Freedom and Individualism Notes

About Freedom

"If you are waiting for the government to change, or society to change, or for some program or movement to be successful to find freedom, you will never be free."

This article is a continuation of the article, "What Is Freedom." These are my comments on freedom, which I defined in that article as follows:

Freedom is that state (condition, situation) in which individuals can do anything they choose to do within the limits of reality.

  • As a corollary it also means that one is not compelled or required to do anything they choose not to do.

  • By in which individuals means freedom only pertains to individuals, not societies or any other kind of collective.

  • By within the limits of reality means one is not free to do what is physically impossible or what they themselves do not have the physical or mental ability to do.

  • By anything they choose means freedom only pertains to consciously chosen actions.

  • By to do means freedom only pertains to an individual's overt actions.

Two Additional Aspects Of Freedom

1. Sometimes the nature of property is included in the concept of freedom, because property represents the product of one's chosen work and effort. The principle is: one's freedom to produce and keep the product of one's effort is as necessary to one's life as freedom itself. If one is unable to keep what one has produced, one is not free. The principle is correct, but is subsumed in the definition of freedom itself, since keeping and preserving ones property are both actions one must be free to perform.

2. Freedom does not pertain to having anything that is not the result of one's own action and does not pertain to anyone else's actions or non-actions that do not directly affect one's own freedom. The desire for freedom from pain, suffering, discomfort, danger, or difficulty not intentionally caused by other individuals is a desire for that which is realistically impossible. The desire for freedom from criticism, hate, prejudice, discrimination or anything one thinks is "not nice" or "not fair" is a desire for a world that is realistically impossible.

Understanding Freedom

For human beings, freedom is a necessity of life, just as much as food, water, and knowledge are necessities of life. Like all other necessities, reality does not provide freedom, but does provide every individual with the ability to achieve their own freedom, just as they must provide and acquire their own water, food, and knowledge by their own effort.

The collectivist or "social" view of man is the belief that the necessities of life (and more) can be provided to all human beings by means of some social or political arrangement or system. The individualist view of man is the belief that all necessities and values of life must be provided by each individual's own effort. Oddly, most individualists make one exception to this principle when it comes to freedom.

Now, there is a difference between freedom and all other necessities of life: so long as nothing prevents one from acting as they choose, they are free. In one sense all other values in life are a positive pursuit while freedom is a negative pursuit. One works to secure those things one needs and desires to live, but one must work to "prevent" their freedom from being "taken away or interfered with."

The assumption is, so long as nothing interfere's with an individual's chosen action, the individual is free. When Ayn Rand wrote, "It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment," she implied that it is only the action of other men that is a danger to one's freedom, and only when they use force.

It is certainly easy to understand this view on the part of Ayn Rand and most others. Historically, the most obvious threats to individual freedom have been other men using force to suppress and enslave them. But the obvious has obscured the many other threats to individual freedom. Those other threats come in two flavors: non-physical threats and threats by other than men.

Non-human Threats To Freedom

In my article, "Individual Freedom" I wrote:

"'The only thing that can take away an individualís freedom is the use of force by another individual.' But that is not true. There are many vicious beasts that can do the same, even inanimate things like floods, storms, or earthquakes, as well as microscopic organisms that can sicken one and prevent them from doing what they choose, but would do if they were well.

[NOTE: One could argue that since freedom only pertains to what one is physically and psychologically able to do, that is, what is really possible, once one is incapacitated by disease or injury they are still free to do whatever they can, they can just do less. That argument would equally apply to force used by men, since after force is used, if one's person is incapacitated (injured, imprisoned) or property is lost, they are still free to do whatever they can, they can just do less. It is obviously a specious argument.]

Non-physical Threats To Freedom

I also wrote in that article: "Most peopleís freedom isn't taken away anyway. Most people surrender it and surrender it cheaply to any of a million things that promise what does not require too much effort or difficulty, from pleasure to reputation."

In 1973 Harry Browne published his book, How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World, which was an instant libertarian classic. In that book Harry describes what he calls 18 "traps" which most people fall into and which are the source of their own lack of freedom. Harry discusses the nature of all these self-imposed freedom sapping beliefs and practices that keep people from realizing their own freedom.

The significant thing about every one of those freedom inhibiting beliefs and practices is that no force was used by anyone to impose them on those enslaved by them. They were chosen by the unfree, because they were gullible, credulous, easily influenced by feelings, emotions, fears, and sentiment, or were simply afraid of real freedom, afraid to be totally responsible for their own choices and actions.

I'll provide all of Harry's freedom principles in my next article, "Harry Browne's Freedom Principles."