A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Thursday, January 27, 2005
"THIS UNTAMED FIRE OF FREEDOM": SOME INTRODUCTORY THOUGHTS Much has been made of the President's heavy reliance of the words freedom and liberty in his second inaugural. Now it seems pretty clear that the President is using the words interchangeably. However, these words do tend to have distinct meanings as conceived by political philosophers. I cannot lay claim to what I am about to say as totally accurate as to usage, so I will advance it as an hypothesis for your consideration.

The notion of "freedom" and "liberty" turns, in part of the literature at least, on a distinction between the manner that people can act in the state of nature as opposed to how they can act in the state of civil society. The state of nature existed prior to society. In this state, life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. There are no rules, no justice, and definitely no security or property. Yet, it is a world of total and absolute freedom. You can have anything you want as long as you can get it and hold on to it. We have the right to anything at all, commensurate with our personal power. Well, freedom to anyway: To kill, rape, live as you want, for how ever long you can eke out a living.; because there is a lot of freedom from missing: Freedom from want, fear, getting whacked as I walk out my door in a random drive by shooting, etc.

The state of nature has a big downside (though Rouseeau tends to disagree with this, Locke and Hobbes are both in agreement that it is almost unambiguously good to get out of the state of nature). That is where the state of civil society comes in. When we compare this with the state of civil society, we get a very different picture. Here, people have laws that are enforced, and life can look a bit like it does to us here in early 21st Century America. Folks in a state of nature would prefer to get to the state of civil society (wouldn't we all?). To get there, they agree to the social contract. The social contract is an agreement that outlines the rights and obligations of two parties: the individual and society in general. To mediate these rights and obligations society creates institutions, namely Leviathan. For Hobbes, Leviathan is the living god of rulership. It is the power invested in a central authority that determines and executes the laws of the land. Thus, in our case, the United States Government--the Congress, President's Office, and the Supreme Court--is Leviathan. All social contract theorists agree with the idea of the contract and the fact that the Government's role is to protect, provide the basis for sane governorship, as well as enhance the well-being of the people. They disagree as to the extent of the "Leviathan's" power and to whether one has the right to oppose it's will. Since my post does not really address this issue, I will leave it in abeyance for now.

So? Well, what do we gain when we join society? We get lots of rules and laws. And constraints that limit our ability to act on ourselves and on others. And in exchange we get security, protection of our property (including our lives), and opportunities for more complex social interactions than are available in the state of nature. Yet, we are able to enjoy ourselves more than we did in that state of nature. One would dare say that our restraints have helped us to be "more free." Rather than call this freedom, philosophers have called this state of constrained freedom: liberty.

Let us continue this in anoither post...
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