Freedom is the most prized possession of humankind. Every nation under the sun has faught for this most precious gift, and many millions of our number have died in its defense and indeed pursuit. In my last post I adverted to Hans Kung's perspicacious contention that real freedom is recognised more in its being a freedom for than in its being a freedom from. I also referred to May's contention that real freedom is the very growth and development of self-awareness. The more self-aware we become, the freer we are in fact.
That consciousness of self and freedom go hand in hand is shown in the fact that the less self-awarewness a person has the more he is unfree. That is to say the more he is controlled by inhibitions, repressions, childhood conditionings which he has consciously forgotten but which still drive him unconsciously, the more he is pushed by forces over which he has no control. (May, op.cit., p. 123)French Existentailism and Freedom
Freedom has long been a cardinal concern of French existentialism. Indeed, its very essence is its belief in the capacity of the individual to care greatly about his freedom and inner integrity. He or she will, in fact, go so far as to die or commit suicide in their struggle to attain their personal freedom. Much of the essence of Sartrian existentialism, and indeed of the other varieties also, was born in the throws of the struggle for freedom during the Second World War - in The Résistance. May continues:
We agree with the fundamental Sartrian precept that the individual has no recourse from the necessity of making final decisions for himself, and that his existence as a person hangs or falls in these choices; and to make them in the last analysis in freedom and isolation may require literally as well as figuratively an agony of anxiety and inward struggle. (Op.cit., p. 124)However, May has grave reservations about the growing negativity of the Sartrian movement in existentialism, and that its negativity increased the more it became unhinged as it were from its origins in the French fight for freedom, or, in other words, the further in time the Sartrian movement moved away from the passion for freedom that energised the Résistance of WW II. May continues poetically and insightfully to my mind with his erudite criticism of Sartrianism thus:
But the fact that human beings can choose with some freedom, and that they will at times die for this freedom (both very strange things, quite contrary to any simple doctrine of self-preservation) implies some profound things about human nature and human existence. No one will die for the negative side of a debate or for any other negation. A person may die for a lost cause, but he is dying for very powerful positive values, such as his own dignity and integrity. The emptiness of the Sartrian viewpoint arises from the failure to analyse those very presuppositions in the freedom which he is avowedly dedicated to. (May, ibid., p. 124)Then May reminds us that real freedom does not come to us automatically. We do not receive it whole as it were as a gift. No, in fact, it is achieved over time, and oftentimes, if not mostly, through struggle. Dignity and integrity are two essential attributes of the real and true self. Our freedom grows as we develop more and more in our integrity and dignity. When these are forcefully taken away from us we indeed would sooner die than be reduced to a state of being without them - a veritable state of non-being. In many senses, then, we gain our freedom anew every day as we grow and grow in integrity and dignity. The basic step, May argues, in achieving one's freedom is summed up in the Kierkegaardian phrase of "choosing oneself." This, May argues, is "an attitude of aliveness and decisiveness; it means that one recognises that he exists in his particular spot in the universe, and he accepts the responsibility for his existence." (Ibid., p.125) Again, May gives us a good insight into Nietzsche's philosophy of life, i.e., that the latter philosopher did not simply mean the instinct of self-preservation when he alluded to the "will to live." No, rather, Nietzsche meant precisely what Kierkegaard was on about in the above phrase of "choosing oneself", the very will to accept the fact that one is one's self and no one else, and that one must accept the responsibility for fulfilling one's own destiny, which in turn implies that one must make his own basic choices for himself.
I remember some years back attending a conference led by Dr Tony Humphreys. That day he was speaking on "a new discipline" for teachers. One of his sayings which struck home to me then was " all control is self-control." These words struck home, and went on to form the basis of the way I later disciplined the students in my care. If all control is self-control, all discipline is self-discipline. May talks about such a type of discipline. For him, self-discipline is a discipline from within or from inside the self. It should never be a discipline from outside, and if it is it will be nothing short of crushing. This discipline from within is one of the main results of the consciously chosen life, of the exercise of the right to choose one's own life, one's own identity, the deep desire to know the self, the deep desire for integrity and wholeness, the deep desire to know and love the Self in its wholeness and unity. May concludes this chapter thus:
This self-discipline can be given fancy names, Nietzsche called it "loving one's fate" and Spinoza spoke of obedience to the laws of life. But whether bedecked by fancy terms or not, it is, I believe, a lesson everyone progressively learns in his struggle toward maturity. (May, ibid., 129)
To be continued
Above, the Bank of Ireland, night time, Dublin, Christmas 2009