What is Freedom, Part 2 to blupete's Essay
Holmes described it as the "right of strict social discrimination of all things and persons, [and it] is one of the most precious privileges." And, Locke: "... in our being able to act, or not to act, according as we shall choose, or will."4 And, Lord Acton: "By liberty I mean assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes to be his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion."5
It is not likely that anyone of us has had a cup of it this morning; nor, is it likely, that anyone of us has a special stash of it under a floor board. Freedom is not a physical thing, it's not to be directly sensed. It's a concept: it's a mental construct; it's a, --- Well, its a -- a state of affairs, -- that's what freedom is. Should you find yourself, in a damp dungeon with only two exits, -- the one covered with bars and which looks out over a moat many feet down, and the other covered by a great door bolted from the outside (and maybe, just for good measure, a great brute of a man with a machine gun stationed just outside) -- you will quickly conclude that you are beset by a sad state of affairs. Equally as well, but likely even considerably more so, you would have the same reaction if somebody had a gun pointed at your head, -- in which event, you have arrived at a very sad state of affairs, indeed. In these two illustrations one might say that there exists a state of freedom (a state which cannot be described in absolute terms), which, practically speaking, is non-existent. There does not exist for a human, nor will it ever happen, unless you believe in heaven, that a perfect state of affairs will come about for any of us. Freedom normally comes to each of us but it can only exist in degrees; it is essential, I argue, to life itself; and it is most certainly expungable, especially if your adversary comes equipped with prisons and guns.
I would like to make it as plain as I can, that while freedom is not a measurable physical thing (and, thus, it cannot be measured by any objective standard): it does exist for all humans up to the very point of his or her death; and, I repeat myself, only does so by degrees. One might be restricted a little and get on with life quite well; indeed, a little general restriction, paradoxically, is necessary so that the most amount of freedom can be had by all (and there you have the raison d'etre for government). There is a point, however, at which a limitation of freedom will effect our well-being, and if freedom be taken away, then the person effected will, in time, die. Freedom, for this reason, is, as I will further elaborate, fundamental to life, to one's existence; it can be, in a way, likened to the air we breath, there is normally no joy in the act or in the experience, but its absence will bring about misery and eventual death. To the extent we have freedom we have the ability to proceed in life to make the necessary decisions in life which suit our individual purposes. Freedom is the general state of affairs in which we exist; it allows a person to take action, which, whether calculated or not,6 is personally tailored and designed to suit the goals and objectives which the individual actor has set for himself, or herself. The ultimate goal (entirely predictable) for all sane and healthy individuals (the great mass of us) is to advance, on the medium term, the interests of themselves and/or the members of their particular family.
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[Essays, First Series]
[Essays, Second Series]
[Essays, Third Series]
[Essays, Fourth Series]