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Book Review: The Freedom Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson

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Tom Hodgkinson's Freedom Manifesto is premised on a simple truth: "when you embrace Lady Liberty, life becomes easier, cheaper, and much more fun."

"The Western world has allowed freedom, merriment, and responsibility to be taken from it, from ourselves, and substituted with greed, competition, lonely striving, greyness, debts, McDonald's, and GlaxoSmithKline," Hodgkinson laments. "The comfort age offers many comforts but few freedoms."

But freedom doesn't come free in Hodgkinson's Weltanschauung. To be free from society, one must also cease to care about the things that the average person drives himself stir-crazy about. To take control of one's self, one must not only free themselves from the snares of others, but rather unplug from the system entirely.

These ideas won't get much of an audience with political-types who would rather be "right" than be happy. The true politico can't keep his hands out of the cookie jar. "Let's just tax it." "People should be forced to recycle." "There should be a law." You name the issue, and political busybodies abound on both sides of it to tell us how and what we should think — and the really good ones actually pass those laws.

So, a necessary element of anyone's freedom manifesto must be a divorce from the State's tentacles. Indeed, any freedom manifesto of the Hodgkinson variety requires that one withdraw from the world of politics, as any good anarcho-libertarian must.

This is, coincidentally, the exact reason that political libertarianism never gets anywhere. The small-l libertarian doesn't want to make decisions or laws that bind his fellow man; but anyone who's interested in politics deeply desires to make these decisions and has more than likely sacrificed years of time and energy (let's not forget money) to be in just such a position. Any good politician hopes to increase and consolidate his power. But Libertarians don't seek power; they seek to eliminate it, at least as far as the state is concerned.

Capital-l Libertarians are the political equivalent of "Buy Nothing Day;" they prove the failure of selling nothing. It comes as a shock to almost no one that an anti-State, anti-social control movement would run a disorganized and scattershot political party, too, and that anyone watching would have pause about letting those people run the country.

The strongest planks of Hodgkinson's Freedom Manifesto are the dual admonitions to "stop consuming" and "start producing." My intellectual formulation of production-as-value came during a recent argument with a friend. According to my friend — really, acquaintance — men who don't spend at least some time reading fashion magazines and following the trends are lost, socially-dead-in-the-water.

This is a man who spends entire days going to the park and people-watching with the sole intent of pointing out the "fashion victims" in his midst.

At first glance, his argument seemed to have some merit. Then I considered the things he wasn't saying. He wasn't saying, "learn the fashions to develop your own style." He was instead saying, "anyone who doesn't read what I read is in some sense lost."

Then I thought about the people who write fashion magazines — and why my friend, the self-styled fashionisto, wasn't one of them. It struck me odd that someone who's done little more than buy clothes with other peoples' money — whether his parents' or the credit card companies' — and contributed nothing to the fashion world could look down on others, that is, until I started writing more and feeling the rush that comes with production and being published.

And I started to think about producers, like the many authors I've met in my short time in Washington, D.C., who despite their fame and fortune give of their time and knowledge as freely as they can manage. Almost as if they're humbled by the fame, because they can still remember the days of rejection letters.

Besides, anyone who's studied a subject in-depth understands precisely how little he knows about that subject and, by extension, the world around him. And anyone who ventures to do something worthwhile has likely run into his share of difficulty, not least of which is the chorus of negative people never too busy to express skepticism or voice doubt. Editors don't publish everything writers write; audiences don't like every movie that was once the brainchild of a brilliant director. Oddly enough, the men who have been productive had a healthier outlook on the shortcomings of others (if everyone wanted to do original research, there'd be no market for books because people would be writing, not reading).

My friend, like many people, has fallen victim to the all-too-American consumption trap; he feels better about himself when consuming than when not, and feels haughty about what he consumes and others don't. His self-image depends not on the beauty he adds to the world, but the beauty he takes (read: buys) from it.

This is why the guy reading the book at the coffee shop turns his nose up at the people "just" reading magazines. It's also why the guy who wrote the book is oftentimes more humble and ready to admit his ignorance than the man reading it. We have been trained to think as consumers for so long that we only value production to the extent it furthers one's ability to consume. As a society, we admire the car that the author drives more than the book the author wrote. That's a direct function of consumerism, a consumerism whose clutches will no doubt be weaker if Hodgkinson's Freedom Manifesto takes hold.

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About James David Dickson

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