Freedom is a concept that is easily used and misused by several stakeholders, irrespective of the significance it has on our society. The misconceptions that surround the issue of freedom assume different angles, including philosophical and political points of view. The lack of consensus that surrounds the issue of freedom prevents most people from understanding this issue in its true context. Other people have a false sense of understanding when it comes to freedom, and this prevents this group from investigating this issue to the necessary proportions. The concept of freedom should be investigated from all possible angles because it is central to social organization. Various people engage in matters of freedom because these issues are major determinants of the quality of their lives. People require freedom, and they express this desire by supporting democratically elected governments, policies, programs, and individuals that they consider to be champions of this liberty (Rose, 2009).
The political aspect of freedom has since dominated the modern world. In most instances, political factions are divided along the lines of people’s views about the role that freedom should play in their lives. Nevertheless, people further the goals of freedom depending on their intrinsic views and understanding of freedom. The significance of freedom can be investigated through various angles. Some modern philosophers have expressed their views about freedom with respect to society and its institutions. The political significance of freedom can be explored using the views that have been expressed by modern philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx.
In modern society, it is common for freedom to be considered as the ability to express oneself in an unrestricted manner. Various people have differed on which instances it is justifiable to curtail the freedom of criticizing political powers. The ability to talk freely about the elements of our society is a great pointer of freedom. John Stuart Mill addresses the issue of political freedom in a book titled “On Liberty.” According to Mill, discussing freedom of speech is a significant aspect of political progress.
However, Mill notes that discussions on matters that touch on freedom of expression are not often accepted in society. Mill acknowledges the need for individuals to question and analyze their views on freedom. Mill expressed his views on a period when freedom of expression had found its place in society. Mill’s philosophy is in line with utilitarianism, and it seeks to maximize human happiness through political freedom.
Mill’s views about political freedom are dependent on the idea that it is the duty of human beings to pursue happiness at every possible opportunity. Furthermore, a person’s pursuit of happiness should not ignore his/her other faculties. A person should be a good judge of which of his/her faculties should be deployed in the pursuit of freedom. This ability is often tested through political processes such as elections and constitutional votes. Interestingly, Mill was of the opinion that the pursuit of freedom was not under threat from the political class but from an unsubstantiated public opinion. In “On Liberty,” Mill’s discussion does not focus on the plight of the oppressed and the silenced members of the society (Mill, 1999).
The author deals with the issues of freedom on a higher faculty by furthering the course of the social majority. The responsibility of pursuing freedom should fall upon the citizens, and it is not the prerogative of the authorities to outline the demarcations of freedom. According to Mill, freedom is not an issue that is of interest to people who have been oppressed or victimized by others. Freedom is an issue that extends to people of all walks of life, including civilized individuals who have self-defeating notions about the concept of freedom.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau is of the opinion that equality is the key to garnering political freedom. Consequently, society is dominated by the view that individuals cannot be equal, and some people will always dominate others (Rousseau, 2002). Therefore, it is true that freedom in society depends on the concept that individuals with different levels of equality have to co-exist in society. According to Rousseau, freedom occurs in two senses; moral freedom that occurs as a result of an individual’s ability to follow his/her self-imposed rules and freedom that exempts an individual from being subjected to the will of others. Democratic political systems guarantee the latter freedom to a certain extent. Therefore, equality among individuals only matters to Rousseau in the context of freedom.
Governments are instituted with the view of protecting the rights of all citizens. Some of the freedoms and rights that are a priority for most governments include “the right to life, and this implies the right to engage in a life-sustaining activity, including the acquisition, production, and possession of the property and the voluntary exchange of values with other individuals” (Lefort, 2008). On the other hand, the government is expected to shield citizens from physical harm by using great force against elements that victimize individuals. This issue is reiterated in Rousseau’s book “The Social Contract.” According to Rousseau, democracy can be able to supervise equality by delimiting the freedoms of individuals.
On the other hand, it is the duty of individuals to ensure that they embrace their willpower. Lack of political freedom is caused by the scenario where one entity holds the willpower of another for a ransom. Rousseau offers examples of various scenarios where one person undermines the freedom of another. For instance, it is a lack of freedom that leads individuals to seek the approval of their peers. In addition, low self-esteem exists when individuals do not have the courage to exercise their freedoms. Human beings are creatures “who are prone to inflated vanity, weak egos, exaggerated need for esteem and approval that renders us dependent on those significant people around us who can confer or withhold this approbation” (Rousseau, 2002).
True freedom occurs when human beings are able to overcome their inhibitions and act with respect to their needs and desires, thus the need for political activism. Freedom also ensures that individuals are able to act independently irrespective of the standards that have been set by society. The philosopher is hailed by most people as the first active supporter of democracy in the context of equality among citizens. The democracy that is championed for by Rousseau advocates for ‘natural elements’ as opposed to socially agreeable norms of freedom.
Representative government is a pertinent issue in matters of freedom. The existence of governments is mostly justified using the concept of freedom. According to most philosophers, the existence of a democratically elected government is important in the propagation of a wholesome society. Most philosophers have welcomed the idea of a body of authority that can oversee the activities of the people. On his part, Mill does not overemphasize the need for a representative government. In his discussion, Mill observes that it is important for individuals to engage in the activities of a democratic process because this builds their character (Mill, 1999).
Therefore, Mill is of the opinion that even a dysfunctional democratic system is often better than an aristocracy that has well-manicured rules. Mill also appears to take issue with communist systems because they guide individuals towards a unilateral direction, thereby curtailing their freedom. Mill is of the view that democracy is a viable system of governance because it encourages a healthy ground for the formulation of rules that are aimed at enhancing the levels of human happiness. Nevertheless, Mill does not neglect to note that democracy, as a system, does not support the concept of freedom in a thorough manner. According to Mill, democracy is a system that explicitly favors numerical majorities. Consequently, it is likely that the freedoms of the minority would be not be accounted for in a democratic system.
Modern philosophy is concerned with constitutions and laws that sustain freedom and democracy. One school of thought is of the view that the interests of a democracy are not suitable when formulating a constitution. On the other hand, the best constitutions have the interests of the republic in their design. A democratic constitution tends to favor the interests and the freedoms of the majority while locking minorities out of the process. On the other hand, the interests of the republic are representative of the interests of all citizens. Karl Marx was a revolutionary scholar who entered the foray of political philosophy in the mid-nineteenth century. Marx was of the view that capitalism is the greatest hindrance to equality and freedom (Marx & Engels, 2002).
Consequently, human beings have the potential to be free if they are able to sustain equality amongst themselves. Freedom is virtually impossible to achieve in a world where people are busy fighting for control of the available resources. It will be in the best interest of the top-ranking capitalist politicians to undermine the freedom of citizens whose resources they control. It is also unlikely for individuals to foster equality in capitalist societies because this phenomenon would be in direct conflict with the institutions of capitalism. It is unlikely that the social struggle that is associated with capitalism has the capacity to foster freedom because individuals are bound by the need to control the economic and social surplus. Marx’s ideal society is operational because of its economic and social freedom. According to Marx, politicians are mostly part of the capitalist systems, but they can be quite useful in providing citizens with examples of freedom from the shackles of capitalism.
Freedom is responsible for several aspects of our political and social systems. Politicians are derived from ordinary citizens, and their actions are often replicated among citizens. According to Mill, a person’s ability to follow his/her own convictions is the central premise of freedom. On the other hand, Karl Marx is of the view that politics are a product of either a capitalist or a socialist system.
Lefort, C. (2008). Democracy and political theory. Cambridge: Polity Press. Web.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2002). The communist manifesto. New York: Penguin. Web.
Mill, J. S. (1999). On liberty. New York: Broadview Press. Web.
Rose, N. (2009). Powers of freedom: Reframing political thought. Cambridge: Cambridge university press. Web.
Rousseau, J. J. (2002). The Social Contract: And, the First and Second Discourses. Yale: Yale University Press. Web.