In Somerset Maughan's 1915 novel Of Human Bondage, a character makes the following interesting remark:

“You know, there are two good things in life, freedom of thought and freedom of action. In France you get freedom of action: you can do what you like and nobody bothers, but you must think like everybody else. In Germany you must do what everybody else does, but you may think as you choose. They're both very good things. I personally prefer freedom of thought. But in England you get neither: you're ground down by convention. You can't think as you like and you can't act as you like. That's because it's a democratic nation. I expect America's worse.”

If he came back 100 years later, I wonder what he would think. All three are now democratic nations. Does that really make us freer or not? Is freedom something people actually want or do they basically prefer to be tied down and keep everyone else in a similar condition? Is freedom something one needs to learn how to cope with? - something a little unnatural that might, nonetheless, do one good? or is the anxiety involved too much? Much social theory and much political sloganising employs the notion of freedom, but if one could cut through all the cant, what is the reality? and what will real human beings take on?

I find this an endlessly fascinating and rather elusive topic. Things are not always what they seem and we tend to expect too much, yet one would wish, within the realm of the possible, to edge toward a saner world.

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you David. I think that there is no a perfect system, but, in some way I also think we need, as waves, to experience cyclically freedom and a lack of it, in some way or another. In any circumstance we are going to find problems and suffering because that  is our condition,  we are always learning and things are always changing.

I remember your wise words about life: “Everything is a question of love and freedom”(more or less).And I think that really we are still looking for the balance between both. I mean I think it is not only a question of a democratic or non-democratic system (which is always doomed to failure ,sooner or later), but a balance between system and love.

That's a wise answer. In our modern concern with progress we tend to overlook the fact that most things go in cycles.

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