Saturday, October 21, 2017

Freed from Responsibility

From Maggie's Farm, a thought for today:


Sam L. said...

A grave is a very secure place.

Ares Olympus said...

One uncomfortable thing sometimes is verifiable facts that have not checked. Context is also valuable when available. Thank goodness we have the Comfort, Security and Freedom of Google to straighten us out (no need to compromise), or at least the potential of facts if we stay away from the conspiracy pages.

Anyway, in this case Wikiquote says we can blame Margaret Thatcher in 1994 for a misattribution, while the original phrase is Classical scholar Edith Hamilton from 1957.

"In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."

This quotation appeared in an article by Margaret Thatcher, "The Moral Foundations of Society" (Imprimis, March 1995), which was an edited version of a lecture Thatcher had given at Hillsdale College in November 1994. Here is the actual passage from Thatcher's article:

"[M]ore than they wanted freedom, the Athenians wanted security. Yet they lost everything—security, comfort, and freedom. This was because they wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them. The freedom they were seeking was freedom from responsibility. It is no wonder, then, that they ceased to be free. In the modern world, we should recall the Athenians' dire fate whenever we confront demands for increased state paternalism."

In characterizing the Athenians in the article she cited Sir Edward Gibbon, but she seems to have been paraphrasing statements in "Athens' Failure," a chapter of classicist Edith Hamilton's book The Echo of Greece (1957), pp. 47–48):

"What the people wanted was a government which would provide a comfortable life for them, and with this as the foremost object ideas of freedom and self-reliance and service to the community were obscured to the point of disappearing. Athens was more and more looked on as a co-operative business, possessed of great wealth, in which all citizens had a right to share. The larger and larger funds demanded made heavier and heavier taxation necessary, but that only troubled the well-to-do, always a minority, and no one gave a thought to the possibility that the source might be taxed out of existence. [ . . . ] Athens had reached the point of rejecting independence, and the freedom she now wanted was freedom from responsibility. There could be only one result. [ . . . ] If men insisted on being free from the burden of a life that was self-dependent and also responsible for the common good, they would cease to be free at all. Responsibility was the price every man must pay for freedom. It was to be had on no other terms."

Ares Olympus said...

Probably it is best to reference the quote directly to Margaret Thatcher, even if she made a good will effort to identify a source for her thoughts.

It does seem like we could define the failing of the modern world is that of reducing citizens to consumers.

Citizens have a responsibility to understand something of how their world works, and feel a social duty to contribute to its continuance for the next generation.

OTOH, consumers only have a responsibility to find a revenue stream to keep spending, ideally with the least possible amount of work, and the lowest possible tax rate, with the maximum freedom to spend your wealth on whatever can be purchased, and with zero knowledge of the externalities that have been swept under the rug to get it to you.

Essayist Wendell Berry has offered the strongest voice I've heard in favor of the vitalness of citizenship, starting with what he calls home economics, and then expanding ever outward geographically as we master our needs and vices closest to home.

Jack Fisher said...

The quote is from classicist Edith Hamilton and frequently misattributed to others, Maggies Farm notoriously gets quotes wrong or misattributed.

Outside of the historical context, it is impossible to evaluate this bromide. If you're living in cold war West Berlin, or the American frontier, security is a very big deal.

trigger warning said...

I see. So the American frontier was populated by people fleeing from anarchy and liberty in the East to the warm Western embrrrace of Big Government, security, and generous welfare.

Interesting theory.

Jack Fisher said...

Who paid for the transcontinental railroads? What do you think the army was doing on the frontier?

trigger warning said...

I know. Heard the sermon. The pioneers didn't build that.

Jack Fisher said...

admission noted.