Freedom, our highest value? – Reading from „Radical Enlightenment“ A.E. Freier



Freedom, our highest value?

Descartes, Spinoza, Rousseau and Kant and all the other great thinkers and philosophers of the European Enlightenment have one principle in common (and thus central to Enlightenment thought): the self-determination of humans. Man has a „natural right“, a human right, which is laid in his cradle, so to speak. Humans are born with a free will and thus have the natural right to make their own decisions and to decide about themselves.

Kant, in his essay „Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?“(3), summarized the idea of enlightenment with „Have courage to use your own mind.“ together. The idea of independence from the church, authorities, and monarchs has been central to every modern, bourgeois society since.

Unlike modernity, which is a purely social, European product, the Enlightenment seems to be a process of universal emancipation inherent in all humanity. Freedom is not negotiable. Freedom is a human right.

Unlike freedom, immaturity is not a law of nature; immaturity must be acquired. Since antiquity, thinking humans have asked themselves why it is possible that the few can always rise above the many and impose their will on them. For the many it would be easy to send the monarch or the lord packing.

Besides apathy, it is always fear that keeps humans in bondage. Fear of the unknown, fear of the enemy, of diseases, plagues, God or demons. All these fears are anti-Enlightenment because they always aim at an irrational core. The European Enlightenment opposed irrationalism with empirical, rational thinking that can describe all phenomena recognizable on earth as a sequence of cause and effect. This means that everything in the end becomes investigable, categorizable and thus explainable. Fear has no place there and can only be part of the individual experience, but has no universal value.

Rationalism, as shown above, is by no means unchallenged. But all our modern, high-tech industrial societies are based on the knowledge that every effect also has a cause.

But is this still true in our time? Is it desirable for the individual to decide freely? In the face of the threats of the coming epoch? In the face of global warming, epidemics and unmanageable conflicts? Is not a pre-Enlightenment dualism, a clear division into good and evil, much better suited to the challenge of the future than a free will that will ultimately push us into ruin?

This view of the world is strongly prevalent at the beginning of the 21st century. Nietzsche calls it, not without reason, slave morality. A simplistic moral determinism that can explain the world with a simple good/evil concept is reactionary in any case. Many of the contemporary proponents of this ideological dualism do not consider themselves part of the reaction at all, but as pioneers of an unknown future. Significantly, this ideology includes a myth of new beginnings and the end of history. Consistently dualistic, the knowledge of mankind is categorized as „traditional knowledge“ and presented as outdated and unfit for the future. The question of whether children in Germany should still read Goethe’s Faust in school has already been raised.

If you think about it for a moment, it would be easy to notice that this kind of thinking calls for the end of reason and would bring a blush of shame to the face of even every irrational, religious idealist.

Why, especially now, when the world is facing enormous challenges, should history no longer apply? Did Jesus come back? Has a Mayan prophecy come true? Why should immaturity and conformity be guarantors for solving unprecedented social changes just now? Or is it not all the more important today to question things and come to a self-determined judgment?

Thanks to Hegel, we have been given an excellent (though admittedly difficult to use) tool to describe the world in its contradictory and confusing totality. The dialectic. This is our treasure, our great advantage. Never should we give it up. Especially not for a pre-stone-age, techno-gnostic dualism à la Silicon Valley, which tells us early via smartphone what is good or evil today.
Down with immaturity, up with freedom!

„Have the courage to use your own mind.“