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November 29, 2019 / Congau

Minimal Freedom

You are free to act as long as you don’t interfere with other people’s freedom to act. That’s the ideal of minimal freedom supposedly given to us in Western society. The restriction is by no means a trivial one. Thick volumes of law books are printed to stipulate the vast number of things we are not allowed to do, effectively making our freedom quite illusive. But that being as it may, our society is quite faithful to the idea that the citizens should only be burdened with negative duties. There are a great number of absolute “Don’ts” but only a few absolute “Dos”. The positive duties that do exist, are almost always preceded by voluntary action. If you work, you have to pay taxes, but of course you don’t have to work.

There’s an elementary justice to this. Man is born free, so any law is actually a violation against his nature, but to secure an equal level of freedom for everyone, the very same freedom is restricted. No one is completely free anymore, but at least we are equally free/unfree.

Within this logic it would have been very illegitimate to demand that anyone should perform any positive duties. We may have duties to society, family and neighbors, but those would be moral duties and as such not the business of government to impose.

The western idea of law and government starts and stops at that simplified notion of freedom. But what if freedom is something bigger than this? What if society in itself is a violation of anyone’s innate freedom? Then it wouldn’t be enough to protect against private offenses between citizens, but the state would have to remedy the offense it has caused by its very existence. It might be necessary to impose positive duties on people to liberate them from the compulsive selfishness that society has already fostered.

But that would require a completely different notion of freedom and shatter the very foundation of our Western political belief.

Better let freedom remain an illusion then.

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