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For numberless centuries society unquestioningly accepted the proposition that certain men were created to be slaves, whose natural function was to serve priests and kings, nobles and great lords, men of substance and property that were appointed slavemasters by almighty God. Further, this system was reinforced by the established doctrines that all men and women were owned, their minds by the church, their bodies by the state. This convenient situation was supported by a considerable body of authority, morals, religion, and philosophy
I. A Sword Is Drawn
Against this doctrine, some two hundred years ago, was openly raised the most astonishing heresy the world has ever known, the principle of liberalism. In essence, this principle stated that all men were created equal, and endowed with inalienable rights. The words inalienable rights mean rights which cannot be taken away, which belong to a man, as his birthright.
This principle apppealed to certain spirits, heretics, atheist and revolutionaries, and has since, in spite of the opposition of the majority of organized society, made some headway. As a doctrine, it has become so popular that it is rendered lip service by all the major states.
But it is still so distasteful to persons in authority and seeking authority that it is nowhere embodied as a fundamental law, and is continunously violated in letter and in spirit by every trick and expedient of bigotry and reaction. Further, absolutist and totalitarian groups of the most vicious nature use liberalism as a cloak under which they move to re-establish tyraants and extinguish the liberty of all opponents.
Thus religious groups seek to abrogate freedom of art, speech, and the press; reactionaries move to suppress labor, and communists to establish dictatorships, all in the name of freedom. Thus, because of the peculiar distinctions given to freedom by some of these camouflaged tyrants, it seems necessary to redefine freedom in terms in which it was understood by that depraved cynic Voltaire, the dirty atheist Paine, the traitor Washington, the radical revolutionary Jefferson, and the anarchist Emerson.
Freedon is a two-edged sword of which one edge is liberty and the other responsibility, on which both edges are exceedingly sharp; and which is not easily handled by casual, cowardly or treacherous hands. For it has been sharpened by many conflicts, tempered in many fires, quenched by much blood, and although it is always ready for the use of the courageous and high-hearted, it will not remain when the spirit that forged it is gone.
Now since all tyrannies are based on dogma, that is, on fundamental statements of absolute fact, and since all dogmas are based on lies, it behooves us first to seek for truth, and freedom will not be far away. And the truth is that we know nothing.
Objectively, we know nothing at all. Any system of intellectual thought, whether it be science, logic, religion, or philosophy, is based on certain fundamental ideas or axioms which are assumed, but which cannot be proved. This is the grave of all positivism.
We assume, but we do not know, that there is a real and objective world outside our own mind. Ultimately, we do not know what we are, or what the world is. Further, if there is a real world apart from ourselves, we cannot know what that is; all we know is what we perceive it to be.
All that we perceive is conveyed by our senses and interpreted by our brain. And however fine, exact, or delicate our instruments may be, they are still perceived by these senses and interpreted by that brain. However useful, spectacular, or necessary our ideas and experiments may be, they still have nothing to do with absolute truth or authority. Such a thing can only exist for the individual, according to his whim or fancy, or his inner perception of his own truth in being.
The witches and devils of the middle ages were real by our own standards; all reputable and respectable persons believed in them. They were seen, their effects observed, and they perfectly accounted for a large body of otherwise inexplicable phenomena. Their existence was accepted without question by the majority of men, great and humble, and from this majority there was not, and still is not, any appeal.
Yet we do not believe in these things today. We believe in other things, similarly explaining the same phenomena. Tomorrow we will believe in still other things. We believe, but we do not know.
All our deductions, for example the theories of gravitation, are based on observed statistics; on tendencies observed to occur in a certain way. But even if our observations are correct, we do not know why these things happen, or if they have always done so, or that they will continue to do so. All our theories are only assumptions, however reasonable they may seem.
There is a sort of truth, based on experience; we know that we feel hot, or hungry, or in love. But these feelings cannot by any means be conveyed to anyone who has not experienced them. We can describe them in terms of other things familiar to him, we can analyze their cause-and-effect according to mutually acceptable theories. But he will not have the vaguest idea of what the feeling is like.
These may be very negative considerations, but within their limits we can deduce very positive principles.
1. Whatever the universe is, we are wither all or part of it, by virtue of our consciousness. But we do not know which.
2. No philosophy, theory, religion, or system of thought can be absolute and infallible. They are relative only. One man's opinion is just as good as another's.