LibeLiberty in one shape or another among the most difficult aspirations – Sri Aurobindo

Liberty in one shape or another ranks among the most ancient

and certainly among the most difficult aspirations of our

race: it arises from a radical instinct of our being and is yet

opposed to all our circumstances; it is our eternal good and our

condition of perfection, but our temporal being has failed to find

its key. That perhaps is because true freedom is only possible if

we live in the infinite, live, as theVedanta bids us, in and from our

self-existent being; but our natural and temporal energies seek

for it at first not in ourselves, but in our external conditions.

This great indefinable thing, liberty, is in its highest and ultimate

sense a state of being; it is self living in itself and determining by

its own energy what it shall be inwardly and, eventually, by the

growth of a divine spiritual power within determining too what

it shall make of its external circumstances and environment;

that is the largest and freest sense of self-determination. But

when we start from the natural and temporal life, what we

practically come to mean by liberty is a convenient elbow-room

for our natural energies to satisfy themselves without being too

much impinged upon by the self-assertiveness of others. And

that is a difficult problem to solve, because the liberty of one,

immediately it begins to act, knocks up fatally against the liberty

of another; the free running of many in the same field means a

free chaos of collisions. That was at one time glorified under

the name of the competitive system, and dissatisfaction with its

results has led to the opposite idea of State socialism, which

supposes that the negation of individual liberty in the collective

being of the State can be made to amount by some mechanical

process to a positive sum of liberty nicely distributable to all in a

carefully guarded equality. The individual gives up his freedom

of action and possession to the State which in return doles out

to him a regulated liberty, let us say, a sufficient elbow-room

so parcelled out that he shall not at all butt into the ribs of his

neighbour. It is admirable in theory, logically quite unexceptionable,

but in practice, one suspects, it would amount to a very

oppressive, because a very mechanical slavery of the individual

to the community, or rather to something indefinite that calls

itself the community.

Experience has so far shown us that the human attempt

to arrive at a mechanical freedom has only resulted in a very

relative liberty and even that has been enjoyed for the most part

by some at the expense of others. It has amounted usually to the

rule of the majority by a minority, and many strange things have

been done in its name. Ancient liberty and democracy meant in

Greece the self-rule—variegated by periodical orgies of mutual

throat-cutting—of a smaller number of freemen of all ranks

who lived by the labour of a great mass of slaves. In recent

times liberty and democracy have been, and still are, a cant

assertion which veils under a skilfully moderated plutocratic

system the rule of an organised successful bourgeoisie over a

proletariate at first submissive, afterwards increasingly dissatisfied

and combined for recalcitrant self-assertion. The earliest

use of liberty and democracy by the emancipated proletariate

has been the crude forceful tyranny of an ill-organised labour

oligarchy over a quite disorganised peasantry and an impotently

recalcitrant bourgeoisie. And just as the glorious possession of

liberty by the community has been held to be consistent with

the oppression of four-fifths or three-fifths of the population

by the remaining fraction, so it has till lately been held to be

quite consistent with the complete subjection of one half of

mankind, the woman half, to the physically stronger male. The

series continues through a whole volume of anomalies, including

of course the gloriously beneficent and profitable exploitation

of subject peoples by emancipated nations who, it seems, are

entitled to that domination by their priesthood of the sacred cult

of freedom. They mean no doubt to extend it to the exploited at

some distant date, but take caremeanwhile to pay themselves the

full price of their holy office before they deliver the article. Even

the best machinery of this mechanical freedom yet discovered

amounts to the unmodified will of a bare majority, or rather

to its selection of a body of rulers who coerce in its name all

minorities and lead it to issues of which it has itself no clear


CWSA VOL 25 P 624 War and Self-Determination


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