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Freedom, a postscript

February 2, 2011

In one of those wonderful bits of reading synchronicities, I woke up this morning to read about US District Judge Roger Vinson declaring ObamaCare unconstitutional. Florida Governor Rick Scott (among others) agrees, saying that: “ObamaCare is an unprecedented and unconstitutional infringement on the liberty of the American people”. Those of us in other parts of the world wonder how much America is, in the end, willing to pay for this liberty. I hope it won’t be too much.

Anyhow, I did a little digging around … and came across an undated YouTube interview with Michael Badnarik on the blog of the Foundation for a Free Society. He was asked what Freedom means to him, and this is what he said:

It means not having any government involvement … I don’t need and don’t want the government helping me, making decisions it thinks are in my best interest.

And in the next sentence or two he mentions various apparently un-free things like drivers’ licences. Hmm …

He goes on to mention a wide range of issues, many of which bear good discussion but not, it seems, in his mind. Freedom, I know, is not a simple thing. I value it, but …

… here’s the thing (as I see it) – Jonathan Franzen touches on it but just doesn’t quite nail it – and that is that “no (wo)man is an island”. John Stuart Mill said that:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others …


The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.

In other words, Freedom is not an absolute concept … we are human (read “social”) beings and that, to me, involves responsibilities as well as rights. Responsibilities that, by definition, limit our freedom. Don’t they?

Finally, I write this post nervously – it is simple, and the concept is complex. I know that, and have no answer except one. Freedom cannot be absolute and surely must be discussed in that context. Otherwise, isn’t it a little paradoxical for the proponents of freedom to be arguing it absolutely?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2011 19:51

    Freedom from poverty, freedom from debt, freedom from fear of unemployment, of poverty, of life-changing illness. I think these American’s have no concept of society and the responsibility to care for one another. In Britain, the Welfare State was a hard-won thing but now we’ve got it, no politician would dare fight an election on a platform of wanting to dismantle it.

    • February 2, 2011 22:43

      Ah, well said Tom. Wish I’d thought of that. Over here, we are I think halfway between Great Britain and the USA … there are grumblings about taxes and big government at times but I don’t think anyone here would ever question the need to provide health care for all citizens, and so on. In fact, one of our politicians is famous for bravely saying (in 1987) that “by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty”. While people were sceptical about the likelihood of its being achieved noone really would have argued that it wasn’t the role of government to work towards goals like this.

  2. February 3, 2011 01:32

    Emma Donoghue says more about freedom restricted to that small ‘Room’ than Franzen says about Freedom in that, as you say, ‘baggy’ novel.
    Most of what’s going on in United States politics today is contemptible, much of it due to Rupert Murdoch. Tea Party politics is government of the ignorant, by the ignorant, for the ignorant.
    Don’t get me started.

    • February 3, 2011 07:56

      I won’t then (get you started that is!) … but I will try to read Room as it does sound intriguing.

      One of the issues about reading with groups (real and online) is that they tend to direct your reading. My freedom to choose what I read is therefore seriously curtailed! Actually, the choice is whether to read books that I can then enjoy discussing with others or read to my own drum … I try to find a balance but it means that I need to find time to squeeze in books like Room that my groups haven’t yet selection and Aussie books that I want to keep up with/catch up on.

      As for RM … all I can say is you (not you personally of course!) let him become a citizen!!

  3. February 3, 2011 02:26

    I am so frustrated about the direction America is starting to head and of groups like the Tea Party frankly scare the bejeezus out of me. No government involvement? Gee, I sure like driving on paved roads and the fact that I got educated in a public school. One of the reasons I am returning to school for nursing is that it’s a skill that will allow me to go almost anywhere outside of the US.

    • February 3, 2011 08:14

      Thanks for commenting Amanda … agree of course with what you say. Good for you for deciding to become a nurse … great career for many reasons. (But, if you do travel outside of the US … just make sure you keep voting!!)

  4. February 3, 2011 02:51

    The concept of Freedom and rights in the US is complex and ever shifting. I doubt that Badnarik realizes just how much the government does for him on a daily basis- safe drinking water, cheap food, roads, police and fire departments, and so much more that the government does in his best interest. The whole health care thing will eventually make it to the Supreme Court and then the legality of it will be settled. I’ve heard that it’s possible parts of it might be struck down but the whole thing won’t be. The House voted the other day to repeal the whole thing. The Senate is getting ready to vote on it but doesn’t have enough votes for repeal. I just don’t understand why there are people who think that it’s ok people can’t afford healthcare or that the majority of Americans who declare bankruptcy do so because of healthcare bills.

    • February 3, 2011 08:01

      Thanks Stefanie … the whole health care issue is gob-smacking really isn’t it? I’d read some time ago about the level of bankruptcy due to health care and couldn’t really believe it.

      As for Badnarik. He’s an educated man. He must know about roads (et al). I must say I was astonished when he mentioned drivers licenses. Does he think just anyone should be able to drive regardless of their age and skills?

      Anyhow, we are all watching the health issue with interest and truly hope some foot stays in the door at the end of all this so more of the body can get in down the track.

  5. marco permalink
    February 3, 2011 03:24

    On topic, I’ve just read this extremely sad story.

  6. February 4, 2011 06:55

    I have several close friends who are pure, unadulterated libertarians who simultaneously hate taxes but love highways and other accoutrements of civilization, the very things that separate hairless bi-peds from hirsute, four-legged beasts. K

  7. February 5, 2011 02:05

    Some very enlightened Americans have commented above! I fear that the press the USA gets around the world may not present an accurate picture of the people of that great nation.

    • February 5, 2011 13:39

      Very true Tom … re comments here, and the people in general. We know through people meet in the blog and the wider online world that America is not as “simple” as the media picture we see.

  8. February 7, 2011 08:18

    Of course, the notion of freedom is relative. Absolute freedom isn’t that desirable, considering we’re mere mortals living at the mercies of natural laws and as members of society, protected by boundaries set up for our security and well-being, not to say we shouldn’t challenge authorities or should take all forms of regulations for granted. I’m very interested about that book which one of your commenter mentioned, Room… life in confinement. I must get hold of that. Whisperinggums, thanks for a thought-provoking PS.

    • February 7, 2011 20:01

      Glad you see it similarly Arti (not that I’m surprised) … Room has been getting a bit of a buzz the last few months so I’m rather keen to read it too.

  9. February 8, 2011 07:59

    You’re correct but I would make sure to include people who’re disadvantaged. Who’s loong out for their freedom? Are they just meaningless people taking up space? And should they just stay sick and die. My brother was one of those. He worked for people who wouldn’t pay him after he laid bricks all day. He was homeless and he didn’t believe the system cared so he didn’t complain because he couldn’t even get aid to help him when he was sick. So he died of hypertensive cardiac arrest. For those who don’t know what this is. Try walking around without necessary high blood pressure meds when you have it. Long-term untreated hypertension will do this: Collapse and die. You and your relatives who don’t know much about medicine unless you have high-price medical coverage like I used to have won’t have a clue either.

    • February 8, 2011 08:14

      Oh absolutely – thanks for sharing this JC. Disadvantage people physically, mentally, economically, etc) are a major reason why I see this concept of “freedom” (as in “I’m an adult, I can make decisions for myself, I don’t need the government helping me”) as highly simplistic and, in fact, astonishingly unaware if not downright insensitive.

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