551. Varieties of freedom
In the previous item in this blog, I indulged in the gloomy view of democracy apparently sliding inevitably into an autocracy or junta. I hate that outcome, and want to give another try to avoid that conclusion.
What do we value in democracy? One will likely say ‘freedom’. What does that mean? I have often used the well-known distinction between ‘negative’ freedom, as the absence of intervention in one’s actions, and ‘positive freedom’ as access to resources needed for a good life. De Dijn (2020) made a different distinction: between freedom from slavery or bondage, and influence on one’s government. The latter allows for regulations imposed on citizens, provided the government that imposes them is elected by the people. It can thus violate negative freedom?
An illustrative example is the current rebellion of farmers in the Netherlands, who refuse to conform to measures to reduce nitrogen composites from manure, which are destroying grasslands and forests, and with those numerous plants and insects needed to pollinate them, because the measures compel the farmers to reduce their livestock or sell out and give up farming altogether. They go to vehement extremes to block the measures.
Does this yield an escape from the feared slide into autocracy? Only if people evaluate candidates for government on their performance in enabling benefits for society as a whole, such as effective environmental protection, the provision of benefits to the people, such as safety, protection, food, and cultural manifestations, in other words positive freedom. But there lies precisely the problem I identified before. Many people now focus on their own personal satisfaction, regardless of others or society as a whole.
Again, I can see that turning around only on the basis of upbringing and education, which takes at least a generation, and which I don’t see happening, unless by the initiative of young people seeing the light, or rather the impending darkness. There are young people not caring about material goods beyond what is necessary for living, such as good public transport, adequate housing, healthy foods and health care. Will that be enough? There are also young people who follow the pernicious example of their elders of thirsting after wealth for itself and after conspicuous consumption, if necessary to the detriment of others and of nature. Which juniors will predominate?