The debate about freedom has always given its unique color in the intellectuality realm of mankind. For some, the general idea is that the meaning of life is freedom itself. To take one’s freedom is to take one’s life and passion to live.
The idea has been “encoded” to humanity. We are a creature that is curious of ourselves and of our surrounding. We want to see more, know more, and feel more to satisfy ourselves and to be happy. We embrace freedom, thrive in it, and suffer under restriction.
This idea of freedom has travelled through times and conditions, no longer becoming idea per se, but gaining worldly forms, such as the crystallization of freedom into the concept of human rights (violation of freedom is the violation of human rights), crystallization into constitution that prohibits abuse of power that can degrade freedom, and crystallization into people’s power (movement) that revolts against oppressive regime and social norm, thus taking back their rights, their freedom, or to the simplest case, the enquiry of freedom from teenager towards their parents.
Freedom is perceived as one of the most important fabrics of life as a person and life in society and therefore it has become sensitive aspect to be dealt with, whether it’s about wisdom of parenting, to the wisdom of implementing law, or enforcing peace through coercive force in conflicted area, all of those have been demanded to pay special attention to the protection of rights of parties that are going to be affected, their freedom. Freedom has become important principle in many facets of human activity, and therefore its protection is very important as well.
However, often times the action to protect freedom has violated the idea of freedom itself. A contradiction of freedom against freedom has occurred in reality. During Napoleonic Wars for instance, Napoleon Bonaparte (the child of French Revolution some people say), waged war during the late 18th century to the middle of 19th century for the national security of France and also to implement protection of fundamental rights of human, equality among the people, equality, due process, and supremacy of law on European Continent, in line with the spirit of the French Revolution, and against the power of “despotic” dynasties.
But during the process, Napoleon implemented his idealism by imperialistic enforcement, thus taking away and trampling freedom of other states and their citizens. When the conquest was harsh and brutal to Napoleon’s troops, they also committed massacre during some parts of the war.
Another more contemporary example are the foreign policy of USA to introduce, and if necessary, impose and enforce liberal democracy to other countries that at some points also violate the rights of self determination and sovereignty of the affected nations.
Or another example is of the policy of surveillance in modern era for the sake of public security that violates the freedom of privacy, the policy of lockdown during COVID 19 pandemic that aims to protect public health but at the same time violates freedom of movement, and of course, one of the most controversial one, government’s control and surveillance to people’s conversation, post, and speech to protect society from hate speech and radicalism, which also contradicts freedom of speech and privacy.
How can that contradiction exist? That freedom is trampled in the name of freedom, what kind of problem is that? Isn’t freedom a primary value of human being that should not be challenged, and that freedom must not be corrupted by people claiming to uphold freedom itself? Should freedom be limited?
Firstly, let’s examine the sanctity of freedom. Freedom acquires its legendary sanctity status by its conception in socio-political movement, especially during a period when oppressed society had started to feel the oppression of their rulers and went up against it together, demanding their freedom of speech and freedom from oppression to be recognized by the rulers, and that the power of rulers should not contradict with basic freedom of the people, that the power of rulers are not unlimited (giving birth to the concept of governing by the rule of law / constitution).
When freedom is limited, it is taken as a sign that rulers are turning back against their people and wanted to be oppressive again. In order for rulers not to abuse their power, then it is imperative for freedom in society to be respected and acknowledged.
This point of view is one of the main during the French Revolution and Glorious Revolution era, and further strengthened later on by the rise of women rights movement. Freedom is seen as a guard to the value of being a human.
But the legendary status of freedom itself does not always guarantee social order, nor the protection of freedom itself. When society is struggling against their rulers, thieves do not stop abusing their freedom to rob and trample other people’s freedom.
After the coup of French ruling dynasty during French Revolution, French society descended into chaos due to inability to decide how to put the ideals of the Revolution into action, and who should lead the ongoing Revolution, leading to a situation that almost look like a civil war, all of which was eventually handled by Napoleon.
So, even during the rise of freedom as civil power, freedom itself is prone to value corruption, moreover in the modern era when the application of one’s religious or speech freedom violates other people’s freedom is a common phenomena. Freedom is imperative, essential, but not unquestionable / unchallenged / uncorrupted. It’s not absolutely pure since it can be corrupted by human’s imperfection.
Secondly, let’s examine the limitation of freedom. The famous adage homo homini lupus (a man is a wolf to other man) portrays that people have the tendency to hurt others and therefore human activities must be regulated to prevent the hurting of one another.
Human freedom must be regulated to prevent it from overwhelming other people’s freedom. This eventually creates common understanding that human needs law / regulation to regulate and limit personal freedom so that freedom will have appropriate context in society and that one’s freedom will not harm others’ freedom.
The theory of Social Contract supported by the likes of Jean Jacques Rousseau explains that although freedom is the people’s “property” and that the value of importance is permanent to the soul of society, the people themselves realize they do not have the ability to protect and fully exercised their freedom.
Under that circumstance, society has decided to delegate some part of their power, their freedom, to be exercised and protected by a government that the society chooses, and the government will use its vested power to create laws and enforcement bodies to protect society.
This creates a consequence that in order to protect the society’s freedom from harm and violation, the government at times will have to regulate, limit, or even restrict individual freedom that have tendency to harm society.
Thus, freedom is no longer “fully free” as it can be limited to protect society, and government has the authority to do so by creating and implementing regulation.
But then, why society’s freedom which is a collection of individual freedom, is higher than individual freedom, which is the source or the basic manifestation of society’s freedom? And how can individual freedom differs from society’s freedom? That will be the case of the next point.
Thirdly, we have to know that freedom is never manifested just in single concept, or “entity”. Freedom has segmentations. When we say a government in the name of freedom violates individual freedom, it is not about freedom per se versus freedom per se, and it’s not as simple as the case of freedom of speech versus freedom from threat.
Why is it justified for government to impose lockdown that violates people’s freedom of movement, or economic freedom? Is freedom from disease higher in value compared to economic freedom?
Those can hardly be compared because both are fundamental values. Is freedom from disease higher because it represents the majority’s will compared to economic freedom? In this case, it’s not as simple as using body count. Let’s compare by determining the “value of freedom”.
Here, we will use 2 terms, “natural freedom”, and “institutionalized freedom”.
Natural freedom is freedom that is “inside you”, “belonged to you” because of your status as a person. Freedom to breath, freedom to laugh, freedom to eat, freedom to think, freedom to write, sing, any freedom that aims to sustain your life make you happy (self interest).
Unfortunately, you are not the only one living; there are other living humans as well. When you guys socialize and live together as a community, all of your natural freedom interacts together as well (interaction of personal freedoms).
In some moments, one’s natural freedom, due to greed and self interest, overwhelms and violate others’ natural freedom. To prevent that, the authority creates and enforces regulations.
Eventually, natural freedom is limited so that everyone can exercises their natural freedom collectively without harming one another.
This stage is called as Institutionalized Freedom, a collective natural freedoms that is integrated and regulated by law which aimed to allow a person and the society to maximize their exercise of natural freedom to reach good living condition altogether without the fear of being threatened by one another.
When you love to drive a car and drive it you do not care about lowering down your speed, that is natural freedom. When you have freedom to drive but are regulated by traffic lights and signs, that is institutionalized freedom.
Government will always be the representative and protector of institutionalized freedom as part of their duty in accordance to Social Contract. It is not the government’s duty to protect natural freedom, unless it is part of the institutionalized freedom system.
And freedom that has been institutionalized is no longer called as freedom, but as of rights. Rights are freedom that have been admitted and regulated by law. That is why many people say that the companion of rights is obligation, because obligation limits the rights.
We have the rights to be free, but we also have obligation to respect others’ freedom. Now, in our current social life context, natural freedom is no longer the main, prioritized freedom, but of that institutionalized freedom, which does make sense because it is the consequence of human beings living together in a community, that we do have the to rights exercise our freedom, but within the limitation of respecting other’ rights.
Our freedom is only as free as until it meets with other people’s freedom. And by this then everyone will have their chance to develop their life to the fullest, and that society too will have chance to develop themselves to the fullest. Because even though freedom is good, a rogue freedom will bring catastrophe.
Now it is clear that the freedom can and must be limited so that freedom itself can function properly. The limitation of freedom is no longer the problem.
The problems that we must now look into are which natural freedom that will be more prioritized in institutionalized freedom system. Religious country will prioritize natural religious freedom over natural secular freedom, and will impose regulations to limit secular freedom in favor of religious freedom, and vice versa, and another problem in relation to how government will take action to protect institutionalized freedom by using balanced measures that will not violate the value of institutionalized freedom itself (turning into authoritarian and fascist government).
It is therefore imperative that a government must feel and understand its society’s happiness, suffering, hope, expectation, and value.