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The price of freedom

By Robert Apostol

There are many references to freedom that may inevitably compel us to ponder on the word often. Consider “the land of the free,” because of which many immigrate to this much-coveted country!

Then, more recently, we celebrate Our Lord’s nativity, during which “He came to set us free.

But then Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggests that while “man is born free, everywhere I see him in chains.” (metaphorical in most cases!)

And John Stuart Mill adamantly speaks of “the tyranny of the majority” whose values may dominate the ideology of a nation.

There is finally the distinction between license (One can do whatever he wants) and the actions that a person ought to do.

Perhaps we can indulge in the background of our ideology, that can be defined as the dominant social thinking by which we partially understand and partially misunderstand ourselves, viz., in talks about the American dream and progress.

Regrettably, freedom and free will are subverted by marketing and so forth. That is why we need to examine the ill-effects of notions of fetishism that people deify.

Adam Smith (1723-1790), a notable Scottish economist, is the author of the classic book, the “Wealth of Nations”. This work discusses the relationship between freedom and order in a society where individuals follow their selfish interests.

The reference to “selfish interests” may be germane to an investigation that seeks to understand the way greed can creep into deliberations that undermine the altruism advocated by family and education

The following quotation comes from the “Wealth of Nations” i.e., “...without intending to promote the public interest, he intends only his own gain, and he is led by an invisible hand to promote an end that was no part of his intention.

We may be prepared to reflect on the American hegemony. Before entering the 21st century, Zbigniew Brzezinski stated that the United States “will be the first, last and only superpower.” Born in Warsaw, he was thoroughly Americanized.

While traveling in Western Europe (Iceland, Spain, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark), encounters with people provided a genuine opportunity to discuss issues ranging from human rights to religious freedom.

They were painfully aware that the United States applied sanctions against countries that do not meet international standards. This became sensitive when we did not appear to meet those standards either in areas like water-boarding and human rights.

As we export democracy and freedom, there is a latin dictum that is germane. It says Namo dat quod non habet, i.e., “No one can give what he does not have.”

This may remind us that free choice must not be equated with license, ie., what looks (apparent) good rather than the real good, the want instead of the ought. We need to foster the breed of people whose mettle gives them the quality of being the iconoclasts that society needs.

There is a concept we need to resurrect Jean-Paul Sartre’s concern about the abdication of freedom. Actually, Sartre does not only maintain that man is free, but that man is freedom!. In his classic phrase that “man is condemned to be free,” he suggests that man “is responsible for everything he does or does not do (act of omission).”

We shall now consider two arguments that characterize the free will., the psychological and the moral. First, we are confronted by two courses of action, then we proceed to deliberate over the reasons, after which we determine a choice. While this may be viewed as a relief, we advance the view that it is the right moral choice.

A fundamental given in the moral argument is the awareness of moral ideals. An adage suggests that “There is nothing more practical than a good idea.” This is supported by Immanuel Kant’s dictum, “I ought, therefore I can.”

We may recall the magnanimous praises given at funeral services. All these judgments imply freedom of the deceased agent who is now being praised. In other words, when I praise your unselfish acts, I imply you could have been cruel or selfish.

Let us consider the constraints, bonds that impose external necessity, the absence of which we call spontaneity. Then there is a person’s moral necessity, that are imposed by moral laws.

It is critical to bring our discussion on freedom to a conclusion with a corollary, viz., the experience of anxiety, without which people cannot claim any experience of freedom. Not too long ago, we learned on a television segment that 23 million Americans have anxiety disorders all year round.

In our Anglo-Saxon tradition, we often view anxiety as synonymous with worry. It has to have an object, such jobs, salary, exams, friends, debt, foreclosure, etc. But there is meaning of anxiety that is yet to be recognized, viz., it is associated with being free! Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, suggests that one must expect to have anxiety with every assertion of freedom.

Consider the hard-ball decisions with which one is confronted. Exploring careers or embarking on a mission, or just thought of giving some meaning to life! In this sense of the term, it is part of the human condition to experience anxiety.

All the agony, conflict and struggle with which we are familiar are the price of being free beings. That is why we need to recapture freedom and value anxiety to be engaged in the exciting task of enjoying the fullness of life.

It is important to examine any constraints in fostering our freedom in the human community. If we recognize our interdependence, we may demonstrate thoughtfulness, effervescence and surely civility, and capture greater excitement in our global village!

Robert Apostol is a former professor at Creighton University.