Can slavery be so complete that life is no longer worth living? Is “live free or die” a reasonable motto? Or are there times when living with a bit of servitude is better than death?
We in the USA have not been really free for a long time. In fact, if we define free as “not controlled by obligation or the will of another,” it is questionable whether anyone has ever been truly free in the history of civilization. And yet people have certainly found life worth living. Viktor Frankl, Anne Frank, and Corrie Ten Boom found that life was worth living even in the concentration camps of the National Socialist Party. Maybe instead of asking “whether there are times when it’s worth living with a bit of servitude,” we should ask whether it is ever worth dying for freedom.
When faced with the choice of yielding to tyranny or resisting, the only reasonable approach is to seek the path of highest fulfillment. Life is about finding fulfillment. This is the only reasonable motivation for doing anything. And fulfillment comes in many different packages: some are physical, like sex and food, and some are more abstract, like honor, love, achievement, freedom, and self-determination.
How much slavery can you accept? What are your chances of victory or escape? And how much fulfillment could be found by resisting or escaping? If the misery of the oppression is very great, if resistance promises great fulfillment, or if there is a good chance of success, then it may well be worth risking death, or dying in a “blaze of glory”. Otherwise, it may make more sense to accept a bit of slavery.
And we also must realize that accepting a bit of outward slavery need not mean living without freedom. I’ve been chewing on this insight from Louis E. Carabini’s recent book:
Liberty is not a battle that requires the conversion of others in order to win. Liberty is won when you accept the idea that you are the sole master of your life; when your life is subordinate to none, and no other life is subordinate to yours. When you accept that idea, you are liberated. There will always be those who will claim to be your master, but you will know otherwise. For a libertarian, paying tribute to Caesar may make sense, but believing that tribute is Caesar’s due does not!
Liberty is not, as Ronald Reagan suggested, a fragile thing. On the contrary, it is mastery that is fragile; its weakness is evidenced by ubiquitous failures, while the liberty inherent in the human spirit is resilient. Nor does liberty require eternal vigilance, as claimed by Andrew Jackson.
Liberty is a state of mind that does not require the indulgence of others.
I think we can live as free men even in concentration camps, public schools, and nanny states. But sometimes it is worth it to resist.
Bill Green received his Ph.D. at Mississippi State University in 1998. He currently teaches high school chemistry and operates a private tutoring service. He was a card carrying conservative until he was exposed to the publications of the Foundation for Economic Education and the Mises Institute as well as the writings of Hazlitt, Rothbard, and Rand. Reason led him to the philosophy of liberty, and now he cannot get enough.