Human Desire for Freedom:
Can Freedom Be Had?
Man is begat in bondage and there is nothing he can do to escape it. His desire for freedom outweighs his desire for life, yet he is trapped in life. He is a slave to governments and to perception and to morality and to circumstance and to society. It seems that even those in the most free nation are discontented with the liberties afforded them and that those people, though they desire great and unhindered freedom, know not where to find it or if it can even be achieved.
“There are a great many things for which we should be thankful, I suppose, but I will also admit that I am not content in this society. Before I share this with you, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Zachary Bellicosus and I am a champion of human freedom and liberty. I support the Human Dignity and Liberty Society because it is an organization that promotes the freedom of thought within the political ranks of this country. For now, we still mostly have the freedom to speak and to fight for other freedoms, such as same-sex marriage and the legalization of certain recreational drugs. The HDLS is at the forefront of this fight, advancing the idea that government need not impede our rights and privileges as people! I hope that, today, you will donate to the HDLS so that our freedoms, yours and mine, always remain intact.”
Many present in the dinner hall stood and applauded, making it known that they each planned to donate in order to fund the political battle for freedom that the HDLS claimed to wage on behalf of the people.
“Please also join us for a Liberty Q and A in the auditorium following the meal.”
The man on the stage stepped down as those in the room continued to clap and as some made their way to greet him.
“Sir, the judge has the floor.” The court bailiff warned the defense as the attorney spoke to the defendant, but the defense attorney continued to whisper loudly to his client. The judge stood up exasperated, and called out, “Mr. Bellicosus, we would like to get these proceedings underway. Would you mind honoring us with your mental presence?”
Zack and his attorney gave the judge their attention. Just as the judge was about to speak again, loud popping noises were heard not far from the courtroom. The blistering hollow noise got louder, and Zack stood up and quickly rushing the only court security officer in the room. He maneuvered around the officer, taking his sidearm and holding it to his head. The whole courtroom was in shock and before anyone had time to act, two other men entered with automatic rifles. One of them shot the bailiff, and the other warned the people in the courtroom not to move.
There were four men sitting at the front of the auditorium, including Zack, and an ambassador from another country. The third man was a senator and the fourth was a prominent investigative journalist. Two men stood in the isles holding microphones in order to facilitate questions and the mediator sat at the front with the group of experts. “Who would like to ask the first question about human liberty?” he asked and waited for the first person to stand.
There was one lady who stood up in the back, held out her hand and waited for one of the microphones. When the microphone was in her hand, she asked her question, “We are obsessed with equality, right? Equality seems like nothing more than a fight by some for a greater freedom, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever met anyone who actually knows what freedom is. So, that’s my question. What is freedom?”
The mediator repeated the question, and called on the senator to answer the question. The senator began:
“I think that freedom is something we talk about in many regards. Philosophers debate whether or not freedom actually exists and, upon the assumption that freedom does exist, others try and define that freedom. Since I am a politician, I will answer politically. Freedom can be measured by two means. One is that I am free to speak because I have the ability to speak. I am not free to breathe under water because I am simply unable. This is positive freedom or positive liberty. Another is that I am not restricted from speaking as I wish to speak by those in power. This is negative freedom or negative liberty. There is yet another definition of freedom that applies to more than simply the individual, and that is republican freedom. Republican freedom is one nation existing in autonomy without being subject to the ruling authority of another nation.[i]
As we speak about our current context, I think most of the battle is that people desire a greater degree of individual autonomy. Because of this, they have called on the government to grant a greater degree of negative freedom.”
The mediator took the microphone back as the ambassador signaled that he had something to add. He was given the microphone and he asked one question of the senator, “Suppose I want absolute negative freedom, Mr. Senator, how might I obtain it?”
The ambassador handed the microphone over to the senator, who replied,
“Absolute freedom, in this sense, is a myth. It is a myth because laws must exist. Where there is no law, there remain people who will exert prohibitive power over other people. If we were to abolish law, such forceful power would still inhibit absolute negative freedom. An absolute degree of negative freedom cannot exist in the world the way that it is.
The problem we see as we debate at the nation’s capital is in consideration of the proper degree to which negative freedom should be had or how we might give the greatest degree of negative freedom to the people. Over the years, opinions have changed regarding that degree.” He stopped there, awkwardly, and held out the mic for the mediator to take.
The crowd now looked a little insecure. The mediator took the microphone and asked for the next question.
The officer took the gun from Zack, shot one of the intruders and got shot by the other. When bullets stopped flying, there were three lifeless bodies on the floor of the courtroom. Zack picked up the officer’s handgun and placed it in his belt before picking up the rifle of the dead intruder. He then motioned for the judge to join the audience, “Anyone who gets out of their seat will die.”
Zack stepped up into the judge’s seat and sat down. “You,” Zack pointed into the audience, “you’re the ambassador from the panel this morning.”
A middle-aged man with dark skin nodded. He carried himself well and appeared to have been through many hard times throughout his life. “Why do you do as you do?” he asked from his chair.
“I’m not sure, ambassador,” Zack began, “Perhaps I am a product of circumstance or certain causes have led me to this point.[ii] Perhaps God has preordained this specific event. We are slaves to the universe. Not one is responsible for either his successes or his failures. What is happening now was decided by its direct cause in the past and all that has happened in the past was also decided by its cause. Perhaps we are all here because of some direct cause in the distant past that no one here can discern.”
The ambassador shook his head, “You don’t really think that, do you?”
Zack smiled, just a small smile, as he replied, “No.”
Another comment came from the crowd, “The senator mentioned republican freedom. I’m curious to know whether or not the fifty individual states have this type of freedom even with the federal government.”
The mediator handed the microphone to the investigative journalist for further comment, “I have been around the world and have seen nations hold people under their thumbs. I have seen persecution and blatant slavery. Republican liberty is ‘to be not subject to the arbitrary will of another person.’[iii] Put simply, republican liberty is non-domination. It, much like negative freedom, has been measured in varying degrees and, indeed, republican and negative freedom are related in many ways. While negative freedom pertains mostly to the individual, republican freedom pertains to a society. Unlike the paradox of individual negative liberty, societies can operate rightly and autonomously. Republican freedom, then, is possible and is the ideal by which mankind should strive to exist.”
The ambassador motioned again, indicating that he had a comment. “Does republican freedom not beg the same question of societies that negative freedom begs of the individual? Where individuals will always exhibit prohibitive power over other individuals, either in law or out, will not societies of individuals also always exhibit prohibitive power over other societies? In fact, how does one define a society?”
“Are you suggesting that republican freedom is also a myth, Mr. ambassador?” the journalist quipped.
The ambassador replied, “I am only asking a question. Can we be sure, even of republican freedom?”
The audience was silent. Before the panel they were encouraged to champion freedom and now it seemed as if not one of them could be sure what to believe regarding freedom. It was obvious that not one type of freedom existed absolutely and without its inhibitions. Were there any truly free individuals? Were there any truly free societies? Could humankind truly be free to even exercise it own will?
More importantly, why was it that mankind fought so valiantly in the name of freedom and liberty when it was unclear as to whether or not any true idea of freedom could be achieved in the world? Were free men really better off than slaves? There was a certain humility about the human condition that now filled the room.
© Andrew Paul Cannon 2015 All rights reserved. Any duplication of these contents is unlawful without written permission of the author.
[i] Schmidtz, David, and Jason Brennan. A Brief History of Liberty. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 3-14.
[ii] Libet, Benjamin. “Do We Have Free Will?” Journal of Consciousness Studies 6, no. 8-9 (1999): 47-57.
[iii] Costa, M. Victoria, 2007. “Freedom as Non-Domination, Normativity, and Indeterminacy.” Journal of Value Inquiry, 41: 291.