Why We Need Freedom From Aristocrats

Polish statesman and political philosopher Ryszard Legutko has written an essential guide to understanding the ongoing debasement of freedom. In The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols, Legutko analyzes the main contours of modern freedom: negative freedom, the pyramid scheme of rights, inner freedom, the non-existent self, and the minimal self. He finds them hopelessly deficient and, when understood correctly, he argues, these concepts of freedom are playing a shell game. They traffic in soft concepts of toleration, compromise, authenticity, openness; but, Legutko rejoins, modern understandings of freedom are hardened ideologies that evict classical and religious notions of freedom from respectability and the public square. Modern freedom is anything but neutral regarding how people should live.

The classical and biblical understanding of freedom is built on the soul, conscience, and virtue and the view that our freedom is a prudential opportunity to make ourselves worthy in the pursuits of human life with others in family, civil society, political community, education, and religion. To such vertical articulations of freedom, the modern turn asserts that real freedom is the assertion of the self, stripped of any encumbrances that it judges to stand between it and the object of human desires. Here is the source of its rigid exclusiveness, the intolerance of tolerance that we have come to understand so very well.

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