One of the prominent themes in Michael Oakeshott's work is the indissoluble enmeshment of freedom and unfreedom - that is the interwovenness of processes and states of affair that we would class with freedom and those we would attribute to unfreedom.
In Oakeshott's view both total freedom and total unfreedom are conceptual and factual impossibilities. There is rather a constant tug-of-war going on between freedom and unfreedom. In fact, I would widen the image by suggesting a vast areal with innumerable tugs-of-war matches going on at the same time. More: one cannot be without the other.
Freedom springs into life in opposition to unfreedom. Freedom creates countless incentives, occasions, and zones of freedom apt or designed to make us try out options that may turn out to produce problems of unfreedom.
Even people committed to freedom may have disparate ideas of freedom and hence differ in their perceptions of what belongs in the area of freedom and what in the opposite camp.
Liberals (throughout I use the term to mean European type of liberals) including libertarians, tend to underestimate the intricate patterns of neighborhood and mutual penetration of freedom and unfreedom, and their intrinsic concurrency.
I dare suggest that liberty without liberalism (in the European sense) is rather the rule rather than the exception -- a dramatic fact incredibly overlooked by liberals. That is to say, only tiny minorities have sufficient awareness of liberalism to act as conscious defenders and lovers of liberty - yet we live in enormously free countries. Why?
Liberty is so deeply seated in the institutions of our societies and our ways of human interaction that liberty can happen in a big way without people consciously seeking liberty. That's not the whole story, but a big part of it, and an almost totally overlooked aspect of the full narrative.
Important as it is, we must not only focus on violations of liberty and ignorance of her, we must also learn to see liberty where she is efficacious, even though in ways that may not be obvious. For instance, if you look at law and its practice more closely, you will find oceans of daily respect for liberty. Also, if you look more closely at what your political opponents believe in, you will often find a whole lot of attachment to liberty.
Stephen Holmes, a social democratic scholar of liberalism, provides an interesting piece on this important feature: The Liberal Idea. I do not concur with all of his claims and conclusions, but he does bring out some of the layers of liberal convictions in those who may not pass as thoroughbred liberals.
At A View from the Middle Border, Ed Stevens has yet another readable post: Burke and Paine ... Together Again. Ed discusses a book that investigates the birth and early years of the indissoluble twinning of freedom and unfreedom in the modern mind.
Tracing and appreciating this tradition, I feel, will be a more fruitful exercise than digging the trenches of incomprehension and indignation ever deeper that keep us politically apart from our contemporaries.
Actually, Laura Ebke, the hostess of our blog, has attracted me from the first moment back in 2007 by her ability to act as a principled lover of liberty, while being always prepared to and graciously capable of communicating with people who have different notions of liberty, as I did when I decided to become a contributor to RedStateEclectic rather than contributing to blogs closer to the views then held by me.
Laura Ebke strikes me as displaying the kind of sensitivity and realism that I meant to address in this post. I am proud to be associated with her.
Needless to say, none of my posts, including the present one, have ever been previewed, vetted, or coordinated in any form with her. But we did have the benefit of disagreements.