This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on 16FEB15.
While researching a recent project I came across an excellent piece by Leonard Benton regarding freedom of speech; specifically speech that is unacceptable or serves only to divide us as a people. In Benton’s article he offered an excellent example of the opposing nature of freedom. Benton relates the idea to leading troops but his words apply equally to leading a nation of diversity. It set me to thinking about the classic Margret Atwood quote:
“There is more than one kind of freedom…Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was “freedom to.” Now you are being given “freedom from.” Don’t underrate it”
Svoboda, Libertate’, Свобода, FREEDOM! What is this concept so powerful that good men are overtly willing to die for it and even immoral men pretend to be willing? I know what freedom means to me. I know what I am willing to die for but is your idea of freedom the same as mine?
Some philosophical questions arise: Can absolute freedom actually exist? Is it possible for one man’s freedom to become another man’s bondage? Does my 2nd Amendment right or “freedom to” carry a firearm infringe on your implied right to live in “freedom from” the threat of gun violence? Can constraints actually constitute freedom?
I had a brother who once told me combat was freedom. His only responsibility in the field was to stay alive and keep his brothers alive. Everything else was taken care of or supplied; “in the field money don’t even matter.” For him the field was ultimate freedom, I envied him.
The nature of freedom has been a thorn in the paw of contemporary philosophers for decades. In his Essay “Two Concepts of Liberty” Isaiah Berlin put it in terms that even I could understand.
“Political theory is a branch of moral philosophy, which starts from the discovery, or application, of moral notions in the sphere of political relations.”
Freedom is one of those moral notions we apply to our political sphere and is fundamental to the founder’s intentions. Thomas Jefferson felt so strongly about freedom he listed its three guarantees; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence but what I find even more compelling is the last statement Jefferson penned in the Declaration; a pledge to stand together to support this concept of freedom.
“And for the support of this Declaration… we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Freedom is the bastion of both liberal and conservative politics; the difference is their perception of freedom. Do they define freedom as “Freedom From” or “Freedom To” and how do they focus that blurry line between individual and group freedom?
Many philosophers believe that negative and positive freedoms are not only two distinct concepts of freedom but they are opposing, competing, incompatible interpretations of one political ideal. Political Liberalism generally accepts a negative definition of freedom. Liberals contend that if one favors personal freedom you must place strong limitations on the activities of the Government. Conservatives often contest this implication by denying the negative type of freedom. They believe that the pursuit of liberty understood as self-realization or as self-determination may include government intervention of a kind not normally allowed by liberals.
So what is my point?
Your guess is as good as mine. I’m not even sure I had a point… this started out as a piece about Vladimir Putin. I got side tracked and you went chasing rabbits with me. I do have a conclusion; so I’ll share it with you. Few people admit they are against freedom; therefore I can only reach one conclusion:
Freedom is a nebulous a concept; interpretation and political understanding are major factors and have extreme political ramifications but I think I found the key to constitutional freedom. The key to what the founders intended.
That last statement in the Declaration of Independence adds a variable to our concept of freedom found no place else. Just as the founders placed checks and balances on constitutional power they effectively placed a natural check and balance mechanism on constitutional freedom then they sealed it with Jefferson’s words.
“… we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
How did we stray so far from the founder’s intent? What happened to “e Pluribus Unum”?
No matter what your concept of freedom is: constitutional freedom encompasses all of us and when the signatories endorsed the founding of this republic by signing that declaration, they also endorsed the concept of mutual consideration; the idea that I should be as concerned with your freedom as my own.
It should be as much of an affront to my sense of patriotism for your freedoms to be infringed upon as any infringement upon my own. Even if I don’t like your morals or how you exercise your freedom it is this mutual respect for each other’s choices and individual beliefs that provides freedom at the national level, that all-encompassing freedom the founders intended.
We as a nation have strayed from the path. We were founded as an assembly of countrymen, a band of allies loyal to a common concept who firmly held to the motto “e Pluribus Unum”. We have become a nation of agendas; none of which have any consideration for each other or interest in any part of the Constitution unless it can be wielded like a club at political opponents.
It is time we accept the fact that our republic is sick and only together can we heal her. The single most important thing any republic needs is vocal ardent patriots on both sides of every issue willing to fight for what they believe yet knowing when it is time to compromise and consider what is best for the republic and her people.
Such ardent patriots were gathered together in that room in Philadelphia when those fifty-six men added their signatures and mutually pledged to each other their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor.
Men who have heard the sound of hostile gunfire together understand this commitment but we must find a way to reinstall it in our nation as a whole. If we do not; I fear the republic I love and serve will go the way of so many past empires and that our stories will be told only by the victor.
Author’s note: An unusual amount of research was required on this issue simply because every academic article I read seemed to add more questions and no answers. If the topic interests you I would exhort you to read Ian Carter’s entry “Positive and Negative Liberty” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy he is concise and clear in his points and he presents a bibliography worthy copying for future use.
 “A handmaidens tale” Margaret Atwood (ISBN13: 9780385490818) Chapter 5, pg. 24
 Berlin, I. (1958) “Two Concepts of Liberty.” In Isaiah Berlin (1969) Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.wiso.uni-hamburg.de/fileadmin/wiso_vwl/johannes/Ankuendigungen/Berlin_twoconceptsofliberty.pdf
 Paraphrased from Ian carter’s essay “Positive and Negative Liberty”.
Carter, Ian, “Positive and Negative Liberty”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2012/entries/liberty-positive-negative/>.