Freedom Is Always Freedom – Until It Is Not

Politicians of all persuasions still haven’t got it yet

The two main lenses through which we view the world politically – namely left and right, liberalism and conservatism – are broken and are unable to protect what we hold most dear.

This is surely what Rowan Williams was pointing to in a recent critique of liberalism and capitalism.(1) Until we are able to find a different way of looking at the world politically – one which is beyond both progressive and conservative – we will remain stuck in a dysfunctional economy and oppositional left-right politics that are two sides of the same problem. Like powerful mafiosi, party zealots of either the market or the state will continue to promise that their respective ‘ism’ will free us from their own adversary. But the truth is that it is only we who can free ourselves.

The Civil Society Alliance initiative is an attempt to build bridges following the Brexit vote, to move to a place of new harmony that can be embraced by a majority, including both compassionate ‘conservatives’ and open-minded ‘liberals’.

Distinctions between equality and sameness, diversity and capability are fundamental to clarifying an integrative perspective. Each can be viewed in an old oppositional way or as part of a new integration. To do so we need a new frame. We cannot achieve a new narrative until we can navigate beyond the harm to “the sacred” that both progressive and conservative perspectives unconsciously enable. Central to this is that human responsibility is integral to freedom – and must come before human rights which can otherwise potentially be undermined by the entitlement of us all.

At their worst, liberals fail to distinguish equality from sameness. Equality requires us to respect everyone for their equality of being. But aggressive, contemporary, liberalist notions that see difference (capability) as less significant than equality exhibit a form of secular, fundamentalist, censorial conformity that denies diversity whilst claiming a false moral high ground. On the other hand capability that claims superiority of being, by right is a form of elitism exhibited not only by unenlightened, self-interested conservatives but also by so-called liberal elites.

Entitlement is central to the shadows of both conservatism and liberalism and until we become aware of these shadows, which we all adopt when we choose to wear these philosophies as identities, we will remain stuck in an old impotent paradigm incapable of addressing the systemic, interdependent dysfunctions that we collectively face.  In order to act with skill, discernment and awareness a third freedom is required – the freedom not to – the power of self-restraint which is inconsistent with  both liberalism and conservatism.

Entitlement is central to the shadows of both conservatism and liberalism

The freedom not to take the full extent of our entitlement, the kind of self-restrained power,which through integrity makes us capable of not exercising power in our own interest, is a high order meta-capability that is needed to contain our immature fears and demands and allow a greater good to prevail. It may sound complicated or grandiose.  It is not. It is really only what every parent does in asking children to give just a little more and take a just little less of what they feel entitled to, in order to facilitate functional family life. A grown up politics is about ensuring the family as a whole can flourish so that everyone gets something – though not necessarily the same as everyone else. Because whether we like it or not we are all related.

The bottom line of this new poltics is not profit or power it is responsibility to our obligations and to each other which demands respect, self restraint and trust

Civil Society Alliance asks whether we can we live with that? We believe its only possible when those who get more, because of their capability or need, have the humility and respect to act with integrity, gratitude, grace and generosity. And only if those who demand equality as sameness can recognize that difference of every kind  – including capability – contributes to the wellbeing of all.

People of good will (of all faiths or of none) have a huge contribution to make to the intellectual and moral evolution that is needed to take this step to a different paradigm – to what is an ancient new story that is seeking articulation in a 21st century context.

However to do so we too have to leave behind our righteous identities and build a vehicle that can deliver political power to those who are willing to stand for the restoration of human to human and human to nature values, that have been lost in materialist oppositional politics. This is a very big challenge that no doubt many others have been working on in both faith and secular contexts. However to bring this into the world both must now come together.

‘Freedom-from’ that allows personal entitlement to become indulgence and ‘freedom-to’ that facilitates and endorses the same are a broken compass must be named and shamed together. Neither the shadow of liberalism nor the shadow of conservatism is willing or able to do so . Consequently freedom is always freedom until it is not.

“When, through love, we have found the path to wisdom, we reach wisdom through the increasing power of self-conquest … Thus does man become a free personality” Rudolf Steiner

It is only beyond the broken lenses of right and left wing that we can create a new order of freedom and wellbeing. The Civil Society Alliance is one attempt to make such an integration, which those who are unable to look beyond the horizontal political spectrum will mistakenly label ‘centrist’.


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