T Nation

What is Freedom?


Yes, you heard me, what is it exactly?

It's easy to assert it as an ideal.

For untold millenia, freedom was nonexistant. You lived in a tribe and some individuals might have developed a spleen that would be best described as striving for individual autarky. You will hardly find freedom here. Although you might observe that the savage at least has the ability to say "bye suckers" and leave, be it for a few months or even years.

Fast forward into culture, freedom here could mean a greater access to certain rights and goods.
Pretty quick, it became synonymous with wealth. It is here where a lot of T-Nationers (as well as most armachair philosophers) err. "Freedom" in a classical sense meant not only being able to self sustain -this is something the savage is already capable of, at least in theory- , but to be able to arm yourself with metal (and wage war upon request), to have slaves, to not have to work.
Mobility here is not really considered as being a part of freedom.

The north american myth of freedom grew out of a mixture of glorified divine destiny, the historic opportunity to settle and aquire vast lands, while at the same time flipping european aristocracy the bird.
However, the majority of people were dirt poor, even primitve self sustainment wasn't a given.
The freedom theme was soon abstracted to new heights of absurdity: Now it was your once-in-a-million personal chance to get very rich and/or famous. Mobility is a must, a prerequisite.

So what means freedom for you? Is it gradual, is it absolute, can one aspect go up while others plummet?


Freedom is really about me living my life as I want to. It means nobody really should be making me live the way others think I should be living, and at the same time I should not be forcing others to live the way I think they should.

Naturally it is a little more complex then this, but your little diatribe here shows you do not truly understand it.

It's not about money, or fame, or any of that other crap. It is also not as some idiots think that it means you get free shit. Any time you take something from another person for your benefit, you are effectively taking their freedom. They loose their freedom to do with their stuff what they wish.

Years ago the local paper decided to find a homeless person to interview. interestingly they found a guy who chose to be homeless. He just liked the lifestyle of moving from place to place, and begging for what he wanted. (You can make good money begging, as I was a witness of.) That was his choice, and the people who gave him money, that was their choice.

I usually equate freedom and liberty.

...The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name---liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names---liberty and tyranny.

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 7.



Freedom means the freedom to choose -- both the means and the ends. Freedom does not exist where our abilities to choose are diminished by an other person or group of people.

There are some inherent claims we must accept when we claim to be free:

1) we must accept the consequences of all of our actions;

2) we are only free to choose means and ends within the limits of our own life and property -- we cannot coerce others into providing "stuff" for us.


Freedom is the natural state of mankind - interactions with fellow humans causes the need for laws and boundaries - evil within man causes the need for defenses and htir attendant organizations


I agree to a point. I do not see how it follows that because a few handful of men are "evil" we need organizations to defend us. Besides, there are many people that are not evil that cause destruction and injustices unintentionally -- by just following herd mentality.

My highest priority is to defend myself from the state that claims to own me. What organization can I turn to to provide me this?


You misunderstand me: Man in his natural state is free, he can have his own land, family, property, etc.

Once he has to interact with other humans, laws and boundaries need to be established. Boundaries are identification and must be mutually agreed upon and respected. This is my house, this is my property line, this is my family, these are my dogs - now we have law.

Once the respect for boundaries is lost or weakened, the individual must either act forcefully on his own, or establish social contracts to enforce the boundaries - now we have government.

Once respect for national boundaries is lost, armies must be established to defend the nation.

Every step along this path is driven by the existence of evil men. Men who refused to respect the natural freedom and rights of the individual, then the community, then the state . . .

Evil is why our God-given natural state is untenable, and why most resort to social contract to mutually protect themselves. The individual can try to protect himself, but evil always seems to have the advantage of numbers.

That social contract, though, has to be based on commonly held values. Once the values and morals of a community are no longer agreed upon, the social cohesion begins to break down . . .and look at me, I keep wondering into all sorts of topics.


You're talking about protocol, etc. I agree with that point but that does not make us less free so long as we understand freedom to mean the freedom to choose.

Your point about evil lacks consistency. If man is evil isn't it possible then that government is also evil? Who protects us from that?

I agree that we need "organization" to help arbitrate/defend justice but the "freedom of association" is a necessary requirement to bring this about. We must be able to discriminate against those we do not want to associate with -- governments included.

"Government is essentially the negation of liberty."
-LV Mises


No more than protocol, because laws have consequences. Same freedom is lost whenever laws are established, but we try to leesen that loss as much as possible. Take jaywalking for example. Most cities have ordinance against jaywalking, and that necessarily limits the freedom of the individual to walk where he wants for the safety of the individual to not be hit by motorists unable to stop in time. The law that limits this freedom to walk, compensates by being predicated on established crosswalks with lights and additional laws now applied to the motorist - drivers get fined for breaking the traffic light laws. Thus the balance between the rights/abilities of the motorist is balanced with the rights/needs of the individual. Both have less freedom, but greater safety in a mutually agreed setting.

Evil men in Government? - Aye, that's the rub, and why men must have control of their government and its institution or abolish them by force if necessary to preserve the liberty of man and to have social contracts that do as much as posisble to deal with the reality of evil without taking too much from those who instituted it for their own protection. It's why there are no life-time appointments for politicians and why there are terms of service broken by election cylces. But a limited and representative government requires eternal vigilance from its citizens - they must remain educated and involved to prevent the total corruption of government and the gradual loss of freedom.


So what you're saying is:

Freedom means whatever your government tells you it means.


wow . . . oh, well. Was hoping for an intelligent conversation . . .


We have been having one but it seems to me we disagree on terms.

I say freedom means freedom of choice and all that pertains to how we make those choices.

You seem to be saying we're only free because government protects our freedom and thus IT must, de facto, define freedom for us. Is that not true?

Needless to say, I don't see it that way....so...?


ahhh - my apologies, thought you were just stating positional thoughts rather than expressing a question.

No, I'm not saying we are only free because our governments protect our freedoms. I'm saying, we already know what our freedoms are and willing give up the smallest possible measure of freedom for the ability to mutually protect the remaining freedoms. The american government was setup as a negative government - ie, we told the government what it could not do, not what it could do - the freedoms were outlined by the people prior to the existence of the government. That is the definition of limited government.

Unfotunately, our people have not been vigilant and a government not controlled, is a government that grows to control. Even our amazingly designed government has overreached its boundaries (the presence of evil men) due to a failure by the FREE people to keep it within its confines.

Freedom is more than choice, it is also the freedom to not choose (although we could arugue that that is also a choice - lol) - it's why I think citizenship in America should not be automatic, that it should be a decision made by every individual when they reach 18 - they have to pass a basic competency test and verbally choose to become a citizen with all of the responsibilites that apply. Then, only citizens can stand for office and vote for people to hold office, be property owners, etc. non-citizens can leave in the US, but only as residents - no property ownership, no sole business ownership, etc. and there I go off onto another topic - sorry, mind seems to be wandering a bit today . . .


Freedom is to do whatever you want. Enslaving others is an act of freedom. It is a choice. Some would say "Noooo, because you're taking freedom away from others." And? I am individualist, my own freedom is my sole concern. I'm confident that I can protect my own, with the backing of a confederation of slavers which I've chosen to affiliate with. The enslaved had the choice to fight to the death for their own freedom, or to subjugate themselves to me. I exercised my choice, and they exercised theirs.

Perhaps some might argue reciprocity. To stand against slavery, so that I too can claim a right to be free. That's not freedom. It's simply risk-aversion. Some are greater risk takers than others. Some gamble their life-savings creating a business. Some will gamble their own lives for fortune. Some will risk captivity. Some will risk being treated as they've treated others. Besides, it relies on a widespread social agreement (ooooh, collectivism!).

A truly free human being has no concern for others. Here, some might say that a concern for family is predicated on the biological imperative to pass on our half of the genome. Well, to give in to this concern means one has subjugated himself to biological non-choice. Of course, if we're simply biological machines, whose choices only appear to derive from a free will that doesn't actually exist, then there's no such thing as freedom. We are slaves to our programming and to what that programming dictates as our response to stimuli. But, I digress.

A concern for others is a cheapening of concern for oneself. A free person is only limited by his fear (the risk he chooses to shoulder) and strength/weakness (the ability to carry out the means to his end).

I take what I want, kill what I want, enslave what I want, and rape what I want. And, I'm free enough to accept the risks. I'm the most free person you'll ever meet!


Freedom means self determination. No person is completely free, and no person has completely free will however.

Physical laws prevent absolute freedom, I can't go to the sun for example. We are all subject to limits, however, the idea is to live with only the absolute physical limits.


If one has the freedom of choice then one is completely free. If I choose one way knowing that I am "giving up" some other choice I am still free because I made the choice. And yes, the freedom to not make a choice is still making a choice.


That is not true.

A truly free human being can decide for himself whom he has a concern for.


The truth is:

Living under a government one can never be free.


and Winner of the Stating the Obvious Award goes to . . . .


I take what I want, kill what I want, enslave what I want, and rape what I want. And, I'm free enough to accept the risks. I'm the most free person you'll ever meet!


Let me dissent. As I have said before and I will say again & again, freedom, equality and justice are human concepts to regulate human behavior. They have no analogs in the natural world, where aggression rules.

The issue I have with your statement Irish (oh and I really do enjoy your writings, but I think this hits a larger issue) is that by taking an artificial state and declaring it 'natural', Rousseau -- the father of this line of thought -- introduced probably the worst single bit of philosophy into Western thinking and for my money, the root cause of many, many other ills.

By reducing freedom to some undefinable natural state, virtually any property can be ascribed to it. Moreover, no discussion of it can occur ("Freedom defined is Freedom denied!" as the campus anarchists like to spray paint on anything that doesn't move). It makes it too easy to turn all serious discourse into sloganeering about victimization and oppression. After all, no laws or understanding is needed to breath, since that is natural, as is walking, right? If freedom is as natural as all that, any laws about it are, indeed, just comically authoritarian. On the other hand, if freedom results in the context of human interactions, then we should be able to not merely understand it and its social function, we should be able to allow it.

So, here is my definition: "Freedom is the ability to set and follow your own rules to become the best person you can"

Within this is the notion that freedom requires action -- you don't just passively sit there and be free, moreover, it admits up front that ethical dilemma freedom can impose: what if my freedom to do X conflicts with your freedom to do Y? Freedom and free will are necessary in a liberal (= in the Greek sense of humans who are not slaves and must therefore take control of their own destinies) society. A liberal education is therefore charged with enabling people to live their lives, not stupefying or endoctrinating them. Taking the tack that people are the most valuable thing in societies, letting people be themselves and use their own gifts as they see fit should be the goal of the entire concept of freedom.

One more thing that is getting bounced around this thread. Once upon a time, I took a great abstract Algebra course in Grad School. Lots of abstract nonsense, but one recurring theme was that we had a set of results that boiled down to sneaky ways to count things. The subtitle of the course could have easily been "never underestimate anything that counts something," which is good advice I will pass along to everyone. Taking this analogy, money is good, precisely because if people have too much and cannot account for it, they most likely got it by shady means. (Al Capone was done in by accountants, not the FBI.) People often overlook the fact that the use of money in our society effectively leaves who has power open to scrutiny. There will always be powerful people and knowing up front is very, very useful. (Remember Cardinal Richelieu? Nobody was quite able to figure out he was a major power broker at the time which made surviving under Louis XIV's reign an art t times.) On the other hand, cultures that have tried to do away with money invariably fall back on intrigue, influence and more often than not killing each other on purely metaphysical grounds (like religion or ideologies). Yip, money suxx big blocky nuts but at least it is so damn simple we can understand it for the most part. Money is pretty good information, actually.

And as always, I might just be full of shit...

-- jj