Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Freedom Day

So the Prime Minister has now made clear that 'Freedom Day' will pass without any significant increase in freedom, and whether you feel that's right or not there surely is some disappointment in having liberty deferred.  The response to Covid has involved a massive restriction on basic liberties, albeit we hope temporarily, and I think it is entirely right and justifiable that people be concerned about what this means for the future relationship between state and citizens.  Liberty is an important human good, and we ought to try to safeguard it.

But what sort of freedom is it that we are looking for?

When we are talking in political terms, we are talking about what Isaiah Berlin called 'negative liberty' - the absence of restraint, the lack of government interference in our lives.  This is a valuable thing.  It allows each person to pursue their own conception of the good life.  (Incidentally, this is also why it must be limited and restrained; competing versions of the good life need some sort of management.  What if my view of the good life involves being able to trample all over your view?  That is why absolute libertarianism is not good.  Liberty has limits, and there needs to be an authority to enforce those limits).

But suppose we had all the liberty we wished.  That still wouldn't tell us what we should do with our lives.  I wonder whether the lack of a vision of 'the good life' actually stands behind much of the quiescent acceptance of restrictions on our liberty at the moment - not knowing what life is for, we don't value the freedom to shape life according to our conceptions.  Negative liberty creates an empty space, a blank canvas.  That's great, but you need to have some idea of what to do with it.

This is why we need the real Freedom Day.  No government can tell us what life is all about.  They can grant or deny negative liberty - they can impinge on our freedoms to a greater or lesser extent - but they never can tell us what the good life is.  Nor can they enable us to pursue the good life, though they may be able to remove some of the things that prevent that pursuit.  Actually, when governments and other human authorities set out a positive view of what the good life is and encourage people to pursue it there is always the danger of tyranny - that people will be 'forced to be free', in the words of Rousseau.  Human beings cannot really set us free, in the sense of bringing us out of slavery to our immediate desires and into the true good life.  Only God can do this.

Freedom Day has already happened.  Christ died so that we might die to the dark forces that enslaved us, including ourselves in our twisted sinful humanity.  He rose so that we might have life, freedom with shape and purpose, a life oriented to the right relationship with God for which we were made.  The joy of it is, just as no human authority could bestow this liberty - the liberty of the children of God - so no human authority can remove it.  Today, if you are a believer in Christ, you are free: free to call on God as your Father, free to worship in Spirit and Truth, free to live as a witness to God's great reality as it is in Christ.

Thank God for Freedom Day.

No comments:

Post a Comment