Freedom in politics is a curious thing. When it comes to the topic, I can't help but think of the past 8 years of lunacy, highlighted in particular in the years following 2003. It has become increasingly clear that “freedom” (with the speech marks) is a very odd project, not least because it is diametrically opposed to what most of us understand freedom to be. Indeed, as events in Iraq and subsequent US military statements seem to suggest, one can actually be fighting against one's own freedom without even realizing it, or even while thinking one is doing just that.
Snarky comments about the war aside, it is increasingly clear that not only is the brand of freedom which the US Neoconservatives believe in so fervently something of a chimera, but that all political projects may themselves be dangerous to exercise of liberty. Politics, so long as it is based on any form of ideological idiocy or the naïve multiculturalist relativism that is practiced nowadays is something that cannot be in favour of freedom, that in fact works against it.
This is something I have been grappling with for about the past year or so, to very little avail. My thinking has traversed elements of all sorts of socially liberal thought, trying to pin down the elements or essence that makes them so much more free, the common bond which unites their purpose and rhetoric, even if it fails in the practice. This is why I have been notoriously inconsistent in my political opinions of late, and have flirted between elements of all sorts of political opinions from the socialist end of the spectrum to the laissez-faire end with mutualism. I've been hoping to find a way or method to overcome the inconsistencies, to try and bring together the elements of freedom, untainted by the less attractive elements that came with them.
But the thing is, once you go deep into the ideological structure of all these theories, you see how logically dependent on the basic assumptions of the theory these less attractive elements are. In many ways, trying to purge these elements ends up in nothing more than throwing out the baby with the bathwater. So the question for me became not how do we find a political system which brings about the greatest amount of freedom. That was too limiting, and in some ways impossible to figure out anyway. How do we measure the right to vote against the freedom to own arms? Freedom of speech against the presumption of innocence? And in ranking already existing alternatives, is this not nothing more than settling for, and legitimizing, the current flawed systems, when something better may still be possible.
Instead, I wanted to think about freedom outside of the constrains of politics. And, with some help and a couple of useful guide maps, I found my way to this strange and unusual ground. The problem, you see, is this. Every single political conception of freedom comes with strings attached. These strings may be obvious, in the guise of an all powerful central committee, or super-empowered secret police service. But they may be lesser too. One of the most insidious guises of these strings are those theories which have a certain theory of human nature. While of course humans are animals and thus in some ways have predictable traits, our social and communicative systems have elevated and hastened our social landscape in such a way that practically any human trait can be followed with a “maybe”. The problem with this is that it assumes that people will act in certain ways conducive to the theory in question. But when people dissent or act in unexpected or accounted for ways, as they invariably do, then questions of exile, ostracism, “re-education” and witch hunts all come to the fore. When freedom is conceived of as being a functioning part of the current political order, any excesses can be excused in the name of protecting 'freedom', be it the 'freedom' of contemporary neoliberal democracy, or that of the Peoples Revolution. Or the Commune. And so on and so forth.
So long as freedom is framed with certain identities, constrained with certain ideologies, given a grand project, it becomes no longer freedom, but a method of excusing the use of power towards various political ends.
So instead, we must conceive of freedom in a more literal way. Freedom, instead, is the ability to be other than we are. To have choices, and to be able to make them, freely. Despite what you are, what you do or what you believe, freedom means having the potential to do something different in the next moment, if you please.
And when we apprehend freedom in such a personal and obvious manner, it is more liberating than any other feeling. Obviously, it puts one in opposition to all the above theories, insofar as they all try to constrain identities or create projects for the Betterment of Mankind, but as Camus once said “I revolt, therefore we are.” In acting against all such narratives, in an act of personalized revolt and transgression of their norms, one can find actual freedom. The only guarantee of freedom is freedom itself. It sounds tautological, but if you accept the premise, then it must be true. Any attempts to safeguard freedom end up constituting it as a privilege, to be bestowed or relinquished as its repository sees fit.
Of course, we must do away with certain myths of the modern era. Freedom does not mean comfort. It will not mean happiness, or fairness, or equality. In fact, freedom, as I describe it here, is nothing but hostile to the existing order (whichever existing order) and thus can never be the foundation of a society. Yet, at the same time, society brings into being, by forcing people into certain roles, through the creation of identities and projects designed to turn free humans into something else. Ironically, freedom and society coexist as antagonistic partners.
But freedom means change. Real change, the possibility of denying yesterday, of denying the power of others, of resistance and of possibility of the pursuit of our chosen dreams and desires. It cannot promise anything, except the promise of having a chance of finding what you want. But that has to be better than what we have now.
Note: I know this does not explain the thinking behind it very well. Hence there will be an exposition, in TFY,S. Also, I am indebted to Sergei Prozorov and Foucault for reorientating my perspective on this somewhat.