Ora sono ubriaco d'universo. (Ungaretti)

“The revolution is like a bicycle. When the wheels don’t turn, it falls.”

Read Persepolis. Thinking a lot about how delicate freedom is. The truth is that tyrannical attitudes are all around us. Fundamentally liberal and generous people are very rare. Out of all the people I know, the most naive is one who believes that his own very particular religious sect is completely liberal, generous, and has a spirituality like his that can be found in no other person anywhere else. I don’t know how to break it to him that if he and I are communicating well, maybe better than anyone else he knows, that he doesn’t really know what on earth he’s believing in.

It would be easy to make the argument that most people are just tyrants who disguise it. It’s not that simple. My naive friend’s problem is only a more exaggerated version of our own thinking. Everything seems great with the people we’re around. They can be trusted, right? Things are going well and they must really believe our shared freedoms are good. Of course not – they may not have the desire to make everyone else slaves, but if they think they know how to live life better than everyone else, they’re already one step away from imposing on others. The process by which one evaluates other contentions about what is good and puts forth evidence for his own seems to us obnoxious. Sometimes, it is. But it’s also key to showing respect to others and their situations and establishing a serious but fallible plan of action for oneself. That we don’t like to reason publicly shows we’re scared of having our values critiqued at all. We reserve the right to be right.

There are also those who just hate and are criminals and do resent the freedom of others. It’s important to note them because of an additional consideration. Is liberality or generosity the greatest good? For Aristotle, it wasn’t even the highest virtue: it pretty much was giving to others privately. Compared to things like justice and prudence, it has a lower status. One can be just or prudent and not really care at all about another’s freedom. We have to be allowed to think about the best way to live life and at times we do have to impose on others. We might actually be right about what is just, for example. Still: in a way, generosity is foundational: without it, no other virtues, no politics. One might be able to say that politics proper is learning to share and give. Tyranny is not only immoderate, but non-stop self-aggrandizement.

1 Comment

  1. Jean-Hubert Marchiproute de Lambidouille

    March 25, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    This quote is well-known in France and at least as old as the movie “Rabbi Jacob” from 1973. In the movie, the quote is attributed to Eddy Merckx (famous Belgian cyclist champion), and then to Che Guevara.

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