Freedom Is Not Free From Limitations

Our literatures, our media, our education, our aspirations – even our minds, are almost in the habit of talking so much about freedom that it can often end up becoming a meaningless rhetoric. While freedom is without doubt one of the most important values, how free the freedom itself is from the bondage that life and circumstances bring with them ? A destitute is hardly better off than a bonded person. Are we really free ?
Freedom is not free from limitations
Source - Wikimedia Commons (

The Concept of Freedom

"Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains."

Thus wrote Jeans Jacques Rousseau, the French political philosopher, in his book, "The social contract", in the eighteenth century.

Rousseau indirectly hinted at a very important fact of our society. Freedom is always a relative concept and depends, more often than not, not on the true state of affairs, but on the means that lead us to that state. Thus, a man who is forced by fear of instant punishment into working sixteen hours a day is said to have been enslaved, while a man who does

the same because of the lust for materialistic life that he has acquired as part of his personality and character is said to be a free man.

The Free Man – is it Real or just an Illusion

What essentially differentiates a free man from one who is not free is the existence or otherwise of options. A man on dieting fasts, so does a man who has nothing to eat. But in the case of former, it is a wilful conscious decision of choosing one of the many options, while in case of the latter it is the fate of a man who never had another option.

Unfortunately, such simplified descriptions are usually fallacious. A man sentenced to life in prison is not always a man who had no choice. Similarly, the people residing in a territory that has been unfairly occupied by another power are also not a bunch of persons, who have never had a choice. In either case, the persons who lost their status as free men, did have option to do, or not to do, something that could have prevented their loss of freedom. In that sense, it is usually not the destiny alone that makes us free or otherwise.

In the modern civilized world, too, while there is everything, the amount of freedom that is there is very limited. A father, who is otherwise very successful in life, may not get any opportunity to spend time with his son, in spite of all his longing to do so. On the other hand, in a remote undeveloped rural area of the third world another father may have the luxury of actually spending as much time as may wish, with his son. However, such greater freedom, to do something, may not be always sufficient to make one's life better. In some

cases, such greater freedom may not even be desirable.

The Practical Limitations on Freedom

Everything comes at a cost in this world and that includes freedom. You can use that freedom only at a cost, and if you cannot pay that cost, such freedom is meaningless. You may be free to go and spend a week on a seven star cruise to Hawaii, but such freedom is meaningless if you do not have the money to buy the ticket. More importantly, this freedom will remain meaningless, if some other of your circumstances do not permit you to indulge in that luxury.

The freedom to vote in a democracy may be relevant only if there is any significant difference between the two contestants that will make the election relevant to the daily lives of the people. Similarly, having freedom to voice your opinions will have any relevance only if somebody else has the inclination to listen to them.

Perhaps, one of the worst enemies of freedom is crime against innocent victims. When the law and order is weak, and people live in fear for whatever reason, their theoretical freedom is of little use. In fact, the false pretence of freedom can actually end up with an innocent victim losing much more than his freedom.

Similarly, just because law allows you a right, does not necessarily mean that you an unhindered right to do anything. In particular, when long term traditions are in clash with such laws, you need to be careful, so as to avoid getting into conflict with those who may not approve your behaviour. This may not be fair, but that is how it is in real life.

Practical Goals of Improving Life May be Better

Often, we are lost in the rhetoric of 'freedom', without appreciating that freedom in life of every individual is very limited. It would be much more meaningful if we talk about reasonable and practical freedom in living life in real terms. It may be better actually to seek fairness in social life, or even better would be a goal for bringing overall improvement in our lives, both materially as well socially.

Please login to comment on this post.
Can Rationing Prevent Environmental Crisis
Are High Taxes On Cigarettes Fair?