So, how "Free" is "Freedom"?

Updated: Jun 18


Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Free or not, the retort to individual liberty rests within the "Golden Rule."

Originally published by Illumination Curated on Medium


The word "Freedom" over the last few decades has gone through multiple semantic shifts. It is the most abused phrase as to which I can attest. In literal terms, freedom is about having the ability to function or alter self or something without any restriction. Indeed. It is free if we can change something effortlessly but philosophically has gone through multitudes of vitriols. Although theoretically, freedom is perpetually correlated with having free will and being without unjust constraints. In the human kingdom, unlike any other being, freedom generally has a political and psychological dimension. Everyone seems to define freedom differently. A mathematician may study an equation with many levels of autonomy. The physicist may come up with a mathematical concept also applied to a body, constrained by a cascade of measured calculations, whose grades of freedom define the number of independent gesticulations that are granted.

However, as we have been witnessing in our lifetimes, it is not merely the quantitative measure of freedom that matters. But quality or how one perceives freedom in their living context is currently the most significant player in access to independence. It is apparent today that a religious radical envisions liberty differently than the one who believes in the collective rule of the majority, even though all have used the phrase "Freedom" somewhere in their constitutional slogans. But to the irony of all, very few have consistently endorsed "individual autonomy" and the "Golden Rule." Some, like Wendy Kyong Chun philosophically, try to create a distinction between Freedom and Liberty.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun is the Simon Fraser University's Canada 150 Research Chair in New media and the past professor and chairperson of modern culture and media at Brown University. She describes liberty as linked to "human subjectivity," whereas freedom is purely an objective phenomenon. She backs her theory by exemplifying the United States Declaration of Independence, which, according to her, describes individuals as having liberty and the nation as being free. Wendy believes freedom is distinct from liberty, just like control differs from discipline. Thus autonomy, like discipline, is associated with institutions and a political party.

On the contrary, freedom can work for or against institutions, and it is not bound to their ordinance. Wendy Chun was not the only one making that distinction. John Stuart Mill was an 18th century English philosopher who also separated liberty from freedom. He defined freedom as primarily being, if not exclusively, the ability to do as one will and an action a person has the power to do. In contrast, liberty concerns the absence of arbitrary restraints and considers all involved rights. As such, the exercise of freedom is subject to capability and limited by the rights of others. Therefore, freedom and liberty may or may not coexist just as one can be liberated yet be bound by certain restrictions. Once again, logically, we won't have to separate liberty from freedom through a semantic shift or philosophical arguments if we truly incorporate the concept of the golden Rue in our everyday lives by coupling it with transparency and holding everyone accountable based on that principle.

Democracy foresees Freedom within a Political Vacuum.

Democracy, at the very least, predisposes freedom and liberty to political scrutiny. The democracy of the liberals dictates that establishing and protecting freedom government is the ultimate answer. Right, although the government is evil, it is necessary and somewhat inevitable. Nonetheless, the government itself needs to be limited and be on checks, balances, and restrictions, not the other way around. Then again, not just any government will remain under checks and balances for long. Not too infrequently, governments, despite a great start, slip through the cracks of bureaucracy and lack of transparency and switch roles with their constituents.

In a democracy, government, by default, demand the people's obedience through the tyranny of the masses, which defines what being free means to its constituents.

Democratic Socialism for Individual Freedom, or is it?

Socialism encompasses the spectrum of a socioeconomic system that epitomizes social ownership of the means of production. While full-fledged socialism was taboo in many post-cold war societies, the concept of "democratic socialism" emerged from the rubbles to restore individual freedom. Something that the original socialism did not convey. To the same extent, proponents of democratic socialism have been critical of the capitalist version of freedom, making them rethink their vision of freedom.

Democratic socialists want to promote individual freedom and win a society where everyone has a real say in the significant decisions affecting their lives by de-commodifying necessities like health care, education, and housing. But Ironically, the firms should be run collectively and democratically by their workers. Democratic socialists want to gain control over the most critical social decisions to put them in the hands of laborers and consumers. They merely accomplish that through strict campaign finance laws, attacking the corporate dominance of the media, and removing institutional barriers to popular rules, such as the electoral college and the Senate in the United States.

Democratic society will require socializing the financial sector so that the public will set investment priorities instead of the cream of the crop. That means they would nationalize utility industries such as energy and transportation publicly. Then, eventually, the most significant sectors will need to be brought under public control. As one would acknowledge, there is no individual freedom in a socialized system despite the social democrats' claim. Freedom to them means bigger government, more control, and less personal autonomy.

Freedom and Capitalism

Capitalism observes freedom through the spectacles of economic slack. It sees an economic system based on the private holding of productive assets within an economy. The fundamental Friedmannian freedom is financial freedom as a precondition for political freedom. And places "liberal" doctrine at the center of corruption since the Great Depression.

Milton Friedman believes a free desirable society must enjoy a convenient label. But that is easier than done in today's overtly politicized stage.

In today's political arena, where free-market capitalism has taken a turn into the crony capitalist corner, freedom has lost its credibility to corporatism and monopoly.

Freedom and Communism

A communist nation believes in freeing individuals from long working hours by automating production and eliminating corruption integral to the division between workers and owners. A communist system sees an individual's liberty in the sense of having one's life structured around survival, which Karl Marx, the founder of contemporary communism, referred to as a transition from the "realm of necessity" to the "realm of freedom." Society is composed of an intellectually inclined population with both the time and resources to pursue its creative hobbies and genuine interests and contribute to creating social wealth in this manner. Karl Marx's radical individualism considered "true richness" to be the amount of time one has at his disposal to pursue one's creative passions.

Do we need Freedom?

Freedom is a two-way street. One cannot expect to be free if they don't respect others' freedom too. Because of failure to uphold that notion, many take refuge in redefining freedom and liberty or defy freedom altogether.