The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony
In the case of Estonia, the role played by music in its own quest for sovereignty is noteworthy. As Theroux (2011, p. 5) notes: “Music is a big Estonian thing. In tea shops, in restaurants, on street walls, one constantly comes across fliers, sheets and handouts for concerts, pop shindigs, musikah, and shows for rock groups.” In my own time in Estonia, I would rarely walk down a street in Tallinn without hearing a musical group in rehearsal and I fondly recall the tradition at Tartu University of multiple choral groups singing across a ravine.
Music has meant much more than this in Estonia. Often called “the singing revolution”, the story of Estonian independence begins with the “illegal” singing of nationalist Estonian songs at a major song fest during the early 1990s. Without any violence, the Estonians softly but firmly asserted their national identity and demand for independence through their music and related art forms. I had the distinct honor of attending a concert at the Tallinn Symphony Hall that featured the music of Arvo Part (the noted Estonian composer), with the orchestra being conducted by Neeme Jarvi (the noted Estonian conductor). The concert hall was electric with the return of both the music of Part and the musical leadership of Jarvi. While many other factors contributed to the intermixing of hope and skepticism – and the sustained drove toward independence despite the skepticism—I witnessed not just the manifestation of Ironic courage but also one of its sources in the music of Estonia.
In bringing this essay on hope and skepticism to a close, I am left with hope that culture (and music) can provide the ironic blending of hope and skepticism. Estonian music and culture can provide Rorty’s bridge between the past, present and future. At the same time, I am skeptical about my own optimism, for I fully acknowledge the power of regressive authoritarianism and the appeal of a dualistic frame or (in a state of disillusionment) a multiplistic frame. Midst my own embracing of both hope and skepticism, I choose to believe and move forward with a commitment to the enduring virtues of a free society—a social system in which citizens have difficult but important choices to make about both individual rights and collective responsibilities. Freedom comes with a price, but it also comes with great potential rewards.