What Constitutes Freedom?

A dear friend of mine asked if I’d like to publish this article. I answered in the affirmative.

Freedom definition

Whether you live in Catalonia or Scotland, the USA or Russia, most people are interested in “freedom”. The question is “What constitutes freedom?”

Freedom for a Russian could mean actions to prevent invasion and perhaps the people are easily misled to think that invasion is likely. An American considers freedom as lack of government interference. The French are an enigma! A significant majority are happy with a country with more government control and involvement than most other European countries.

Democracy does not guarantee freedom. Consider Egypt, not a straightforward place to contemplate freedom but one thing is sure: A democratic election voted in a majority government which then thought that it had won the right to remove freedoms from a large proportion of the population. Nineteenth century Great Britain was not a democracy but its population had a significant degree of personal freedom.

“Freedom from a foreign yolk”. Are the people of Zimbabwe freer to express their opinions or develop their lives with education, health-care and job opportunities available, under Robert Mugabe rather than Ian Smith? Will the people of the Donbas ever rebuild their lives and have freedom, if they achieve union with Russia, compared with their potential future if a less corrupt and better-run Ukraine emerges from the changes taking place? I make these points, not as political judgements but, as evidence of the complexity of the concept of “freedom”.

The French certainly hold up their revolution to be a beacon to free people around the world. However, don’t shout for change if the people to whom you give the power wish to change everything to their liking with no thought for you! No-one would deny the need to clear out the Bourbon dynasty, and its insufferable selfishness and arrogance, thus leading to the hope of freedom and a better life. However, the poor French had to endure The Terror with tens of thousands of people murdered, with everything changed from the trivial to the serious, the names of the days of the week to religion. This was then followed by a Corsican opportunist who spotted his chance to steal most of Europe and rule the world. His efforts led to the death of between one and two million people before he was stopped. Freedom? I don’t think so!

So what is freedom? It is difficult to define and probably has as many definitions as there are people in the world. It is even more difficult to achieve but I suppose the first step is to define it so that we know what we are aiming for and therefore whether we are achieving it.

Thus I can only propose my own definition and offer it for interest or not!

I want to be able to live my own life and hold my opinions without interference. People can and should be able to disagree with me and try to change my thoughts and behaviour but I must be free to decide, PROVIDED that this behaviour does not hurt others—physically, financially,etc—and that I behave according to a set of rules or LAWS within this free society. Here therefore is the nub of the issue. The laws must be fair and non-partisan. They should provide for equal opportunity to apply for redress and equal punishment in the event of contravention.

Thus the Law is the principle tool to ensure freedom. The institution containing the procedures and the personnel administering the law must be, and must be seen to be, independent of government. Although judicial independence can be, and is, successfully achieved by other means, I am a great fan of The English Common Law. Lawyers, in their presentations in the court, use the decisions of similar cases in the (mostly) recent past to suggest the guilt or innocence of the accused who is then judged by a jury of 12 citizens under the guidance of a judge. Thus there is an ongoing application of law governed by actual life (or precedent) in addition to laws introduced by parliament. This is under threat from a European view and directive handed down to nations by the EU Parliament that law is best decided by politicians and applied by judges.

I would also like this free society to have some order to it. I don’t want the white-heat of revolution to sweep away everything and to allow a small elite to introduce their definition rather than maintaining many things established by common consent over centuries.

I like the principle of “Fairness”. This incorporates the doctrine of “meritocracy” or equality of opportunity based on merit and not influenced by family, politics or religion. It also, in my opinion, includes “Manners”. Manners in personal relationships show respect and recognition of others. Without them a society is selfish and will eventually collapse.

As a fundamental contributor to freedom within a society I feel that small government should be sought and encouraged. People in a free society produce better solutions than large governments trying to think through all the detail in the rules that they reason should be applied to our daily lives.

Other things spring to mind: Honesty, Common Sense, Decency, governmental behaviour to develop a Culture of Consent within the society, etc. However I should now summarise before this turns into a book rather than a simple article offered to Mr. Dobson’s blog!

Thus, it is my personal contention that “Freedom” is the ability to act, according to one’s morality and opinion, within a set of laws. For such a society to work it must incorporate a set of institutions that have the consent of the majority of the citizens. Firstly a government based on adult suffrage, composed of people of different political persuasions but all of them proving themselves to act for the population as a whole and subject to dismissal by regular elections. Secondly, and most importantly, an independent judiciary upholding and administering the Law fairly. Additionally a political and judicial environment which encourages enterprise to provide prosperity based on endeavour and a civil society to cultivate diversity and initiative.

I started this article in the belief that Catalonians, Scots, Ukrainians and all of us could find some formula for “Freedom” which contained checks to avoid a false endeavour. I have failed, and produced a personal opinion. I am sorry but hope that you enjoy my journey through this fundamental subject and that it stimulates you to think about it!

I finish with a quote from Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century which I like:
“I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people under the pretence of taking care of them.”

Thomas Jefferson quote

Quote by Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826)

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