Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lay Down a Life

Less politics today, more philosophy.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. - John Stewart Mill

A man who won't die for something is not fit to live. - Martin Luther King Jr.

What do these quotes have in common? One is from a pacifist while the other is a justification for violent conflict, so how could they possibly say the same thing to me? They both firmly advocate a willingness to put one's life on the line for the defense of ideals or country. The main difference I can see is that Mill argues for the willingness to put a life on the line, be it mine or that of those who oppose me.

I think that contrasting Mill's statement with Dr. King's nonviolent approach reveals less of a logical difference than one might expect. They both advocate a willingness to lay down a life for the advancement of something larger than the individual; in both cases, that something larger happens to be the illusive concept of Liberty. The only difference is that the pacifist is constrained by ideology to that life only being his own, whereas Mill would argue that the choice to take a life includes that of the life of any who threaten the collective liberty of the people, not just one's own.

I'm not trying to advocate anything today. I just think that people need to be reminded that hardship is not the same as sacrifice and that allowing one's liberty to be infringed, even if one is kicking and screaming about it, is still capitulation.

1 comment:

  1. I'd say they're even closer than that: I read Mills as saying that you have to be prepared to die for your cause - even if it would be better served by making someone else die for the cause than yourself. The willingness to die for your cause is a common thread in both statements.