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November 26, 2019 / Congau

Talk About Freedom

“Freedom” is an inherently contradictory concept. Any restraint means a reduction of freedom, but if you were free to do just anything and let go of all external and internal restraints, you would soon be a slave to your passions. It also makes no sense to settle for a middle point since any “golden mean” between excessive freedom and too much restraint, would be an imperfect compromise. It may be the case that a little freedom is better than too much freedom, but it doesn’t make sense to say that a little freedom is more freedom than a lot of freedom.

They all praise freedom. Modern rhetoricians and politicians along with the common citizen who is incessantly being told that he lives in a free country. Philosophers also unanimously sing its praise, but they often have something quite different in mind.

Hegel, for example, paints an alluring picture of how the history of mankind is a journey towards increased freedom and the present time having a higher degree of freedom than ever before. This would seem to sit well with those among us who think that our own time and the current democratic institutions have reached the highest pinnacle of freedom. We can do whatever we want, can’t we? Well, Hegel would not have been impressed.

A monarchical theocracy is his freest state; a society where the laws are in harmony with religion, custom and objective reason. The will of the individual is to be realized in those objective laws, which in practice means total obedience. In extreme cases a person would willingly agree to being punished, and even executed, thinking that he is perfectly free as it happens.

Hegel of course has excellent reasons for referring to this act of ultimate submission as “freedom”, and even if we can’t accept his conclusion, it does remind us how complicated this seemingly simple term really is.

We throw around the sound of that beautiful word as if we knew what it meant. Maybe we should talk about something else.

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