Freedom and Individualism Notes

What Is 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."

I was recently criticized for not accepting Ayn Rand's definition of freedom. The criticism is correct. I do not accept Ayn Rand's definition of freedom, and neither does anyone else, because she never provided one.

She wrote a great deal about freedom and one might glean a definition from that, I suppose, but there is no specific definition. (It is possible that at some time Rand did define freedom, and I would be eternally grateful to know when that was and know the source.)

The following I think are the most important of Rand's writing from which we might deduce what she meant by freedom:

"...individual freedom is the precondition of human productivity..." [The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. III, No. 22 July 29, 1974, "Hunger And Freedom"]

We know from this and other references Rand means by freedom, "individual freedom," not some kind of "social" freedom.

"Freedom is the fundamental requirement of man's mind." By freedom then, she also means freedom of the mind, to learn, think, and choose, which necessarily means free to put those thoughts and choices into action, as she went on to write:

"A rational mind does not work under compulsion; it does not subordinate its grasp of reality to anyone's orders, directives, or controls; it does not sacrifice its knowledge, its view of the truth, to anyone's opinions, threats, wishes, plans, or "welfare." Such a mind may be hampered by others, it may be silenced, proscribed, imprisoned, or destroyed; it cannot be forced; a gun is not an argument. (An example and symbol of this attitude is Galileo.)

"It is from the work and the inviolate integrity of such minds—from the intransigent innovators—that all of mankind's knowledge and achievements have come." [Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal—"Theory And History 1. What Is Capitalism?"]

She also wrote:

"Individual freedom is not a primary political principle and cannot be defined, defended, or practiced without the primary principle of individual rights." [Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal—"21. The Wreckage Of The Consensus."]

This may surprise a few, that Rand did not consider freedom a primary principle but a derivative one. Her idea of freedom means freedom based on rights which in her view was a moral issue. The reason she subordinates freedom to rights is because she regards freedom limited to what is moral, that is, one ought to be free to do anything they choose so long as it is not immoral, that is, does not violate anyone else's rights, for example.

"The love of freedom is a synonym of independence. Freedom from what? Nothing can take a man's freedom away from him—except other men. Freedom means freedom from others. A man who places others above self should have no objection to being a slave. In fact, that is the condition he should desire." [The Journals of Ayn Rand "Part 3 - Transition Between Novels 8 - The Moral Basis Of Individualism"]

This is the essential argument Rand uses for the necessity of government.

"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, [i.e., limit his freedom]." [The Virtue of Selfishness, "14. The Nature of Government"]

"The only function of the government, ... is ... protecting [men] from physical force; the government acts as the agent of man's right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use." [Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, "Theory And History 1. What Is Capitalism?"]

I am not going to try to guess how Ayn Rand would have defined freedom, but I will say what she appears to mean by it. This is admittedly my own view, and am sure others will draw different conclusions.

I think for Rand the essential meaning of freedom was a condition under which an individual could use his mind to think and choose whatever his best reason led him to choose and could without restriction act on those choices. Rand apparently thought such a free condition was only possible in a free society, a society in which a government eliminated what she believed was the only threat to one's freedom, the use of force by other individuals. If I were going to reduce this to a definition it would be:

"Freedom is the ability to think, choose, and act in any moral way when a proper government has eliminated all possible restrictions to one's behavior in a society."

This is only conjecture. Please feel free to make your own. I'd be interested in seeing yours.

So, What Is Freedom?

In addition to being criticized for not accepting Rand's non-existent definition of freedom, I was also criticized, by the same individual, for not having, "a non-contradictory objective definition of freedom." This was a little bewildering since the critic had no idea what my definition of freedom is. To eliminate this problem, herewith is my definition of freedom, with some notes on what true freedom is.

Freedom is that state (condition, situation) in which individuals may 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 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.

Comments On Freedom

My comments on freedom will be in my next article, "About Freedom."