The myth of freedom

tags: freedom, Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari is a historian and author of "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind." Thumbnail Image -  By Victorgrigas - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Should scholars serve the truth, even at the cost of social harmony? Should you expose a fiction even if that fiction sustains the social order? In writing my latest book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, I had to struggle with this dilemma with regard to liberalism.

On the one hand, I believe that the liberal story is flawed, that it does not tell the truth about humanity, and that in order to survive and flourish in the 21st century we need to go beyond it. On the other hand, at present the liberal story is still fundamental to the functioning of the global order. What’s more, liberalism is now attacked by religious and nationalist fanatics who believe in nostalgic fantasies that are far more dangerous and harmful.

So should I speak my mind openly, risking that my words could be taken out of context and used by demagogues and autocrats to further attack the liberal order? Or should I censor myself? It is a mark of illiberal regimes that they make free speech more difficult even outside their borders. Due to the spread of such regimes, it is becoming increasingly dangerous to think critically about the future of our species.

I eventually chose free discussion over self-censorship, thanks to my belief both in the strength of liberal democracy and in the necessity to revamp it. Liberalism’s great advantage over other ideologies is that it is flexible and undogmatic. It can sustain criticism better than any other social order. Indeed, it is the only social order that allows people to question even its own foundations. Liberalism has already survived three big crises – the first world war, the fascist challenge in the 1930s, and the communist challenge in the 1950s-70s. If you think liberalism is in trouble now, just remember how much worse things were in 1918, 1938 or 1968.

In 1968, liberal democracies seemed to be an endangered species, and even within their own borders they were rocked by riots, assassinations, terrorist attacks and fierce ideological battles. If you happened to be amid the riots in Washington on the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated, or in Paris in May 1968, or at the Democratic party’s convention in Chicago in August 1968, you might well have thought that the end was near. While Washington, Paris and Chicago were descending into chaos, Moscow and Leningrad were tranquil, and the Soviet system seemed destined to endure for ever. Yet 20 years later it was the Soviet system that collapsed. The clashes of the 1960s strengthened liberal democracy, while the stifling climate in the Soviet bloc presaged its demise. ...

Read entire article at The Guardian