Novak on Three Concepts
Michael Novak on:
An excerpt from his essay on Personal Liberty:
In our time, alas, many people have come to think of human liberty as the ability to flow with their instincts, let go of restraint, and do what they feel like doing. Such people like to invoke animal images of their dream of liberty: They are “born free” like a lioness on the African plains or “free as a bird.” They look on animal nature as innocent and unrestrained, separated from social customs, traditions, mores, and moral rules imposed from outside the animals’ own instincts, urgings, and longings. Woody Allen very neatly expressed this sort of impulsiveness when he said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
But is this not a paradoxical claim? Some people claim to be compelled to follow instinct. They claim to have lost the liberty to persuade their hearts, lost all will to resist, lost all ability to do anything other than what the heart wants. We all know that pull of the heart. But true liberty demands that we open ourselves to other pulls and other persuasions, while listening to the calming voice of wisdom. Experience teaches us, in this way, that human liberty is not constituted by bondage to impulse, even to prolonged and seemingly irresistible impulse. Such bondage describes the liberty of wild animals, but it does not describe the liberty available only to the fully developed human animal—the free person.