Monday, June 15, 2015

Promiscuous Freedom and Enslavement

“… promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption …”

[Originally presented April 11, 2014]
Imagine yourself sitting in the center row of a darkened theatre, in an evening performance of a show entitled Cabaret. Tonight’s offering is a musical, and yet it is a musical unlike most others. It’s almost entirely devoid of the kind of cheerfulness that is usually associated with that particular genre, focusing as it does on the excesses of the Weimar Republic in the days just before the outbreak of World War II. Such humor as the play has is heavily ironic, filled with innuendo, and ultimately black.

As you may recall, the government of the Weimar Republic was a notorious failure. Beset by massively complex political challenges, splintered by factions, weighed down with incompetence and undermined by corruption, the Weimar administration dragged Germany through a period of widespread economic, social and political debasement. This debasement was felt on many levels, from the heads of state all the way down to the social conditions and private lives of the citizens. Cabaret revels in some of the more unsavoury aspects of this society, which became truly sick with sin. Using the metaphor of the infamous cabaret shows of the ’30s, the play follows one society’s decline into unrestrained individualism, indulgence and debauchery.

In the two hours in which you have been in the theatre you have been dragged through the bowels of German interbellum night-life.

At first the characters were amusing and the songs were light; but as the play has progressed the tone has continually declined toward baseness and obscenity, moving from drunkenness and prostitution into transvestitism, homosexuality and sexual obsession. By this point, all the characters have been drained of personal integrity, and all have in some way or another sold out in order to stay immersed in their dark and libertine world. Moral touchpoints have long ago been left behind, and there seems no way out of the sordid morass of cabaret life. At this point in the play, a blue light suffuses the center of the stage, under which a tangled mass of humanity writhes its limbs in a final dance of debauchery and death.

Suddenly, above and behind, a bright, white light pierces the darkness. Bathed in its glow is a young man, standing firm and square-shouldered. He is clean-cut and blonde, clad in a white shirt and lederhosen. His eyes are not on the vileness below him, but instead are raised to the heavens. Then a clarion voice cuts the air, as the young man pounds out the opening line of a German anthem.

The welter of humanity below is awe-struck. All eyes turn to this paragon of Teutonic virtue, as he intones the words of his song, “… the future belongs to me!” There, in stark contrast, you see the appeal of German nationalism to a sin-sick Weimar world. The young man seems to embody all the purity, all the strength and all the hope which the characters have surrendered in their mindless search for self-gratification. Here at last they think they see purity and light. Here at last is a cause to believe in, a way of retrieving the integrity they have lost. They follow the young man, drawn moth-like to his light.

Of course we know what happened in the real world after this.

The man that closed the cabarets and ran the pimps, whores and homosexuals out of town; that ended the Weimar government and restored order; that brought back German national pride and imposed a new order and sense of mission was Adolph Hitler. Millions of innocents would soon fall at his hands. With his so-called “Aryan virtue” he would tear the world and drag his people into ruin. He would establish the most elaborate machinery of cruelty and murder that the world has yet known, and he would leave behind him a legacy of hatred and death.

But in Cabaret we see the attractiveness of totalitarianism when morality has been lost, when self-indulgence and human wickedness have been allowed free course, and when the individual has become cut off from objective values of any kind.

In the absence of water, any dirty puddle looks thirst-quenching. In the absence of purity, decency and self-respect, even membership in a totalitarian organization looks inviting.

* * *

Today we hear plenty about ‘freedom’. Everybody’s entitled to it, we’re told. There are freedoms of speech, freedoms of movement, freedoms of the press, free elections, freedom from harassment, freedom of choice, sexual freedoms, reproductive freedoms, and so on. But let us listen to the wise words of those prophets of our day, Devo, who wrote,
“Freedom of choice / Is what you got /
Freedom from choice / Is what you want.”
Freedom only makes sense if it’s used for good things. The freedom to die in a ditch isn’t much of a freedom. Neither is the freedom to be promiscuous, the freedom from all social constraints, the freedom from being loved or being loveable, or the freedom from truth, wisdom or morality. Freedom is not just ‘from’, but always ‘to’ as well; and if the ‘to’ isn’t good, then the freedom isn’t good either.

Total freedom is terrifying. It means having no laws, rules or obligations. It means never knowing where you are, or what is expected of you. It means never knowing if you are a good or bad person, and whether you’re going to Heaven, Hell, or the dustbin of history. It means having no sense of trajectory or purpose at all, and having to make everything up yourself, all the while knowing it’s a lie because you made it up yourself. It is the ultimate terror, the ultimate loneliness and the ultimate emptiness. No wonder the Existentialist philosophers called it the Absurd’.

No one really wants that. And if freedom leads to it, we don’t want freedom either. Suddenly we want rules, order, meaning and purpose at all costs. So we cling to whatever seems to restore order to our shattered world. And having abandoned our freedoms once, we will not go back. We will not admit we were wrong, or that the new certainties we have embraced are the wrong ones. This is human nature.

The great secret our modern age is yet to discover is this: libertinism isn’t liberty. It’s enslavement. First, it’s enslavement to our own perverted inclinations which should have been restrained by laws and principles we denied; and then it’s the total surrender of our freedoms to some new authority that promises us a way forward’ without repentance. This is why the most fanatical of all people is the ideological liberal — he (or she) is utterly convinced he is on the side of freedom, and is utterly contemptuous of and ruthless toward all who oppose his social improvement ambitions. No one capitulates more credulously to authoritarianism than the ‘reformed’ libertine.

It is no use. Evil does not respect the human ambition for freedom. It takes that impulse as an opportunity to enslave; first to one’s own habits, and then to evil itself. Be careful of ersatz freedom, then. You can believe yourself free’, only to find yourself in the grip of slavery so total that you cannot even see it is slavery, one that enchains not just the body but the mind itself.

Freedom to know God and do His will is freedom indeed. But freedom from God is no freedom at all. 

And know this for certain: that eventually the Devil devours all his children.

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