Liberty and Liberation

By Scruton, Roger | The American Spectator, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview

Liberty and Liberation

Scruton, Roger, The American Spectator

The first doesn't stand a chance under a regime of the latter.

WRITING IN THIS ISSUE, Christina Sommers draws our attention to the way in which women's liberty enters into conflict with women's "liberation." She quotes the telling remarks of Simone de Beauvoir, sainted leader of the feminist movement, who wished to deny women their fundamental freedom-the freedom to stay at home. Women's liberation in our day has, it seems, advocated the liberty of women to be themselves, but not to be women. The "self that is hidden in every woman, and which the feminists wish to free from its prison, turns out to be a man.

If we look back over the history of the radical movements that have shaped modern political thinking and teaching, we find that the advocates of liberation have almost invariably ended by promoting the oppression of those whom they promised to liberate. It began at the French Revolution, so naively praised by Mary Wollstonecraft for its empty promise of liberty and equality and for its unthinking assumption that these two goals could be easily combined. Within two years of seizing power on behalf of the people, the Revolutionaries had stuffed the jails of France with half a million of those very people. The Revolutionary Tribunals, established to promote the cause of liberty and "the rights of man," allowed to the accused no right of defense and appointed the prosecutor as both judge and jury. The people of La Vendée-who had begged in vain for their ancient liberty to worship God as they chose-became the target of the first systematic genocide in modern history, in which 800,000 people perished. And France had declared war on just about all its neighbors.

The interesting thing is that radical thinkers and politicians took no lesson from these events. Burke, who had insightfully warned against what was bound to happen, became the target of Tom Paine's Rights of Man, in which the Revolution was defended in the same self-indulgent terms as it had announced itself. Paine even became a member of the Revolutionary Assemblée Nationale, only to be arrested and imprisoned by the Revolutionaries. His fate made no difference to his opinions, and the pity is that his head was not cut off with those opinions still inside it before they spread across the civilized world.

The socialist movement began in earnest in the mid-19th century with the same tendency. Workers were promised "liberation," while capitalism was portrayed as a system of oppression in which the few benefited at the expense of the many. All that was necessary to rid the world of injustice, according to the socialists, was for the oppressed to unite against their oppressors. As the Communist Manifesto famously expressed it, they had "nothing to lose but their chains." And yet, in every instance so far observed, the liberation of the workers from capitalism has been followed immediately by their imprisonment by the state. The wars of "liberation" from colonial "oppression" in Asia and Africa have had the same effect. It may be politically incorrect to say it, but it is nevertheless true that the people of Zimbabwe were free under British colonial jurisdiction in a way that they are not free today-and that the same is true of almost all those African peoples who had the good fortune to be part of the British Empire.

THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT EXHIBITS the same tendency. Advocates of "liberation" like Simone de Beauvoir are secretly seeking control-control of society, and also control of women as a part of it. They are not offended so much by the sight of the ordinary housewife at home with her children as by the thought that, if you grant women the choice, this is the life that so many of them would choose. They want women to be free to choose, but only so long as they choose the life-style of a Beauvoir. In the end it is not freedom that they are advocating, but a change in human nature. It is hardly surprising, therefore, if the Marxist idea of emancipation led in due course to Stalin's cult of the "new socialist man"-the man who would freely choose the life of slavery and privation fashioned in the Soviet Union. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Liberty and Liberation


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.