Random Reflections on Freedom, Fear, and Fools

I love and cherish freedom — not the word, not a particular material advantage that I associate with some byproduct of freedom, but the thing itself. This is a testament to the power of imagination, and to love’s natural capacity for clinging to ideals; for I have never seen real freedom in my midst, let alone experienced it with any fullness in my own life. And yet I love it.

To allow the fear of death to override all other considerations or interests in a moment of extreme duress or sudden crisis is an understandable human weakness, to which all of us may succumb at some point in our lives. However, to allow the fear of death to become the default priority of one’s emotional and practical life indefinitely, over a course of months or years, and to the point of permanently sacrificing important personal and political goods to that fear, is a grave vice or sin. It is also evidence of the relationship between fear and reason, since to be swept away by fear of death in an instant of shock or immediate life-or-death peril is at least consistent with the natural desire for self-preservation, whereas to live one’s daily life, on and on, over months or years, as though every unexceptional day represented a moment of impending and unpredictable doom, is to live as a fool. For it is to live as though life itself, which of course will inevitably bring death to all of us, were such a moment of impending and unpredictable doom.

When a man explicitly, repeatedly, and consistently defends tyranny and violent aggression against its opposite and its victims, it is neither hyperbole nor slander to judge that man to be an apologist for, and advocate of, tyranny and the tyrant’s ways. It is impressive how thoroughly an age mired in moral equivalency and pragmatism can lose its common sense on such matters, until simply saying “He prefers tyranny” feels unacceptably provocative, or even impossible. But there is nothing provocative, let alone impossible, about saying that those who openly prefer ugliness to beauty, violence to voluntarism, thuggery to reason, and unlimited power to both individual and national sovereignty, are friends of unfreedom. They just are, obviously so, and there is nothing either antiquated or extreme about saying so.

The greatest difficulty in any long-term rhetorical rivalry between freedom and tyranny is that freedom listens to the voice of tyranny, whereas tyranny silences the voice of freedom. If you needed any further evidence of what the Fox News wing of the Republican Party grassroots has become during the Trump years, you merely have to reflect on the fact that the only American media voice still allowed access to the Russian population is that of certain Fox News commentators, most infamously that network’s most popular host and his associates. And not merely allowed access, in fact, but granted featured status and directly praised by Vladimir Putin’s official propaganda outlets and even his foreign minister.

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