Firstly Aristotle writes on vain fools and their aspirations in the Nicomachean Ethics.
But vain men are fools as well as ignorant of themselves, and make this plain to all the world; for, not doubting their worth, they undertake honourable offices, and presently stand convicted of incapacity: they dress in fine clothes and put on fine airs and so on; they wish everybody to know of their good fortune; they talk about themselves, as if that were the way to honour.
The object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, not watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.
In order to establish my point, I start from the natural rights of the individual, which are co-extensive with his desires and power, and from the fact that no one is bound to live as another pleases, but is the guardian of his own liberty.
Thirdly, Charles Dickens writes on the exhilarating effects of liberty in Martin Chuzzlewit.
He had his moments of depression and anxiety, and they were, with good reason, pretty numerous; but still, it was wonderfully pleasant to reflect that he was his own master, and could plan and scheme for himself. It was startling, thrilling, vast, difficult to understand; it was a stupendous truth, teeming with responsibility and self-distrust; but in spite of all his cares, it gave a curious relish to the viands at the Inn, and interposed a dreamy haze between him and his prospects, in which they sometimes showed to magical advantage.
Fourthly, Aldous Huxley writes on our lack of collective wisdom in The Olive Tree.
The peoples of the West no longer share a literature and a system of ancient wisdom. All that they now have in common is science and information.
So there are vain fools who seek and attain public office, the true aim of government is liberty, which is an exhilarating experience, but in the West, we’ve forgotten the ancient wisdom to keep us on the right track.
Yet these simple, easily expressed ideas have a habit of failing to gain traction, don’t they? It was certainly true for Spinoza whose book was banned four years after publication.
Any one of us may easily add quotes of our own, but politically we don’t seem to learn from them do we? It’s almost as if we don’t want to know, or someone else doesn’t want us to know.
So maybe liberty is too dangerous for Aristotle’s vain fools. Maybe the business of prising people away from it explains all those lies, deceptions, distractions and endless complications we have to cope with.
After all, in general terms, liberty isn’t one of our more difficult concepts is it? It’s not as if we need experts to explain it to us. The vain fools though – they must surely be dealt with – one way or another.