I’m posting this essay today – December 7, 2016 – because it is the 75th anniversary of the Empire of Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. America’s entry into WWII is a fitting reminder that freedom comes with a price; we do indeed have to fight for it. There is, however, more I want to say about freedom. Those familiar with my “Words and Meanings” posts know that I seek to uncover the true meaning of words as we understand them today.
The challenges in describing or defining what freedom is center on the fact that freedom is what I call a high-concept word. This means that human emotions are entwined in its meaning. This is implied when we recognize that talking about freedom outside of the context of human affairs has little meaning. Does this mean that human emotions are the realm wherein freedom resides? Possibly. Let’s take a look at a few practical matters in hopes they will shine light on this apparent entrainment.
Those of us who live in a mostly free society know that freedom comes with two things: rights and responsibilities. One must have rights, such as free speech, to establish a lower boundary of one’s freedom. Responsibilities, on the other hand, are not what we immediately think of when we think of freedom. Responsibilities require something of us; they entail obligations and/or commitments. Aren’t we less free with them? Well, it would seem so, but we do have the responsibility to observe the rights of others i.e. those boundaries just mentioned. And don’t we have the responsibility to fight for freedom? So, responsibilities appear to establish an upper boundary on freedom. We are responsible for our own behavior. Indeed, we have the responsibility to own our own behavior.
Of course, people who live in less free societies are also responsible for their behavior. So, what is the difference? It appears to me that the difference is whether all peoples in a society are held to the same standards of rights and responsibility. The reality of our imperfect world is that some people in society must exercise more rights than others, and have more responsibilities than others, if we are to govern ourselves. As long as these people are assigned these additional rights/responsibilities through the accords of a free society, freedom is preserved. When these governing rights/responsibilities are usurped from people then freedom is diminished.
So where do emotions fit into all of this? As I see it, you have to want freedom badly enough to overpower your strongest instinct – survival – to get it. Even if you yourself don’t have to pay this price, you understand that others have, and you also understand that you don’t really achieve freedom until you feel free.