WARSAW: Before 1989, if anyone asked me what we Poles were striking and struggling for, the answer would have been so simple -- freedom. No shadings, no caveats, just freedom. Some of us had read Isaiah Berlin's famous essays on liberty and the philosophical writings of Charles Taylor. Some of us, of course, were aware of Berlin's distinction between "negative" and "positive" freedom. Yet it crossed few if any of our minds that the difference between the two would shape the course of our lives as free people.
Transition from a closed to free society, however, gives proof, if any is needed, that political philosophy is more relevant to political practice than people imagine.
Negative freedom was the easy part. We abolished censorship; so, too, the midnight knock at the door. Everyone has a right to travel abroad; no one is persecuted because of his or her beliefs. But somehow we no longer want to read the very books that our struggles freed from the censor's imprisoning mind. Few people have money for foreign travel and fewer still, even if the churches are full, have any kind of real faith. We are free, but what are we to do with this freedom except dream of riches?
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