All Commentary
Monday, March 21, 2016

Freedom and the Hero’s Journey

The Freeman: Spring 2016


The mighty hunter stalks the beast. He has the creature’s scent and knows that soon one of them will be dead. He is far from home, far from the world of his clan, but it is for them — the community he has left behind — that he assumes the dangers of this quest.

Humanity’s oldest stories follow the form: the lone individual in peril on behalf of his tribe. From the Hobbit to Harry Potter, from Star Wars to the Hunger Games, we see this pattern embedded in the structure of our favorite tales.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell called the deep universal framework of these stories the hero’s journey, drawing on the psychoanalytic theory of Carl Jung and Jung’s concept of archetypes, the symbols across time and across cultures that surround each person’s journey toward both individual authenticity and wholeness with her community.

In the heroic stories, both fictional and factual, featured in these pages, each beast is an avatar of coercion — whether manifested in the naked force of an authoritarian regime, in the insidious ideologies that masquerade special interests as collective weal, or in the actions of one individual willing to impose his will on another.

The peril may be physical or intellectual. To risk suffering and death requires a particular brand of heroism, but there are quieter forms of courage and character: there is real risk and real valor in defying the established wisdom, in speaking truth to power.

The word hero is Greek, from a root that means protector. The customary understanding of the hero, then, is as one who protects his tribe. But the heroes of freedom face an extra challenge: the tribe that they set out to protect stand also as guardians at the threshold, one of the obstacles to be overcome.

Campbell wrote, “The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding.… It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse.”

The Freeman, Spring 2016

In the traditional tale, when the hero returns with the boon or elixir that will revitalize his community, he arrives transformed, ready to reintegrate with his people. But the elixir of liberty transforms the community itself. Whether or not that change is welcome — whether you will be recognized as the tribe’s protector or seen instead as a new threat — remains unwritten.

Seventy years ago, Leonard Read started the Foundation for Economic Education to teach the values of the freedom philosophy and the economic way of thinking. If Campbell was right about the friction between the modern hero and his or her tribe — a tribe no longer limited to clan or even nation but now comprising the world — then the ongoing mission of FEE and the Freeman is to tell the tales that will help this universal tribe embrace both liberty and its heroes.

Editor’s note from the Freeman, Spring 2016. Subscribe today.