In the rhetoric of the war in Iraq and the War On Terror, one can see George W. Bush constantly address the issues of freedom and democracy. The truth of this rhetoric is that the president talks about promoting freedom in the abstract sense while ignoring or attempting to subvert freedom in the concrete sense. The result is a war based on lies that obviously has the goal of spreading U.S. hegemony alongside the postponing and limiting of civil liberties at home with the Patriot Act and other legislation. The repetition of the administration’s rhetoric inscribes itself into the surface of the harsh reality of an unjust war by mediating the meaning of this raw perception and reaction to the violence of war. National identity and patriotism are elevated as transcendent categories that appear as absolute truth, while the liberating potential of democracy is inverted into a method of containment exemplified by the two-party system. The Green Party, as a disruption of this static containment in the electoral arena, must also draw attention to the abstract nature of the rhetoric of freedom by clearly defining freedom as it actually exists. This means that in the public dialogue that the Greens must engage in, there must be a recognition of freedom that is always already surrounded by various structures of power, meaning, and production.
To clarify this specific type of freedom, there will be the use and exploration of the artificially created German idiom “freisein”. What is unique to this word is its ability to be translated into two ways. It can literally mean “being free” and “free being”. The relationship between these two translations can clarify what will be proposed as free agency, which is the freedom that always begins within structures. It will be concluded that free agency is freedom in practice, and is the everyday type of freedom that goes beyond traditional definitions of freedom in terms of natural rights.
To understand human freedom, there must be an understanding of human identity. Identity is the meaning or model that humans hold for themselves about themselves and it engages with both tautology and contradiction. A tautology is when something is presented as self-evident that does not really describe the thing, and therefore is something equaling itself. For example, the statement “A=A” does not really say what “A” means. A contradiction is the exact opposite of a tautology where there is something not equaling itself, and therefore is an inability to describe the thing. Meaning in the world is derived somewhere between the polar opposites of tautology and contradiction. The description is the comparing and contrasting between terms, where humans understand things as having some similar properties and some different properties. An apple is similar to an orange in that they are both fruit, but an apple is different in being red while an orange is obviously orange. Therefore reality presented as absolute difference, where each thing is completely different from every other thing, is just as much a meaningless void as a reality of absolute equivalence where each thing is exactly the same as every other thing.
As identity is a mixture of difference and equivalence, it is formed externally to the human individual. This externalization of the self, common to each human that grows up within systems of meaning such as language, is where identity is formed from external structures and components. Like recognizing oneself in a mirror for the first time, a developing human will experience the reflection of the self to itself through the surrounding system of meaning. This external definition of identity is then internalized into the unconscious and makes it possible for humans to not only communicate their idenity to others but to themselves as well. The constructed identity is a subjective supplement to the objective self. The human moves from a being in itself, that it shares with other things made of matter, to a being for itself that has consciousness and can act on that conscious awareness. The formation of the subjective identity is then inserted into objective reality as another object and internalized by the human unconsciousness. This also creates a blind spot in perspective where the limited viewpoint of the subject is unable to comprehend or experience the complete objective reality mediated by structures of meaning. This blind spot is treated as an inherent lack within humans that is later fulfilled by desiring objects in the world. A part of freedom is the realization of this artificial lack and how to discover authentic desire.
To fully understand the formation of human identity, and its subsequent acting out of freedom, it is important to realize the emergence of particular figures from a general ground of existence. The ground is the general state of existence that is also a field of absolute difference. The reality that is before any structures of meaning is a void occupied by disparate facts, where it is impossible to compare or contrast any individual fact to any other fact on their own terms. Each part is unconnected to every other part, and it is the potential ground that allows multiple constructions of reality through the connections that occur with various structures. The figures that arise are the particular cases of being that includes humans but are not exclusively limited to humans. They can be considered as pre-individuated singularities where they are unique physical conditions for the human self. They form through contingency rather than any predetermined necessity, and are the parts that make up the various structures that allow any understanding of reality. The connection, intersection, and points of intensity of the figures in reality allow for a subjective perspective on the overall reality. The act of understanding reality requires this subjective perspective, and it is the point in reality that attempts to reflect the whole of reality. This position of understanding is an important component to the understanding of freedom within structures.
In the 1970 Francois Truffaut film “The Wild Child”, a young feral boy is discovered in the woods of 19th century France and brought to a doctor in order to be civilized. Fairly quickly the child is able to learn the meaning of objects and the words that correspond to them. The doctor believes that the child has a normally functioning brain, but at one point worries that he is only repeating gestures and lessons out of fear of punishment with no abstract sense of justice or fairness, a trait he thinks is shared only by humans. To test this sensibility, the doctor punishes the child after he does an exercise correctly and the child resists the act of punishment. In a similar vein, freedom can be seen as a conscious awareness of how the world works rather than a conditioned response to the functioning of reality and its structures. But this awareness must be within the reality of the world, tested and refined by the actions of the world, rather than supposed as a natural human right that exists before the confinement of structures. That is the nature of free agency.
Free agency is the freedom that always exists within structures, and is in fact the practical and realistic application of freedom. It has specific characteristics that are tied to the particular case of being in which humans are an example. Free agency allows all other social choices, made possible through multiple social choices rather than the limited conditions of choice within structures. Free agency makes use of reason but is not absolutely determined by reason. It exists within certain classes and periods of history and exists before all other concrete freedoms as actions or choices. Free agency can become liberty when standardized and determined by the surrounding structures, and it is vital to appreciate that liberty may be freedom in practice within governments but it can not exist outside of it. In other words, liberty can not be applied in an existential or social sense, but free agency can. Free agency is the producer of the social after the acts of hegemony that impose structures of power, in that it tries to recover the social and rebuild it as an independent entity within the containment of power. Therefore free agency is vital in an integrated politics and economy since it may oppose established politics and economy. It lies within the gap between the objective condition of humans and their subjective identity as well as within the gap between the reality of parts in the world and their structural determining relationships that connect them.
Free agency can be classified into three types of freedom. There is freedom as fact which is the potential physical ability of humans, what a human can physically do. There is freedom as legitimacy which is the stated parameters in which human action and choice can be made or what can be considered rightful as freedom. There is freedom as drive which is the individual goal of each human, based upon the psychological orientation of humans. All of these types are based within human existence that is expressed within the relationship between being free and free being, contained within the term “freisein”. Being free can be defined as the collective and general state of freedom, exemplified as an array of choices. On the other hand, free being can be defined as the individual and particular case of freedom where action is taken on those choices. Free being is the expression of being free since it is the orientation within preexisting conditions, humans being with other humans, and the future possibilities of existence. The state of free being appears isolated from the state of being free, and the particular appears as only a mode of the general. Therefore human existence and its experience of its freedom can not fully fathom the general state as a whole. Each human experience of the particular free agency is unique to each human while still being tied to the general state. It is the active use of structural conditions, an internal understanding of that structure, and a critical perspective on structure when each particular case reflects and deals with the general state.
Beyond the existential scope of freedom, free agency is also the basic unit of social, political, cultural, and economic action. The social structure is maintained by free agency through its structural reproduction in which indiviudal actions chosen by humans shape the larger social picture. The political structure is experienced through free agency in the role of citizen practiced by humans, but this can easily be subordinated to state institutions that demand conformity and discipline to make the nation-state function. The cultural structure is expressed by free agency through the individual creation and collective use of cultural artifacts such as art, symbols, and new additions to language. The economic structure is defined by free agency, but through capitalism this freedom is restricted by precluded choices and private contracts mediated by the ideology of the free market. Incorporating the existential aspect with its status as a basic unit of action, three basic characteristics of free agency can be concluded. Free agency can be summed up as the freedom to choose conditions of all other choices, the freedom to understand structures through knowledge, and the freedom to create out of desire.
With a clear definition of free agency, one can discover the ethics of freedom as it developed in history. There was a premodern embedding of the self in a structural order that shaped the question of how one should live. This meant a collective purpose and goal of reality, where being was a subset of what existed and reality was the foundation of being. The transition was from a continuous premodern structural order to discontinuous modern systems. The modern age saw an interaction of the self with these systems with the new ethical question of how one should act. This meant individual responsibility and obligation in reality, where being was more of a description of what exists and being was the foundation of choices. The second transition was from discontinuous modern systems to distributed postmodern events. The postmodern age could then be seen as a choice by the self of its own existence where it is a question of how might one live. There would be the individual and collective refusal of conformity in reality, where being is the creation of what exists and choices are the foundation of being. The result of free agency in this lastest stage of history is that choices are not predetermined by structures and systems. But since free agency is always already within structures, ideology will always attempt to subsume ethical choices based on freedom. Contingent history appears as necessary, fluctuating meaning appears as stable, and self-interested action appears as authority. Therefore there is a need for free agency to engage in a process of ethics, beginning with an attitude toward the self and moving to an attitude toward others. This ethical process is used in order to resist the transcendent process of structures of power, meaning, and production as well as establish a method for free individuals to interact in a social collective.
One clear example of the transcendent process inherent in structures is the capitalistsubsumption of free agency. The order of capitalism is not only the accumulation of men through the regulation of life, but it is an accumulation of capital through the organization of infrastructure. Both accumulations are made possible by a structure of meaning that serves as a truth regime. The artificial construction of freedom in this truth regime is also a creation of capitalist subjectivity or identity. In capitalism one can see the multiplication of options of life in a presentation of diversity. But this presentation acts as the management of economic and social action to achieve capitalist ends. The appearance of diversity actually obscures the precluded choices of a commodified culture and society. In other words, the only choices that individuals can make are already determined into a specific set of choices that appear unlimited but are in fact limited to the degree that they perpetuate the overall structure of capitalism. This shift needs the requirement of an internalized truth regime that is absorbed into the human unconscious, where the terms of the structure appear as absolute truth and reality.
The resistance to these structures and their ordering is the emergence of free agency as an autonomous phenomenon. In this respect free agency is the disruption of systems of power, meaning, and production. This is accomplished through the internalization of the event by humans and their recognition of the break with the normal flow of history and structures as an opportunity for action. The inherent contradictions within structures become apparent and are amplified in order to show the contingent nature of all structures. Free agency then engages in the introduction of a particular sense of novelty that was not predicted by structures and can not be easily absorbed by structures. Overall, a space for free agency within structures is opened up. Humans can then acknowledge the gap between immanent facts and the transcendent truth that turns those facts into ideology. Free agency can then begin the endeavor of an original choice determining all other choices, counter-narratives that point out the failings of ideology, and desiring-production that creates for its own sake. The Green Party can break out of the stereotypes and definitions of freedom set by the Democrats and Republicans by emphasizing how free agency is based on existence rather than nature. This is a project that could be considered radical, in that it refutes many assumptions made by the founding fathers, but it can be a new path that shows how freedom, equality, and justice are not separate ideas but are in fact interdependent on each other in a world that is constantly structured.