Freedom and Uncertainty

Freedom is the natural political hope of the uncertain. Tyranny is the dream of the certain.

The profound awareness of uncertainty compels humility before the past, respect for one’s contemporaries, doubt concerning authority (including one’s own), and skepticism toward all claims to ultimate knowledge.

The profound illusion of certainty tempts a man into disdain for the past, condescension toward his contemporaries, lust for power, and a belief that everything he thinks he knows is not merely knowledge, but final knowledge, which is to say that he, and perhaps he alone, possesses the knowledge what the world has been waiting for.

The first position is that of Socrates, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, and to some (usually lesser) degree all the major philosophers of the Western tradition prior to the nineteenth century. The second position is most obviously that of Kant, Hegel, Marx, and all their theoretical and practical progeny. This latter position — progressivism in the broadest sense — may already be seen in a nascent or relatively innocent form among many of the early modern philosophers, with their anti-ancient obsessions and their overconfidence in the methods and implications of modern science. 

We live in the age of certainty. It is no coincidence that we also live in the age of propaganda, the age in which education became indistinguishable from authoritarian indoctrination, and the age, therefore, in which the mass of men (including those among men who regard themselves as “above” the mass) are ignorant in the deepest sense of the term, the sense defined by Socrates himself: the complete lack of knowledge combined with an intransigent presumption that one knows.

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