Four years ago, in August 2017, I posted this quote on social media.
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. . . . Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”Edmund Burke, 1791
Back then, I was deluded to think that anything good could come from my using social media. In the mean time, I have come to appreciate the solace afforded by the tranquil seclusion of my own design. This emancipation from the shackles of Facebook imposed by the likes of Zuckerberg of this world, allowed me to meditate upon my own faults, which are many, as well as on those present in our imperfect mundus of ours, which are infinite.
More disturbing, this trip down memory lane provided once again the evidence attesting that with age comes wisdom. I am almost always ashamed by my youthful judgment errors and moreover by the uncouth tone, language and thinking of my younger self. It’s as if I was dealing with two different people. When I read my own writing from years or decades ago, I sometimes shudder of how differently I saw things. Experience cannot be bought. It cannot be taught. And it cannot be dispensed in any of our schools. Experience is lived. And that is what separates my younger self from the man I am today.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I still have the execrable character of a 21st century Charles the Bold. I try to moderate my temerity and impatience but sometimes, most times, I fall short of the target.
But we digress…
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. . . . Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
This is the argument of would-be tyrants since times immemorial. And quite convenient too. I mean, if men’s passions can and will be used against them, any ‘temperate’ jackboot sycophant will use that argument to muzzle those whose passion defines them. For if passion is indicted in the court of public opinion, the whole world would be guilty of breaking that crooked law.
A Historical Perspective
Burke’s argument must be interpreted in the context of its age. Britain was reeling after one internal Revolutionary War had seen half of British North America split from the Empire, and was just coming to grips with the Jacobite French Revolution, that was threatening to do away with England’s own political system at home.
So one must use such lenses to comprehend the inflamed tone of Burke’s message. Burke was the spokesperson of his class. So when he was raising serious concerns against ‘passionate men’, he was actually denouncing the excesses of the French Revolution, that had just demoted its Monarch from Supreme Leader Anointed by God to Representative of the People, a considerably less exalted station by any account.
Burke was really beginning to fear, as a vast majority of the ruling establishment including the City, the moneyed and landed gentry had, an uprising à la francaise or worse, a French invasion that would see the National Barber installed in Piccadilly Square.
But while Burke was right to worry about the French Revolution and its upstart scion, Napoleon Bonaparte, he should not have feared the British becoming infected with the ‘virus’ of French revolution. Britain has always nurtured a sentiment that was best described as being an island aloof in its splendid isolation. This was going to mark British foreign policy for the next century, between 1815-1914. Safe behind its massive Home Fleet and professional imperial army, Britain’s empire would make a come-back after its American setback.
Nobody could ever accuse the British of being passionate to the point denounced by Burke. At its best, its subdued form of passion served Britain well during the Napoleonic Wars, 19th century, both world wars, and subsequently. At its worst, it provided the natural impetus for resisting invasion from two would-be conquerors and tyrants; I am looking at you Napoleon, and of course, you Hitler.
No. Passion is almost never at fault in the course of human history. Rash action without thinking, which sometimes can be confused for passion, is however the engine of many a crime or disaster. But even then, come to think of it, most crimes are not crimes of passion, and this principle applies both at individual level, as well as wholesale, when it comes to geo-politics.
Most crimes and historic abominable feats are premeditated. Only a few are not. Think of it and you will agree that for each crime of passion ascribable to a king, tyrant or Alexander the Great, there are 10 or 50 or 100 acts that fill the annals of History to overflow with planned pogroms, genocide, Holocaust, murder, killing fields, sacks of entire cities, burning of crops, Holomodors, and Mongolian Horde acts of wrath.
I would even go as far as to say that a truly democratic society can at least vote to go to war or to commit crimes. A society ruled from the Top by Elites who know better than the People, who are ruled by their Passion, will not spend so much time and resources weighing the pros and cons of spending its Nation’s blood and treasure on foreign wars. They will just do it. And to hell with the youth and savings of that nation. Now that is often confused with the Passion of Nations.
You see it’s awfully hard to convince people to kill other people for financial benefits. However, it is very easy to do by indoctrinating them and by using ideology and faith against them.
But wait, there’s more
In an attempt to justify their deception, the Elites have been known to reinvent themselves, with every generation. Let me be plain. If God was still a Power to reckon with before WW1, after the Russian Revolution, and the carnage of WW1, Spanish Flu, postbellum wars, the Elites had to use a different ideology. You see, dying for God had been tried, and people were weary of dying for religion. It was now time for another crack at it, from a different tangent.
As Yuval Harari put it, Communism, Fascism, Nazism are as much religions as they are ideologies. They all revolve around a strong Leader, who is inspired by a special book, and who preaches salvation to the starving masses.
- Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin used Karl Marx’ and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto copiously.
- Mussolini used Giovanni Gentile as a ghost writer for his 1932 The Doctrine of Fascism.
- Hitler authored his Mein Kampf in 1925. His was a clear case of a closed loop system.
But wait a bit, because there is definitely more of this stuff. I am not making this up. I promise you. This is mind blowing.
So, the Big Three 20th century Ideologies that killed and destroyed the lives of tens of millions of people, are actually Religions. And that is funny because while you never considered Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin as gods, it looks like Italians, Germans and Soviets treated them as such. Think on it, let it sit for a few days and weeks, and then you will see it. The pill is bitter but I promise it will go down, eventually.
But now, for an ovation finale, I give you that Liberalism is also not an Ideology, but a Religion.
But that is a story for another time.
The takeaway lesson here is that unless you decide that Freedom Does Not Need Supervision, you will end up taking sides, and therein lies the defect. Perhaps you will believe that State is God. Or perhaps you will decide that you’re leaning to the right of the political spectrum. Or to the left. It don’t matter. Once you decide to lean in some political direction, that particular God will show himself to you. And there is nothing anyone can do to change your mind. The Choice has always been yours.
“Some readers may feel very uncomfortable with this line of reasoning. If it makes you feel better, you are free to go on calling Communism an ideology rather than a religion. It makes no difference. We can divide creeds into god-centred religions and godless ideologies that claim to be based on natural laws. But then, to be consistent, we would need to catalogue at least some Buddhist, Daoist and Stoic sects as ideologies rather than religions. Conversely, we should note that belief in gods persists within many modern ideologies, and that some of them, most notably liberalism, make little sense without this belief.”Excerpt From: Yuval Noah Harari. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” Signal, 2014-10-28T07:00:00+00:00. iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright.
In this world adrift a sea of trouble, there is perhaps little hope for people looking for a fix. Even so, I would point out one country that has built a reputation for freedom, neutrality, responsibility, political compromise and stability.
That country is the Swiss Confederation. Here one finds that Freedom does not require Supervision. The Swiss built their country on a sound voluntary foundation that dispensed with hierarchical relations. Their power structures are based on direct democracy and egalitarianism. One person has one voice. Nobody gets to be the Overlord. They don’t have Presidents or Generals in peace time. They alternate the First Office in the land using the Primus inter pares or the first among equals principle. Power, responsibility and rights are equally shared among all citizens. Laws are made by all for all. People obey rules because they made the Rules.
If only we could all wake up from our political slumber and start using the Swiss Model as a Template for the 21st century politics.