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Katie van Schaijik

What freedom is not

Jul. 22, 2009, at 1:06pm

The July 6, 2009 issue of National Review includes a review by the excellent David Pryce-Jones of a new book about the demented and destructive sex life of Lord Byron.

Bertrand Russell, of all philosophers, pointed out that Byron’s concept of freedom was the same as that of a German prince or a Cherokee chief: the pleasure of doing as one pleases and not having to account for it.

Pryce-Jones ends the review with a melancholy reflection that Bryon’s notion of freedom has become mainstream.

Byron opened the way for men and women everywhere to indulge in whatever they like without moral judgment or acceptance of responsibility.  Conduct that was once offensive has become commonplace.  The outrage and destructiveness that surged around Byron have long dissolved into a sense that his poetry is a full and complete justification of the man.  Radical politics like his have become a standard intellectual property, and transgression in personal relations and matters of art is considered perfectly normal, altogether in the order of things.  Where once this singular English peer staggered the world by abusing the privileges of his class and his times, now innumerable demotic copycat Byrons feel born to opposition of their society, and they too have no idea that they are spoiled, abusing the very things that have protected them and made them what they are.

Contrast this notion of freedom with the Christian personalist notion, as expressed, for instance, in this article by John F. Crosby.


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