phynedyning

The State and the Happy Slave

In Intro to Libertarianism on April 9, 2012 at 7:33 am

 

[Which is true: Is man capable of truly living free? Or is his closest hope to live as a “happy slave”, to live in the relative freedom granted by a (hopefully) benevolent master?]

Rousseau sparred with his contemporaries over the concept of whether man was naturally free and if freedom was even a condition desired by man.

Our politicians make the same sophisms about love of freedom that our philosophers have made about the state of nature; by the things they see they make judgments about very different things which they have not seen. And they attribute to men a natural inclination to servitude due to the patience with which those who are before their eyes bear their servitude, without thinking that it is the same for freedom as for innocence and virtue — their value is felt only as long as one enjoys them oneself, and the taste for them is lost as soon as one has lost them.

Servitude may be voluntary and compensated, as with the employer-employee relationship. Or, servitude may be involuntary and uncompensated, as with the slave-master relationship.

Governments and politicians do not compensate citizens for their servitude and citizens are not, as we have established in the myth of the social contract (An idea Rousseau wholly embraced.), even asked if they wish to be servile to the state. When a child is born into citizenship, it is also born into servitude to the state in which it was born.

Let’s go back to Rousseau’s statement:

“…(I)t is the same for freedom as for innocence and virtue — their value is felt only as long as one enjoys them oneself, and the taste for them is lost as soon as one has lost them.

For virtually all of us who were born into our state of servitude, we have never tasted freedom. Our taste for freedom was not lost. We never experienced it.

One does not miss what one has never known. Or, do we? Rousseau asserts that man is innately endowed with a desire for freedom.

…(W)hen I see multitudes of entirely naked savages scorn European voluptuousness and endure hunger, fire, the sword, and death to preserve only their independence…

Rousseau died in 1778. European expansionism into Africa and the Americas had gained steam and was gaining momentum. The indigenous peoples of those continents, observed Rousseau, preferred their form of independence to the modern advancements being brought to them by their conquerors.

Men will fight and die to be left alone. Luxury does not compensate for freedom lost. A slave living in luxurious comfort…remains a slave. The comforts of his servitude beguile the slave and he only imagines himself to be free. Of this, Rousseau states:

“…I feel it does not behoove slaves to reason about freedom.

And there we have it. This is our current condition in modern America. We are shackled and fettered to the state. But, because of our relative comfort, we imagine ourselves to be free.

We are only bearing, or enduring, our servitude and this enduring deceives the politician into thinking we naturally incline to serving the state. Let’s revisit our first quote from Rousseau:

And they (politicians) attribute to men a natural inclination to servitude due to the patience with which those who are before their eyes bear their servitude…

We have, therefore, a condition where both the slave and his master fail to perceive the realities of their conditions. The slave/citizen mistakes his comforts and the benevolent mercies of his master for true freedom and the master/politician mistakes the slave’s acquiescence to servitude as a natural inclination to serve.

The master’s/politician’s error is understandable. The error is far less apparent than the self-deception of true tyrants who sincerely assert, “My people love me.”

This discussion does not endeavor to explore all of the thoughts of Rousseau and some of his other assertions run counter to the concept of true libertarianism. He had a great number of contemporary critics and also roused later thinkers to disagreement with his ideas.

However, with regard to the concept of man’s natural inclination toward submission and his willing trade of liberty for the condition of the happy slave, Rousseau spoke eloquently.

[Next time, in Part Five, we’ll begin exploring libertarian thought on property, earnings, wealth, and taxes.]

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