Are We Born Free

Liberal philosophers believed that man was born free but that laws and power relationships between the classes determined a persons degree of freedom. Jean Jacques Rousseau begins his treatise The Social Contract with the observation that man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains (Wraight 15).  From the colonial experience to the era of neo colonialism, developing nations have been peripherally in charge of their destinies whereas the real powers that be are donor countries and supranational institutions. In our homes, daily decisions are influenced by government policies crafted by the political elite and wealthy people bent of perpetrating their power and influence. To answer the question, are we born free one must analyze the context in which it was asked. With regard to theories on statehood, mankinds innate freedom can only be protected by aligning ourselves with like minded people determined to ensure that powerful forces within society do not enslave the rest.

Thomas Hobbes state of nature was solitary, poor, nasty brutish and short (Perez 12-19). The unbridled freedom that man enjoyed in this natural state threatened the rest of mankind since morality and ethics were not established. A strong man could annex the property of another without fear of sanctions and continue to enlarge his borders since the only restraining force would be the emergence of a much stronger person. By coming together to establish the social contract, man gives up his freedoms to the state in exchange for protection of the same. In essence, mans freedoms end up subjecting him to a more powerful force so as to enjoy what was naturally his. This irony is probably what made Rousseau comment that everywhere man is in chains.

To enjoy the freedom of life, laws must be enacted to constrain mans actions. It becomes criminal to take kill another person and sanctions such as life imprisonment and execution are established to control society. Freedom of expression is qualified with clauses addressing hate speech and incitement. One cannot express their minds fully without risking the threat of imprisonment or lawsuits. With regard to the freedom of association, certain people are considered potential security threats and associating with them could lead to constant harassment and surveillance by law enforcement officers.
The freedom of movement is curtailed by barriers on entry to trade or social practices that deny certain classes access to exclusive areas. High membership fees, exorbitant rents and visa regulations prevent eager people from entering hallowed domiciles. John Lockes state of nature was distinguished from Hobbes example in that people lived in harmony (Ashcraft 142). To further the goals of mankind a social contract was established in which mans freedoms were guaranteed by the state. The creation of the state exacerbated existing inequalities by creating a ruling class that was theoretically answerable to the masses but in reality, alienated from them in so many ways. Though various legislative actions, the ruling class whittles away the freedoms of society ostensibly to protect the rights of all. In the aftermath of 911 the department of homeland security adopted a raft of measures aimed at securing US borders from international threats. Tapping phones lines became an acceptable strategy in the fight against terror despite the fact that it infringed on the right to privacy.

National debts to domestic and international lenders place a financial burden on every newborn child before they can even learn how to crawl. Throughout ones life, debts continue to accumulate as attempts are made to meet basic needs and secondary wants. From this perspective, it is difficult to comprehend the concept of freedom since ones labor has been mortgaged to creditors. The dependency theory operates in a similar fashion by creating a nexus between the stronger and weaker parties. Such relationships are characterized by unfair terms and exploitation. Because the weaker party has few options, this situation persists and entrenches the master-slave relationship which limits all freedoms.

Karl Marx envisioned the collapse of capitalism to pave way to communism which would invariably create a free state (S HYPERLINK httpen.wikipedia.orgwikiShlomo_Avineri o Shlomo Avineri hlomo 119). To him, the contradictions within the capitalist system would lead to a workers revolution that would usher in an egalitarian society. This society would establish innate freedoms and prevent exploitation of other people. Thus, while he acknowledged man was born free, he recognized the fact that prevailing economic structures created gross inequalities which enslaved mankind.

In conclusion, liberal and Marxist philosophers are in agreement that man is born free. Their differences in perception relate to the manner in which such freedoms can be enhanced within the state. Social contract thinkers believed that the state offered the best option to secure such freedoms. However, in reality, the ruling classes entrusted with the running of the state continually impose more restrictions on the lives of the citizenry. In the Marxist model, such enslavement would lead to a revolution that would emancipate the masses and restore their natural freedoms. Thus, although man is born free, the enjoyment of such freedoms is at the mercy of those who wield economic and political power.


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