Viktor Frankl and the Statue of Responsibility
Balancing freedom and responsibility.
Posted August 8, 2019
Years ago, the world-renowned Viennese psychiatrist and existential philosopher Viktor E. Frankl, M.D., Ph.D., warned that freedom threatens to degenerate into mere license and arbitrariness unless it is lived responsibly. Although he enjoyed his time spent in America and admired much about it, Dr. Frankl was not shy about criticizing the popular understanding of some cherished American values, such as our notion of freedom. He took exception, for instance, to what appeared to be a commonly accepted view of equating freedom with a license to do virtually anything one wants. To Frankl, freedom without responsibility was an oxymoron. That is why he suggested that the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor on the East Coast be supplemented by a “Statue of Responsibility” somewhere along the West Coast.
Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.1
I’ve always been intrigued by Dr. Frankl’s idea for a Statue of Responsibility. Such a monument makes sense to me and, in my view, would be much more than just a “book-end” to the Statue of Liberty. It could serve, among other things, as an important reminder to everyone of what is required to safeguard true freedom and a democratic way of life. Moreover, it would be an extraordinary way to celebrate Frankl’s life and legacy. It would be a meaningful, everlasting symbol of his contributions to humanity.
A nonprofit foundation exists to advance Frankl’s idea with the goal of completing the statue, which would be a 300+ foot national monument complete with a large event venue and campus similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in a major metropolitan area somewhere on the West Coast by the year 2023.2 A model of the proposed Statue of Responsibility, consisting of a pair of clasped hands oriented vertically, has been designed by commissioned sculptor Gary Lee Price. The model and associated renderings are being used to raise awareness of the initiative and help raise private funds for the project.
Importantly, the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey, who wrote the foreword to my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts,3 was a member of the original committee formed by Viktor Frankl in the 1990s to bring the concept of the Statue of Responsibility to life. After the initial release of Prisoners of Our Thoughts, which I was honored to write at Dr. Frankl’s personal urging, I also became involved in the nonprofit foundation’s efforts in an advisory capacity as well as was invited to be one of contributors to an anthology it sponsored entitled, Responsibility 911: With Great Liberty Comes Great Responsibility, published in 2008.4
This book examined the role that responsibility plays in a free society. In this regard, I was honored to be included among a very distinguished group of contributors, including Warren Bennis, Jack Canfield, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, George S. McGovern, Barack Obama, Ross Perot, Tom Peters, Bob Proctor, Anita Roddick, Peter Senge, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Denis Waitley, and Oprah Winfrey.
“The price of greatness is responsibility.”—Sir Winston Churchill
As you can discern from this list, the Responsibility 911 anthology embraced a wide spectrum of ideologies and political persuasions. Indeed, making a strong and diversified case for the role of responsibility in a free society belongs to no one political party or a particular group. Rather, responsibility is a manifestation of the “ability to respond” and, in this context, requires rules of engagement that include both civility and agreement to disagree on matters of common concern. Diversity in all of its various dimensions, especially the diversity of thought, must be respected as a sine qua non of “responsibility” in the collective. Otherwise, we will never be able to reach common ground, a meaningful objective requiring, first and foremost, that we are willing and able to go to higher ground.
1. Frankl. V.E. (1992). Man’s Search for Meaning, 4th edition. Boston: Beacon Press, 134.
2. For more on the Statue of Responsibility, including the monument project, see: https://statueofresponsibility.com/.
3. Pattakos, A., and Dundon, E. (2017). Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work, 3rd. edition. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
4. Shelton, K., and Bolz, D.L. (2008). Responsibility 911: With Great Liberty Comes Great Responsibility. Provo, Utah: Executive Excellence Publishing.