November 10th, 2009


a slogan for two anniversaries

     Ἡράκλειτος τὸ ἀντίξουν συμφέρον καὶ ἐκ τῶν διαφερόντων καλλίστην ἁρμονίαν καὶ πάντα κατ᾽ ἔριν γίνεσθαι: ἐξ ἐναντίας δὲ τούτοις ἄλλοι
Heracleitus says, ‘Opposition unites,’ and ‘The fairest harmony springs from difference,’ and ‘'Tis strife that makes the world go on.’
—Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1155b1-6, translated by J. Bywater
Thirty-three years ago the author of these screeds walked free after serving a fifteen day sentence for petty hooliganism with twenty-two codefendants, counting among the first Soviet political protesters to get away with a slap on the wrist. The Berlin Wall came down thirteen years later, to the day. Coincidence? You decide.

Meanwhile, the philosophy of freedom is making giant strides in Russia. On 18 April 2009, Vadim Karastelev, head of the local Human Rights Committee, protested the curfew forbidding anyone under 18 years of age from appearing in the streets of Krasnodar region by displaying a sign with the slogan “Freedom is not given, it is taken”, a paraphrase of an analogous quotation about rights taken from a play by Maxim Gorky:
Прав—не дают, права—берут… Человек должен сам себе завоевать права, если не хочет быть раздавленным грудой обязанностей…
Rights aren’t given, rights are taken… Man must fight to win his rights if he doesn’t want to be crushed by a mountain of duties…
Herewith the expert philosophical analysis rendered in connection with his public display: Collapse ) Vadim Karastelev’s slogan echoes the combative demon of Charles Baudelaire:
Celui-là seul est l’égal d’un autre, qui le prouve, et celui-là seul est digne de la liberté, qui sait la conquérir.
Only he is the equal of another, who proves it, and only he is worthy of liberty, who can conquer it.
In his turn, Baudelaire drew upon Goethe’s Faust calling for free humanity jointly creating universal welfare in a free society:
Ja! diesem Sinne bin ich ganz ergeben, 
das ist der Weisheit letzter Schluß: 
Nur der verdient sich Freiheit wie das Leben,
der täglich sie erobern muß.
This is the final product of my strife,
The greatest wisdom mankind ever knew:
He only earns his freedom and his life, 
Who boldly conquers them each day anew.
The Faustian maxim is infinitely malleable, lending itself as the populist motto for the National Socialism of Alfred Rosenberg, the Marxism of Ernst Thälmann, and the dissident humanism of Andrei Sakharov. May it serve as the battle cry for the advent of freedom in Russia.