Individual Liberty and "The Humanities"

George B. de Huszar is the author and editor of over a dozen books which have been pub­lished in the United States, Latin America, Europe, and Asia.

The libertarian position mus­ters strong support in the dis­ciplines of economics and political science, but libertarian scholar­ship has neglected the realms of art, literature, and philosophy. Further study of the humanities and their disciplines would round out the case for personal freedom. Eliseo Vivas was saying the same when he wrote in the Chicago Tribune Magazine of December 5, 1965: "We’ve had first-rate polit­ical and economic thinking from von Mises, Hayek, and Milton Friedman, but none in other fields. There has been no major philo­sophical mind to emerge — the same for theologians…. Two of the great values which we’ve lost sight of are the tragic and heroic dimensions of human existence.

There is no more room for them in our society — yet they are essen­tial components… the old sense of mystery and the sacred" have become secondary.

While on the one hand, philo­sophical and literary works would provide humane support for free­dom and individuality, on the other, they would encourage teach­ers and students in the humani­ties to get interested in them.

An indirect, noneconomic and nonpolitical approach which makes little explicit reference to contem­porary socio-economic-political ar­guments may be the best way to teach such basic values as dedica­tion to freedom and individuality. The humanities are acceptable to many teachers and students other­wise reluctant to embrace the lib­ertarian position. An approach through the humanities would make an impact in the realm of ideas rather than explicitly argu­ing in favor of freedom and in­dividualism and explicitly criticiz­ing socialism and communism.

As F. A. Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom (p. 13) basic individualism goes back further than the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and has broad philosoph­ical and literary foundations. Making the case for freedom and individuality in terms of the hu­mane studies would show these broad philosophical and literary bases to teachers and students.

Surface Symptoms

Politics forms the outside skin of the social organism; therefore, political manifestations are often but symptoms. To understand the disease, a deeper insight is re­quired. To comprehend the funda­mental problems of freedom and individuality, it is necessary to go beneath the surface and analyze philosophical and cultural issues. The unorthodox perceptions of philosophy, literature, and art should not be dismissed as flights of eccentric fancy. On the con­trary, they make possible the ex­plorations which provide deeper insights into the nature of free­dom and individuality, such ex­plorations as those by Cervantes, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky. Has anyone explored the fundamental psychological causes and implica­tions of collectivism more effec­tively than Nietzsche, or more per­ceptively questioned the value and limitation of civilization and prog­ress than Rimbaud and Gauguin, or seen more clearly into commu­nism than Heine?

"The Coldest of All Monsters"

Jakob Burckhardt stated that Nietzsche’s books had increased "independence in the world." Stef­an Zweig thought that "freedom is Nietzsche’s ultimate signifi­cance" and entitled one of his chapters on Nietzsche as "The Teacher of Freedom." Nietzsche himself called the state the coldest of all monsters. He said that so­cialism is "the tyranny of the meanest and most brainless" and then made the following prophetic statement in the nineteenth cen­tury:

"… Socialism is on the whole a hope­lessly bitter affair: and there is noth­ing more amusing than to observe the discord between the poisonous and desperate faces of present-day so­cialism — and what wretched and nonsensical feelings does not their style reveal to us! — and the childish lamblike happiness of their hopes and desires. Nevertheless, in many places in Europe, there may be violent hand-to-hand struggles and irruptions on their account: the coming century is likely to be convulsed in more than one spot, and the Paris Commune, which finds defenders and advocates even in Germany, will seem to have been but a slight indigestion com­pared with what is to come."

Heine was similarly prophetic. In 1842 he wrote: "The future has an odour as of Russian leather, blood, blasphemy, and much beat­ing with the knout. I advise our descendants to come into the world with thick skins." In his Confessions Heine said: "I was oppressed by a certain worldly ap­prehension which I could not over­come, for I saw that atheism had entered into a more or less secret compact with the most terribly naked, quite fig-leafless, commu­nistic communism."

What is needed is the opening up of material which remains largely outside the interest of many social scientists, to raise new questions, and to suggest new methods. As matters stand today, many who are deeply committed to the analysis of freedom and indi­viduality unfortunately find it dif­ficult to recognize the relevance of the humanities to their concerns. They should be provided with new "weapons" and new "ammuni­tion."

A Monopoly of Culture

"Liberals" have appropriated not only concern for the people’s welfare but also for culture. The Editor of the University Observer (Winter, 1947, p. 29) stated that "liberals are always troubled when they find that a political reaction­ary is a man of vision whose in­tellectual or artistic work demands respect…. According to the lib­eral creed, those who are on the side of man’s political progress should also be the most gifted, while the enemies of progress should turn out to have little to say; by rights, they should be un­creative." Thus "liberals" deni­grate "reactionary" thinkers, or claim great figures of the humani­ties as being their own, or use them in an illegitimate manner. But many great figures in the hu­manities should be identified with the side where they properly be­long — genuine concern with free­dom and individuality. The fate of Kierkegaard is an example. Karl Löwith in From Hegel to Nietz­sche falsely asserted that "Marx destroyed the bourgeois-capitalis­tic, and Kierkegaard the bour­geois-Christian world." What has become "existentialism" in recent German thought, as exemplified by Tillich, is mainly a form of so­cialism. What has become "exis­tentialism" in recent French thought, as exemplified by Sartre, is to a large extent Marxism. Re­cently a course has been offered in New York City entitled "Marx­ist Existentialism."

It often occurs that everybody sits on each other’s lap and nobody sits on the chair. As has been said, man’s mind is more gregarious than his body. The ob­session with "dialogue" makes it difficult to develop private views. Yet, only persons with private views can be impervious to the deeper aspects of collectivism as well as to its most obvious and overt manifestations. Mass organ­izations bombard us from every angle with slogans and clichés to unite us for collective action. We succumb to habitual forms of thinking and the prevalence of fads and fashions in the intellec­tual world. All these discourage adherence to one’s own view, crit­ical mentality, individuality, and the inwardness of man. In con­trast, all that is personal and pri­vate — literary insight, artistic taste, religious dedication — is to a large extent noncommunicable; they separate men and make each more aware of his uniqueness and what makes him different, and thus hinder the march of collectiv­ism in the philosophic and social sense. Without such defenses, each person is vulnerable to collectiv­ism.

Primacy of the Individual

A fundamental thesis of the hu­manities approach is the primacy of the individual not only in the usual and obvious sense but also in the sense that the more unique a person is the more valuable he is. This can be demonstrated most effectively by the humane studies, though it has not been done suf­ficiently. Richard M. Weaver has expressed pessimism about the fate of the humanities in view of the fact that the nonaverage, what is best in man, is suppressed by today’s humanists. ("The Human­ities in a Century of the Common Man," New Individualist Review, III, 1964).

The daemonic and evil forces in the nature of man, the recognition of which is essential to any serious discussion, can also be best shown through the humanities. Those who operate within the fashionable framework of Comte, St. Simon, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Dewey, the behavioral sciences, and so on, will be forever incapable of under­standing the basic issues involved in the struggle between individ­ualism and collectivism. They will not comprehend many things which are not in their philosophy but exist on earth. But, perhaps it is a mistake to spend too much time criticizing this fashionable framework. It is more urgent to rise above this embattled terrain and discuss matters on a higher plane, genuinely humane.

It is necessary to resist scien­tism which to a large extent is materialistic and to demonstrate that man is a "spiritual" being, good or bad and capable of both, and that he does not exist in the world in the sense that rocks and other things do. Once more this can be most effectively done through the humanities which re­veal the meaning of "philosophy."

The children of philosophy have grown up and have established homes of their own. Philosophy has become fragmentized; it has been divided into logic, which is often reduced to mathematics or the science of language; meta­physics which is often reduced to physics; ethics, which is often re­duced to anthropology; aesthetics, which is often reduced to psychol­ogy. Much that was once consid­ered philosophy is today part of the empire of science. The battle against materialism can be best undertaken by reaffirming when­ever possible the value of "spirit­ual" ends; we need to recover the original meaning of "philosophy" now hidden behind the imperial­ism of science.

Thus, we may look to the hu­manities and their disciplines to accomplish the following: (1) promotion of the idea of freedom and individuality by using an in­direct approach; (2) enhancement of the libertarian position by the prestige of philosophy, literature, and art; (3) reaching individuals interested in such matters, many of whom would not otherwise be attracted to the libertarian view­point.

 

***

Signs of Civilization

Though our civilization is the result of a cumulation of individ­ual knowledge, it is not by the explicit or conscious combination of all this knowledge in any individual brain, but by its embodi­ment in symbols which we use without understanding them, in habits and institutions, tools, and concepts, that man in society is constantly able to profit from a body of knowledge neither he nor any other man completely possesses. Many of the greatest things man has achieved are not the result of consciously directed thought, and still less the product of a deliberately coordinated effort of many individuals, but of a process in which the individ­ual plays a part which he can never fully understand. They are greater than any individual precisely because they result from the combination of knowledge more extensive than a single mind can master.

F. A. HAYEK, The Counter-Revolution of Science

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