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Can Man be Forced to be Free?

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Topics in Political Theory: Can Man be Forced to be Free?
Introduction to The Oxford Series of Essays on Political Theory by Alex Cole

The following essays in political theory were written during my first term at the University of Oxford. I find a few of them to be rough around the edges, (especially the first two) but I feel the topics addressed in them are important enough to share with my comrades and colleagues at Discourses on Liberty. I believe that the work I present will be satisfactorily received by my fellow essayists and liberty-minded contemporaries.

Each essay was written a week apart from each other, usually on a Tuesday afternoon over a cup of tea and a notebook filled with notes and page numbers, usually missing many pages (English refill pads aren’t bound as well as American ones.) After submitting the essay, I would meet with a tutor and defend whatever essay I had just written verbally. Such a method of education is, in my opinion, infinitely rewarding, monumentally challenging, and inherently engaging. The use of language, both verbal and written, is a powerful tool for the advancement of knowledge and the tutorial system employed at the University of Oxford reinforces an idea I have held for years: that philosophy and political theory is not a spectator sport and, moreover, cannot be passively learned via a powerpoint presentation and a droll lecture.

No - philosophy is an action. Discourse is an activity designed in order to bring ideas down from the proverbial heavens and affect the course of our lives, our destinies, and our polis. As Richard Weaver wrote, ideas have consequences. I hope the essays presented to my fellows express this maxim and encourages a robust debate concerning the ideas expressed in them.

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Dennis Treybil
Entered on:

 Allow me to rephrase your question slightly:

Can a human individual be forced to be free?

Based on the title of Erich Fromm's  famous "Escape from Freedom", the answer might appear to be "No".

But that depends on how one defines freedom.

My own answer is not so much that man (human individuals) CAN be forced to be free, human individuals are actually forced to be free.  And they are forced to be free by the creator mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.

I personally associate freedom with the full range of actions and attitude within the capabilities of human beings to pursue or imagine.

More formally stated:

Freedom is an irrevocable degree of latitude in individual attitude and action.

Returning to more cordial terms, freedom is based in the individual ability to make choices.

The words freedom and liberty are routinely used interchangeably.  But I find it helps to use each word in specific ways, different from each other.

In informal, cordial language, liberty is a set of permissions we give ourselves and each other.

I confess that I'm not sure whether you use the terms positive and negative liberty as I do, but of the two terms, I would associate the term positive liberty with the definition in the preceding paragraph.

The 9th amendment is as close as the Constitution comes to stating positive liberty.

I gather the term "negative liberty" would be associated with a list of permissions not granted or a list of permissions denied.

As I read the federal constitution, it denies permission to commit acts of murder, kidnap, property violations, peace violations, treason, and (problematically) rights violations.

In its letter, the language I base this on applied to federal officials in 1791.  In its spirit (supported by the "titles of nobility" clauses), the same language applies to private citizens.

You write:

if freedom is as worthy of attaining as advocates of freedom proclaim it is . . .

I take issue with that phrase because the individual cannot attain freedom.  The individual already has it.  I disagree with Fromm's title as well.  You don't have to attain freedom, nor can you escape or revoke it.  It's YOURS.

Widespread reliable observation of Liberty must be attained.  And attainment of that widespread reliable observation of Liberty is a worthy aim.  If widespread observance of Liberty is reliably practiced in an area, one CAN escape it, but who would want to?!

Under the Constitution, Liberty may be legitimately revoked, rightly or wrongly, if due process is observed.  Due process, I hasten to chasten, does not guarantee that guilty are always convicted anymore than it guarantees that innocent are always acquitted.

The Constitution aims for a process that is reliable enough as to avoid provoking "a convulsion from within" due to actions taken under color of law.  It aims for it.  It being the country is not continuously beset with riots, maybe it can be seen as doing a pretty good job.

And even though in 1994, I heard Irwin Schiff declare in person that "The constitution is a dead letter" (even though he still clung to it during subsequent procedings after which he landed in jail) and even though the NDAA may indeed be the Constitution's final death knell, I still cling to it.

I write 500 pages of stuff related to the constitution and freedom and liberty (in terms stated in this comment) in my book, The Constellation of Liberty available at

DC Treybil

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