Freedom is a concept with as many definitions as there are people in the world. A teenager is going to have a very different idea of freedom than a person in prison. And a person in America is probably going to have a very different idea of what freedom means than a person in Europe.
In the United States, the word freedom is often used to mean civil rights and liberties that are guaranteed under the Constitution. However, it is important to remember that this concept of freedom can also be very broad and can encompass a variety of aspects of people’s lives, from the right to a good education to the ability to travel freely to other countries.
While the term is frequently used in the context of politics and human rights, freedom can also be a very personal, idiosyncratic notion. It is easy to see why it would be difficult to define, especially in a political sense, because there are so many factors that influence what people feel they should have the freedom to do.
This year has been a particularly challenging and illuminating test for the idea of freedom, whether it’s in the form of the coronavirus pandemic or the fight against systemic racism. The concept of freedom is being tested in ways that it has not been tested before, and it seems that people all over the world are rethinking their ideas about what freedom really means to them in this very unique moment in history.
Throughout the centuries, philosophers have struggled to define and categorize different forms of freedom. The most widely accepted definition is that freedom is the absence of compulsion, either external or internal. However, some philosophies take this a step further, and argue that true freedom is not simply the absence of compulsion but rather the ability to choose one’s own actions, regardless of their consequences. This is sometimes called positive freedom, and it is generally regarded as the only true kind of freedom.
Other philosophies take a different view of freedom, and believe that it is not possible to achieve positive freedom in the real world. Instead, they advocate for a concept of freedom that is more focused on the protection of the civil liberties that we already enjoy. These are often referred to as civil liberty freedoms, and they are the main categories that Freedom House uses when ranking nations’ levels of freedom.
Finally, there are those philosophies that claim that the best way to preserve positive freedom is for society to rely on a set of social norms that protect against internal compulsions. This is sometimes referred to as negative freedom, and it involves a retreat into an inner citadel, or the soul, of a purely noumenal self, that is immune to outside forces. This is a state that most liberals would not want to label as freedom, because it risks masking oppressive practices in the name of protecting a nebulous ideal.