On Liberty

A summary offense

For once, a comment that has nothing to do with ancient history, but everything with politics. The city where I am staying at the moment, Berlin, almost demands it. We were walking along the Friedrichstrasse to Checkpoint Charlie, when we heard some people singing. At first I believed they were football fans, but we soon discovered that it were people on a “beer bike”, a kind of riding pub that can be seen in other touristic cities as well. As long as the driver remains sober, nothing ought to go wrong, but in Amsterdam, we nevertheless had three people wounded last year.

Our beer cyclists were singing “Checkpoint Charlie, sha-la-lalala”, passed along us, down the Friedrichstrasse. People were staring at the drunkards, in disgust. At some point, the beer cyclists tried to turn around, which they couldn’t, blocking the traffic; some of them left the vehicle, pushed to get it moving again, and jumped in again. Shouting “Checkpoint Charlie, sha-la-lalala”, they cycled back again. Where are the VoPos when you need them?

My initial response was “that’s why they sent food supplies to Tempelhof, that’s why people risked their lifes, that’s why general Clay sent in the tanks, that’s why Kennedy declared to be a Berliner, that’s been the purpose of the Cold War: to pass along Checkpoint Charlie while drunk”. Second thought: “I may not like their taste, but these people live in a free country, and are free to sing in public”. It was much later that I remembered the maxim of classical liberalism: a person’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.

Next time, no political theory, but something about Antiquity again.


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