Fear of Freedom

Careful! Danger lies in the Unknown lands beyond the mountains.
… Or so goes the mindset

Fear and Pressure

It seems to be that our human nature fears that which we do not know.  This fear is not without reason.  For much of human history, most families have lived in a fragile, or semi-fragile state of existence where sometimes the slightest bit of change can wreak havoc.  Whether it’s famine, flood, or invasion.  When a civilization’s state of capital is such that the majority of people live hand-to-mouth there is a seemingly good reason to fear change.  Change, with the slightest negativity to it can hurt or hinder that whole “hand to mouth” process.  Change causing such disruption than can oft be a catalyst for even more fear and change as people get hungry.  As modern trend forecaster Gerald Celente likes to say “When people lose everything and have nothing left to lose, they lose it.”

Fear then, is an understandable, if detestably proper, response to the revelation that change is coming.  Whether it is because a new civilization was found across the mountains (they could be violent) or because famine has gripped the land (the only good change is rain!).  When fear grips society, societies choices are narrowed to the short-term, safest of choices.  Fear pressures choices.  Milton Mayer, in his book – They Thought They Were Free, the Germans 1933-45 – explores the topic of pressure below:

Pg 277 – They Thought They Were Free
Freedom is nothing but the habit of choice. Now choice is remarkably wide in this life. Each day begins with the choice of tying one’s left or right shoelace first, and ends with the choice of observing or ignoring the providence of God. Pressure narrows choice forcibly. Under light pressure men sacrifice small choices lightly. But it is only under the greatest pressure that they sacrifice the greatest choices, because choice, and choice alone, informs them that they are men and not machines.

Fear is undoubtedly one of the strongest forms of pressure, if not the sole acting force of pressure.  Fear derived from a society that is primarily “hand to mouth” is going to cause the greatest pressure, for what does the average person have more to lose than his or his family’s lives?  Will these families then, cave to pressure – as described by Mayer – and sacrifice the greatest of choices; if only to save their lives?


Freedom, is the antithesis of pressure as described above.  Freedom is choices, and the ability to choose from among all those choices with minimal force.  Pressure, and thus fear, may still exist in terms of societal norms but these come not from fear of force; but from fear of lack-of-success.  Politics pressures individuals through threat of force; Society Pressure’s individuals through the threat of failure.  Freedom as defined by individual subjective preferences may include freedom from societal pressures but in the context of this article freedom is the ability to choose and act without political pressures – without threat of violence.

With Freedom, comes consequences – either positive or negative, depending on the choices – and with consequences comes change.  Change, when done in freedom is going to involve the voluntary satisfaction of people’s ends; and thus an increase in people’s wealth.   Change, in a free capitalistic sense is then most often a good thing and increases the wealth of individuals, and thus society.

Political Pressure

If Political Pressure is the antithesis of Freedom, and Freedom has such positive change why is it then, that Political Pressure (and not full freedom) has been seen to exist in nearly all societies; throughout all human history?  Sure, in many unfree societies Political Pressure is exerted through the violence and the threat of, but at some point it is set up through the voluntary actions of individuals.  Following the trail of politics back far enough through the conquering Nations and at some point the servitude is voluntarily put on.  As La Boétie describes, Liberty, not Servitude (ie Political Pressure) is the natural condition of people:

Liberty is the natural condition of the people. Servitude, however, is fostered when people are raised in subjection. People are trained to adore rulers. While freedom is forgotten by many there are always some who will never submit.
~ Étienne de La Boétie – The Politics of Obedience 1552-1553

In the introduction to The Politics of Obedience Rothbard asked “Why in the world do people consent to their own enslavement?”  If Liberty is the natural condition, then Servitude ONLY exists by the consent of people.  If it only exists by consent, then it must only exist because people view the alternative – Freedom and the Change associated with it – as less desirable than Servitude.  Praxeology, the study of human action, has shown that people act to remove discomfort, or dissatisfaction.  If people act to remove freedom and take on servitude, then freedom must be seen as a discomfort by the majority of humans, for the majority of history.

Fear of Freedom

Why is freedom seen as uncomfortable or unsatisfying?  In all societies change can come from other sources besides voluntary actions.  There are still maniacs and psychopaths in society, potentially violent external societies and natural disasters.  Aren’t these the items of Change to be feared?  Isn’t it the fear of these changes that creates discomfort and dissatisfaction?  But if they are available, no matter the society, why then is Freedom still avoided?  What other changes within freedom inclines people to take on servitude instead of freedom?  Leonard Read, a twentieth century American Economist put it well in his essay “Fear of Freedom“, collected in his book “Having My Way“:

These aspirations, strung together, are what I mean by the kind of freedom of which people are “scared to death”!  Why scared?
Gilbert Chesterton once remarked: “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it is that it has been tried and found difficult and abandoned.” So it is with those who try freedom; they find that it requires responsibility for self. And in consequence of that discovery, belief and faith in freedom is all but abandoned in America today! I emphasize “belief and faith.” Were the practice of freedom totally abandoned, all would perish. Freedom is still practiced to a marked extent despite all the barriers, but must wane and disappear eventually without a belief and faith to sustain it.
~ Fear of Freedom, pg 69, Having My Way by Leonard Read

Stephen Vincent Benet has put our problem in realistic perspective:
Just as a physical fever may be beneficial for its cathartic effect in burning away the poisonous pollutants in the system, even while it is resisted for its painfulness, so freedom may be both sought after and opposed, for we may wish to partake of its benefits without accepting the burden of its consequences.
~ Fear of Freedom, pg 69-70, Having My Way by Leonard Read

According to Read, Freedom is feared because of responsibility of self.  Do people fear self-responsibility and thus look to Political Pressure to prohibit their choices so that they will do what is right?  Or is it the self-responsibility in others that is feared?

Speaking of fear, I fear that I am getting a bit rambly and may need to mull over some of these thoughts and retry them in a more coherent manner.  For now, what do you think?  Is it self-responsibility in ourselves, others, or both that people fear?  What do you fear?


One thought on “Fear of Freedom

  1. Pingback: Prophets and Ideas « The Economical Engineer

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