The Third Tower

This blog is my refuge – an intellectual refuge, so to speak. The title comes from Hungarian writer Antal Szerb, who wrote about his Italian travels in 1936 under this title. Szerb’s literal third tower is in San Marino, where you can see three towers (ubiquitous in Italy) on the mountain just above the city. (The towers shown at the header of this blog are in San Gimignano, Tuscany.)

Montale, the Third Tower of San Marino – from, under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

Montale, the Third Tower of San Marino – from, under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

Why a refuge, and why the Third Tower? Let me quote Szerb here:

“The third tower stands at a distance, in a remote corner of one of those mountains, on top of steep, insurmountable rocks on both sides. The city doesn’t reach up here, and as you walk along the ridge, you get dizzy by the height. […] There, right below the Third Tower, I came to understand my notorious anxiety: […] everywhere, through the entire journey, I had to deal with the happy Italian collectivism. I felt I had to protect my solitude from that, and the common European future it represented. I felt that my solitary happiness was threatened by their herd-like happiness, because they were stronger than me. […] I cannot share this happiness that I feel here at the foot of the Third Tower. Likewise, I’m unable to give myself up to anyone and anything, not to any government or any idea.”

(Disclaimer: I’ve quoted Szerb in my own translation, although there is a proper English translation. So, let me be true to the nature of a scholar, and recommend this book right away, available from Amazon here: Once I have a copy myself – currently, I have the Hungarian text only –, I’ll update the quote above.)

[Update: the copy arrived since, and I decided to share the updated quote in a separate post.]

We can feel freedom, we can feel when we are losing it, and we can dread the time when we are forced to give it up. But not all of us do that. Szerb wrote The Third Tower in the wake of the authoritarian governments in 20th-century Europe.

I live in Hungary, in the early 21st century, at a time after Hungarian voters gave up their freedom to a crude, collectivist form of democracy, which, while I’m writing this, is giving way to all-round authoritarianism.

I feel my freedom threatened. Isn’t that completely baseless? Here I sit in a country that is member of the European Union, I can travel, I can write and post this over the Internet, and no-one persecutes me for it. On the other hand, we’re facing a government that has had a two-thirds majority in Parliament since 2010, so they can do anything, literally anything to this country.

True, the present-day Hungarian government did take away a great many things, some of people’s property and rights, and also most legal checks and balances that are characteristic to a free and open society. But what frightens me is the premise: having two-thirds of the vote is power to take away freedom, property, and life, and thus it’s a threat in itself.

Hence my need for a refuge. A place where I can feel, and also express, that I have nothing to do with those who pursue and exploit this extreme power. A place where I can stand up for freedom that is too often taken for granted, and then, as a consequence, lost.

In 2010, and again in 2014, Hungarians voted against freedom in favor of safety. We did not understand the importance of freedom – we could not grasp how it is a basic value, and how safety and prosperity cannot exist without it. I lack this understanding myself. (I voted against the current government by feeling and by family tradition.) And I don’t think this lack of understanding is restricted to Hungary or Hungarians.

In this blog, I plan to explore freedom. I want to understand what it is, how and why it is a fundamental value. I also want to share the things I read and think, things that philosophers wrote, people experienced, and were forgotten.

I write this blog for those who want to study with me (and not from me). This blog fulfils its purpose if it helps readers formulate and clarify their thoughts about freedom. I don’t mean to educate: in most posts, I’ll share my own thoughts to elicit further thinking, feedback, and – yes – disagreement. (It is a great step ahead when you understand what you disagree with.) I also want to make this blog as accessible as possible (to myself as well), so I will aim at maximum clarity rather than scholarly precision.

One thought on “The Third Tower

  1. Pingback: Boundaries | The Third Tower

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