On Freedom

“What do we mean by freedom?” Mr. Magundi asked. It was, of course, a rhetorical question. “When we say that we fight for freedom, our cause seems so self-evidently just that we never bother to ask what we mean by that word. Even if we did ask, we could never give ourselves a straight answer.

“So instead of asking ourselves what we mean by ‘freedom,’ we can ask what other people mean by ‘freedom,’ or have meant in the past. In the light of these external examples, I think we can propose a good working definition: ‘Freedom’ is the right to deprive others of their liberty.

“The Puritans braved the voyage to New England because they wanted freedom: that is, the right to hang witches, imprison Baptists and Quakers, and torture Sabbath-breakers. The revolutionaries in France demanded freedom: that is, the right to behead every aristocrat and everyone who objected to beheading aristocrats. The secessionists of the American South fought for freedom: that is, the right to hold anyone with an ounce of African blood as a slave in perpetuity. The Communists in Russia fought for freedom: that is, the right to control even the most trivial aspects of every Russian’s life. The Islamic fundamentalists who blow up crowded markets are fighting for freedom: that is, the right to stone adulteresses, to make women dress in portable prisons, and to murder anyone who scribbles a picture of the Prophet.

“This is what other people have meant by ‘freedom.’ But of course when we say that we fight for freedom, we mean something entirely different.”

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