What is the essence of freedom? We may have heard the words “freedom” in a variety of ways – on the ballot, as a citizen of a free country, as a person walking out of prison. We may have also heard them used to describe freedom from debt or slavery. However, true freedom is more complex than the freedom to do whatever we want. In this context, freedom can mean the ability to worship, speak, and act as we please, as long as those choices do not infringe on the rights of others.
To introduce students to the idea of freedom, divide them into groups of four to five students. Give each group a different freedom, and give them ten minutes to create two tableaus that show a society that practices it and a society that does not. Each tableau must have all members of society – both male and female – and should have a different power structure. While creating each tableau, students should use levels and spacing to convey power and relationships between people.
In the early 19th century, Benjamin Constant, a celebrated political thinker, was opposed to the French revolution. He argued that the revolutionaries confused freedom with collective power. In his view, the British constitution was a more secure guarantee of freedom. In this view, only five percent of British adults could vote. Regardless of the definition of freedom, we need to ensure that our constitutions protect it. But the question is whether or not these institutions can maintain freedom.
The exercise of freedom of speech is an essential component of an open and fair society. Unfortunately, governments routinely imprison people for speaking their minds. Yet almost every country’s constitution references the importance of freedom of speech. Moreover, it guarantees the right to free association. So, how can we ensure that the free expression of ideas is safeguarded in our society? Here are some examples. Let us examine the nature of freedom of speech and its relation to the right to vote.
Until recently, Freedom in the World has used two-factor methodology. In each country, a rating is assigned based on civil liberties and political rights. This scale ranges from one to seven, where one represents the highest degree of freedom and seven the lowest. The scores from these two criteria are combined to determine the country’s freedom. Then, they are discussed in regional review meetings where Freedom House staff participate. And, of course, the report is updated and published every year.
However, the idea of freedom does not mean that democracy is not necessary. It does not mean that there aren’t any other types of freedom. For example, the right to organize political groups and nominate candidates for high offices are essential to freedom. The freedom to hold political opinions, to speak freely, to associate with religious groups, and to engage in business or union activity are all necessary components of freedom. In some cases, freedom of expression is the key to a successful democracy.