In search of freedom

In search of freedom

“The primal slavery is the slavery to the empty belly and the unpropitious season. Slavery to nature, in a word. The escape from nature is through social organization and technical invention. In a modern city it is possible to forget that such a thing as nature exists-particularly nature in its more inhuman and hostile aspects. Half of the population of Europe lives in a universe that’s entirely home-made.

Abolish slavery to nature. Another form of slavery instantly arises. Slavery to institutions: religious institutions, legal institutions, military institutions, economic institutions, educational, artistic, and scientific institutions.

All modern history is a History of the Idea of Freedom from Institutions. It is also the History of the Fact of Slavery to Institutions.

Nature is senseless. Institutions, being the work of men, have meaning and purpose. Circumstances change quicker than institutions. What once was sense is sense no longer. An outworn institution is like a person who applies logical reasoning to the non-existent situation created by an idée fixe or hallucination. A similar state of things comes about when institutions apply the letter of the law to individual cases. The institution would be acting rationally if the circumstances envisaged by it really existed. But in fact they don’t exist. Slavery to an institution is like slavery to a paranoiac, who suffers from delusions but is still in possession of all his intellectual faculties. Slavery to nature is like slavery to an idiot who hasn’t even enough mind to be able to suffer from delusions.

Revolt against institutions leads temporarily to anarchy. But anarchy is slavery to nature, and to a civilized man slavery to nature is even less tolerable than slavery to institutions. The escape from anarchy is through the creation of new institutions. Sometimes there is no period of anarchy – no temporary enslavement to nature; men pass directly from one set of institutions to another.

Institutions are changed in an attempt to realize the Idea of Freedom. To appreciate the fact of the new slavery takes a certain time. So it comes about that in all revolts against revolutions there is a kind of joyful honeymoon, when people believe that freedom has at last been attained…The honeymoon may last for as much as twenty or thirty years. Then the fact of the new slavery imposes itself on men’s consciousness. It is perceived that the idea of freedom was not realized by the last change, that the new institutions are just as enslaving as the old. What is to be done? Change the new institutions for yet newer ones. And when that honeymoon is over? Change the yet newer ones for newer still. And so on – indefinitely, no doubt.”

– A.H., “Eyeless in Gaza”


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