Toward larger freedom
Creativity consists of an individual’s ability to create. Insofar as the government cares at all about the society it manages, it may agree that creativity is essential to its own peaceful governance. Creativity can spur the formation of systems, the proliferation of goods and services, and the peaceful prosperity of people, which all ought to ensure the stability of the government and the perquisites of its officials. Creativity is best fostered in a society where the reins of constraint are loosely held by the government as in a mature democracy.
In the case of the writer, social reward freely given or withheld determines one’s influence on society. In such a society, a writer can only blame or praise the persuasiveness of one’s prose.
To focus on “the writer” would seem to imply that there is only one kind of writer. Not so. There are many kinds of writers—from the sublime to the ridiculous, so to speak. What then do I mean when I say “the writer”?
Admittedly, I will be arbitrary in selecting who I mean, in the sense that I’m concerned in this essay primarily with the scope and expansion of human freedom. Thus, the writer I mean is one who bothers the government. One may do so in an assertive sense (as when one deliberately challenges the government’s authority), or in a passive sense (by simply being what one is, or by simply saying and writing what one has been wont to say in all one’s writing life). How the government responds to this irritation almost completely defines itself as either a pseudo democracy or a mature democracy.
Police state. A police state is a political unit characterized by repressive government control of political, economic and social life through an arbitrary exercise of power by secret police in lieu of the regular operation of the government’s administrative and judicial organs according to known legal procedures.
In a pseudo democracy, the government’s response is repressive, and we need not belabor the range of cruelties of which human nature is capable. The terrorist police state is an ancient and enduring invention of man and it has a statistical record of longevity superior to almost all “free assembles of the people.”
Idi Amin’s regime lasted longer than most French republics. Papa Doc Duvalier ruled Haiti to his last breath. Joseph Stalin in a coma continued to hold in thrall 200 million Russians. Generalissimo Franco’s willed heir sat on the throne of Spain, and this is a good example of how dictatorial power can transcend death. Ferdinand Marcos ruled Filipinas for 20 years.
The historical truth is that centurions of Rome, janissaries of Turkey and Tonton Macoutes of Haiti have won and held more power over longer periods than officials freely elected by the people. This is backed by the evolutionary truth that the overwhelming mass of humanity constitutes a docile herd.
Let us not flatter ourselves that we are valiant above the average. It is of no record that no human wave of Filipinos drove out Spanish soldiers who, in no instance, exceeded 50,000 armed men, as against two or more million natives over a period of 375 years. That we could be ruled by sheer force, therefore, is a proposition I am logically bound to accept.
In a mature democracy, the government’s response is calibrated within the range of a “bill of rights,” and “due process,” in an overall context. These constitute real rights open to all its citizens as distinguished from their capricious and tyrannical allocation in a pseudo democracy.
Human freedom. In the works of T.H. Green and Hegel, the concept of freedom forms part of an elaborate political philosophy. For the individual, it consists of “the realization of an idea of protection in and by himself.” In his “Philosophy of Right” Hegel goes further: The standard of goodness or reason, the observance of which constitutes freedom, is to be found in the state. “The state in and by itself is the ethical whole, the actualization of freedom.” It has been argued that, since the individual finds his true self in the service of the state, in the case of disobedience he is forced to be free.
Although “freedom” has a strong laudatory emotive meaning, it is not always deemed good in itself; being one of several societal values, it must give way to other claims like equality, justice, or security.
In general, the writer comes to the attention of a pseudo democratic government in the area of human freedom whose tyrannical delimitation by the government is challenged by the writer. All kinds of permutations happen in such a situation.
In general, also, and since human freedom is a given, the writer comes to the attention of the mature democracy’s government only in two areas: where the writer creates a situation of sedition, and where the writer offends so-called generally accepted standards of morality, because the government of a mature democracy also maintains itself as the guardian of both public order and public morality.
In a pseudo democracy, then, the writer becomes a romanticized gladiator of the people in their yearnings to expand their human freedoms. In a mature democracy, on the other hand, the writer becomes a watchdog-conservator of the scope of its human freedom, because a government has the unfortunate tendency to keep expanding its control over the lives of its citizens.
The writer, as indeed almost anyone else, has the fine conceit of believing that he or she has a monopoly of truth, or the best perception. Correspondingly, so does the government, any government.
Moreover, a government has the standard of “law” and the might of the sword to reinforce its own fine conceit. Writers, so puny when ranged against such forces—particularly in pseudo democracies where the sword is wielded tyrannically—are not supposed to prevail. Astonishingly, they do. Not a particular writer, perhaps, but wave upon wave of them. Those broken and crushed are usually replaced, until, at last, a critical mass of popular support is reached. Then, a government is either forcibly overthrown or compelled to radically mend its ways.
In the area of human freedom, there is a constant flux, a swaying to and fro, between freedom and tyranny. As long as the focusing of popular power remains a determinant of predominance in this tension, the writer will continue to participate in the dynamics of history.
Foreseeing, from all we know of human nature and its exercise of political power and from the never-ending surge of human courage as well, the flux will continue. Thus, writers and all governments are locked in an eternal historical minuet.
Reynaldo V. Silvestre, former chief, Office of Strategic and Special Studies of the Armed Forces, is a retired army colonel, bemedaled officer and multiawarded writer. He belongs to Class 1968 of the UP Vanguard in Diliman, and taught political science at UP Manila when called to active duty.