The rhetoric of a permanent crisis, generally false (and if real, greatly exaggerated), is a communication strategy sine qua non of totalitarianism. Such rhetoric serves to destroy a system of freedoms and establish totalitarianism and sustain it on misery and lies through fear and envy in a state of endless panic.
Indeed, if it were the only thing that those subjugated by totalitarianism were afraid of, repression, even if it is the most extensive, brutal, and effective – and today techno-totalitarianism has tools that its predecessors could not even imagine – has its limits. It requires fear of invisible and terrible threats, as well as agitation and propaganda to chain one crisis with another, one threat with another, one panic with another, and keep society defenseless. This becomes a society that is helpless and unaware of the permanent loss of its freedoms without receiving any of the promised security or equality in return. In fact, quite the opposite.
Freedom begins to be lost when it is taken for granted. In a letter to the editor of a magazine, President Ronald Reagan aptly stated in his youth that “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.” And so it is, for we believe we can surrender it out of fear in exchange for assurances that turn out to be false. Or, even, out of envy in exchange for an equality that turns out to be the most aberrant inequality, in the midst of the most complete misery.
Today more than ever, we need to remember that it is that freedom – which we take for granted and in such sense becomes impossible to really lose – that we are meekly handing over to those who will not give us in exchange what they promise – because everything is a lie – nor will they be willing to give us back our freedoms voluntarily after a crisis that they will soon pretend to pass off as permanent and so on.
What we are really handing over in exchange for smoke is something that took thousands of years and rivers of blood to conquer. In the funeral oration to the fallen in the first year of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides notes that to explain why they fought, Pericles reminds the Athenians of something that radically differentiated them from their Lacedaemonian enemies:
“There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant. While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having a particular regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment.”
Obviously, we differentiate the concept of freedom of the ancients from that of the men of the Middle Ages and that which came down to us with modernity, but there is something in his funeral oration that touches the soul of the free men of all times because here Pericles began to outline the idea of the freedom of man before the State and other men within the framework of law, which, although unwritten, is recognized by all.
It is said that the first freedom in the West was born in the Greek polis. It would be better to say that it was born and died in Athens. Freedom, in the ancient sense, common among Greeks and traceable to recognizable customs already in the Mycenaeans, is that of the man who, not being a slave and finding himself under the rule of the law of his own nation or tribe, knows the prerogatives and obligations that correspond to him by his caste and condition.
Thus he is free who is not a slave but only a citizen of a free State. And free is any State which under its own law is governed by its own authorities. And so are equally free the Spartans who lived under the first totalitarianism – or proto-totalitarianism – of Western history; and the Athenians who were beginning to conceive and exercise incipient individual freedom before the State and society itself.
That is the freedom that we must remember today is “one generation away from extinction”. The freedom that this generation is surrendering for panic. The one that Lord Acton defined in 1873 by stating:
“By liberty, I understand the assurance that every man will be protected to do what he believes to be his duty against the pressure of authority and of the majority, of custom and of opinion […] In ancient times, the State arrogated to itself powers which did not belong to it, intruding into the field of personal liberty. In the Middle Ages, on the other hand, it had too little authority and had to tolerate meddling by others. Modern states habitually fall into both excesses. The best criterion for judging whether a country is really free is the degree of security enjoyed by minorities”.
Freedom as the absence of any arbitrary restriction precedes and includes freedom as the development of any individual potentiality. Although there will always be potentialities that are not developed because of the scarcity that exists – starting with that of time -, even in the greatest prosperity. The promise of “freeing” ourselves from this reality is the underlying lie. One that comes as a false promise of security and equality or false moral superiority.
We have time to use reason and look at the facts, but we don’t have much time left, not to mention that through agitation and propaganda, disinformation and censorship, they are trying to keep us in a state of panic from which we must wake up before it is too late.