Freedom that Liberates and Freedom that Binds

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jcolman via flickr || Creative Commons

The feeling of and need for freedom is such an essential part of our lives and has rooted itself so deeply that it follows us everywhere. We crave freedom and fight for it because of its value. It is such an important thing that seemingly incompatible political orientations proclaim it as a virtue. Those who wish to attract attention and win over the hearts of people must pay heed to freedom. But what is this freedom we keep hearing and talking about?

The concept of freedom exists in every political ideology, be it social democracy, conservatism, liberalism or any other. Therefore, it would seem that freedom unites people, gives them a sense of community and a common denominator. However, freedom may embrace many incompatible things. If we truly wish to be free, we must be able to differentiate between the concepts of liberating freedom and binding freedom.

The freedom that liberates allows us to operate freely (as long as we do not hinder others) but does not promise anything. It gives us opportunity to work if we can find a job and spend our money on whatever we want. It provides us with the opportunity to become successful doctors, teachers, athletes or entrepreneurs, provided that we have the skills and drive to do it. Such freedom does not tell us how we should spend our free time, what kind of a house we should build, where and what to buy, how much to smoke or how much money to save for our retirement.

This kind of freedom is difficult exactly because it does not offer concrete results. All of the responsibility for our actions and their consequences falls on our shoulders. If you chose well, you get one result, if not, you get something else entirely. This kind of freedom is essentially freedom from coercion. It does not matter if it comes from enemies outside our group of acquaintances, the people that surround us or the government. This freedom places us under an obligation and helps us develop as individuals. It helps us grow a backbone, shapes our activities and builds a responsible character. If you associate freedom with the ability to build your life from the ground up, this kind of freedom is what you need.

However, the freedom that promises us something is very different. It promises being free from worry, safe and dignified living conditions irrespective of the amount of effort we put in. At first glance, this freedom might look more appealing and tempting because it offers a lot more ad hoc solutions. For example, a minimum wage, free services (education, healthcare and social care), a guarantee of a safe life at old age, the assurance of a job, nutritious and safe food in stores and even protection from our own harmful habits. This is a freedom from all concerns.

It may sound appealing, but such freedom can be very deceptive. It takes more than it can give back. In order to give something, you must first acquire it elsewhere. Even if a promise is worth only one penny, we must have it, as it will not appear from thin air. It will be taken from us. For our promised freedom, we pay with taxes, higher prices, limitation of our actions, control of our economic activity, and dozens of authorities’ representatives and bureaucrats.

Such freedom can promise anything but freedom itself. It imprisons us. By aiming to set us free from worries, it binds us. By believing in the illusion of a good life resulting not from our own activities and efforts, we lose the ability to strive and create such a life for ourselves.

All this demonstrates that we must fight for our freedom every day, separating those who offer liberating freedom from those that proffer the freedom that will eventually impose limitations. The loss of freedom is most often gradual and not always brought on by outside enemies. Sometimes it comes in the form of illusory promises of a satisfying life parading under the flag of freedom.

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