Who grants you your freedom?

Do you owe anything to the society your’re born into for the ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ you perceive yourself to have been granted?

I was speaking to friends recently around the subject of the military and freedom in the US. One had experience of being in the military and the other was expressing his respect and admiration for the military. The ex-military said that when he was inside one of his officers used to tell his squad that ‘freedom isn’t free,’ on these grounds the non-military justified American foreign policy, he supports the idea that the freedom Americans have are worth fighting for, and America has to be fighting war in order to deter anybody from wanting to attack the US etc. etc., a show of arms so to speak.

Now I’m not too concerned with an argument about American foreign policy. Who they’re fighting and where they’re fighting and whatnot. The only thing which bugs me is the presupposition of these ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms.’ And the belief that one owes the state something for them. The line I was venturing down was that people are just born into their societies, even those who instigate wars on the grounds of protection of these ‘freedoms’ are only merely maintaining theirstatus quo, the society they too were born into. I mean, can an American today say that going to Starbucks is a freedom when in their lifetime there probably has never been a time in which going to Starbucks wasn’t possible. Just because there exists a place elsewhere in the world where people do not go to Starbucks does that elevate the going to Starbucks as a freedom…

I’m not sure what the crux of the problem is here. Maybe I just believe it’s bad taste to judge another society by the standards of one’s own society. Or that freedom is an odd word to float around and justify war with. Because an American woman can smoke in public or wear make-up is she more free than a woman in Saudi Arabia or South Korea??

one is free only to do that which one has the power to do, and nothing less

consequences are irrelevant to the possession of freedom


There are the freedoms we are born with and the freedoms we are granted.

The first being as Imp puts it things we have the power to do. Or another way of putting it is as Isaiah Berlin states as ‘negative liberty’.

The second is what is legally permitted by the society we reside in.

Often the two coincide, but when they don’t it is usually the second freedoms we refer to.

What I mean basically is that women in Saudi Arabia/North Korea are free to smoke in public as they can physically light up anytime they want. But they aren’t free to do it without punishment. This is the difference. A government can’t grant freedoms, it can however not punish it people for exercising their freedom. All laws are a form of social control, some goverments are more controlling than others.

Freedom for what? We are all free to do whatever we wish, to the limits of our mental and physical capacities. A person in a position of authority can make laws or threaten with harm in an attempt to curtail you expressing these freedoms, but short of killing you, they cannot take away all your freedom. On the same token, no person or authoritative body can grant you any freedoms, they can only remove their blocks to said freedoms.

At it’s base, those freedoms we are born with, I personally believe these are freedoms granted by God. Others may say they are the process of nature. In either case, these freedoms are ours at birth.

“We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim
and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaining one’s aim is a dog’s death
and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one’s heart
right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he pains freedom in the
Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.”

  • Hagakure.

Freedom may be about our goals in life. While our ability to achieve these goals may be controlled by outside forces, our determination to strive for them is entirely down to us. Therefore we grant our own freedom as an internal resolve, but perhaps our physical freedom is more dependent upon interaction with others and, i particular, the way our personal liberties infringe upon/complement one another?

Society grants our freedoms. We could say that we “owe” society for this, or we could take the view that society owes us because its form exists by our consent, the “consent of the governed”. It would depend on which country you are in.

Really though, no one owes anyone else with regards to your rights. You just have certain legal guarantees that, while meaningful, are also far from absolute, and you may choose to violate them at will, if you like. Freedom in the end comes down to physical capability, which is power/force as Imp described. There are many levels, we could even look into the psychological and predetermination, to see how we are far less free than we like to think. But disregarding this sort of thing, yes we are free to the degree that we can act of our own volition, to the degree that we can “do what we want”. We can be grateful for living in a society that grants us political rights, but in the sense that we grant society its mandate to exist, in an abstract impersonal manner of consent of the governed, at least in theory, we can say that rights are something that we demand for ourselves, by virtue of the fact that we desire them. In this sort of perspective, we are really responsible for our own rights, as we could conceivably work to affect or change the rights that we live under as we wish.

freedom is will, law and society


Please explain.

I think we owe society for all the benefits it brings in securing food, wellbeing, education, infrastructure and so on. We pay for these benefits by restricting our freedoms (and those of the other members).

… and, I’d add, mental capability to perceive, pursue and achieve ends - see the Wittgenstein quote in my signature.

Although strictly, I suppose a true materialist would argue that mental capability is physical…

In the argument with my two friends I did want to express that freedom is solely what the individual does - whether or not he is capable of more it is what he does which expresses his freedom. Some people may live in a society where they’re permitted to ‘free speech’ and ‘free religion’ but if a person is going to idolise these freedoms are they not in effect shackling themselves to their society and thus losing an aspect of freedom. I guess it depends on the perspective you take your point of view from, being mainly concerned with the individual I can place all responsibility of freedom upon his shoulders, but, I suspect my friend was coming from a social point of view, from amongst the many…and what does the many do that deserves respect? In fact it seems kind of slavish to respect the law makers.