Friday, December 12, 2014

Freedom v. Order

Arthur Miller, the author of The Crucible, wrote his novel at the height of an era when order had beaten liberty to a bloody pulp under the pretense of public safety. This was not the first time this had occurred, nor would it be the last. In the 1950s, the cause for insecurity was communism. In the 1690s, it was was witches. In the 21st century, its terrorism and racism. At all these points, the society has gathered together and snatched freedom from the outlying individual. However, we recognize that these are all exceptional time periods in which exceptional circumstances led to unprecedented levels of order. For these periods of time to be special, they must be a change from something else, a time when people had more freedom in America than at these select times. These changes in the balance between order and freedom prove Miller's statement, because a society which has found a satisfactory balance would not continue to change. The balance between order and freedom changes to reflect the needs of the society. Needs by their own nature can never remain the same because at some point it is either fulfilled or another, more relevant need becomes apparent. As the needs of the society naturally change, so too does the balance between order an freedom.

As previously stated, the most common reason for a shift towards order is a fear for the safety of the society. This is illustrative of philosopher John Locke's social contract theory, which theorized that while in the solitary state of nature, man has unlimited freedom. He can follow through on any urges he means to, even at the expense of other individuals. These include rape, killing, stealing, and all manner of horrible acts. However, others can do these things to him as well, so he is in a constant state of fear. By coming together with others to form a ordered society, all the individual people secure their safety from unwanted encroachments on their freedom by agreeing not to subject others to similar encroachments. This creates a temporary peace. But it also makes the unruly individual in that society very dangerous. When the society senses danger, it must protect all its members by sacrificing the freedom of the dangerous member by increasing order. For example, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus for those accused of disloyalty to the Union. Habeas corpus is meant to protect individuals' freedom by requiring them to be told what crime they are accused of and to be tried in a timely fashion. By suspending it, Lincoln allowed for a domination of order in the balance because the police could lock people up indefinitely if one person accused them of disloyalty. It seems harsh, but at the time the majority of the population accepted it because the Union had to be protected from further internal strife, even at the cost of locking up some people who didn't deserve it. Eventually the Civil War ended, and as history took its course, the needs of America changed again. No longer was there reason to be extremely fearful of disloyal factions overthrowing the government, and thus freedom could be restored.

This is always the case in America. There is perpetual change, but this is a good thing, despite significant historical cases of excessive order. In a Utopian society, needs would remain constant and could be fulfilled with a similarly constant balance of freedom and order. Unfortunately, as the word utopia means "no place," this is also an impossibility. In the end, it is better to have a changing system that can eventually adapt to new circumstances than a constant one that can only remain effective as long as nothing changes.

1 comment:

  1. I never thought about the definitions of freedom and order evolving with society. Great post.