Obviously, “freedom” is a big word that stares us in the face as we try to make sense of it, connect it later with the concept of “democracy,” and finally come up with a meaningful response to the question at hand. “Freedom” which is generally defined as the state of being free triggers a more definitive question: What concrete situation elicits such a state? In other words, when do we say that someone is in a state of being free?
There are a lot of particular instances whose contexts could instantly provide us with a casual understanding of being free. One is said to be free in doing what is prohibited by an authority when such authority is absent and hence unable to see and monitor the prohibited action being done. Conversely and in a broader social context, one is free to do anything that is not outlawed by authority. In another instance, the revocation of a decree, law or policy that forbids a certain action and renders it criminal on the basis of such decree, law or policy gives people the freedom now to do what used to be forbidden.
A different context we could mention to exemplify freedom is when someone has been released from jail and can now breathe the air of freedom after serving her/his prison term. A related case is a person abducted and held captive by criminals for a period of time but was later able to free her/himself by eluding her/his captors and escaping from their lair thereafter. These are all instances where freedom as the state of being free could be understood in simple terms. In fact, we can cite myriads more of instances depicting freedom that range from petty experiences with defined limitations to “no-holds-barred” cases that directly assault and in the end self-annihilate freedom itself. Thus, at its worst, freedom pushed beyond its limits and getting off scot-free like a snake that begins to swallow its tail is doomed to self-destruction.
Freedom in Society
But seriously looking at freedom in various circumstances of human interaction in the social context, certain prevailing ethos, mores, and taboos are pre-established and hence impossible to ignore. Simply put, society establishes the dynamics and mechanics of freedom within its well-defined scope and limits. By and large, dwellers in a particular society are free to do certain things but forbidden to mess around in other areas of concern. Looking at freedom in this sense plots its location within the ambit of what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is tolerable and intolerable, what is desirable and undesirable.
Nevertheless, the social condition is not as simple (or perhaps, simplistic is the more appropriate term) as we look at it at this stage of the present discussion. There are complexities that override such social condition as we focus more on the stratification that characterizes society and defines on that basis the roles of its inhabitants. In this consideration, we get aware of the reality that certain segments of society are granted the freedom to do certain things while other segments are not. People of one category that are given particular responsibilities and duties are likewise granted the freedom to get involved in specific activities but not in others, whereas people of another category are free to do the latter but not entitled to the same freedom enjoyed by the people of the former category. In this sense, society through its conventions and leadership defines the parameters of freedom and prohibitions that constitute what is considered as law and order.
Freedom in society is never “no-holds-barred” and thus safeguarded from self-stultification. Freedom in its social context is therefore characterized by certain limitations so it does not defeat and annihilate itself. Freedom in this sense is considered legitimate and transgression of such legitimacy is met with a commensurate sanction, even retribution at the worst. Established within the framework of social control, there is hence no such thing as unrestrained freedom for even if it is not a contradiction in theoretical terms, it is, by all means, a contradiction in practical terms whose end is self-destruction.
The Reality of Democracy
The main bone of contention in this area of consideration is not the theoretical meaning of democracy as the “rule of the people”; it is rather the actual practice of governments which call themselves “democratic” and thus depict themselves as purveyors of the ideals of democracy. The most pressing problem at this point of our present discussion is the equivocal status of the term “democracy”. Why? Because “democracy” is used arbitrarily for the convenience of government entities of varied and even diametrically opposed political hues and colors. In this connection, we ask the question: Which of these governments in the world that call themselves “democratic” is the genuine paradigm of the ideals of democracy and the true expression of its theoretical principles? None. And again we ask, Why?
Democracy is a figment of the imagination. The concept of people ruling in the political order of a society is an illusion, a fantasy. Ruling a society or a nation, if you will, is effected by a cabal of dominant personalities who call themselves leaders. In the modern world of so-called civilized societies, these leaders are put into office by the citizens–who are technically called the electorate–through a process called election which is generally and unanimously understood and accepted as the most basic instrumentality of democracy. This process has the fundamental aspect of democracy as the people in a particular social location participate in choosing what they deem to be the most qualified and capable to lead the political order of their social community. Yet another question pops up: Does this whole event entail democracy, i.e., rule of the people? In other words, once the electorate has placed in power their chosen leaders, is it proof enough that it is they who are ruling their state of affairs as a social community, as a nation? Once the elected government leaders are all in place, is this what we call democracy, i.e., the rule of the people?
Once the elected government leaders are in power, that is the moment when the short-lived democracy–effected by the electorate through the ballots–ends. These government leaders now in power are the bearers of the interests not of the people who elected them but of their own personal agenda and those of the patrons in the realm of big businesses who financially and logistically supported them on their campaign trails. Huge chunks of evidence have proven once and for all that the most notorious criminal and corrupt government leaders have emerged from countries which are generally known to be the most “democratic,” and many of them have even successfully run away with their loots.
Freedom in a Democracy?
At this point, it is already irrelevant to touch on the issue of freedom in a democracy. It is rather more relevant to affirm the reality of freedom within the pragmatic parameters we have previously established even if a society is not democratic (since there is no such thing as a democratic society). What is real is there are of course pockets of freedom that we experience and such pockets are specifically defined in terms of certain particular instances that constitute our existential condition as human beings. However, freedom as a universal factor in theoretical terms that ontologically and axiologically connects with “free will” as something inherent in the constitution of our humanity is another case of fantasy and illusion–a figment of the imagination. In the final analysis, real freedom is dependent on actual experiential events and not on the non-existent “free will”.
(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 28 January 2019