Liberal, Liberty, Liberation … Liquidation, Perdition

Liberal, Liberty, Liberation … Liquidation, Perdition - by P.K.Odendaal - May 2013 

If there is one universal theme which comes up again and again in almost all facets of our lives, it is the struggle and conflict between free will and determinism.
It is the conflict between conventional wisdom and innovation, between orthodoxy and heresy, between the well-trodden path and the one less travelled, between the heart and the mind, between the good and the evil, between freedom and regulation, between socialism and capitalism, between revenge and forgiveness, between war or violence and peace, between the flesh and the spirit, between honesty and corruption … and between a lot of others.

And in all these there is a delicate balance which should be maintained. There is no need for us to tumble into one of the extremes and becoming a fundamentalist or conformist on the one side or an avant-garde or revolutionary on the other, although in history it was only the latter who were shunned or killed - and by co-incidence - for it was almost always the latter who got nowhere, therefore the saying: 'a revolution kills its mother'.
On the other hand the conformist and conservatives also got nowhere, except that they always got stuck with the legacy of the revolutionists, when that mother has been killed, leaving them with the spoils of liberty.
And that necessarily brings us back to our age old conflict between the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, as we have become so used to by now.
Our main drive is towards liberalism, because we think it to be a liberating force and we wish to be free. However, it is not a liberating force but a destructive one. On the other hand, orthodoxy with all its boredom and staleness is a surviving force, though not a liberating one. Do we wish to be liberated or to survive?
In many countries all over the world and all over the centuries, there was oppression - the pastime of choice of mankind - and this is shown vividly at first during the stay of the Israelites in Egypt. When a nation or a person is in slavery, it gets strong, both physically, numerically and spiritually by the working of the master / slave philosophy so ably described by Hegel as the 'Struggle unto death' and the 'Master-Slave relation'. In the end the slaves are much stronger than the oppressors. The oppressed then take over the legacy of oppression and reverse it, thereby oppressing the weaker previous oppressor and destroying that legacy fully, leading to a grand scale of nothingness and the destruction of civilization, for the end of liberation is of necessity liquidation and destruction.
It is these two very important concepts, framed by Hegel and Sartre, which I wish to elaborate on here - the master / slave concept and the Free will / destruction concept.
Contrary to Descartes, Hegel established that one cannot realize yourself by yourself (I think, therefore I am), as you need another person to realize your own existence (I know that I am because I see you looking at me). Then, if I kill the other self, in the struggle unto death, I will lose on two counts. If the other is dead, I cannot gain the satisfaction he would give me by being alive and recognizing that I am the victor, and have mastered him; and second, if he is dead, I have no other self to recognize me as self.
When these limitations of the outlook of life and death struggle are seen, this outlook is left behind and spirit moves onto a new and more adequate viewpoint. In this new viewpoint, the victor learns not to kill the other, but to keep him alive and make a slave of him. This new stage of self-consciousness is the master / slave (or lord / bondsman) relationship.
But the master / slave relationship is filled with contradictions and limitations which are the seeds of its own destruction. The slave is enmeshed in matter (materialist). He is reduced to being a thing (atheist); and he is made to work upon material things for the benefit of the master. Strangely, however, within the relationship which seems so clearly to benefit the master, there are elements at work to favour the slave over the master. First, the master is dependent on the slave's recognition of him as master, and this is precarious since there are no masters unless others recognize them as such. How long will the slave acknowledge the other as his master? Secondly, the slave has as his mirror another self who is an independent person, while the master, on the other hand, has as his mirror a dependent slave-self to relate to; this is the master's reflection on himself.
The third and most important element is this: although it appears that the master has the advantage in having the slave labour on material things for the master's benefit, the long-run advantage of this is in fact for the slave. For in labouring, in shaping and making things, the slave will find himself in what he makes. He will have objectified himself in his work, he will come to recognize that the object which he has crafted, which he has transformed from raw materials into this usable object, is his own product, the work of his hands, and that he is the independent self who crafted it. And thus in labour, which carries out the will of the master, the slave nevertheless discovers that he is not a thing, not a slave. He discovers his own independent existence as a consciousness with a mind and will and power of his own. (taken from T.Z.Lavine)
In the process the master loses his power over his slave as he becomes dependent on the labour of the slave - and the roles will reverse as soon as the slave is powerful enough to overthrow the master due to some revolution involving social or labour issues.
To look at the liberty in the situation we turn to the able analysis of Sartre.
Sartre begins by saying that 'there is no difference between the being of man and his being-free. Consciousness is totally free, undetermined, and thus spontaneous. Since I am totally free, my past does not determine what I am now. I am free from my past. Say you are a gambler, and you have decided not to gamble again - you are totally free to decide so. Every time I am confronted by whatever my temptation, I discover that I am free, that yesterday's resolution does not determine what I do now, that now I must choose again.
And so I begin to understand what it is to be totally free and I experience this as anguish. I feel anguish in discovering that my freedom destroys, nihilates the determining force of my past decisions and of my pledges for the future. Sartre savagely denounces determinism of any type.
Sartre discovers that there is an even greater depth to my freedom as a conscious being. I have discovered as a totally free conscious being, I alone am responsible for the meaning of the situation in which I live, I alone give meaning to my world. But what meaning shall I give to my world? From what sources can I draw meaning? Then I see that there is no source of absolute truth to which I can any longer turn, to provide meaning to my life. I see that I alone am the source of whatever meaning, truth, or value my world has. Everything that might be a foundation for me collapses.
What has Sartre done? He has flung me from freedom to anguish. I am indeed free, but my freedom is a dreadful freedom. I alone choose and am responsible for everything I am, I do or think, but I did not choose to be free, I am condemned to be free!
And that is the responsibility and judgement we can never exercise in our quest for freedom. We will choose bondage every time. So instead of my free will making me free, it delivers me into bondage - and hence the name of my article - liberty leading me to perdition. And if I will not deliver myself into perdition and destruction, there are many statesmen that will do that for me. That is called democracy!
What shall I do?
I do not need to choose between the enlightened (read White) world of conservatism and orthodoxy and the dark (read Black) world of heresy and liberty, and place myself in the drab and colourless grey space in between this as a balance between the two.
No, I will take from the colours of the rainbow in each of them and add them together into the rich colours of my own kaleidoscopic of life, which is a balance between the two, but derived from the wisdom of each.

If I wish to truly follow the dialectic of Hegel I can responsibly live freedom and peace, and be creative instead of destructive, by adding the Hegelian synthesis to the Sartre antithesis - a thing the existentialists and Marxists never did. If Sartre says there is no guiding principles to guide my path through freedom, he has not addressed the biggest guide of all - Jesus Christ. 

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