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            Is freedom possible? The answer to this question has occupied the minds of brilliant thinkers and generated heavy volumes of enlightened discourse. Opinions vary from the absolute determinism of some religious movements, to the proponents of ultimate free-will who reject the influence of birth and breeding on our character.

            Freedom is a word, but words have as many meanings as the people who use them. You must be precise, said Confucius, 25 centuries ago, if names are incorrect, the language will not be in agreement with reality. 

            Let us consider physical freedom, the opposite of slavery. Our age has generally expurgated this shameful practice, and human slavery subsists now only in a few isolated regions of backward societies. However, before we congratulate ourselves on our progress, let us think of the millions of people who have no possibility to get an education, who receive no medical care, who do not know, every night, whether they will have something to eat the next day. Is that not a form of slavery, disguised perhaps, but no less immoral and denigrating? Are not the children forced into prostitution equivalent to the slaves of old? Chains, though invisible, are no less strong.

            Then, we have political freedom, freedom of association, religious freedom, and freedom of work, the capacity to look for the occupation most suitable to one's capacity and wishes.

            In fact, we are dealing with a conglomerate of freedoms that are related and interlocked. No political freedom can exist without freedom of the press, of association, free elections, and so forth.

            From this standpoint, our global situation is quite gloomy. Thinking in terms of numbers, I fear that the millions of people who do not enjoy such freedoms greatly surpass the numbers of those who do.

            But let us examine the concept of freedom itself. I already mentioned some aspects, but let me make clear why absolute freedom is unfeasible in many cases.

Freedom of work, for instance.  Can anybody hang a sign on his door, call himself a physician, and start practicing medicine without having studied and received a license from a qualified body? Can a man take the controls of an airplane and take off without filling certain requisites? In fact, almost any occupation we can think of requires some prerequisites, education, examinations, training, licensing, etc. All these are restrictions, no doubt about it, but they are necessary in any organized society, all the more so in our industrialized world.

Or take freedom of the press, a subject so obscured by slogans and ideological blinders that I hate going into it. Yet, keeping away from the legal issues, I believe the ethical issues involved are the most important. Perhaps it's legal to publish manuals on how to build bombs, or to promote the joys of rape, but is it moral? I know, this gets into the controversy of freedom of expression, but as rational beings, should we not feel obliged to follow the Golden Rule?

Is it licit for a newspaper to print lies? There are laws about it, but everybody knows how hard it is to prove a crime in this area. Clearly, this freedom also has limitations, and if they do not exist legally, they do exist morally. As Edmund Burke wrote: "What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils, for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint."

Even freedom of religion is not exempt from moral quandaries. Is it acceptable for parents to refuse medical attention to a child, based on their religious beliefs? If a certain religion decrees the death penalty for a given offense, and this is the actual practice in some countries, should we acquiesce to its execution in our own country?

Let us accept, then, that every freedom must be practiced within the boundaries of social order. And this is precisely the crux of the matter, how to find the golden middle path between slavery and chaos. The writer Albert Camus commented once that absolute freedom mocks justice, and absolute justice denies freedom.

In the end, personal freedom depends on the individual no less than on the society where he lives. I quote Camus again: "Liberty – he wrote – is no more than a possibility to be better."

But we must be careful; as Ernest Benn observed, freedom often consist in being free from those things we don't like, to become slaves to those we like. Who is free? asked Horace, and he answered: "the wise man who can control his passions".

That is the foundation of all freedom, control over oneself, and development of one's possibilities. The tyrant may control the body, but the mind is inviolate, except if – as George Orwell described so well in his prophetic book 1984 – language becomes so distorted and confused, that rational thought becomes impossible.

The present means of communication have gained such power over language and the presentation of reality, that language, the indispensable tool for thought, has been poisoned and ravished. The worst dictatorships call themselves "Democracies", and the media slavishly acquiesces. Terrorists are called "militants" or "freedom fighters", victims and criminals are considered equally worthy of consideration, and corruption in high places no longer surprises anyone. Polling is called "elections" even when there is only one candidate. The "Peace camp" often represents the proponents of appeasement and surrender, which leads inevitably to war. "War is Peace". Orwell's imaginary Newspeak has become our reality.

Does all this concern us as Masons? It should. Did not freedom concern Washington, Bolivar, Garibaldi? Did they fight for personal advantage, or to release their peoples from the bondage of oppressive rulers?

Two centuries ago, Goethe observed that freedom is only deserved by those who know how to conquer it day to day.

Freedom of conscience, or of thought, requires another condition, very important from our Masonic point of view, and that is, to be free from dogmatic principles. Freedom of thought is precisely what allows the evolution and improvement of the individual.

Defending liberty for all within ethical limits, acting in the spirit of Kant's "categorical imperative", we shall contribute to defend our personal freedom and also to support the spirit of liberty worldwide.