Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wagner on Liberty

I've been reading Plato's Republic and now Wagner's The Simple Life. Both reflect the immorality of man and the resulting tendency of democratic peoples toward tyranny. I want to share this Wagner passage at length (the entire work is available from Project Gutenberg), without further comment.

So it is with liberty. It is fatal or lifegiving according to the use made of it. Is it liberty still, when it is the prerogative of criminals or heedless blunderers? Liberty is an atmosphere of the higher life, and it is only by a slow and patient inward transformation that one becomes capable of breathing it.
All life must have its law, the life of man so much the more than that of inferior beings, in that it is more precious and of nicer adjustment. This law for man is in the first place an external law, but it may become an internal law. When man has once recognized the inner law, and bowed before it, through this reverence and voluntary submission he is ripe for liberty: so long as there is no vigorous and sovereign inner law, he is incapable of breathing its air; for he will be drunken with it, maddened, morally slain. The man who guides his life by inner law, can no more live servile to outward authority than can the full-grown bird live imprisoned in the eggshell. But the man who has not yet attained to governing himself can no more live under the law of liberty than can the unfledged bird live without its protective covering. These things are terribly simple, and the series of demonstrations old and new that proves them, increases daily under our eyes. And yet we are as far as ever from understanding even the elements of this most important law. In our democracy, how many are there, great and small, who know, from having personally verified it, lived it and obeyed it, this truth without which a people is incapable of governing itself? Liberty?—it is respect; liberty?—it is obedience to the inner law; and this law is neither the good pleasure of the mighty, nor the caprice of the crowd, but the high and impersonal rule before which those who govern are the first to bow the head. Shall liberty, then, be proscribed? No; but men must be made capable and worthy of it, otherwise public life becomes impossible, and the nation, undisciplined and unrestrained, goes on through license into the inextricable tangles of demagoguery.


R N W said...

That's interesting. I've been think a bit about human rights recently. Would this then suggest that Liberty is not a human right, but something that must be earned by first showing a respect for 'inner law'?

Matt said...

Human rights are tough. It's a powerful and compelling statement that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, three of which are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
But how are we to understand it as Christians? I think I shall write another post to address this, rather than continue in the comments...