Undoubtedly, Freedom is a precious gift. My friends who lived under the iron curtain often recall how painfully limited their freedom was; and here in the UK the fight for freedom is often and rightfully cherished. Yet, at the same time we must not reify freedom. Especially libertarians have a tendency to worship individual freedom above all else. In this modern individualistic and materialistic society we often hubristically believe that freedom is an end — holding up high the signs with “The goal of politics is Freedom” — yet, the dominant ideology of a transactional “negative freedom” is shortsighted and hollow. Lifting freedom onto a quasi-religious pedestal, we forget to ask the most important question: freedom “for what”?
Simply said, freedom of choice and freedom from “interference by other people” are insufficient to lead a good life. As Amartya Sen explained, an individual’s “effective freedom” depends on the development of the capabilities available to that individual. That starts with food and shelter, safety and financials, but quickly implies a capacity to participate — because we only flourish in and with community. Our truest freedom is positive freedom — a “social freedom”. Without an ethos of interdependence we cannot live a good life, because aliveness is a common good. And, worse, negative freedom always causes negative externalities — if we don’t care about our world, we will destroy it!
“Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast,” said Victor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning.
In ancient Greek a person who did not participate in the polis, in the community, was called “idiot”. Not because the stubborn collective wanted to impose their command on the unwilling citizens, but because of a deep acknowledgment that we as individuals — in spite of all our modern life coaching — do not have purpose inside ourselves. We attain purpose by becoming part of the society and systems we are member of. We acquire meaning and thrive by transcending ourselves, by stepping into interdependence. Moreover, as Ken Arrow demonstrated, without an “ethos of participation”, meaningful social choice is impossible. In other words, democracy cannot function without responsible citizens who are willing to be accountable to each other.
That’s hard for the modern homo liber to swallow, but we’d better learn the lesson fast — before we idiotically squander our hard-earned, wonderful freedom: failing to become those excellent modern citizens that contribute their unique gifts to continually cultivate and develop the good societies and ecosystems we are a living part of, so that we can all flourish together…
See here for the plans for a “Statue of Responsibility”: https://www.uvureview.com/news/statue-responsibility-unveiled/
From: “Sunday Morning Thoughts on LinkedIn” — I will report some of the interesting LinkedIn dialogues here, paraphrased and applying the Chatham House Rule — trying to protect some of the sentiments, thoughts, and above all our stimulating discussions from oblivion ;-)