Thursday, December 29, 2016


When I was a very young man, back in the early 70s (some time before decided, around the early 80s, that I was actually a socialist) I I read a book called “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” by self-styled libertarian Harry Browne, and decided that I, too, was a libertarian.  I later realized that what I liked about the book (and still do, at least in my fading recollection) has little to do with libertarianism as usually conceived.  It  is a theme that does run as a thread through libertarianism, submerged beneath a fetishization of property* and a mytho-heroic cult of the individual**, but it is far broader.  It is a theme in philosophies as old as classical stoicism and as new as the existentialism of Sartre and de Beauvoir.  This is the theme that, in the truest sense, freedom is not something that we strive for, but something that all humans inalienably have. 

In this idea of freedom, freedom is defined as the ability to choose between real alternatives.  This freedom is always constrained, by what the existentialists called “facticity” – by circumstances outside of ourselves that limit the alternatives actually available at any given time.  But the choice is real – and this is the only kind of choice we ever really have.  What we usually think of as “freedom” is to have a choice between more attractive alternatives.  This improvement of the conditions of choice is something that humans can often accomplish, but only if we start by exercising our freedom; by making good choices between the actual alternatives available to us, right here and now.


*A case in point would be the political philosophy of Robert Nozick.

**Courtesy of Ayn Rand, I take it.  (Her, I haven’t read.)

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