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From the Editors A Habit of Freedom

In Paul Goodman’s 1935 short story “The Boy Scouts of Westhampton,” a fictional group of scouts eagerly looks on as a rival troop takes part in make-believe war drills. Concerned by their interest, the scoutmaster describes how such play leads to false notions. When the battalion marches by carrying toy guns and gurneys, they do so with a dangerous lack of practical knowledge—“they don’t fight a real war, so they can’t get to see what it really is.” In their play, “they get used to the idea of war, just as if war were an ordinary thing.”

In Goodman’s view, the solution to dangerous make-believe is what he calls “the habit of freedom,” a state of activity in which we are “adequate to the problem—the material, the tools, and the art; actively absorbed, yet free.”[1]

An awareness of the drills that reinforce our own false notions is a good place to begin developing a habit of freedom today. So much of our material, tools, and art reinforce the virtual drills by which cultures of surveillance, secrecy, and warfare proliferate. We have gotten as used to participating in surveillance as we have to ongoing, low-intensity, borderless wars fought from consoles not unlike our own workstations.

A habit of freedom might meet this challenge by disrupting the inclination towards distraction and the encouraged tendency towards quiescent participation. It remains to be seen if we are adequate to the problem.


[1] Paul Goodman, “The Boy Scouts of Westhampton.” Radical Teacher 76 (2006). 24-32.

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