Like most Americans I think that I am free. Like most Americans I also assume this to be a completely forgone conclusion. Finally like most Americans I also assume that I know what freedom is. After even the most cursory thinking though it quickly becomes self evident that it is a much more complex subject than anything we could ever tackle so casually. Giving full disclosure this isn’t a question that could ever possibly be answered here either. This fact isn’t going to stop me from doing my best to examine it at even the least amount of depth with you all.
So what is freedom to you? Take a moment and let the concept just fill your mind. Whats it sound like? Whats it look like? When you are truly free what are you allowed to do and what are you forbidden from doing? I want you to take these things and hold on to them because it will be important to examine them when we get to the breakdown of the technical definition later on. Before we get to that however lets take a skin deep look at how each wing of the American political spectrum perceives this issue.
The political Left here in America seems to have a sense of freedom that revolves around the idea of lacking a dependency. Take for example, the liberal opinion on welfare programs and the welfare state. They argue that these programs are for the good of society because they at least in theory eliminate poverty. Why do they see the end of poverty as desirable goal? why are poverty, and “wage-slavery” bad to someone on the Left? This may seem like a silly question here but think about it for just a moment. Its because these things stop people from attaining or having the things they need to fill their biological needs like food, clothing, and shelter. Therefore if we are being socially responsible to each other, we would give up a little of our excess to help “free” others of the burden of need.
The political Right in America seems to have a very dissimilar opinion. They seem to see freedom as the right, that is to say the moral entitlement or permission, to do exactly as they please without the interference of any group or organization. Now to be clear here I am not calling the American right hedonistic or overtly self-indulgent, though they certainly can be. Now this is where things begin to get interesting. The Right sees property rights as the natural means to achieve this. The more we can protect people’s ability to attain possessions for themselves the more free they can make themselves and each other by natural extension right? If you ascribe to these schools of thought this should make plenty of sense.
This is where a light bulb really went off for me personally. I do not know how right or wrong I am but it seems to me that both of these theories seem to be different attempts at climbing the hierarchy of needs by different means. I’m not writing this to make a claim about Maslow’s theory beyond this forming idea that perhaps all these things he thought that man needed to develop are also necessary for freedom. Think about this with me and bear with me for a moment, would you consider someone free if they could not meet the bear minimum conditions to keep themselves alive?
Its clear that the victims of Soviet oppression weren’t free. Why is this? They could not even feed themselves, the government stopped them from doing so. Their security was not provided for, as shown by the fact that their governments regularly purged groups that were considered to be undesirables. This same lack of security and strict state controls on their ability to freely group themselves prevented these peoples from forming the necessary social bonds to fill these needs.
I could go on and on with these examples. I won’t however instead I will state it plainly, I have come to believe that true freedom personally is what can be called self-actualization. That is to say that point of realization and self-assurance that comes from a place of confidence and knowing that you are in control of yourself and that you are provided for. To use an extreme example I am going to cite a common left-anarchist catch phrase, “No Gods, No Masters.” Think about that now please in this same context. They see this freedom as a state apart from anything that could control or conversely provide for them outside of themselves. This indicating an ability to either fill all their needs themselves or at least a belief in their ability to do so.
This theory of mine suffers a breakdown however. This is when we look at the Merriam-Webster definition of freedom. it is as follows.
“1: the quality or state of being free: such as
a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence
c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous freedom from care
d : ease, facility spoke the language with freedom
e : the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken answered with freedom
f : improper familiarity
g : boldness of conception or execution
h : unrestricted use gave him the freedom of their home
a : a political right
b : franchise, privilege”
None of these seem especially compatible with my theory. So where does this leave us? I apparently could not actually tell you. So for that reason I invite you all to ponder the nature of freedom itself, and if you think you have a compelling take on it please do not hesitate to share.