Today I fell into conversation with a young Polish lady. We conversed about a variety of topics and during our conversation I asked her whether any Poles looked back with nostalgia to the time when Poland was ruled by the Communist Party. I must confess to being somewhat taken back by the answer to my question which was, in the words of my acquaintance that
“you can have to much freedom”.
The lady then went on to say that she thought that things had in some respects been better when Communists governed her country.
For reasons which I will not go into here I was not able to tease out what exactly my companion meant by her statement that people can have to much freedom. Her comment did however get me thinking about why I prize freedom, by which I mean the right of the individual under law to live their life, broadly speaking as they choose without undue interference from the state or society as a whole. As a writer I value the freedom to write what I please without the fear of the midnight knock on the door. We in democracies take freedom of expression for granted, however we should remember that the Nazis burned books by Jews and others they believed to be undesirable while Communist states prohibited works (fiction and non-fiction) which criticised the ruling ideology. Indeed Communist states have banned works by fellow Marxists who happen to have a different interpretation of Marxism from that held by the ruling elites.
I don’t want to live in a society in which books are censored. At the very least this would lead to a truncated intellectual climate and in it’s most extreme manifestation to tyranny.
It is postulated by apologists for various authoritarian systems that they maintain order by fostering equality by, for example ensuring full employment and universal social welfare. The argument often seems to boil down to “sacrifice freedom of a few intellectuals for the greater happiness and prosperity of the community”. Those who argue in this manner tend to downplay or deny the Soviet gulags and the intellectuals confined to mental institutions for criticising the regime. It is a delicious irony that apologists for tyranny frequently reside in democratic societies which (quite rightly) leave them free to express their views so long as they do not advocate violence. The freedom enjoyed by those who express contempt for democracy would be denyed by them to their opponents (oh irony of ironies).
Man does not live by bread alone and if intellectual freedom is sacrificed in the name of economic security we will, in all likelihood, ultimately end up with neither prosperity or freedom.