War, when the gunpowder smoke finally dissipated over the country, retribution was not the battle-cry of freed African Americans; while embracing their new-found freedoms, and while decrying against the horrors of slavery and injustice, they did not rise up as a people to try to destroy or enslave former white slave-holders.

A belief, perhaps borne out of fear of the “masses” is that people are base and selfish; true liberty–eliminating laws to reign in the individuals except when harming others–is perceived as resulting in chaos and anarchy. This proposition in the inherent selfishness of humans, assumes that humans are evil and serve selfish and base ends. Thomas Hobbes similarly argued in Leviathan that without an overwhelming sovereign controlling the individual, life was condemned to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Hobbes wrote Leviathan (1651) during the English Civil War, a period in which the question of the divine right of kings was put into question, following the execution of King Charles I. Since then conflict after conflict had addressed the issue of liberty versus authoritarianism including the Revolution in American, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, and more recently the wars against Fascism and Nazism in the 20th century. Where Hobbes perceived the necessity for absolutism our history reveals the dangers of totalitarianism: ultimate control of the individual results in a similarly “nasty, brutish, and short” life. Instead of creating peace, these authoritarian regimes attract conflict, violence, and unrest at every turn. Yet authoritarism can create an illusion of peace–where the penalties for certain disruptive behavior are so severe no one dares to do them.

Let’s talk about “false peace” a bit longer. For some, an absence of any conflict at all, and quashing dissent, are the hallmarks of a peaceful community, and thus reducing or eliminating liberty is the means by which this peace occurs. In nations throughout the world laws are imposed to stifle individual freedom under the presumption that the individual’s behaviors must be reigned in for the good of the larger community and society. In those nations, you may see clean streets with not a scrap of litter on the ground; you may see individuals quietly going about their business not complaining in public. But in those countries people are also taken away in the middle of the night for questioning and detention without a warrant; people are physically tortured for littering and vandalism; people’s families are threatened if they do not adhere to the strict codes of the state. This kind of “false peace” is not true peace. In these scenarios the individual cannot act authentically; their “self” is subsumed by the government’s strict enforcement on its citizens’ behaviors, and unleashes terror at any disobedience. In controlled societies, men and women become utilities of the state’s values and morality, rather than seeking their own desires and creating their own destinies. This total control is argued to be for the benefit of citizens to be free of danger of others. Yet, we have seen the horrifying consequences in such societies as Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire of the 1930’s and ’40’s. Ironically, societies that imposed control upon the individual created an environment in which war was inevitable. And arguably, war became a sublimation of the suppressed individual’s inability to alter his or her situation, and thus created the very circumstances in which people could commit atrocities against “others”. For by being conditioned into devaluing one’s self one learned to devalue the “selves” of others. This of course does not create a peaceful world, no matter how it may look on the outside. In Nazi Germany, for instance, the villages may have been “beautified” by removing graffiti and punishing vandals, but laws also expelled “unwanted” elements of society, not only criminals but any minority group considered inferior to the master race. The “beautifying” of German society was merely a terrifying mask for the ghastly atrocities the Allied soldiers finally discovered behind the barbed-wire fences of concentration camps throughout Germany and other occupied countries.

In previous posts, we have argued that depriving people of basic needs, especially children, sets up a tendency toward fear-based selfishness. So selfishness is often traceable to lack of food, shelter, clothing, safety, and comfort. Another factor is the chaotic environments so many children must endure with abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, and violence being predominate in the environments they grow up in. One or more of these factors may contribute to addictive and criminal activities exhibited in later years. Neediness is not a condition visited solely upon poor children. While wealthy children may enjoy the getting their most basic needs met even well-off kids can suffer from neglect and lack of physical affection. Spoiling a kid rotten is a form of abuse and neglect, in which the child receives no boundaries and associates his or her self worth through the accumulation of money and toys. Neediness in all these forms is a vital source of suffering and upheaval in the world; the focus on armaments and militarism to resolve unrest and terrorism does not address the essential problem: deprivation. The world’s governments could easily shift unnecessary monetary resources away from military-build up to providing food, clothing, and accommodation for the neediest of the world. And in turn providing the skills and technology to end any long-term dependence and encourage freedom. This effort would go further in achieving peace while wealthier countries would still have enough resources to support powerful defense systems.

This returns us back to liberty and peace. From our focus on needs, it should be clear that liberty and getting needs met should stand on equal footing. People can enjoy the fruits of liberty, and the responsibilities thereof, if basic needs are met. Otherwise, we do return to Hobbes’ vision of “the state of nature”, of brutish, nasty and short lives. To be fully human is to break out of a need-based paradigm of life; to be fully human is also to embrace liberty in the form of thought and action. When people talk about the dangers of freedom–how human freedoms can create the suffering of the world–perhaps this has to do with the “unaware” human, the person blind to the impact his or her actions has on others and the world around them. Yet, awareness of responsibility cannot be simply taught, it must be modeled. Awareness comes from the awareness of self–awareness of feelings, desires, thoughts, and behaviors–and how the individual ultimately creates his or her own reality. Being creators we must enjoy the full extent of our creative potential, and to be able to choose again regarding our creations. Fully aware individuals are not “controlled” individuals; controlled individuals have lost the full powers of liberty and freedom to choose their own destiny, living life exactly the opposite of human potential. Free individuals are aware of what their choices are, and begin to realize that harmony comes from allowing all to live freely. Laws actually become less and less necessary when we practice the principle of seeing ourselves in others, and respecting others’ choices. To leap toward selflessness is not about relinquishing freedoms and liberty to the government or an other institution under the guise of creating peace through the suppression of the individual. We consider this a false peace that will ultimately lead to conflict, violence, and war.

Peace therefore depends upon fully healthy individuals who practice liberty, not automatons whose internal passions are suppressed. To create true peace, we have to enjoy the full extent of human freedom. To enjoy the full extent of human freedom means we know how we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we like and dislike, and have the opportunity to practice fulfilling those desires in the world. Liberty is the essence of freedom–of movement, of choice, of thought. From which true peace can thus flourish.

— S4P, January 28, 2013

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