Duty and Freedom


The daily grind can be a struggle. This morning, after a bad night’s sleep and with a house full of grandkids, even these ten minutes of words seem a bit much. First world problem compared to the struggle of those who live with poverty or illness. Those for whom getting up at dawn is not a choice but a duty.

Duty is a funny word. It is a word I take very seriously. The duty we owe to ourselves and each other form the basis of every civil society. Duty leads to rule of law, to commerce and social exchange. Without it – in its fully reciprocal form – we could not have morality or peace. We certainly couldn’t have progress. Yet duty is also a pejorative; it is applied to things where it doesn’t belong: military duty, the duty to obey, the duty to keep silent in solidarity to the tribe when the tribe is acting in an immoral manner.

I am, above all things, dutiful to the idea of freedom. But what is freedom? The libertine has no freedom merely uncontrolled license. Freedom is neither a right nor a privilege but a duty we owe ourselves and each other. My freedom is contingent on yours; it has to be. Freedom cannot only apply to those who are strong enough to seize it – that is rank dictatorship. Whether it is power or wealth or status or divine rule, I can’t accept the superior freedom of any person over my own. Nor could I tolerate my oppression of others.

I like free people – men and women who know their minds and speak them freely; people who act to achieve their own goals and those of their community in full respect of the goals and needs of others. Willing slaves – those who happily bend before the ‘master’ – make me ill. Stand up for yourself, is advice I’ve given to union members, poor people, friends, partners, because no-one else will do it for you.

This wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I set down this morning but it is what happens when you let your thoughts roam, yes, free. Things burble up.

Freedom is best expressed, ironically, by ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.’ Maybe old Karl was a liberal after all.

And that’s ten minutes.



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