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Monday, December 29, 2008

on arendt's "what is freedom?"


Freedom is listed in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraints in choice or action.” Since human beings are alive due to desires, constraints appear in opposition to choosing or acting on those desires. The need or impediment of not having to seek such desires is opposed by freedom, a reason why humans value freedom and dislike hindrances to freedom. Humans do not like the existence of constraints, impediments and burdens; when these are absent, there is a reason for rejoicing because they can say they are free.
This word captured Hannah Arendt’s imagination so much that she made the treatise “What is freedom?” proceeding to tackle points about it, one of which is "Courage liberates men from their worry about life for the freedom of the world. Courage is indispensable because in politics not life but the world is at stake." Her discussion of freedom finds tangents to this passage throughout her essay.
Arendt believed that freedom does not grow in the absence of restraining factors. It is a hard-shelled idea that resides in politics, that chaotic public life of people. She argued that freedom does not appear when one is left to one’s own. Instead, others are needed to criticize and judge no matter how cruelly if one must nurture individuality. Hence, this runs against the idea of fewer restraints, more liberty being held by liberal people. If freedom is to be understood in terms of being free from restraint, then it is one’s pursuing one’s desires without others interfering such a pursuit. If one is to assert one’s individuality, one should be left alone. The diverse lifestyles of people are a result of individualities being able to thrive in a tolerant atmosphere. These points caused Arendt to imply that the liberal people harboring such notions do not enjoy a true liberty.
This provides the point that somehow, there is a negative idea of liberty, true in Arendt’s argument that instead of being left alone, one must be in the company of others who will give an assessment of one, stinging if need be, in order for one’s individuality to grow paradoxically. It is not freedom from interference, for seeing the absence of restraint as the essence of freedom means interfering others do not hang around one, isolating one from public life. Since freedom is born and flourishes in politics, others’ interference is necessary, defeating the liberals’ concept of freedom as freedom from restraint.
It is enlightening to know that even among lovers of freedom, there can be those who may hold a belief that’s entirely different from those of others, such as Arendt’s belief as opposed to liberal people’s. It seems that one indeed needs to be critical about ideals like freedom for fear that one becomes blinded by this philosophy. The freedom to what one wants without others’ restraint appears as an irresponsible freedom, and in that case the “freedom from” already shifts to “freedom to,” cementing the concept that freedom is really a site of differing notions.
This point is related to the passage in that it takes away the concern of freedom from being centered on one’s life alone and refocusing it on the life of the entire world. If freedom becomes more public (thus, more political), one has encouraged oneself to get out of one’s comfort zone, mingling with others to check one another’s way of living so that they will evaluate whether the individual lives they live are socially healthy. If everybody just went on one’s way in a misguided notion that one can exist in isolation, the life of the entire world is doomed since there will be chaos soon enough, what with everyone doing one’s lot without care for or consideration of others whom one may already be violating whether consciously or unconsciously. An over-tolerant environment, as it is, generates anarchy because everyone gets to do one’s own thing without the public being able to check and balance it.
It is easy to see then that freedom is deemed by Arendt as being beyond the consideration of the will, as being interwoven in politics, breeding in a public space which Arendt defines as a “politically organized world” where one can pursue one’s individuality and where one learns freedom with one’s interaction with others. Arendt cites freedom in the action of man as being free to do such an action in that public space, an action that makes man break new grounds. It is in this public space that one is free to discuss, share and create one’s uniqueness. If man is encouraged into a groundbreaking action, man leaves his personal space and joins the public one where his individuality gets shaped by his interaction with other people. With the entire world participating in that public space interaction, the lives of people are not in danger of disintegrating due to the negative attitude of “to each his own.” Real freedom is always tied up with inter-action.
Since freedom is not exclusive to a single body, it works freely for public affairs because it is available to everybody. It must be noted that public affairs is never devoid of the inherent idea that it is a free-flowing dialogue beset with conflicts. The public space should be seen beyond the alluring image of a site of diverse and lush individualities, because it is a space where disagreements are welcomed for uniqueness in everyone to grow. Politics becomes the tool to generate solutions for an errant individuality, since one gets to be judged by others, not leaving one to judge himself because of the downright difficulty of judging oneself rightly. As it is, a twisted image of oneself can never make for a genuine freedom.
The freedom of action rests on the act and its unpredictability, that which breaks new grounds and always causes something new to the world because of the fragmented tradition. Courage is associated to the experience of freedom of action. This characteristic which can be experienced via inter-action is best seen happening in the public space. Arendt views this idea of action as the basic and characteristic manner of relating to the world. Action makes one experience freedom, create one’s own uniqueness and show the manner in which one is unique. This necessarily touches the subject of human plurality.
Arendt’s idea of freedom carries the concept that everyone has the inherent uniqueness and as visible in the public space, the world is characterized by human plurality. This way, the world is guaranteed of a sound mass of individuals who interact on a public level and in effect, are encouraged into freely cultivating their respective personalities. This many-sidedness shows that everyone has the ability to perform even the improbable, including overcoming restraints. This possibility of overcoming restraints must be realized before freedom can exist. In politics, one’s performance of the improbable is breaking grounds that did not exist as yet, and could not be known unless inferred from one’s intentions or motives. This brings to fore another idea of Arendt of freedom as an action "free from motive on one side, from its intended goal as a predictable effect on the other."
It is obvious that actions emerge from intentions and motives. Being able to transcend intentions and motives assures freedom. However, tied up to the passage in question, it cannot be done in private. This can only happen in politics where action goes beyond intentions and motives and generates the unexpected. Necessarily, acting for the benefit of a principle assures freedom, principle being tied up to the idea of politics. To be political is to participate in a self-disclosing manner in a public space. One’s self-disclosure manifests one’s willingness to grab the risk, and one has to have courage in order to do that. For Arendt, a hero is an individual whose story unfolds with him/her as focus rather than with him/her as someone who has attaained some form of greatness. Courage then is that which consists nobility because only when one takes the risks that one accepts the judgment of others for the sake of one’s cultivation of individuality. Taken collectively, one’s life is given less focus because the greater concern that’s the whole world of individualities is that which is ultimately created.
One’s simple disclosure, notwithstanding what is being disclosed, is not what it merely seems, for Arendt views this as requiring courage, given that nobody knows for certain the type of person to be disclosed or of the consequences of the disclosure. One becomes a hero not for one’s achievement but for one’s courage to expose oneself, to tell one’s story and, in effect, to be one with the world. It is this kind of risk that breaks new grounds, that creates individuality and that saves the world from the monotony of the everyday. The courage to attempt self-disclosure necessitates one’s plunging into speech and action and the success in doing so generates freedom. The more coward one is about risking disclosure, the greater the courage to be mustered, given the possibility that the reason for (the absence of) disclosure is actually shameful.
The means of disclosure, action, may only reveal who the disclosing agent is through that agent’s story. It does not matter if the person is actually heroic (therefore, inspiring) in terms of great deeds, for even cowards can be qualified to disclose. When people interact, they disclose even their sheerest humanities through their speech and actions, entailing courage in doing so. It is not limited to those who do great things that disclosure is associated, as Arendt sees the action occurring with the aim of pursuing the discloser’s worldly interest. For this interest to effect in disclosure, an audience must be present to judge and criticize the disclosure. As individuals really disclose the persons that they are, their courage in doing so makes them transcend their private space, going so far as the public space where the workshop of individualities is taking place.
The importance of public space, or of the interfering others in Arendt’s definition of freedom, is required because disclosure cannot happen without the visibility of a judging audience. Without the existence of that audience, the reactors to the disclosure, no disclosure will ever happen. This concept of freedom considers the functional work of public space as a guarantee of freedom. If privacy creates a space to hide in, public space exists where humans can relate with one another in order for participants to grow with individuality.
Individual expressions which are life’s experiments are liable to being judged publicly. The audience decides what disclosures are good and what are bad. Nonetheless, the freedom of acting one’s self-disclosure is a way of fulfilling the opportunities being opened by the world before one. With this freedom, people can participate in public, act in their public space, and shape their own destinies. The groundbreaking action is a revolution that springs something fresh, established from where that something old ends. The people’s true and sustained participation in politics is a brave unfurling of human action in fulfillment of collective freedom.

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