Making Crime Pay And The Courage Of Our Convictions

Duly Noted

We like to forget that freedom is not a natural condition nor is it gained or maintained for free.”

Once he got his bearings as an immigrant, this writer developed an interest in what might be ailing Western Civilization. Understandably, at first the modern world’s material fascinations have prevented such a critical question from arising. The successes of the culture and the newly won personal opportunity to enjoy its fruits have initially precluded questions that intended to penetrate the gleaming surface. After all, the achievements have been stunning.

The feats that impressed began with the pioneering the path into a new world, and continued with the admiration of technical innovations. These together have improved lives and raised the terms of living them from a struggle against misery to participating in the “good life”. Equally stupefying for a new arrival have been the social-political conditions that rounded out such material accomplishments. Once you were raised in a milieu, in which freedom has not been granted, but where it has been systematically negated in practice and by principle, the personal antecedents conditioned admiring perception. At the same time, the individual past and its experiences made liberty more than only not self-evident but also raised it into a consciously enjoyed extraordinary blessing. Not taking liberty for granted in a surrounding in which most others did so, has been the writer’s first critical reaction to the assumptions prevailing in his new environment. At the time, the concern that considering freedom as a natural condition that disbursed benefits but that did not demand sacrifices, has led to a then favorite thought. It went something like “being able to get access to a “Cadillac” is not the test of being free and the possession does not assure that liberty will prevail”.

Even today, most of mankind is denied freedom’s blessings. Nevertheless, through a distortion that globalizes a local experience, in advanced societies freedom is felt to be a self-evident right and a natural condition. Therefore, liberty’s enemies are ignored and its defense is often regarded to be an activity out of which one may critically opt out. This refusal has its own logic. Superficially put, freedom is understood to confer autonomy and that means that one can do what one likes. In most cases, serving it demands a sacrifice, which is, by definition, an unwanted burden. Therefore, avoiding the sacrifice can appear to be a right a free man may exercise. This right to refuse is coupled to another potentially destructive assumption. Erroneously, it is regarded by the “reluctant” as self-evident that, every system will make the attainment of freedom its policy. According to this speculation, the comforting difference between the various orders that govern states is merely that they all go about achieving the common goal in their own way. Who is to pretend that this aspect of the diversity reflecting multiculturalism is ultimately not an enrichment for us all? The only possible exception to the generalization about the universal pursuit of the mutations of freedom is Hitler’s Germany. Comfortingly, Hitler is dead and so, thanks to the “Photoshop” treatment, the sky appears as blue and cloudless.

As argued, freedom is thought to be innate. Therefore, it can thrive without pruning, watering and in the present it requires no defense and Paul Revere’s. This concept dovetails into the idea that freedom means being freed of all but self-imposed obligations. That includes the one to protect it doggedly. Quite regardless of the old-fashionably intransigent that frown (in the US’ case) on “moving to Canada”. On the level of personal well being, that attitude ignores obligations to the community. This spirit of indulgence blurs out its own consequences and manifests itself in the spread of ailments. In the physical world, one of the trivial ones among these is the spread of obesity. In this case, the painful self-imposed limits on pleasing indulgence are failing. They are replaced by the insistence that it is society’s duty to act as though the condition of being “horizontally challenged” would not exist. Put together, in the public realm, comparable responses will encourage rather than limit such forms and methods of self-destruction.

Freedom is not only not ordained by nature, it also happens to be an exceptional condition, which implies that freedom is not for free. A comportment of our civilization raises a serious question. It is whether democracy can survive given a spreading inclination. This tendency is to interpret rights laxly and to the advantage of the loudest complainers, while the umbilical cord that ties rights to obligations is being cut. Where it survives durably, freedom and responsibility are closely tied on the personal level as well a part of the community’s culture and order.

Protecting freedom demands more than verbal announcements that one is ready to risk one’s life for it –“when the time might come”. This obligation, even if rhetorically easily affirmed, is seldom called for. Therefore the claim is rarely testable. Once established as our order, freedom seldom requires that we serve it by dramatically offering our “blood, sweat and tears” for it. Much rather, in practice, the maintenance of democracy demands the fulfillment of small duties and the hawkish enforcement of the laws that ultimately cement our freedoms. Doing so often implies that personally and collectively we say “NO” to those that, catering to their appetites, wish to abuse freedom as an order. This is a demanding burden because it is much easier to say “yes” or to “overlook”. When you have a long salami, the cutting off of a thin slice demanded in tantrum is hardly worth a quarrel. One does so assuming that there will be plenty more salami left. Such generosity likes to overlook that a salami has two ends. One is the one at which the salami is being cut. The other end is the pointed one with the dangling lead mark on it that tells that there is nothing left to whittle away.

Let the theorizing end with a recent example that describes the kind of generosity that undermines the code of behavior, which holds the community together. The matter is an astonishingly small news item. Its main actor is a certain Knut Folkerts. Folkerts has been a member of Germany’s RAF (Red Army Fraction). His armed revolutionary struggle was directed against a system that he could not abolish with the vote of the converted majority. Therefore, his “revolutionary struggle” resorted to violence against an essentially uncouth majority of imbeciles. Once he had to flee from paying the price of his “propaganda of deeds”, two Dutch border guards that represented the “repressive majority” had the bad luck of being in Folkerts’ way. He killed one of them and seriously wounded the other. For that, he got a twenty-year sentence in 1977. A year later, the Dutch turned him over to the Germans. These unappreciatively convicted the would be German Che Guevara for his involvement in a triple murder there.

By now, the Germans have released their prisoner. That being the case, the Dutch wanted their man back. Now, after several appeals, the case about the extradition has been concluded. The Dutch will not get Folkerts. An appeals court has agreed with a lower court’s decision that serving now the original twenty years sentence would be improper. Doing penance after thirty years would cause the convict to suffer iniquitous hardship. Thus, incarceration now would be, “according to every conceivable point of view, inappropriate”. Leniency is supported by the fact that for the last sixteen years Folkerts has remained crime-free and that he has renounced terrorism.

Crime might not pay but the case suggests that its price can come at a discount.

Freedom from, or freedom to...

We like to forget that freedom is not a natural condition nor is it gained or maintained for free.

The idea of freedom is a very confused notion, these days.  We believe that freedom, whatever it might be, must be cultivated.  We know action is possible, and required if we are to call ourselves men.  However, it is almost not even worth speaking about casually, since no one ever considers the ground from whence springs the cultivated tree allowing us to, after we have tasted its forbidden fruit, confront truly human action.

The problem shows itself, in a general way, in the distinction between right and obligation.  One of the first of us moderns, Thomas Hobbes, understood that natural right entailed unlimited freedom.  But this situation, for him the natural one, was impossible.  Therefore, ironically, only by abandoning individual freedom could man ever hope to attain what he really desired, peace.  Yet this peace was primarily a psychological peace; that is to say, a freedom from the fear of lethal violence at the hands of his brothers. 

The ancients, those we have mostly forgotten, understood differently.  Not that they were not violent, but they understood that nature was not something to fear.  Also, their science, indeed, their entire world view had not abandoned the idea of implicit end, or final causation.  And they understood that the social was prior to whatever could be considered individual.  Finally, the natural end of man could only be achieved within a social-political setting conducive to attaining his natural end.  This was, and still is actually, real freedom.

But today, all of this seems quaint, and to bring it up in polite conversation marks one as, at best, an anachronism, a true odd-ball.  We do not even want to discuss what it means, at its worse.

Addendum anent the Baader-Meinhoff gang terrorists (née RAF commandos):  these self described urban guerrillas were responsble for about 30 deaths, or so.  When the penality for 30 lives is 30 years, it demonstrates to us that the will of a society to continue has ceased.  Therfore, I give Europe as we know it another 30 years.  Then it too can be released from its own sins, the sins of Western civilization, and from its newly rehabilitated form it can forever bask in the glory of its triumphant liberal gods.  Or its new found Islamic overlords, whichever comes first.