Searching for Freedom in the 21st Century

The advantage of freedom is that you make your own destiny. The disadvantage is that you don’t have anyone helping you or providing for you. The concept of freedom is one which Georg Hegel (1770-1831) thought of very great importance; indeed, he believed that it is the central concept in human history. Hegel developed a philosophy of action in which the spirit is always active in the search of some aim, in realizing one’s potential or self-actualization. You must find your own point in history, claims Hegel, and start to reflect on yourself in relation to the world. Critical thinking requires assessing a claim, weighing the evidence, and making a judgement based on the results of our thought processes. Hegel’s concept of freedom can best be regarded as the answer to a problem – the problem of how a man can be free in a universe which is governed by necessary laws.

The Enlightenment of the 18th century opened up the floodgates of new ideas, new thoughts on everything from the way man saw government and his own role in society to the way scientific ideas were conceived, demonstrated, and above all, published and shared with the world. The Enlightenment writers were concerned about the inequality of the existing system and introduced questioning and critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition and challenge the blind faith in institutions. The philosophers wanted to understand the rationale behind inequality, were particularly interested if there were natural reasons for it, or if inequality came wholly from social conventions. Voltaire criticized the class system of the time – a rigid class system based on inherited positions of nobility and wealth – as being a system exclusively dominated by aristocrats who possess all the financial, political and social power.

Before the Enlightenment human beings were generally considered in terms of how they fit into social hierarchies and communal institutions, but following enlightenment the view was that the individual rather than society as a whole, is the most important entity. Self-criticism and self-denial were no longer in vogue, replaced by self-expression, self-realization and self-approval. Hegel explains the modern state is the institution that will correct this imbalance in modern culture. Although economic and legal individualism play a positive role in society, Hegel foresees the need for institutions that will affirm common bonds and ethical life while preserving individual freedom. He believes, for example, that the state must regulate the economy and provide for the poor in society and that there should be ‘corporative’ institutions somewhat similar to modern trade unions, in which different occupational groups affirm a sense of social belonging and a feeling of being connected to a larger society.

Hegel who saw a world governed by individual self-interest believed that we are controlled by external forces, and are nothing but pawns in the game. Hegel believed that the ideas we have of the world are social, which is to say, the ideas that we possess individually are for the most part shaped by the ideas that other people possess. Our minds have been shaped by the thoughts of other people through the language we speak, the traditions and mores of our society, and the cultural and religious institutions of which we are a part. For Hegel freedom is realized through self-determination and self-actualization. Hegel sees ideas in the abstract but embodied in society and institutions that change. He believed there is no role for individual freedom, even though one may behave as he likes, he is not free. Freedom is more than one’s own capacity for decisions.

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) played a role in the transition of post-Hegelian philosophy in traditional idealism to various forms of naturalism, materialism and positivism, influencing themes developed further by others. Feuerbach joins the great tradition of materialist philosophers who, taking as the point of departure for their views man’s actual state in nature and in society, could see that the idealistic solutions were illusory. The hard fact that man’s natural drives permitted no satisfactory outlet, showed freedom and reason to be a myth, as far as social realities were concerned. Despite all historical progress, Feuerbach cries out, man is still in need, and the pervasive fact philosophy encounters is ‘suffering.’ This, and not cognition, is primary in man’s relation to the objective world. ‘Thought is preceded by suffering.’ And no realization of reason is in the offing until that suffering has been eliminated.

Julius Evola (1898-1974) claims freedom and equality are tools of manipulation, and after the movement leaders get what they want, they’ll toss you aside. Evola explains, “Practically speaking, it is only a revolutionary weapon: freedom and equality are the catchwords certain social strata or groups employed in order to undermine other classes and to gain preeminence; having achieved this task, they were quickly set aside.” When the fascists came to power in Italy in 1922, Evola jumped on board and became a regular contributor to the regime’s mouthpiece magazine, Difesa della Razza (Defense of the Race). But Evola’s message, soaked in conspiracy theories, has quietly endured in the underground and has reemerged on the surface recently, thanks to the popularity of conspiracy theories. Christians in the far right rationalize their fascination with the philosopher, arguing Evola’s main teaching was to go back to tradition.

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) explains to his enthusiastic supporter Antony Fisher: “Society’s course will be changed only by a change of ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and the writers, with reasoned arguments. It will be their influence on society that will prevail and the politicians will follow.” To empower these ideas corporate money supported think-tanks along with scholarship and intensive use of media. This think-tank network wasn’t for creating new ideas, but for being a gate keeper and disseminating the existing set of ideas around “the philosophy of freedom.” The conscious strategy of this global think-tank network was to take the idea of individual freedom and minimal government mainstream. Freedom has nothing to do with democracy or speech or individual rights: for the economic elite it is about the freedom of the market and their proxies who control those markets. Individuals must realize how much laissez-fare manipulates you.

NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware is a mobile phone surveillance solution that enables customers to remotely exploit and monitor devices. The company is a prolific seller of surveillance technology to governments around the world, and its products have been regularly linked to surveillance abuses. More recently, NSO Group is shifting towards zero-click exploits and network-based attacks that allow its government clients to break into phones without any interaction from the target, and without leaving any visible traces. The shift towards zero-click attacks by an industry and customers already steeped in secrecy increases the likelihood of abuse going undetected. The abuse of NSO Group’s zero-click iMessage attack to target journalists reinforces the need for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance technology. An attack on the Fourth Estate – undermining the freedom of the press and shutting down critical media – undermines everyone’s freedom.

Since the time of the French Revolution, freedom has been regarded as the greatest value of culture. Today in modern society, we are trying to restore the value of individual freedom, which we formally perceive as one of the rights of man and citizen. The concept of “freedom of the individual” is increasingly used in the media, in the speeches of political leaders, as well, is declared by the US Constitution. However, the meaning invested in this concept by different people is different – often the most opposite ways of solving the problem of freedom of the human person are offered. Today the economic elite claim, there is a threat to other freedoms with any reduction to economic freedom (i.e. regulations). For some freedom has nothing to do with democracy or speech or individual rights: for the neoliberal it is about the freedom of the market and the elites who control those markets.

In 1762, Rousseau published the Social Contract in which he defined the ideal social contract, describing how man could be free and live together in a community. By ‘equality’ Rousseau did not mean that everyone should be exactly the same, but differences in wealth should not imbalance the state. Equality it seemed to him, is a necessary condition for the preservation of liberty, while property and material inequality are the root of human misery and evil. Rousseau observes, evil, greed, and selfishness emerged as human society began to develop. As people formed social institutions, they developed vices. One such institution was private property that encouraged avarice and self-interest. Thus, Rousseau asserts, that some level of material equality is necessary to ensure that liberty comes before profit. He also defended private property; if everything we did was for the state, we would no longer be free.

The lack of freedom to make choices creates a group working below their capabilities precisely because they have no other option, thus they become susceptible to rhetoric from populist politicians with simplistic solutions. An essential attribute of the good life is that people enjoy not just a range of personal freedoms, but an access to knowledge and a voice in public affairs. When asking searching questions of yourself, realize that freedom resides not in the brain, but in the traditions of critical thought and skeptical reason. Freedom is best exercised as a means to an end, but the end must be one that gives people the choice to make the best possible decisions to reach their full potential. We will change institutions by electing progressive candidates with policies to begin the process to end big money’s grip on politics, an issue that lies at the core of the debate on the search for freedom in the 21st century.

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