Philosophy of Freedom

According to F. A. Hayek’s social and political thought, the tradition of liberty is not the exclusive creation of any single country. Consequently, no nation or group of individuals have sole possession of the secret related to such tradition whose origins can be found in the ancient Greeks, the Italians of the early Renaissance, and also on the French and German contributions. Briefly, the tradition of liberty is an open system not bounded by particular institutions or policies taking place in specific and eventual circumstances.

Hayek also said that the principles of a philosophy of freedom extends far beyond technical economics or any other single discipline. This is a very crucial point of view, because without a theoretical vision it is not possible to understand the unity that must be found in every political, economic and cultural aspects of our society. This is also why there is a very important distinction to be made between freedom and liberty, the first concept being related to a transcendent principle that justifies, in all senses, the second one.

In other words, freedom is the principle that guarantees, by itself, that liberty cannot depend on discretionary authority stemming from social or political rulers, neither stemming from a previously defined framework of rights and duties that, somehow, enable the individual conduct in what respects his own fate or destiny. Going further, the principle of freedom is revealed by the Spirit, making its own appearance in human thought, then capable of bringing it to concrete and civilized existence.

The words freedom and liberty have been both distorted, intentionally or not. First of all because emotions and even noble sentiments have perverted the intellectual sphere capable of guaranteeing the real content of those words. Second because that same content has been disparaged to the point where vague terms are undermining all kind of clarification in what concerns conceptual guidance.

That´s the reason why Hayek insists, pertinently, in the interweaving of philosophy, jurisprudence and economics with the purpose of a better understanding of the value of freedom and, consequently, of a free society. Besides that, he also warns that freedom is not merely one particular value, but the source and chief condition of all moral and spiritual values. In this sense, Hayek, especially in his book The Constitution of Liberty, says: «What a free society offers to the individual is much more than what he would be able to do if only he were free».

In fact, Hayek´s terminology preference points tofreedom, being more related with the original meaning of the concept, this one regarding not the mere range of one person’s choice, but basically his own expectation regarding the course of action in accordance with present intentions. Besides, the original meaning of the word can also be described as “independence of the arbitrary will of another”, a more sharp but unquestionable expression.

Above all, it is important to clarify that freedom does not mean physical “ability to do what I want”, because, if so, we are contributing to a confusion that may become very dangerous, once it can, eventually, lead political and intellectual leaders to identify liberty with power. In this way, very common to socialist leaders, the word liberty, once perverted, can be used to destroy individual liberty, which, conceptually speaking, transcends most deeply the absence of obstacles to the realization of our desires. According to this, freedom does not means omnipotence, or a demand of power like it can be found, for example, in some “liberal” circles, in the United States.

These circles are, in some sense, inspired by intellectuals like John Dewey, whose ideology has been spread, not only in the United Sates, but also in European countries, like Portugal. In the last one, the high school students are, somehow, obliged to assimilate this ideology inserted in school programs, to not speak in whom, mentality conditioned by “university Marxism”, is responsible for officially teaching that same ideology. Moreover, the appeal of this false ideology is perfectly understandable in a socialist content, claiming as it is the redistribution of wealth in the name of liberty.

According to Hegel’s Principles of Philosophy of Law, the redistribution of wealth is, significantly, named as an abstract product of the “empty intellect”, or an “abstract idealism”. In another words, coming now from Orlando Vitorino, a Portuguese philosopher, the true question can be defined in the following terms: justice is not related with equal distribution of wealth according to socialism, but instead related with uneven disparity among men, things and the world itself.

To the philosophical conception of Orlando Vitorino, Freedom´s universal, being a different issue regarding Justice – whose real concept takes place only when it implies everyone -, does not prevent individual liberty in the presence of collective liberty, once freedom, in its absolute and universal meaning, is not realizable in extensive terms to the totality. Thus, property can be understood, more even as an economic relation, like an effective manifestation of freedom, where, through its substantial religiosity, is also the main basis of the personality and, above all, the perpetuation of the family and love relations.

Orlando VitorinoIn fact, Orlando Vitorino, inspired by the Aristotelian philosophy of Álvaro Ribeiro, could also see that human reason is always inscribed in the world relations between beings, souls and spirits. In this sense, human thought, more properly said, appears like a spiritual and rational movement capable of knowing the genuine world, and, by that process, guarantees that no longer principles like Freedom, Truth and Justice can be conceptually crystallized or, simply, determined by mere human subjectivity. According to this, the principle of Freedom, for example, is not, by essence, immediately related with action, in spite of, through it, being susceptible of revealing itself in deep and multiple ways.

It seems perfectly understandable that Freedom, characterized as a transcendental principle, cannot be either physically or conceptually conquerable. However, it must be possible the existence of conceptual thought without which Freedom can no longer exist among us. Despite all, we should be aware in the presence of empty and revolutionary ideologies which have been and still are preparing global’s serfdom.

In Portugal, political, economical and cultural serfdom is an indisputable fact, although most people, living as such, are not conscious of it. And the reason for their awareness can be accurately found in university structures practically dominated by materialistic ideologies, initially imposed under the consulship of the Marquis of Pombal, a tyrant of the eighteenth century. Just to have an idea of the pombaline structures impact in the last two centuries in Portugal education, we must say that the existence of private education institutions have just appeared after the Communist Revolution in 1974.

“Universidade Livre” (“Free University”) was, probably, the first private university institution coming from those days of revolutionary delirium. That can be explain by the fact that all teachers, methods or programs schools were being undermined by Marxism ideology, responsible for the breakthrough of institutions, financiers enterprises and private properties. As most similar institutions of the present, the “Free University” was, ironically, not free, or really independent from public education, because, implanted as an administrative extent of it, was simply keeping and promoting the same teachers and the same learning methods coming from school state institutions.

Orlando Vitorino was a vehement critic of this cultural centralization, especially when he was working as an inspector for the Gulbenkian Foundation, namely to the Gulbenkian Library Service. He mainly wished that a private institution, like this Foundation, could indeed take the opportunity to create an independent University, truly inspired by the Portuguese culture routs. Unfortunately, it was totally in vain because the Gulbenkian cultural policy was then, like it is in present days, adopting an official model practically dominated by state cultural institutions.

Orlando Vitorino, a classical liberal thinker, just knew very well how powerful socialism was, especially regarding to cultural activities, such as music, architecture, poetry, literature and, most of all, philosophy. Today, socialism continues to be very powerful not just in cultural activities, but also in political and economical ones. In conclusion, socialism is, specially today, a non-ideological combination of public and private sectors, but still projected by a powerful global movement whose historical existence is barely perceived by normal and common people.

19Miguel Bruno Duarte is a Fellow in Philosophy and Political Science at the Inter-American Institute for Philosophy, Government, and Social Thought.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

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