Freedom

What is the connection between antimodernism and freedom? Should we just assume that antimodernists would favour constraint rather than freedom? Is there are a necessary connection between authoritarianism and antimodernism?

I would argue that the link between antimodernism and freedom is not a straightforward one. As I will show, antimodernists cannot properly speaking be individualists. But this does not mean that they are always or even necessarily authoritarian. Freedom is one the main poles around which much of social thought is founded, the other being the idea of equality. However, we can suggest that while this is an important relation, it is a modernist one and does not allow much space for conservative ideas. A conservative would more naturally put freedom up against the idea of authority. For the conservative, any society can only operate if there is a stable social order. I would suggest that most, if not all, antimodernists would concur with this view and place authority above both freedom and equality. If there is no order, no framework in which individuals can act, then there can be no freedom. Freedom can only exist if there are constraints on freedom. Each individual must expect constraints on their freedom to act to allow others to act as they choose to.

We might argue that freedom is an important element in any social order, and most antimodernists would doubtless agree with this. We should be free to choose how we live our lives. But this freedom can only be sustained if there is a stable social order, and so the antimodernist is likely to place greater emphasis on those elements that create and maintain that order. This means that they will tend to be concerned as much with the constraints on freedom as its expression.

The pre-eminence of freedom in social thought is often justified on the grounds that social facts can only be created by the acts of individual actors. Methodological individualists, such as Ludwig Von Mises, argue that there is nothing other than human action. A society is nothing more than the accumulation of human actions.

The problem with this view from an antimodernist perspective is that it will tend to place greater emphasis on current actions rather than those that might have taken place one, ten or even a hundred years ago. It suggests that all human actions are alike and so the actions we take now are as consequent as those of the past. Yet an antimodernist cannot accept this. They will concern themselves with the traditions and customs of a society, and this will naturally lead them to the question of how citizens have been made by these traditions. Individual actors cannot make themselves out of nothing. They can only act within a particular context. This, of course, does not disprove the idea of methodological individualism, but it might suggest that we should focus on the context as much, if not more, than the actions themselves. It is the context which both contains and constraints the actions of the present. It informs us that the actions of an individual actor are heavily constrained, and, furthermore, this is entirely as it should be as no actions are possible without the context.

A more positive way of describing the importance of constraint is to speak in terms of responsibility. We should argue that freedom can only be guaranteed when we all take responsibility for our actions and our behaviour towards others. This allows us to question the consequences of freedom but in a manner that does not denigrate the importance of the individual moral agent. It will allow an antimodernist to defend the idea of individual freedom, but in a manner that locates this freedom within the context of a wider social order. It will mean that instead of focusing on the ‘right’ to indulge in hard drugs it will focus on the effect that this might have on the individual and those around them. Instead of the right to bear arms it will focus on the damage that guns can do to others. In other words, this concern for responsibility and constraint demonstrates that freedom is a double-sided concept: freedom can be taken, but it also has to be given.

So an antimodernist will not be against freedom. But they recognise that it can only exist by being limited. This is the only way of ensuring that liberty does not descend into license, and so allow the freedoms of the many to be protected from the ill-judged choices of the few.

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