A Treatise on Freedom

In the course of any philosophical discussion the inevitable issue of freedom comes up. This discussion is comprised of a number of elements, including liberty, freedom, and free will. I reject Determinism in any form. Determinism says that we are a product of our environment or our genetics, and that therefore our choices are predetermined. If one wishes to make a difference in the world, one must assume that there are various possible futures, and therefore must reject this philosophy. It is of course undeniable that our environment and our genetics certainly have impacts on our decisions. Ultimately, our choices are not crafted entirely by our own actions, because all choices are shaped and constructed by our environment itself, which of course includes the decisions of others, as well as the historical trends and forces that have shaped the current environment.

Assuming that we are free entities despite these influences on our decisions, there are, as previously established, two elements to freedom. First is liberty. Liberty is the possibility of a decision in an abstract sense. For example, I am at liberty to construct a sandwich. However, if I have not the bread, or jam, or other various condiments that could be placed in a sandwich, then I have not the power to construct said sandwich. It remains beyond my reach. Freedom is a combination then, of possibility, or liberty, and available means, or power. Freedom is dearly prized, but often misunderstood. The famous and the unknown alike have attempted to explain it, as well as methods to achieve it, presumably for as long as man has pondered anything at all. Yet, for so many, it is elusive. From all gamuts of political thought, including Marxism, we find seekers of freedom. With these constructions of liberty, power, and freedom, and observing the nature of man’s decisions as primarily motivated by emotion rather than some abstract sense of rationality, one must conclude that a Marxist state’s centralization of authority will lead to the demise of liberty within said state, and hence, freedom.

Marxist thought has been oft analyzed and subjected to a great deal of scrutiny. Marx’s constructions seem concerned with the nature of man, and his freedom. But in what sense? It often seems unclear. Freedom from oppression is perhaps first and foremost. Marx can easily be said to be seeking an escape for the proletariat from economic oppression– from a system of labor and production by which he is alienated from his work, and hence, from his very self. Thus, Marxism seeks freedom as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Marx could more accurately be said to be seeking power, to attain freedom.

For it seems that it is in creation, in work itself, that man defines himself, and creates his or her very identity. Most artists will affirm that it is their work in which they define themselves. A mother with children to take care of is defined, and finds a large portion of her identity in the work she does for them and with them. A father could be the same, although we might often say that he should be, rather than is such. A career is often quite the defining aspect in one’s life. One might say, I am a reporter, a teacher, an entrepreneur. Yet, the choice to become any of these things is, generally speaking, dependent upon society’s constructions of methods to attain these identities, not to mention the definitions of the identities themselves. Marxist humanism then, is centered around the thought that it is through man’s work that man’s identity is found. Indeed, man’s work is inextricably intertwined with his very being. Marx’s concern for man’s opportunity, or rather, his freedom to be what he wishes to be, is a valid one.

Noting that Marxism seeks freedom as a means to an end, towards the reduction of the alienation of self, rather than freedom as an end in itself, one finds hints at the reason for the rise of the Totalitarian state. This is precisely the reason for which a centralized and socialized State will inevitably relinquish its hope of freedom as a means to the end of alienation, instead resorting to manipulation, control of information and resources, and ultimately, violence, to maintain control of the State. The legitimacy of claims of freedom then become increasingly untenable, as power is centralized and consolidated.

Marx’s approach was to advocate the establishment of a governing force— to throw off the shackles of economic oppression by seizing the means of production— by seizing power. Concentrate economic power in the hands of the State, and in controlling the State, you will control economic conditions and alleviate the oppressive circumstances. While the concentration of power in the hands of the proletariat could certainly alleviate the economic oppression the working class have endured, there are concerns as to how to accomplish this. In response to this apparent vacuum in Marx’s writings, Lenin proposed a process by which the natural leaders of the proletariat form what he called a ‘Vanguard Party’ to safeguard and promote the cause of the proletariat, who is often not trained or capable in the fields of political construction or governmental management.

This is inherently problematic, in that this Vanguard becomes a fairly exclusive club, who in most historical cases, seem to have been more interested with the maintenance of their own power than the very lack of freedom which concerned Marx. The foundational positions of Marxism cannot be propagated and freedom will not continue unless free market forces are suppressed or controlled. However, the establishment of a one-party Socialist state is then prone to the very destruction of the freedoms it seeks to create, through the intentional or unintentional abuse of the centralized power and control of the State. The intentional abuse of power is a familiar and frustrating problem, but there are other conditions under which concentrated power is problematic.

There are reasons, found within human nature and social behaviors, that those in power will attempt to remain in power. Motivations in and of themselves, can be fairly benign, or in the case of more ambitious men, rather malign. Contributing factors to the continued control of societal structures and powers are at their core, elements of human nature. The influence of individuals upon others is ultimately a matter over which institutions and societal structures can have little control.

The influential are not by nature influential only because they have position and wealth. It is because they wield with great grace and force the tools of demagoguery, persuasion, leadership, charisma, and determination. The ambition of the individual, and the liberty of the group to look to them as problem-solvers, leaders, and finally rulers, is an inevitable occurence resulting from the all too common exercise of choice without rationale and without care. Human beings are not rational— at their core, their very motivations to do any and all things are generated by emotions— such are not restrained, nor ruled, by intellect. Intellect is no superior control to emotional states— no, in it’s best form it is a pruner, a shaper. Without acknowledgement of this truth, Marx of necessity, defeats itself— for old class distinctions, once based on political power, and economic power, are now no longer ever opposed to each other. And by the very philosophical position on governmental power which Marx takes, the preservation of individual liberties takes a back seat to communal power.

Therefore, the class of political elites, of elite thinkers, organizers, problem-solvers and leaders, degenerates into a ruling, upper class once again. For these leaders can not be expected to understand and mete and measure the accountability necessary for them to maintain good leadership. Such is beyond the bounds of reasonable human expectation: we cannot expect that one man should know always and consistently what is best for another by reasoning and feelings alone, and leadership’s elevated status makes it ever more difficult for one to perceive the possible wrongs and problems that his decisions create. Leaders are distanced from the consequences of their decisions by the nature of their image in the eyes of their followers, and, through reinforcement of ideals, his image in his own eyes. In addition, the distance from the community that comes with a centralized power structure, and the nature of power over others itself, contributes to the difficulty of governance of any kind.

The nature of the Marxist conception of power and leadership by its very nature assumes a kind of leadership ultimately devoid of adequate respect for liberty, and therefore, for freedom.

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2 Comments

Filed under Capitalism, Communism, Corporatism, History, Leadership, Philosophy, Politics, Socialism

2 responses to “A Treatise on Freedom

  1. Ted

    Ironically enough, President Uchtdorf himself quoted a famous study with really unsettling implications — Mischel’s marshmallow experiment, where little children were put in front of a marshmallow to see how patient they could be, and the tactics they used to increase chances of patience. Follow-up studies showed remarkable correlation with behavior at a very young age (an age too young to be taught any real significant behavioral modifications according to most psychologists) to behavior at all stages of life, despite factoring in environmental elements such as income levels, education, etc.

    I’m not saying we’re totally deterministic. But there are definitely trends that show people are partially (if not strongly influenced) by their genetic make-up. For example, someone with an extra chromosome pair (Downs Syndrome) will most likely never grasp quantum mechanics, no matter how hard they tried. It’s an unfortunate hard biological constraint. How far do biological constraints go, even in perfectly “healthy” people such as you and I? It’s at the very least an interesting (if not disturbing) question to consider.

    • Ted,
      Thanks for pointing this out. With a masters in stats and evolutionary biology (emphasis ecology) married to a wife with a masters in phylogenetic systematics we were very much aware of the nature vs. nurture debate. Having spent much of our studies in the realm of population genetics we became convinced that the lion’s share of any “personality” was nurture based. Seeing as how the differences between individuals in any given population is often minuscule.
      My wife and I maintained our bias with the birth of our first child. But with the birth of our second, within seconds of his birth, I began to see the power of those “minuscule” genetic (i.e. deterministic) differences. Laying aside the “nurturing” of a womb environment that results in a male/female (heavy handed I know); I wondered if there were not more to the nature argument than I had been willing to conceded.
      With the birth of our third I can say that nature holds strong sway (granted not statistically significant given my sample size–but practically significant given we parent them each every day reminded of their differences). In each child emotions plays a role but in one that role is much, much smaller than the others.
      This leaves me with a warning I, myself, must be reminded of too often:
      Beware of false binaries!

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