Portentous Musings on Freedom and Fascism: E.B. White’s words, written in 1940, are equally apt in 2018

IMG_2742Most of us recall E. B. White (1899-1985) as the author of the classic children’s novels Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. However, White was also an accomplished nonfiction writer, and recently serendipity led me to his essay “Freedom.” Published in July 1940, “Freedom” was White’s warning about the totalitarian threat to democracy. While reading it, I was struck by how completely his words on Hitler and Nazism also describe Trump and the fascist danger we are facing in the U.S. right now. White’s message is beautiful and important, so I felt compelled to include some extensive excerpts here. His closing thoughts on freedom of the press ring with truth–and are especially poignant in light of the recent brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Please read…and then, vote, volunteer, be a beacon for love and kindness and help wherever you can.

“Freedom”

I have often noticed on my trips up to the city that people have recut their clothes to follow the fashion. On my last trip, however, it seemed to me that people had remodeled their ideas, too–taken in their convictions a little at the waist, shortened the sleeves of their resolve…I confess to a disturbed stomach. I feel sick when I find anyone adjusting his mind to the new tyranny which is succeeding abroad. Because of its fundamental strictures, fascism does not seem to me to admit of any compromise or any rationalization, and I resent the patronizing air of persons who find in my plain belief in freedom a sign of immaturity. If it is boyish to believe that a human being should live free, then I’ll gladly arrest my development…

Men are not merely annihilating themselves at a great rate these days, but they are telling one another enormous lies, grandiose fibs…They seemed to me to issue either from persons who could never have really come to grips with freedom so as to understand her, or from renegades. Where I expected to find indignation, I found paralysis, or a sort of dim acquiescence, as in a child who is duly swallowing a distasteful pill…

THE LEAST A MAN CAN DO AT SUCH A TIME IS DECLARE HIMSELF AND TELL WHERE HE STANDS. I believe in freedom with the same burning delight, the same faith, the same intense abandon which attended its birth on this continent more than a century and a half ago…I am in love with freedom and it is still an affair of long standing and it is a fine state to be in, and…I am deeply suspicious of people who are beginning to adjust to fascism and dictators…

To be free, in a planetary sense, is to feel that you belong to earth. To be free, in a social sense, is to feel at home in a democratic framework. In Adolph Hitler…we do not detect either type of sensibility. From reading his book I gather that his feeling for earth is not a sense of communion but a driving urge to prevail. His feeling for men is not that they coexist, but that they are capable of being arranged and standardized by a superior intellect–that their existence suggests not a fulfillment of their personalities but a submersion of their personalities in the common racial destiny. To him the ordinary man is a primitive, capable only of being used and led. He speaks continually of people as sheep, halfwits, and impudent fools–the same people from whom he asks the utmost in loyalty, and to whom he promises the ultimate in prizes.

Here in America, where our society is based on belief in the individual, not contempt for him, the free principle of life has a chance of surviving. I believe that it must and will survive…

I am inordinately proud these days of the quill, for it has shown itself historically, to be the hypodermic which inoculates men and keeps the germ of freedom always in circulation…These persons are feared by every tyrant–who shows his fear by burning the books and destroying the individuals. A writer goes about his task today with the extra satisfaction which comes from knowing that he will be the first to have his head lopped off–even before the political dandies. In my own case this is a double satisfaction, for if freedom were denied me by force of earthly circumstance, I am the same as dead and would infinitely prefer to go into fascism without my head than with it, having no use for it any more and not wishing to be saddled with so heavy an encumberance.

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