Freedom for What?

Why do Americans value freedom? Is freedom an end in itself? Or do we value freedom so that we can seek our own ends – our own purpose for being – rather than being merely the means to others’ ends? 

To find a worthy purpose, we must first seek truth so that, in fulfilling our chosen purpose, we may increase the good in the world, however small our contribution.

Father Robert Sirico

  1. Limestone Cowboy

    Erroneous reply.. deleted.

  2. Limestone Cowboy
    Richard Fulmer: Why do Americans value freedom?  Is freedom an end in itself?  Or do we value freedom so that we can seek our own ends – our own purpose for being – rather than being merely the means to others’ ends?

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but it’s my view that,  without freedom.. (here understood as the ability to act as a moral agent) virtue itself becomes impossible. 

    If we are compelled to act  in a manner thought to be good and righteous, there is no virtue. 

    By freedom, I don’t mean an absence of coercive pressure.. economic, social, or police power. In this context, it means despite such pressure we make what be believe to be the right choice.

    In this sense, men such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were free in a way that their captors were not.

  3. Black Prince

    Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

  4. Israel P.

    Freedom should be the default condition.

  5. Richard Fulmer
    Limestone Cowboy

    Richard Fulmer: Why do Americans value freedom?  Is freedom an end in itself?  Or do we value freedom so that we can seek our own ends – our own purpose for being – rather than being merely the means to others’ ends?

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but it’s my view that,  without freedom.. (here understood as the ability to act as a moral agent) virtue itself becomes impossible. 

    If we are compelled to act  in a manner thought to be good and righteous, there is no virtue. 

    By freedom, I don’t mean an absence of coercive pressure.. economic, social, or police power. In this context, it means despite such pressure we make what be believe to be the right choice.

    In this sense, men such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were free in a way that their captors were not.

    “What is virtue if not the free choice of what is good?” Alexis de Tocqueville
  6. Indaba

    I did not understand George Bush and why he spoke about bringing freedom to other parts of the world.

    The word Freedom had never made it into the vernacular of Zambia or even Canada, my later homeland.

    I had grown up never discussing politics – in Zambia, that got a knock at the door at midnight and a long trip, never to be seen again. Yet, I did not link the speech or thinking with Freedom. 

    This seems to be a uniquely American concept that is worth educating others about, but in greater detail.

    Ironically, Fred Cole posted a movie review on the Member Feed and I went to see it. There is a monologue by Reacher on why he fought, “For Freedom. So those people in office buildings can be free from grief and pain.”

    I paid attention to that because after my times of fear and loss in Zambia, freedom to live a dull life is very special, even if Americans do not recognize that to be poor in america is still richer than being OK in Zambia.

    It does go to freedom to create and to know your creation will not be taken (except by Obama’s taxes).

  7. tabula rasa

    I’m not a libertarian, and believe there are some trade-offs between a civil, self-governed nation and human freedom.  But I agree with Israel that freedom should be the default position, and that limitations on freedom must be justified before government imposes them.

    I agree with others that freedom is a condition for virtue.  Sadly, we can all cite many cases where human freedom is misused in ways that create all kinds of chaos, pain, and harm.  But compulsion is far worse.

  8. EJHill

    Freedom is one of those words that exists with opposing meanings across the political spectrum.

    To us, freedom is the ability to pursue one’s life in order to do meaningful work, to provide for ourselves, our loved ones and our posterity without the intrusion of the collective, provided our freedom and pursuits do not infringe on the freedom of others.

    To the left, freedom is freedom from responsibility, to take on the life of perpetual adolescence, to have one’s every need taken care of by the nanny state so that we may have the freedom to engage unencumbered in sexual and artistic endeavors. This, of course, requires the state to parse out resources from the productive class to the leisure class until the former ceases to produce. Then productivity becomes compulsory, regardless of the personal reward and the freedom one believes was benevolently created for them disappears. Except in sloganeering, because we will be reminded that Arbeit Macht Frei.

  9. Richard Fulmer
    EJHill:Freedom is one of those words that exists with opposing meanings across the political spectrum.

    Each word represents a thought.  When words are corrupted, thoughts are corrupted. 

  10. Indaba
    EJHill:Freedom is one of those words that exists with opposing meanings across the political spectrum.

    To us, freedom is the ability to pursue one’s life in order to do meaningful work, to provide for ourselves, our loved ones and our posterity without the intrusion of the collective, provided our freedom and pursuits do not infringe on the freedom of others.

    To the left, freedom isfreedom from responsibility, to take on the life of perpetual adolescence, to have one’s every need taken care of by the nanny state so that we may have the freedom to engage unencumbered in sexual and artistic endeavors. This, of course, requires the state to parse out resources from the productive class to the leisure class until the former ceases to produce. Then productivity becomes compulsory, regardless of the personal reward and the freedom one believes was benevolently created for them disappears. Except in sloganeering, because we will be reminded that Arbeit Macht Frei. · 38 minutes ago

    It is the Left’s definition of Freedom that I put on George Bush’s phrase which is why it cluncked for me. Thanks for the clarification.

  11. KC Mulville

    Freedom is the recognition that although I may not have all the answers, or even very many of them, I do know one thing …

    democrats.jpg

    these idiots don’t know any more than I do …

    and I have no intention of surrendering my judgment for theirs.

  12. John Walker

    Since the origin of life on Earth, evolution has discovered three different ways to learn from experience and thus build more complex structures from simple foundations: the genome (driven by variation and selection, and inherited), the central nervous system and brain (driven by experience, but not passed on to descendants), and the vertebrate adaptive immune system (passed on in part, but mostly up to the individual to develop immunity).

    Each of these systems works in precisely the same manner: massively parallel hill-climbing.  Only the mechanisms of variation, selection, and storage differ.  All require reliable storage to operate.

    What does this have to do with the topic we’re discussing?  Everything—what we’ve witnessed since the Enlightenment is the fourth way organisms can learn from experience, search the space of possible solutions, and climb ever higher on the rugged fitness landscape.  And doing so requires freedom: freedom to try crazy things and fail ignominiously, and occasionally succeed extravagantly (and not be punished should one do so).

    Free countries aren’t free because they’re rich; they’re rich because they’re free.

    Freedom is not just valuable in itself; it is a prerequisite for prosperity.

  13. Crow

    I agree with Richard’s basic point that “freedom for” is the freedom to create small islands of true excellence inside of the wider society which in turn help to shape that society. This is one great virtue that underlies the liberal democracies of our time.

    But let us ask how these come to be formed. Let us start by saying that our goal is a political regime of self-government. Now, self-government, as the word itself shows, begins with the ability to govern oneself, and then others. And we know that to govern is to choose. So this ability to choose for oneself and others underlies any republic’s laws. But if this republic is to last any time whatsoever, than this choosing must surely be done well, or that choosing well is done more often than choosing poorly or in the decisive situations it is so. So to choose here means to choose well.

    How is it that we get men and women who are capable of choosing well?

    This question is another form of the question “what is virtue” and “can virtue be taught? If so, is it by theory or by habit?”

  14. Crow

    I don’t propose to solve that question of virtue on a message board, but it is one you should ponder. And I suspect not a little bit of the difference between libertarians and conservatives is informed by ideas of what virtue is and how it comes to be acquired. 

    I will make two additional notes in passing: the first is the formulation “freedom for” versus “freedom from” is a useful distinction, but it is a particularly modern one and, especially for us, one which has been inherited from Isaiah Berlin. To say the least, this is not the only way politics can be thought about, or even the most adequate way to arrive at a liberal regime. An alternative can be seen in Aristotle’s Politics.

    The second is that, contra Fr. Sirico, the Declaration of Independence says the pursuit of Happiness, not the pursuit of Excellence. I will follow the example of the ancients who said these two things are ultimately one and the same. But, that aside for a moment, I do not simply equate happiness with finding “one’s own purpose for being” or with “self-expression” the way that Richard’s first paragraph might.

  15. Zafar

    Please join Dr Zoidberg and I in celebrating Freedom Day!

    John Walker – Darwinian societies may produce more individual successes than others, but they also produce a lot more failures.   That’s the price for rapid social and economic evolution – and it’s normal to occasionally question the speed:price ratio we’re willing to live with, no?

  16. Larry3435

    Speaking as a libertarian and utilitarian, I have a pretty simple answer why I value freedom.  It works.  The inverse correlation between government control over citizens and the misery of those citizens is nearly perfect.  In every time and every place, that’s how it has been.  Moral theories, ideology, and theology are cool and all, but facts are facts.

    Free people are happier, more productive, more creative, and more moral, than subjects.  Always and everywhere.  History proves it.  Facts are facts.

    Oh, yeah, and also – slavery is just wrong.  Period.  If there is a categorical imperative, and I’m not sure there is, but if there is, that’s it – slavery is just wrong.

  17. MJBubba

    “Freedom for What?”

    The free exercise of my religion.  The ability to teach my religion to my children.  The ability to teach them when the government is full of stuff.  The ability to teach them how to think for themselves, how to read the Bible for themselves, and how to shift for themselves in a free society.

  18. Randy Weivoda

    Although Americans are taught to revere the word freedom from our grade school days, it doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody.  For many people – of all political stripes – freedom means that I should be able to live my life as I see fit, and you should be able to live your life as I see fit.  It takes some intellectual maturity to honor people’s freedoms to do things that you don’t want to do yourself.

  19. Richard Fulmer
    John Walker: [F]reedom to try and fail ignominiously, and occasionally succeed extravagantly.

    The history of human progress in a single sentence.  Very nice.

  20. Joan of Ark La Tex
    EJHill: 

    To the left, freedom isfreedom from responsibility,

    The foundation of the left could probably be traced back to Locke’s view that man’s natural liberty is not the freedom of his choice, but the the freedom to do what he wills without constraint or impediment. He wrote – where there is no common power, there is no law, no justice. The freedom which states have is the same as “that which every man should have if there were no civil laws, nor commonwealth at all. And the effects of it also are the same. For amongst masterless men, there is perpetual war of every man against his neighbor….so in states not dependent on one another, every commonwealths not dependent on one another, every commonwealth has no absolute liberty to do what it shall judge….most conducing to its benefit”.  To Locke, the natural state is not a state of war ( different from Hobbes) , but “ in state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature.”

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In