The man who is guided by reason is more free in a state, where he lives under a general system of law, than in solitude, where he is independent. (Spinoza, Ethics)
What is freedom in our modern world?
Radical individualists say, “To be free is to do whatever I want. Hail Satan!”
For folks who feel less socially alienated, freedom is not quite as egocentric and satanic: “Freedom means to do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt others (who don’t hurt you).” In this spirit, modern freedom spans at least three levels:
- Morally, it invokes the non-aggression principle, although many call upon the ideology of human rights.
- Economically, it praises free-market capitalism, although many see equality as a necessary component of liberty.
- Privately, it glorifies hedonism, although some discipline themselves to escape affective slavery.
As you may know, I define freedom as ‘the degree to which a man does what he truly wants with a cool mind’. Here’s what this definition implies:
- Freedom is not an absolute state—not something you have or don’t have—but rather a developmental process—something you grow into through volitional growth (willpower, self-discipline), personal economic growth (achievement, financial freedom), personal democratic growth (political activity), and spiritual growth (wisdom, mindfulness).
- Freedom is dependent on mindcoolness, that is, dependent (a) on a rational mind that makes decisions based on values and principles rather than temporary whims and emotions and (b) on a grateful mind that appreciates other people’s will.
- Freedom is an expression of the True Will, which requires a deep recognition of human nature and, ideally, perfect self-knowledge.
- I’m a misogynistic bigot because I use old language.
In many earlier blog posts, my notion of freedom was still very individualistic, probably because I tended to separate (individual) freedom from (political) liberty. However, the more I learn about human nature and political theory, the more I find that personal freedom cannot exist without collective freedom.
What is freedom traditionally?
The original meaning of the word ‘liberty’ in no way suggests the idea of ‘liberation’ as emancipation from a given community. Rather, it implies a form of belonging—and it is this which confers liberty. […] When Aristotle defines man as ‘a political animal’ and a social being, when he claims that the city precedes the individual and that only within society can the individual achieve his potential, what he is suggesting is that man should not be detached from his role as a citizen. (Alain de Benoist, The Problem of Democracy, pp. 24-25)
In ancient Greece, the birthplace of our European notion of freedom, the free man was first a citizen and then an individual. This, of course, flies in the face of modern liberalism, which claims that liberty is based on inalienable rights granted to every abstract, fundamentally asocial human being.
Do we, as Europeans, want to accept such an empty, deprived version of freedom? Or do we want our freedom to highlight our communal responsibility? Do we want a set of inalienable rights to define our liberty and then bow down to the government for everything else? Or do we want to be actively involved in the decision-making process when laws are established? Only active participation in politics expresses power and will, expresses sovereignty, expresses positive freedom.
Importantly, this is a question of true democracy. In a representative democracy, the power is not with the people, but with the political class, which primarily serves its own interests. In a real democracy, the people may delegate their power to civil servants who execute the people’s will, but they never abdicate their power to representatives who pretend to embody that will. Concretely, a general election is a spectacle of an oligarchic circus, whereas a referendum is an exercise of democratic liberty.
Sure, direct democracy has numerous drawbacks that must be dealt with. However, the problem of balancing traditional ideals with modern facts to maximize public freedom is similar to how we always have to find the proper balance between our old, animalistic, tribal will and our modern, civilized, socially conditioned will if we want to maximize personal freedom. Yet may this never mar our deepest values!
Nothing is harder than to know and do one’s True Will, but also, nothing is more glorious and liberating. And it cannot be a purely solitary endeavor, for that would ignore the fundamental social embeddedness of the human will, whose individual freedom presupposes the collective freedom of a greater communal will.
Liberty results from one’s identity as a member of a folk: the liberty of the folk commands all other liberties. (Alain de Benoist, The Problem of Democracy, p. 98)
For example, you can invoke your human right to freedom of expression all you want: if your community doesn’t value free speech or if it isn’t free to determine its own values, any liberal ideology is worthless.
To achieve true freedom, a person’s and a people’s will must unite as one.
- The Merits of Direct Democracy
- How to Do Your True Will
- On the Emptiness of Freedom
- On the Freedom to Do What We (Truly) Want