Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), socialist revolutionary, once said: “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.” We should remember this in our times.
It’s always easy to be in favour of more rights for one’s own group. I am a refugee? More rights to refugees! I am a Christian? More rights to Christians! I am an atheist? Then atheists should be protected more.
In an age where everyone tries to silence everyone else who has a different opinion, it is worth remembering the words of a woman who spent her life (and came to death) fighting for what she believed: “Freedom is always the freedom to think otherwise,” Rosa Luxemburg, philosopher and social revolutionary, once wrote.
It is still a good yardstick with which to measure freedom. A country where only the government’s supporters enjoy freedoms, is not a free country. Every dictatorship caters to its lackeys. Freedom cannot be only the freedom to say what others want to hear. That’s flattery. Freedom, in its widest and truest sense, must always be the freedom to say what is unpopular, what I hate, what I don’t want to hear.
Luxemburg’s genius is in turning this insight around, to show us that creating a world of freedom is the responsibility of every single one of us: whenever I meet someone who thinks differently from myself… that’s the moment where I have a chance to change the world: to give freedom and room for expression to those I disagree with; or to suppress and silence dissent, shut up those who think differently, and thus destroy the freedom of all.
Every time we see an academic silenced, a speaker attacked, a reformer killed, a child put into a corner because it spoke up: That is the moment to remember Rosa Luxemburg’s undying words: Freedom is always the freedom to think otherwise. And every one of us has the power to grant that freedom or to destroy it.
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