FREEDOM - Freedom is a word (almost) universally embraced as a value and important social good by people across the political spectrum- albeit with very different associated meanings.  


For many conservatives - especially religious conservatives - freedom is a notion closely associated with faith in God and blessings they believe have been given to America by God.  Many of these conservatives also see freedom as being indissolubly linked to the free market, which they see as the best guarantor of individual liberty and prosperity.  Nearly inviolable property rights, and the freedom to own property and to steward it according to one's own values, is seen as essential to living out the full promise of the pursuit of happiness and to protecting the integrity of the other rights outlined in the nation's founding documents. 


For many liberals, freedom by itself is a good word, as witnessed, for example, in the name Freedom Rides and Freedom Songs given by civil rights activists to some of the actions they undertook to fight segregation in the south and the songs they sang for inspiration.   For some liberals, however, the connotation of the word has been tarnished by the fact that the word is often used in the names of conservative organizations (Freedom Partners, Freedom Works, Freedom Foundation….), or as a justification for wars fought ostensibly in the name of "freedom", wars which many liberals see as actually and destructively imperialist .   While many liberals uphold the concept of property rights and support free market capitalism, most see the need to protect the freedom of working class people and people without property from the power of the owners of capital.  As FDR put it, quoting an old English law case, “Necessitous men are not free men”.  Asserting that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence,” FDR therefore advocated what have been called "economic rights". 


The leftist view of freedom, like the liberal view, is concerned with protecting people from those constraints which are imposed on the freedom of the working-class majority by the privileges of the capitalist class minority.  This view was perhaps best articulated by Karl Marx, who said, "we have no desire to exchange freedom for equality. We are convinced that in no social order will freedom be assured as in a society based upon communal ownership."


Conservative defenders of capitalism, however, are quick to point out that throughout history even ostensibly "communal" ownership of property has all-too-often been subverted by powerful elites which appropriate for themselves that which theoretically belongs to the people as a whole;  hence the conservative opposition not only to socialism and communism (which conservatives tend to define as just this sort of top-down elite control of society allegedly in the name of the people as a whole), but also to the kind of regulated capitalism and "economic rights" often advocated by liberals (which conservatives tend to characterize as "socialism lite"). 


Not surprisingly, liberals and leftists view their programs in a very different light.   Nevertheless, it is probably safe to say that both left and right see themselves in a struggle to secure the most freedom for the greatest number of people.




-What does freedom mean to you?


Conversation Catalysts: 

Berlin, Isaiah. Two concepts of liberty. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.



Mary Jacksteit

There is currently no content classified with this term.