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Friday, April 29, 2016

Freedom--libertarian, liberal, progressive

This morning while discussing philosophy with Chris and Mohammed we talked about freedom. Especially in regards to the state. Mohammed said that he appreciates the increase in freedoms that have been developing from the abolition of slavery to the ability to marry the one you love. But couldn't freedom go too far? Aren't some conservative values important to keep? Don't we need some limits, some structure, even some rules?

So this led us to a discussion on the meaning of "freedom," as in the phrase "freedom and justice for all."

Freedom for the libertarian is freedom "from restraint."  It means the absence of restrictions. Don't tread on me! Give me liberty or give me death! This is why capitalism unfettered seems to go along with democracy. The whole role of government is to protect private interests including property. Let the free market rein meaning no regulations. Let people acting for their own self-interest make society work at least for winners who would dominate the losers. This is the mind to which Reagan appealed and now Trump and Cruz. The best government is least government. Nurturing people to help is a disservice to them and to the community. Even religion for Ayn Rand was bad when it put moral restrictions on self-interest. We need to go back to the state of nature before the state of government.

Freedom for the liberal is freedom "to be." That is, you can be who you want to be. This means  that society through its institutions, including the Leviathon State, should ensure fairness, keep order and stability, and remove the obstacles to the pursuit of happiness. While we sometimes distinguish liberal from conservative today, this is a rather late distinction. In many countries, liberal means conservative--just not libertarian. The assumption behind both is that there are invariable values and rights. There are sacrosanct ideals to which we should be marching and right ideas out there according to which we should be acting and requiring the behavior of all citizens. These ideals are handed down by authority (tradition) or are discovered in nature (science).

Freedom for the progressive is freedom "to act."  That is, freedom = power. And power is the ability to act with others to shape one's personal life and common world. Freedom for the progressive is a continuous process of liberation connected to equality as equity--not equality as sameness. This is why progressives understand economic inequality or class struggle as underlying, and so more important than, racial, ethic, sexual, and age identities. Progressives by focussing on equity want to remove obstacles, like libertarians, but those obstacles that hold any people back from full participation. And like liberals and conservatives, progressives have ideas and ideals; but they see humanity making and choosing these ideas and ideals. Progressives are in a never-ending process of liberation attempting to balance liberty and structure. History for progressives does not end. History is a progressive changing of boundaries through a dialectic in and among publics.

When I look at the political dialectic in the US today, I see that both dominant parties are expressions of liberalism--Republicans more tending to libertarianism except in foreign affairs, military might, personal morality, and criminal justice; Democrats more tending to progressivism except in global economic inclusion and transnationalism.

I believe that we can use this same analysis for the concept of "justice" since justice is the social order that promotes human freedom. Is that order based on private self-interest, or on natural or supernatural values, or on collective discovery and decision making that safeguard both the private and public spheres of human existence?

I believe that we are often using the same words with very different meanings of our relations with one another. That leads to confusion and often blocks interaction--especially when we  put people in camps, on other sides, and treat them as hostile.

The meaning of philosophy and political thinking is different for a libertarian, or a liberal/conservative, or a progressive. The libertarian sees philosophy (e.g. objectivism) as a release from restraints, i.e. a means to release those of us who are forced to watch the shadows on the wall of the cave (Plato). The liberal sees philosophy as passing down right doctrine and discovering in nature the accumulated truths of humanity (Aristotle). The progressive sees philosophy as a way to engage persons in doubting, criticizing, and questioning what has been passed down in order to dispel the illusions of common sense (Socrates).

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