Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Freedom, The French Revolution, and Christmas

There are times when all one can do is remark at the rareness of freedom. For so long I have taken it for granted. But the more history I read, the more impressed I am with the American experiment, its founders, and most of all, its success. Freedom actually worked here, even while it has failed so often amid power grabs, ego and corruption. The basic statements worded so well by Jefferson, that men have certain inalienable rights, should never be assumed, as long as there is any chance someone can gain at someone else's expense. I feel quite fortunate that I have been able to take such freedom for granted, and freely experience, as much as I've been willing to venture, the fullness humanity has to offer.

But, like many others, I pause with concern about the future. Is the experiment coming to an end, slowly but surely? Or is that just the thought of your average paranoid conservative, worried what the next four years might bring? A few simple facts can no longer be ignored: our government is committed to spending more money than the nation is even worth, a staggering, astounding figure measured with twelve or thirteen zeros. There seems to be no stopping the idea that healthcare and education are "rights", and therefore moral entitlements to all Americans, a stark reality for any believer in limited government. Even those who are supposed to defend limited government have completely caught bailout fever, an embarrassment to say the least.

This is how it happens, I suppose. Freedom is lost, a little at a time. I guess it beats the alternative. I have only recently begun to study the French Revolution, a revolution I ignorantly always assumed to be similar revolution to America's, just having gone a little astray. While I've studied the Revolution in the past, I wasn't clear at how brutal, and absolutely Stalinist-like it really was. In the name of liberty 200,000 were imprisoned, about 40,000 were guillotined, the Church was basically destroyed for years, and an innocent aristocracy was gutted and murdered for having wealth. Atheism or agnosticism ruled in the intellectual classes and journals competed as to who could call for the more radical measures against royalty and the bourgeoisie.

Like Stalinism, many of the leaders of the Revolution favored a drastic redistribution of wealth as a means to solving inequality. The rich were seen to be the root cause of poverty and misery, and doing away with the rich was the only real solution offered to end such inequality. It is true that most Americans would think hereditary monarchies as untenable, but we would surely find mass murder in the name of liberty even more appalling.

In the long run, The French Revolution was a commitment to the material life as much as anything else. The Church was seen as the greatest intellectual and moral threat to the Revolution, and the vast majority of priests refused to go along with the tenets of the Revolution. They rightly saw that the attempt to create a materially equal society with an empty humanist morality was not only impossible, but also immoral. As the Revolution came to a pitiful end, it should have been apparent for all to see how little the material life offered, and indeed, how it ultimately always leads to envy, jealousy, and a society mitigated by skewed property valuations. When property is all there is in this world, it becomes a very prized commodity.

As I grow and acquire, I see more clearly that the material life has little to recommend it. That's not to say the acquiring of property is in and of itself a bad thing. That is how we provide for ourselves and families. But the material world is in a constant state of disrepair and disintegration. It takes time and labor just t keep up with the curve, to keep up with ever-changing styles, to fix what breaks, to solve persistent problems. Worse, it is a distraction, like a mistress that is never satisfied, that always needs more attention. Even our bodies are on a collision course with disease and death, health being a gift for a prescribed amount of time. I'm not convinced that a life seeking material gain only, either in governing philosophy or in personal accumulation, is paved with anything but trouble.

That brings me to Christmas, the most materialistic time of year for too many, myself included. Amid the failures of the material life come this most bizarre of promises, that a completely humble child born in the lowest possible circumstances offers us real hope. Not only do we get a vision of a life that is at peace despite our material bondage, we get a vision of joy that stems from a commitment to that child. There comes a point when the material world has failed us for the last time, and we ask what it is that we really want, where our hope really lies, and whether our future is as bright as it once looked. I can only speak for myself when I say that I am relieved to have an alternative vision for what life can be, permission to not be discouraged when the material life fails. It's not to say there aren't plenty of things to be perturbed about. Only that this little baby born so long ago offers us a different vision, and it's really a vision that offers the only legitimate freedom we'll find in this material world.


mitchy's said...

You are very naiive. America has committed mass murder in the name of liberty in the past, and is still doing it today

mitchy's said...
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