the plan for the future
The preamble to the United States Constitution says the following, we the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for The United States of America.
It says Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included in this union according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, three-fifths of all other Persons.
The Second Amendment notes the importance of a well-regulated militia to the security of the free state. There's a sense in which the United States was founded based on the idea of freedom, but there is also, even at this founding, a deep tension. Similarly, we see this kind of tension in a country like Cuba that's very different from the United States.
Article 9 of the Cuban Constitution says that the State both guarantees the freedom and full dignity of men but also that the State channels the efforts of the nation in the construction of socialism, and directs the national economy in a planned manner. So again, there is this idea of freedom coupled with these other commitments that don't seem to be up for discussion.
So one has freedom of speech in this article 53 provision but only in keeping with certain objectives. This might seem like the opposite of right to free speech. The state itself controls all the institutions of mass media, which again might seem to be a kind of denial of a certain kind of freedom to express one's opinion. So even in the aspirational documents of these two very different political societies, we see a deep tension with respect to freedom.
The first distinction is between what's called positive and negative freedom. That's one distinction, and we'll talk about that. The second distinction is between what we might call individual and community freedom. The state might play a role in promoting freedom but it also might serve to undermine freedom as political actions are backed by the coercive force of the state and states serve to limit or restrict what people can do.
A community might organise to become free as a community, becoming a self-governing entity sort of trying to get a democratic say, but in doing so, that community might set out a set of ideals or values that not everyone signs off on, creating a tension between the state that's been created, and individual freedom. The freedom of those individuals who find themselves within such a state, but with dissenting ideas or values.
So, in this sense a drug addict might be perfectly free to quit taking drugs. It's in this way that the prisoner impedes the freedom of the person put in prison. The state is often seen as a threat to this kind of freedom, since the state through it's laws and the imposition of coercive force behind those laws restricts what we can do. This what we usually would think of when we think of someone taking away our freedom or limiting our freedom.
Berlin writes, the positive sense of the word liberty derives from the wish on the part of the individual to be his own master. I wish my life and decisions to depend on myself, not on external forces of whatever kind. I wish to be the instrument of my own, not of other men's acts of will. I wish to be a subject, not an object;
This conception of freedom, positive freedom, positive liberty in this sense, notes that one can be un-free, not just because one is in prison or in chains or because there's a roadblock in the path ahead, but also because either one does not act for one's own reasons, or because one feels alienated from the reasons for which one acts. In this way, although one may be free in the negative freedom sense to quit using some very addictive drug, one may not be free in this positive freedom sense. One may still feel compelled, as if from a force that's outside oneself, or through desires that one does not endorse or identify with, to keep taking the drug.
One may be un-free even though the source of that lack of freedom comes from inside one's physical body. This is perhaps most evident if we imagine cases in which an evil scientist has implanted something in our brains that will force us to act in certain ways. We can also imagine in less dramatic fashion where it might actually go through our own cognitive system in some sense, for example cases of brainwashing where a person's beliefs and values are altered over time using various forms of sophisticated psychological manipulation.
We could also think of cases of severe sensory deprivation and social isolation, where a person is raised without any interactions with other people or anything other than the blank walls of a room. After a while such a person would become psychologically unable to do many things. So that at least initially, if the person were not in such a space, that person would be very limited, very un-free, in terms of what he or she could do, even upon being allowed to move around and interact with others. Drugs, evil scientists, brainwashing, this kind of extreme isolation and deprivation, are all extreme ways in which we can be unfree, even if there are no physical obstacles put in our way.
Key idea for Kant is that freedom is not about being bound by no laws whatsoever. True freedom is not about being able to do anything at all. Instead, according to Kant, freedom consists in being bound by laws that are in some sense laws of one's own making. So Kant goes off in a particular direction with this idea connecting rational autonomy with an imperative to abide by constraints of morality. Kant connects rationality with morality in this way. The idea of positive freedom is more general than this. We can think of it as being about self-control or individual self-government where one's own views, beliefs and values determine what one does and where one identifies in some important sense with those views, beliefs and values.
It's worth noting that, often, the state imposes these kinds of obstacles or laws, that also prevent others from undermining our freedom in the negative freedom sense. This connects with some of the Hobbesian ideas on escaping the state of nature that without the state where we'd all be at war with each other. So, the state might come in and give us sort of a sense of freedom from that kind of interference from the outside.
People are born into very different situations and some of those situations involve severe deprivation or isolation, whether in terms of nutrition and shelter, education and social opportunities, or opportunities for employment. The state might be useful in helping people to develop their capabilities for autonomous action. We don't start life as autonomous creatures, capable of acting freely in this manner. We need a lot of help to develop and the state could play a vital role in this regard.
One significant concern is that the idea of positive freedom introduces the possibility of people acting in ways that are from a certain perspective free, but which we can start to worry are not authentically free. We can entertain ideas like this one. Imagine a person who wants to work hard to save money to buy an expensive car. Maybe these desires do not stem from the person's authentic self. These designs and values might be the product of a certain kind of consumer culture or social conditioning that encourages people to think about working hard and buying material goods as being very important.
Certainly things like this can be said when talking about drugs of certain kinds. So sometimes there is regulation to prevent people who might be on those drugs from harming others. But often the regulation is justified on the grounds that people on those drugs become impaired agents lacking positive freedom, and so they lack the ability to make a good choice about whether or not to use these drugs, even if using them wouldn't harm anybody else.
It can be dangerous to thread down this path of having the state play a role in promoting positive freedom. Consider for example public education. Certainly it's valuable and important for human beings to receive education in order to develop their capacities. But what should the content of that education be? Should certain values and beliefs be promoted? Inevitably however, some beliefs and values will be at least implicitly promoted and endorsed. These are things that we should think carefully about when we think about how systems of public education are going to be designed and implemented. The line between education and propaganda can often be blurry.
So putting them in place required a huge cost to the negative freedom, the freedom from interference in individual lives of the people living under those systems. And in so far as any positive freedom was promoted by these totalitarian regimes, it greatly compromised positive freedom along this one dimension to try to promote it along another. So countries like Cuba represent a continued effort in this direction. Many of these particular political experiments were and continue to be unmitigated disasters, leading to rampant political corruption, inhumane restrictions on intellectual and artistic freedom, great poverty and terrifying abuses of political power, including widespread use of imprisonment, forced relocation, and execution.
It's difficult for anyone to be free from biases with respect to these kinds of questions, since everyone was raised in some particular society, given some particular kind of education, with its own particular biased influences and vivid history. Professor Guerrero's grandfather was executed in 1959 by the revolutionary government in Cuba led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. He has thought about the role that the state might play in promoting positive freedom and the way that it can try to do some good things and do really terrible things along the way while trying to achieve good things.
Consider for example the United States, which currently has the worlds highest incarceration rate, imprisoning 25% percent of all the people imprisoned in the world while only containing 5% of the world's population. In 2006 over 7.2 million people in the United States were in prison, on probation or on parole, which means released from prison with some restrictions on what they could do.
Around the world too we see the role that relatively unregulated market institutions and other political institutions have played in increasing income inequality, and in many cases allowing or not doing much to address the exploitation of the so called developing world. Here are some startling facts about the modern world. According to UNICEF 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. There are 2.2 billion children in the world. One billion of them live in poverty.
Currently the richest 85 people in the world are worth more than the poorest 3.5 billion in terms of how much money and wealth they have. We might think is that political and legal institutions should do more to address many of these facts. These facts also mean that one will be dramatically more free in terms of both negative and positive freedom, and especially positive freedom, depending on one's luck in terms of the situation into which one is born.
Because there's almost no movement out of the poor situations into financially better positions this may be all the more significant. The game is, in this way, rigged. It's hard to imagine how political equality is going to be possible in a world with so much economic inequality. The causes of poverty and the lack of education are complicated and the solutions are going to be complicated as well. One thing to consider is the role that the state might play either in promoting or undermining freedom and equality. Professor Guerrero wants to stress that even if some of the political experiments of the 20th century were a failure, we should still continue to examine the ways in which current political systems fail with respect to ensuring freedom and the possibility of development.
The discussion in this segment has focused mostly on the ideas of freedom in the individual context or thinking about how individuals might be more or less free in terms of both negative and positive freedom. But there's a concern about that kind of limited focus. Some have argued that a focus on individual freedom ignores both the significant role that social interactions play in promoting real autonomy, and the way in which individual freedom can be meaningless or pointless or impossible in context in which one is part of an unfree, subjugated, oppressed community or group.
Perhaps that line of thought is right, but then there are hard questions about what's really required for positive freedom. Things like physical nourishment and education are going to be necessary, but perhaps the vast majority of human beings will develop robust enough positive freedom as long as they physically survive until adulthood, even if they might not be as free it they would be if given more robust education and opportunities.
Along with the totalitarian political experiments of the 20th Century, one of the most significant political developments was the process of decolonisation that took place over much of the world. Colonial powers like Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and the Dutch Empire were expelled from territories all around the globe, with many new nations being born.
In The Wretched of the Earth he writes, those values which seem to ennoble the soul prove worthless, because they have nothing in common with the real-life struggle in which the people are engaged. And he continues, and first among them is individualism. The colonised intellectual learned from his masters that the individual must assert himself. Think about the paradox that Fanon is drawing attention to here. Colonised people being taught about the importance of individualism and individual freedom from what he, not inappropriately, refers to as their masters.
Personal interests are now the collective interest because in reality, everyone will be discovered by the French legionnaires and consequently massacred, or else everyone will be saved. In such a context the every man for himself concept, the atheist's form of salvation is prohibited.
This could be in a way a solution to a kind of collective action problem. No one of us wants to stick our neck out, without all the others being there too. But a more radical way of reading Fanon, is as critical of the idea of individual freedom in its entirety, suggesting that there's some underlying conceptual confusion, in an idea of freedom that focuses just on an individual autonomous agent, and ignores the way which we're all socially embedded and connected to each other.
But this dignity has nothing to do with human dignity. The colonised subject has never heard of such an ideal. All he has ever seen on his land is that he can be arrested, beaten and starved with impunity; and no sermoniser on morals has ever stepped in to bear the blows in his place, or share his bread.
In this way Fanon argues that control over physical territory is essential. Think seems very closely connected up with the idea of negative freedom in a way. We want to be free from a certain kind of external interference, and this is something that will generally be up to a community of people, not solitary individuals. We see in these ideas connections to an importance not just of individual positive or negative freedom, but also the importance of collective self government, the ability of a community of people to have positive freedom in terms of directing the shape, nature and actions of the legal and political institutions that surround them.
One common argument in this vein concerns the importance of democracy, where democracy is understood as government for the people, but also government by the people. It's commonly thought that one essential component is that the people living under the state also run the state. Their beliefs and values should determine what the state will do. In this sense, political or democratic freedom enters in as a constraint on legal and political institutions. Those institutions must operate democratically in a way that satisfies these constraints concerning self government or they'll fail a crucial test of political morality.
There are ways in which Fanon's thinking is relevant for our contemporary world, even though the colonial regimes that Fanon was describing are mostly gone. One thing that's still true in many parts of the world is that even if there's not an explicit colonial power ruling over a colonised people, there are often subgroups or sub-communities that are substantially less powerful than other members of the political community. As a result, even within a democratic system, there can be people who are completely or effectively politically disempowered.
Fanon wrote some memorable lines describing two different worlds, the worlds of the colonist and the colonised. We can still see these two worlds in many places today, even within very rich countries such as the United States. So Fanon wrote, the colonist sector, is a sector built to last, all stone and steel. It's the sector of lights and paved roads, where the trash cans constantly overflow with strange and wonderful garbage, undreamed of leftovers.
The colonised's sector, or at least the 'native' quarters, the shanty town, the Medina, the reservation, is a disreputable place inhabited by disreputable people. You are born anywhere, anyhow. You die anywhere, from anything. It's a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other, the shacks squeezed tightly together. The colonised's sector, is a famished sector, hungry for bread, meat, shoes, coal and light. The colonised's sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, a sector on its knees.