The phrase “Freedom isn’t free.” is perhaps one of the most egregious lies foisted upon the American people, and reveals a severe misunderstanding of the nature of freedom.
For the past ten years, the idea that freedom isn’t free has been greatly amplified and in its amplification no one has dared question its validity. The phrase presents a definition of freedom as something scarce and inherently fragile, and has been used by those in power to demand blind obedience during states of emergency. In other words, it is implied that freedom must be paid for by a predetermined price that includes servility to an authority that provides security. On its face, the phrase confuses security and freedom, but underneath this misstatement is a profound misunderstanding of the nature of freedom as a human phenomenon.
Society is made up primarily of three subsets that are in relation to each other. Since society is a human construct in order to contain various social actions, values are developed by humans using the facts of reality as the raw materials for these values. The three subsets are the political, the cultural, and the economic. The political sphere is the organization of the cultural sphere and the economic sphere. It conducts this organization by a convergence of the cultural and the economic. Political issues are always about the management of cultural or economic issues. When brought together, the political attempts to create a dynamic equilibrium between the cultural and the economic. The cultural consists of immaterial values when ideas are created. On its own, the cultural has an equality through abundance, where an idea can be communicated but never lost by the sender of the idea. When ideas spread, they are never taken away from those who originally experienced the idea. Since the cultural deals with immaterial values, it also deals with the human want for autonomy as self-determination. This want is not a biological necessity, but can be achieved once physical needs are met. The physical needs are addressed by the economic sphere. In contrast, the economic is about material values when objects are produced and distributed. Because objects are made from limited resources in physical reality, the economic has an inequality through scarcity. The economic sphere deals with a need for security, a security that is fulfilled when human physical needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and medicine are met. Freedom begins in reality as an idea, and is thus inherently abundant. However, if humans needs are not addressed then the main issue becomes that of personal security and the self-determination of freedom becomes secondary. This is at the heart of the confusion behind “Freedom isn’t free.”.
One will find that economic equality must precede political freedom in order to insure that everyone has the chance to express their freedom. In terms of rights in a society, material needs can be defined as economic rights while immaterial wants can be defined as political rights. In the United States, the Bill Of Rights enumerates the political rights of the citizens. On their own, they do not cost money in order to be protected. But what is hidden from this assessment is the fact that the economic context of the early United States was one that actively rebelled against the world’s first corporation in the British East India Company. Thomas Jefferson envisioned an economy of self-employed artisans and small farmers that would in fact own the means of production. This historical situation demonstrated the necessity for economic rights as a background to political rights. In other words, there needs to be a background of at least a relative economic equality in order to make sure that political freedom could be expressed. However, with the rise of corporations in America after the Civil War, there also arose hierarchies that would perpetuate inequalities of power and in turn put up obstacles to political freedom. Capitalism, as the economic environment for corporations, actively requires the breaking up of the social field in order to empower corporations as the sole form of large collective organization. In a corporate form, there is no equality of power and owners have control over the lives and economic destiny of workers. Outside of the corporate form, the market and its restricted definition of value acts as a limit of local democracy. The strict enforcement of private property also acts as a limit of the commons. In capitalism, according to Margaret Thatcher, there is no such thing as society but only markets and families. Over time, with the rise and growth of market ideology, one would find that the valuations of the market even permeate family structures. The market and the corporation, as the privileged type of private property, must subsume any community’s democratic action or maintenance of a commons. In capitalism, local democracy and the commons are external to the ideology and thus are enemies of this system.
There are other alternatives to capitalism, and mutualism as one example demonstrates that the hierarchy proposed by the capitalist vision does not need to be the reality. Whereas in capitalism there is a divergence between labor and voluntary exchange, with the market favored over the interests of workers, mutualism is a convergence of labor and voluntary exchange. Mutualism proposes that this convergence be accomplished through economic democracy in each business in order that an authentic free and fair exchange of goods can actually occur. Labor is defined as a production cost in capitalism, while the surplus generated by labor is seen as profit that is then kept by owners. However, with businesses organized as cooperatives or having some form of worker ownership, mutualism defines the price of products as its cost. The equal distribution of profit would then be the cost of labor in mutualism. In the mutualist economic setting, one will find a firm foundation of economic equality that can be fertile ground for the expression of true political freedom. How the profit is distributed is a particular case of how any type of surplus is distributed. In a society in general, there is a direct correlation between inequality and scarcity. Since a hierarchy is an inequality of power, there would be an unequal distribution of the tools or supplies that could assist in the expression of power. The phenomenon of inequality occurs in times of scarcity, where it is assumed that because a resource is scarce then there will be some members of the group that will go without that resource. Those who were able to have access to the resource in question would have a power advantage over those who did not have access. In many cases, the scarcity could be artificial as a way to excuse or justify inequality in a society. Scarcity in this sense would be identified as the appropriation of a surplus by a few in order to have power over the rest. This is what happens on a regular basis with capitalism, and will also result if the idea of freedom as scarce is widely promulgated. In other words, when freedom is seen as a scarce resource, it becomes possible for hierarchies to be perpetuated or even to grow. This will in turn make real freedom harder to be expressed and enjoyed by those in the lower levels of a hierarchy.
When one discusses freedom, and in turn the correlate concept of equality, one will also talk about the relationship between the individual and the collective. It goes without saying that freedom is usually associated with individuals and that equality involves collectives. Libertarians will make the argument that human society can be reduced to individual actions, and that this is one of the reasons why the individual should be emphasized over the collective. However, the inverse of this claim is that human knowledge is a collective phenomenon. The one set of objective knowledge is in fact an accumulation of the many instances of subjective experience. This transition from experience to knowledge is accomplished by the specific nature of consciousness. The form of consciousness is subjective while the content of consciousness is the objective reality that surrounds human consciousness. The process begins when the many individual experiences become one standard of knowledge, and once one standard of knowledge can occur one can see the emergence of a kind of collective experience of reality.
This relationship between the individual and the collective, as well as the subjective and the objective, can be seen in regards to freedom. Since freedom begins with the human subjective existence, it expresses itself in objective reality. The social field is the receptacle for this human freedom and how it is collectively organized. There is thus a tension between the determination of reality and the freedom of the social field. On one side is the freedom of subjective unconscious and conscious states, while on the other side is the determination of objective reality. Humans always already exist within reality. Therefore, freedom is the internal discontinuity of external determination. It is the factor that enacts change in reality, and it also creates value in reality. Values are subjective and makes use of facts that are objective. Any designation of what is a necessity, for example, is a subjective value. The contingency of reality, on the other hand, is an objective fact. Freedom is subjective because it can be expressed by human individuals as well as human collectives. Determination is objective because it is the forces of facts outside of human action. This can be clearly seen in the contrast between ethics and morality. Ethics is subjective as the experience and discovery of what is good or bad, but morality is objective as the imposed standard of what is good or evil. Freedom is a human characteristic, and is natural to the point of being a thing in reality that changes reality. However, the subjective nature of freedom can not be traded or exchanged like any object in reality. That is its vital difference and its vital quality.
The unique origin of freedom comes from the human subjective unconscious of humans. When freedom expresses itself it creates novelty in the world. The novelty that is created is through the relationships between parts in reality. The parts, in the case of society this would mean individual humans, remain while the relationships between parts change. Specifically, the creation of novelty is the combination of parts and then the addition of these combinations to the whole as another part. The new combinations can be infinite when the original parts are finite. The creation of novelty acts as a disruption of existing hierarchy through the immanent structures that will necessarily form. Freedom is linked to novelty because the creation of novelty is not only the formation of difference but the formation of abundance from scarcity. This is the primary application of freedom in a deterministic reality. One way to describe how this happens is in the comparison between a work of art and a commodity. Art is pure use value, and each work of art is absolutely unique. The only way any work of art is equal to another is through the equality of desire rather than the product of desire. Art is the abundance of the commons since it must never be commodified and must always be accessible to everyone. When something is turned into a commodity, it takes on different traits. A commodity has exchange value that obscures any unique use value. In the act of exchange, a commodity must circulate in the inequality of a hierarchy, which is a hierarchy because the movement of the commodity goes from one who has it to one who does not. Therefore, a commodity exists as a scarcity of the market, and will imply that access will always be limited to a few people rather than everyone. When the phrase “Freedom isn’t free.” is used, it implies that freedom is more of a commodity rather than like art. The appearance of freedom as a commodity obscures freedom as art. Real freedom escapes this attempt at turning it into a uniform object like other objects by being abundant, open to all, and unique for each person.
Desire and freedom must interact together in order for freedom to exist in the world. When desire enacts itself in the world, as the first step of freedom, it has a subjective form and an objective content. Freedom is the expression of desire when it creates change in reality in order to satisfy human desire. Desire is abundant, unique to each person, and will result in unique creations. Outside forces will try to invert this action, by portraying desire as a lack that must be dependent on external objects to satisfy it. This process of alienation reconfigures desire as scarcity and something lacking in humans that is then made uniform for all people. The rhetoric of scarcity, when applied to freedom, transforms the nature of humans and makes them subservient to external forces. These external forces are the preexisting hierarchies that speak about freedom in this distorted form, but will in fact maintain their surplus of power. Freedom as scarce is not revolutionary, but freedom as abundance is truly revolutionary. When something is abundant it can be equally distributed, and since freedom is abundant that means that there can be an equal distribution of power. No one’s freedom would be threatened by this distribution. This includes a distribution of choices and action, a distribution of knowledge through truth, and a distribution of the means of production. With equal access to democratic participation, information, and economic tools humans can be unique in their freedom and independent from any political, cultural, or economic domination.
Finally, it can be said that “Freedom isn’t free.” is ultimately a lie. It is a lie that feeds division and intolerance by portraying a world where freedom is scarce and therefore in danger of being lost by some to be given to others. This foundational lie is used to maintain the status quo and to excuse the outright exploitation of people. When people feel that there is a threat to their personal safety or their freedom, often confusing the two, they will be willing to give up the real freedom they naturally have to the existing hierarchy and power relationship. They will view freedom as scarce and their desire as a lack that must be externally satisfied. When this lie spreads faster than the truth, and is repeated enough, then people feel they have to resort to extreme measures to protect themselves. That will include submitting themselves to an external authority. The first step toward real justice, as the balance between freedom and equality, is to oppose the lie. The real goal is to understand that without equality, there is no freedom.