Open main menu

Page:Earth-Hunger and Other Essays.djvu/165

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
139
WHO IS FREE?

forces of nature very well, outside of that certain range everything in nature is a terror to him. His mythology bears witness to this. The civilized man is light and careless, or even merry in the face of nature, because he understands her so well; when nature, however, puts on her terrors or her mysteries, we quickly lose our spirits and come to feel our insignificance. Men to whom nature is always terrible or mysterious never win freedom in dealing with her.

The struggle of man to win his existence from nature is one which he begins with no advantages at all, but utterly naked and empty-handed. He has everything to conquer. Evidently it is only by his achievements that he can emancipate himself from the difficulties of his situation. His position, instead of furnishing a notion of liberty, furnishes an ideal of non-liberty; and liberty, instead of being a status at the beginning of civilization, appears rather to be a description of the sense and significance of civilization itself; that is, civilization has given us a measure of emancipation from the unlimited constraint and oppression under which mankind began.

Disease and old age are the most pitiless hardships of life, the ones in the face of which liberty is the greatest mockery. Even against these civilization has given us a great enlargement, but the savage man is helpless against them; old age comes on very early for him, on account of all the other hardships of his condition. The killing of old people by their children among savage tribes seems to us inexpressibly shocking, but this custom means something very different from the selfishness of the young; it testifies to the fact that the first liberty of all, the liberty to exist, becomes an unendurable burden to the savage man when he becomes old.