(On Practical and Practicable Freedom)
1. Absolute Freedom:
I am against the idea of ‘Absolute’ freedom; even the idea has limitations. I shall speak therefore of ‘freedom to…’, always directed toward particular objects, and laying emphasis on the direction and movement towards, and not the object itself. I shall speak of ‘escape’ not in terms of ‘escapism’ (derogatory), but as a necessary means of movement in the dynamic of freedom: freedom, if only to escape into the adjoining room [Kafka] – freedom, if only to escape the clutches of the law one last time [Jean-Pierre Melville] – freedom, if only to commit one last, significant act [the knight in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal]. Each escape constitutes a field of resistance, a hard object[ion] in the will to power, a refusal to ‘abide’ by the power established by elites of the dominant order but, moreover, an affirmation of the immediate power one does have by exerting it in the present situation. This immediate situation holds all significance.
Practical and practicable freedom is always asserted in affirmation of its limitations. For example, I am not free to do just anything – I have bonds to the present situation, location, time and my physical/mental abilities, amongst a myriad other factors. These factors, inasmuch as I am discussing practical freedom and not ‘Absolute’ freedom, constitute the parameters within which free choices and actions may be realised. Limitations do not constitute the negation of freedom or an objection to freedom; on the contrary, there is no freedom without factors, without conflicting forces, without limitations. This awareness of the conditions of freedom must furthermore be affirmed in my decisions, for I always have a choice, no matter how many and how severe the limitations imposed. Though I am still free enough to decide not to recognise the conditions of freedom, inasmuch as I can pretend that I have no choice, that I have to do such-and-such. We may call this predisposition ‘bad-faith’ [mauvais-foi]; the belief of the free agent that he/she is unfree. It is called bad-faith because the agent must still choose to be in bad faith, and therefore negates his/her own choice and therefore chooses to negate the conditions of existence. My choices are parameters within which I am free to act; through them I set vectors for motion and force, engagement with x, retraction from y; to deny one choice and its restrictions means to affirm another choice and its restrictions. Such limitations are not objections to freedom, but the environment within which freedom is expressed.
3. Absolute Power:
The concept ‘Absolute’ power must also be abolished. Such a concept exists only to exert power over human action and to hide the available avenues of freedom from sense. Even when we speak of ‘absolute power’ of e.g. the State, some deity, a ruling elite, multinational corporations, a tyrant, etc., we are in bad-faith, for as we know, even giants must sleep, and such giants are subject to dynamics and restrictions, just as are ‘the little people’. The supposed ‘absolute power’ of these institutions is a smokescreen used to hide the avenues and corridors of freedom and to enhance the limited power of those institutions. The expression ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’, aside from sounding quite tidy and rhetorical, is actually without any meaning; it describes non-things, non-existents. Absolutes are non-things. Is it characteristic of ideologies that they describe absolutes in order to seize power from people, and is it characteristic of people that they should desire to have their power seized from them in exchange for high-filutin talk of absolutes? Though we may seemingly give our power away when we do so, we do in fact gain a different power from being dominated – we gain the might of the institution when it exerts force against the opponents of our ideology.