© 2017 Thermidor Magazine.

Designed by Jonathan.

The Liberty Of The Slaves

Liberty is a cult, a fetish, and an idol in our societies; it is, axiomatically, the final end for which Man was made, just as salvation was once supposed to be. The word appears writ large on the national currency; it is ritualistically invoked over and over again in the cant of either political party, both of which claim to be the sole true conservators of Liberty against the other; and all respectable political discourse and debate revolves around the question of how Liberty is to be maximized, as the supreme, indeed, the only truly legitimate, goal of all legislation.

Just what Liberty is exactly isn't always clear- but, whatever it is, we in the West have it, and are the crown of Creation and the apex of human evolution for having it, while more atavistic human brethren in the East, mired down as they are in barbarism and superstition, continue to be crushed by despotism. That we ought to wage war against and kill the latter, dying ourselves in the process, so that everybody might enjoy the blessings of a Liberty that avowedly only obtains in this life, is a proposition that not only makes perfect sense, but is a self-evident truth that nobody can question without immediately marking himself off as insane or depraved.

Another self-evident truth of Liberty is the mythical story of its origins. Before 1688, 1776, 1789, or the 1960s- the exact date doesn't really matter, as long it's in the past- there was a vast time of darkness, an age of oppression, fear, and misery. The strong ruled the weak with abandon. White male patriarchs enslaved and brutalized women, children, and minorities, and were themselves enslaved and brutalized in turn by greater patriarchs, known as kings, who ruled arbitrarily without laws or the consent of the governed. Priests caused men of science to be burned alive, and kept the people cowed with lies and superstitions; deprived of technology and medicine, everybody dropped dead on their thirty-fifth birthday, and most died very badly long before that.

Then all of a sudden the hitherto flat timeline of history bent up in an arc towards justice. The great darkness was dispelled by the dazzling light of Reason. Scientists proved that religion is a fraud, that all kings are tyrants, and that individuals have inalienable rights. The People rose up as one, banished the kings and priests, and created Democracy. Under Democracy, all relations of power were abolished by the rule of Law, leaving all individuals free to govern themselves and do whatever they like, as long they caused no harm. The stagnation, stupor, and torpor of the dark age gave way to an era of Progress in which life was at last allowed to evolve and change, always for the better. Free from the weight of blind tradition, the people discovered technology, which they had hitherto done without. Liberated from the bands of monogamy, they discovered sex, of which their ancestors had been absolutely ignorant.

It keeps going like that.

This narrative is impressed upon the individual over and over again throughout the life course; it figures in every form and genre of representation from films and novels to public-school textbooks, academic history and social science, political rhetoric, and everything in between. It is central to they call the "blue pill": the account that Modern society gives of itself to itself, which account has the status of self-evident truth, because it is forbidden to question it.

Feeling secure in the belief that the various public and private custodians and defenders of the blue pill aren't yet able to find me here in Samizdat-land and sanction me accordingly. In what follows I will essay an alternative interpretation of the meaning and significance of the phenomenon of Liberty; a counter-interpretation that some academic postmodernist might call a "deconstructive reading," but is less pretentiously called a "red pilled" view.

The formal philosophical theory of Liberty from the civic republicans and Puritans through J.S. Mill and beyond appeared in its finest and most admirable light when it exalted Liberty as a social technology for ennobling the broad mass of humanity. Liberty, according to the theory, would confer upon the lowliest private citizen the dignity hitherto reserved for haughty temporal and spiritual lords, and also the right to speak the truth- a privilege also hitherto jealously reserved to the governing classes, of which every citizen of a liberal democracy is a member. As a member of the governing class, self-consciously aware that the public affairs of a democratic State are also his own, his responsibility as well as his right, the citizen would rise above the child-like fecklessness and insouciance that powerlessness involves in it and become a Statesman in his own little right, with all the attending seriousness, sobriety, and Stately gravitas of bearing and conduct. And it would follow as a matter of natural course that this citizen, armed with the right to discern the path to virtue for himself, would certainly follow that path of his own accord once he did discern it.

I have no doubt that the original proponents of the theory were sincere about all of this- but things didn't work out quite according to plan. On the contrary: in our own century, and most of the one before it, Liberty, far from ennobling, has avowedly and self-consciously tended towards degradation. The visible social badge of Liberty no longer lies in rising above the debased and the despicable, as it did for the old-school bourgeoisie, but in deliberately and conspicuously sinking beneath bourgeois respectability and the republican civic virtue and dignity of the freeborn citizen. All that defined these things is now recast as obsolete, stifling, and oppressive- and to mark oneself as "liberated" is to reject it all. To name just a few examples:

  • The corruption of manners has already passed from mere plebeian coarsening in the direction of vulgarity, rudeness, obnoxiousness, boorishness, and profanity to the rock-bottom point that traditionally defined the absolute degree of social degradation, indignity, and disgrace- namely, men dressing as women (once the strict definition of travesty), and women dressing as common prostitutes.

  • The demise of the Stoic ideal of masculine character, according to which a man, in order to demonstrate his fitness for the rights and obligations of a free citizen, was supposed to exercise complete control over his emotions and passions, and carry himself with a Stately air of steady, sober, and serious gravitas. Today, manly Stoic gravity and self-mastery is deemed ridiculously inhibited, authoritarian, and stuffy, indeed, psychologically unhealthy and pathological. Pop-psych diagnoses the Stoic type of man as "repressed", "misogynistic", implicitly menacing and even dangerous; it finds the model of a healthy emotional life in the silliness and playfulness of children and the effusive emotional expressiveness of women, and constantly exhorts people to "spontaneity", "self-expression", and above all, talking about their feelings endlessly- all in the name of liberating the individual from stifling psychic constraints.

  • Freedom of speech, originally intended to empower any citizen to pronounce the truth as authoritatively as any magistrate or doctor, has undergone a remarkable transformation: it now appears as the right to speak without any obligation to speak the truth, and to speak the most outrageous falsehoods, fabrications, and calumnies with impunity. Hence the steep degradation of letters in recent decades, which have seen an enormous proliferation in the quantity of public writing with a corresponding and frankly shocking decline of quality. This writing often does not even pretend to the status of objective truth (e.g. "advocacy journalism"). Its contents are a puerile congeries of profanity, libels, inflamed rhetorical hallucinations, cynical manipulation based on the techniques of commercial advertising (albeit its producers, unlike commercial advertisers, are not subject to the law of fraud, and take advantage accordingly), junk science, and half-digested buzzwords and platitudes gleaned from fashionable academic theories and subsequently garbled into broken-telephone nonsense in the course of being repeated at cocktail-parties and on social media. Things have already reached the point where outright fabrication is no longer seen as vicious, or even particularly embarrassing when discovered. All of this is sanctified by academic theories which hold that all writing is a closed semiotic system that cannot even establish its own internal meanings in any stable way, let alone uncover external objective truths about reality, and that all truth-claims are therefore nothing more than so many disingenuous attempts to persuade and manipulate others. Increasingly, the line between serious writing and Munchhausen-like fabulism is effaced as a result; and for good measure, the new writing is delivered in a vacuously chatty, flippant, and superficial ("breezy") writing style (preferably with at least one expletive for every hundred words), all the better to underscore its frivolous and unserious character.

  • Liberty is no longer understood as providing the wherewithal for the pursuit of virtue in this life and salvation in the next; indeed, those unfamiliar with pre-20th c. Political theory often have no idea that it ever even was. Liberty is understood as either an end in itself, as though the last end of Man, or in strictly economic terms of utility-maximization. The "pursuit of happiness" mentioned in the US Declaration of Independence today is understood in terms of the crassest avarice and consumerism- or alternately, and in seeming parody of the older meaning of Liberty, the right to an "authentic" personal identity defined in terms of the most depraved and moreover, inherently degrading sexual proclivities and practices.

Symptomatically, these and other forms of "liberation" from traditional moral and ethical standards have been accompanied by an astonishing expansion of the size, scope, and power of the State apparatus without precedent in the annals of Western history.

Under the self-styled police-State administration of the dreaded absolute monarchy of ancien regime France, so reviled in Liberal demonology, it proved possible for a single author to compile every law and administrative regulation in the entire history of the kingdom in a mere few volumes. In the present USA, sweet land of Liberty and Constitutionally "limited" government, there are now so many Federal criminal laws alone that attempts made by research teams to tally them all have failed, and the actual number thought to be altogether incalculable- and in the much more enormous field of administrative regulations, around 300,000 (!) carry criminal penalties. These regulatory offenses are pure creatures of bureaucratic fiat that criminalize the most trivial activities in an arbitrary and wholly unpredictable manner (e.g. being found with migratory bird feathers). Since ignorance of this unknowable body of law is not an excuse, the citizen, for all he knows, or can possibly know, may be committing one or more Federal crimes as he walks down the street to the corner store, though he has the sovereign right to wear a cocktail dress and fishnets while he does it.

It seems, then, that being "liberated" from traditional normative restraints means that the individual has been induced to jump out of a frying-pan into an enormous all-consuming fire of omnipotent and omniscient State control. The ostentatious Gong-Show antics of personal "empowerment" betrays the profound impotence of citizens at once allowed and in fact, exhorted to insolently swagger and strut about like they own the world even as they seem to vanish in the shadow of a grotesquely bloated State Leviathan on steroids that polices their every step from cradle to grave, and wields more power than the subjects of any of the so-called "absolute" monarchies of old (whose own power was strictly limited by Divine, Natural, and customary right, and/or by the powers and privileges of the Church and the family) would have tolerated in their Prince.

I once was a solidly Blue-pilled, Locke-quoting, Constitution-adoring, fervent true believer of the cult of Liberty when I first began to notice this- although for years I continued to systematically fail to notice it in the very course of noticing it. Such is the power of the blue pill over the mind. Then one day the red pill presented itself in the form of a passing remark in Seneca:

[C]hildren will strike their parents in the face, and the infant tumbles and tears his mother's hair and slobbers upon her, or exposes to the gaze of the family parts that were better covered over, and a child does not shrink from foul language. Yet we do not count any of these things an insult, and why? Because he who does them is incapable of being contemptuous. For the same reason the waggery of slaves, insulting to their masters, amuses us, and their boldness at the expense of guests has license only because they begin with their master himself; and the more contemptible and even ridiculous any slave is, the more freedom of tongue he has. For this purpose some people buy young slaves because they are pert, and they whet their impudence and keep them under an instructor in order that they may be practised in pouring forth streams of abuse; and yet we call this smartness, not insult. (emphasis mine).

In the light provided by these observations (made in passing by an Ancient addressing an altogether different subject-matter), the modern spectacle of freedom of speech and expression appears as something very different from what the blue-pill myth of Liberty makes it out to be. The latter has it that the present spectacle in which everybody ostentatiously throws every standard of public decency and propriety out the window at once is some kind of grand teleological culmination of the historical process in which the People heroically cast off the chains of their enslavement at the hands of kings and priests and proclaimed themselves Sovereign masters of their own destiny.

But in the red-pill light of Seneca, the facts of that very same process appear, perhaps much more accurately, as the process by which the citizen forfeits whatever social entitlement he may once have had to dignity and honour, to be taken seriously by himself and by others, and a fortiori to the status of one who can credibly claim a rightful measure of real autonomy over himself and those under his care in his own domain, in exchange for the license of the court jester, the freedom of the little brat, and the liberty of the slave- all of whom can get away with more than a free and grown man, because they lack the social standing and personal authority to convincingly come across as really threatening when they misbehave. In exchange for the right to speech that had all the more gravitas for being infrequent and circumspect, he gains the right to say whatever he wants, however he wants- viz. the right not to be taken seriously enough to merit being censured for speaking dishonestly or indecently, and more generally to chatter constantly like a woman instead of pronouncing authoritatively like a man.

Indeed, one of the few social norms governing public speech and writing nowadays is a taboo on even attempting to speak authoritatively, on assertively declaring something state of affairs or course of action to be right or wrong, some person or set of people superior or inferior to another, some precept true and another one false. To do so is to be "judgmental", which is terribly poor form, as scandalously impolite as breaking out into a string of oaths and expletives in mixed company once would have been. The taboo seems strangely incongruous with Liberty at first blush. Isn't the very idea of freedom of speech, as formulated by pioneering theorists like James Burgh and subsequently enshrined in the First Amendment, all about empowering the citizen to weigh in and pass judgment on any matter that bears on the public interest? After all, in a democracy the State belongs to him, its rightful elector, and any public affair is therefore also his own.

The apparent contradiction resolves once we stop taking this blue-pill mythology at face value, and through red-pill light see freedom of speech as the liberty of the slaves of the public power rather than its masters. As Seneca says, it is acceptable, indeed fitting, for a slave to talk a lot of vile trash and generally act like a total jackass in public- for by doing so, he proves to himself and everybody else that he is good for nothing but servitude. What isn't acceptable, though, is for this same creature to pass discriminating judgements and make authoritative pronouncements on this or that, precisely because he is a slave. As a slave, he is, pace Aristotle, deemed congenitally incapable of full participation in Reason (it befalls the master to exercise Reason on the slave's behalf); and since he completely lacks personal power and authority, he simply has no business pontificating on what is rational, just, and true, for that is the proper domain of the grown-ups and the masters. It follows that it is indecorous for a slave to be "judgmental"; the slave who undertakes to judge has lost mind of his place, and immodestly puts on airs.

Under the red light, then, the true meaning of present-day admonitions against being "judgmental" becomes abundantly clear, as does the meaning of such suggestively self-abnegating conventions of speech as "it's not my place to judge." Additionally, under red light the formal theoretical expression of the social taboo against discriminating judgment- namely, the so-called "relativism" that holds that all truth-claims are at once equally true and equally false, that no culture is better than another, and which forbids any attempt to rank-order the differences that obtain between individuals- may, as a salute to Nietzsche, be designated a slave epistemology.

Under red light, the meaning and significance of the ongoing degradation of letters and the demise of serious writing also becomes apparent. In traditional society, writing was rarefied, and the privilege of writing to authorities and authority figures; the mere fact that an idea or argument appeared in print established as it as most gravely serious and authoritative. A prime index of just how seriously writing was taken was that an author had be willing to expose his life and safety as a corollary of the privilege of serious writing: e.g. he had to risk being challenged to a duel or sued for libel, being forced to swear under penalty that what one had written was true, or being accused of heresy or lese-majeste and censored, perhaps even executed.

It was this regime of constraints on freedom of speech that established writing as a very serious business. The grave and serious character of writing, in turn, encouraged suitably stringent quality-controls; it is no accident that all the great books of the Western canon were written under this very type of regime of speech.

For Liberalism, though, that regime appeared as an odiously despotic fetter on the spirit of human creativity and Progress. The privilege of public writing was gradually democratized, and today any man, woman, or, for that matter, child who wants to can write, and write whatever they want (as long as it isn't "bigoted" or otherwise judgmental). They are free to do so with impunity not because they are above being held to account, but on the contrary beneath it. As Seneca says, a slave is beneath contempt in the strict sense: one who lacks the social standing and personal authority to be taken seriously, and can get away with saying most anything without really upsetting anybody to the extent that what he has to say has no gravity or credibility whatsoever.

The abovementioned frivolous and unserious character of most contemporary writing thus comes as no surprise, since its producers are, in a very real sense, so many court jesters- and it is pointless to expect logical rigour, factual precision, and other hallmarks of seriousness and gravitas in the antics of fools, viz. the present citizenry at large.

The cult of freedom of expression has also given rise to an enormous effort to destabilize the emotional make-up of the modern individual. Long-standing Western traditions of Stoic self-mastery that encouraged people to force the chaotic push-and-pull of affect to yield to the order of the intellect are attacked in the name of both personal liberation and psychological "health." The individual is exhorted to stop being so "repressed", to be more "spontaneous" and emotionally labile, to have all sorts of feelings and moreover talk about them constantly, and above all, to never deny his inner urges and desires- especially his sexual "identity"- no matter that his conscience tells him that they are anti-social or immoral.

In the interest of liberating individuals from the despotism of conscience and helping them free themselves from themselves, an all-out war on shame is waged, and "shaming" is accordingly decried as the highest degree of the crime of being judgmental, and subjected to withering denunciation. As a corrective against the pathological effects of shame on freedom and health, the individual is instructed not only to do that which tradition and morality held shameful, but to do it as publicly, conspicuously, and proudly as possible. Right now, the flagship forms of this enterprise are sexual inversion and travesty/castration for men, and immodesty/sexual delinquency for women.

Under the red lamp, what we see here are individuals being enticed to effectively put the collar of servitude around their own necks in the name of liberating themselves:

  • Throughout Western history it has always been the case- and the men that dreamed up modern democracy, who knew their Aristotle, were painfully aware of the principle- that virtuous and rational self-mastery is the most elemental criterion of fitness for liberty, and that whoever can't or won't govern himself according to the precepts of reason and morality is destined to come under the rightful (and despotic) authority of somebody who can, who subsequently exercises rational judgment on his behalf, and so makes his rules for him more generally. This relationship obtains spontaneously and naturally, not least of all because the person incapable of rigorous emotional and ethical self-discipline proves too feckless and spineless to resist the imposition in any case. (Hence slaves typically aren't encouraged or even permitted to be as upright as their masters- one of the reasons their antics are tolerated).

  • In any society, shame is a corollary of social honor, and so increases as a function of social status. This means that true shamelessness represents the absolute, rock-bottom degree of ignominy and social degradation. Sociologically, shame consists in the temporary or permanent social revocation of the honour, dignity, and social standing to which one is ordinarily entitled; it follows that the person who feels no shame upon committing a moral transgression quite literally has nothing to be ashamed of in the first place; you can't lose face or suffer indignity if you never had any to begin with. It should go without saying that this total lack of social status is synonymous with slavery.

  • Finally, in any society, the absolute depth of degradation that shamelessness and slavery entail find its prime manifestations in- you guessed it- a man who assumes the role of a woman, and a woman who serves as a common prostitute. (Even in the present, and notwithstanding the constant onslaught of exhortations against transphobia and slut-shaming, it's a safe generalization that nobody really thinks that being a prison bitch or a streetwalker is some sort of apotheosis of human dignity and liberation).

The foregoing analysis suggests that the explosive, uncontrolled, and uncontrollable growth of the power of the modern State is no mere historical accident, aberration, or unintended consequence. It is perfectly natural, normal, and indeed, inevitable that those who studiously affect the manners and habits proper to slaves- whether they are self-aware of it or not- should get the type of rule they have coming to them, namely slavery. The State, in the final analysis, is doing nothing more than playing the part of supply to demand in a market relationship; it is, after all, still a democracy, and, however ironic it may seem, the debased and servile condition to which the citizenry is being reduced is strictly self-made.

In this respect, the blue-pill mytho-history of Progress, with its story of a historical ascent from darkness and despotism to an enlightened age of Liberty under the "rule of law" is a mirror-image in which the facts of modern history appear in reverse. From the red-pilled point of view, the historical trajectory runs in the opposite direction. What actually happened is that Westerners, much like the clueless teenage girl who runs away from the home of her firm but loving parents only to end up becoming tattooed as property by some outlaw biker and tricked out on the streets with an arm and a pimp to feed, quit a life of moderate subjection under the intrinsically lawful and just auspices of throne and altar for a perhaps more exciting, but perilously more dangerous and in any case, degraded and dehumanized life- one that additionally turns out to be rather less than perfectly liberating when it is already too late to go back.