Elenkus

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Truth Through Combat

On Liberty

“Liberty” is too narrow a concept to serve as a foundation for libertarianism. Ultimately, this philosophy of government is not about liberty, but about the love of self. To love liberty, after all, is to love what one can do and be when in a free state — to love liberty is thus to love oneself, to love being alive.

What does it mean to be happy? Happiness requires freedom.

But wait, this is surely false. Even a prisoner can be happy in his cell. Indeed, in a tyrannical state the threat of prison is no threat at all. It’s just one more “right” to which the citizen is entitled. There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when Americans will all demand the right to be imprisoned.

No, happiness does not require freedom. The love of self, the love of being alive, is not happiness. It is something more primal, less tranquil.

Self-destruction, perhaps? Perhaps that’s merely the other extreme, a false hedonistic panacea.

What of these extremes? Is it really the sedative of contentment on the one side, and the drunken stupor of self-destruction on the other? What does this formulation tell us about the nature of self-love?

Perhaps this: to love oneself is not to seek escape via the sedation of contentment (Buddhism), and it’s not to be found in manic perversions. Instead, to love one’s liberty is to love what one can become. The love of liberty is ultimately the love of a future Me that is shaped by the present Me. In loving myself I muster the energy to make myself anew, to find a vision that energizes me for the battle against me.

This is the meaning of Nietzsche’s formulation that in self-love there is self-destruction, then. To this I merely add the necessity of freedom. Thus, we must beware of conflating self-love with happiness. The man who loves himself is not content, and he is certainly not drunk. The content one has run away from himself. The drunken one has fallen headlong into the moment. The self-lover, however, does neither: he looks to his future self for guidance, he acts out of an energizing vision that drives him onward because he loves himself — and in loving himself he hates himself all the same, hates what he has failed to thus far become, and thus loves what he can be.

There’s a reason that lovers of liberty come off as “hopeful.” They are lovers of the future, always thinking ahead to that time when a nation — or a man — will be better than he is today.

To be a libertarian is thus to love liberty for the sake of being able to carry out one’s own self-improvement even when it is not forced upon him. Why? Because it is harder this way! Because to “improve” through coercion is no improvement at all. This is what the libertarian thus resents most about liberalism: that the liberal wants not to improve himself, but he wants to improve others.

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