Vytautas Žukauskas. Freedom that Liberates and Freedom that Binds

What is this freedom we celebrate? The feeling of and need for freedom is such an essential part of our lives and has rooted itself so deeply that it follows us everywhere. We crave freedom and fight for it because of its value for us. It is such an important thing that seemingly incompatible political orientations proclaim it as a virtue. Those who wish to attract attention and win over the hearts of people must pay heed to freedom and the aim to be free. The concept of freedom exists in every political ideology, be it social democracy, conservatism, liberalism or any other. Therefore, it would seem that freedom unites people, gives them a sense of community and a common denominator. However, freedom may embrace many incompatible things. If we truly wish to be free, we must be able to differentiate between the concepts of liberating freedom and binding freedom.

The freedom that liberates lets us operate freely (as long as we do not hinder others) and does not promise anything. It allows us to work if we can find a job and spend our money on whatever we want, if we earn it. It provides us with the opportunity to become successful doctors, teachers, athletes or entrepreneurs, provided we have the skills and drive to do it. Such freedom does not tell us how we should spend our free time, what kind of a house we should build, where and what to buy, how much to smoke or how much money to save for our retirement.

This kind of freedom is difficult exactly because it does not offer concrete results. All of the responsibility for our actions and their consequences falls on our shoulders. If you chose well you get one result, if not, you get something else entirely. This kind of freedom is essentially freedom from coercion. It does not matter if it comes from enemies outside our group of acquaintances, the people that surround us or the government. This freedom places us under an obligation and helps us develop as individuals. It helps us grow a backbone, shapes our activities and builds a responsible character. If you associate freedom with the ability to build your life from the ground up, this kind of freedom is what you need.

The freedom that promises us something is very different, however. It promises freedom from worry, promises safe and dignified living conditions irrespective of the amount of effort we put in. At first glance, this freedom might look more appealing and tempting because it promises a lot. For example, a minimum income, free services (education, healthcare and social care), a guarantee of a safe life at old age, the assurance of a job, nutritious and safe food in stores and even protection from our own harmful habits. This is a freedom from all concerns.

Sounds appealing, but such freedom is very deceptive. It takes more than it can give back. In order to give something, you must first acquire it from somewhere else. Even if a promise is worth only one penny, we must have it, as it will appear from thin air. It will be taken from us. For our promised freedom, we pay with taxes, higher prices, limitation of our actions, control of our economic activity, and dozens of authorities and bureaucrats.

Such freedom can promise anything but freedom itself. It imprisons us. By aiming to set us free from worries, it binds us. By believing in the illusion of a good life resulting not from our own activities and efforts, we lose the ability to strive and create such a life for ourselves.

All this demonstrates that we must fight for our freedom every day, separating those that offer liberating freedom from those that proffer the freedom that will eventually imprison us. The loss of freedom is most often gradual and not always brought on by outside enemies. Sometimes it comes in the form of illusory promises parading under the flag of freedom and promises of a satisfying life.