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Are we becoming more `free` than we were in the past?



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    Are we becoming more `free` than we were in the past?

    “Freedom” has traditionally been characterized in terms of rigid constraints forced by the demands of propositional truth. But according to Segundo, a better understanding would describe freedom as “precisely the capacity to absolutize what nature and history always present to us as somewhat relative.”(Segundo, Liberation of Theology, p. 176)

    That is, the proper conception of freedom must not be defined in terms of the constraints of propositional certitudes, but in terms of the constraints of chronological context; and these latter constraints are continually in flux. Consequently, proper social ethics should be understood as relative to the particular chronological situation from which they arise at any given time. That is, through a pledge, an individual can absolutize a value for instance, liberation by merging it with objective reality -for instance, the oppressed — and then declaring the merger categorical for example, a moral commitment to liberating the oppressed. For faith to be in operation, the individual should entrust his commitment to human liberation with absolute hope, regardless of the probability of success. For Segundo, then, such subjective absolutization comprises the core of faith; thus, the procedure of faith begins by absolutizing persons rather than ethereal or abstract values. However, it does not absolutize a static person. Instead, it attributes value to the person as a cohort in existence, as a guide through the wilderness of the unknown and the inexperienced (Segundo, Liberation of Theology, p. 176-178)

    Other liberation theologians have also arrived at similar positions relating to the connection between faith and politics, and the relationship between truth and action, theory and praxis. Mguez Bonino concludes that simply through proper activities can “correct knowledge” be known (Míguez Bonino, p. 90). And Hugo Assmann further emphasizes that faith has a political measurement of its own such that one cannot “live a life of faith in segregation from daily life.” (Hugo Assmann, 1976, pp. 34-35).

    Furthermore, Segundo points out that the theological shift in absolutization, from theoretical certitudes to individuals with particular social needs, has the result of attributing “absolute value to a person as educator.” (Segundo, Liberation of Theology, p. 179)

    That is, the evangelizing individual should evaluate his own social circumstances with his moral commitments in mind, exercise his visionary function by denouncing social injustice, and vigorously assist in the liberation of others by “teaching” them what he has learned. It is the development of learning itself that alone transcends historical situations and thus can alone assertion on ontological status as abstraction, though it manifests its quality provisionally. According to Segundo,

    Thus, in and through faith, we absolutize one concrete educational process in history, placing it above and before any other such process (Segundo, Liberation of Theology, p. 178-180).

    Therefore, absolutization is a prejudiced and free act of the individual’s will, though it is an objective process in history, says Segundo, “directed by God himself . . . an absolute educator.”

    Segundo retains that this objective process for liberation also divulges that religious faith can be “transformed into freedom for history, which means freedom for ideologies.”(p. 110). A reasonable relationship now exists between the commitment of faith and the argument for political action, since both have the similar object or end in mind. Segundo refers to this relationship of unified values as ideology, where means-ends arguments are advanced (Juan Luis Segundo, 1984, p. 16). The “foundation stone” of ideology, then, is faith. And it is the balancing relationship between the two that gives the bridge between a “conception of God” and “the actual life problems of history.” So in liberation theology, faith exists as a complete educational process personally applied to problems of social injustice, while philosophy represents possible explanations of, and relative solutions to, problems in the chronological situation.

    Freedom will come when liberation from despoliation and oppression is carried out in the name of “modern freedoms and democracy.” In this procedure of liberation the faith lives among the poor of this world; and from there a theological indication expresses itself—a reflection that does not desire to be a slave to those sufferings. This mysticism refuses to give itself over to the dominating ideology, and more and more breaks with the dominant, conservative, or progressive theologies.

    Freedom, though, exists not in the conformity but in the individualization of human desires and needs. Freedom is the foundation of human happiness, “and human nature seeks its liberty as the inducement seeks the north, or as water seeks its level.”

    The idea that unity of conviction can be reached by surrender of personal freedom leads only to immorality even under the most positive conditions. Individuality, experience and self-protection provide the foundation essential to social life. To dispense with one of these or with the three of them should only lead to disorder and chaos; consequently one must be very careful not to tamper with them. But that is just what every government always does. In its effort to pattern everything on a common norm, it creates the useless illusion of being able to construct a kind of communal looking-glass which will constantly reflect the same image.

    There is an individuality of countenance, stature, gait, voice which typifies every one and each of these peculiarities is indissoluble from the person; he has no power to deprive himself of these–they comprise his physical individuality, and were it not so, the most inestimable confusion would derange all our social intercourse. Every one would be liable to the same name! One man would be mistaken for another! Our relations and friends would be strangers to us, and vice versa! . . . The fact that these customs of each are inseparable from each–not to be conquered–not to be alienated or estranged from each, is, apparently, the only constituent of social order that man in his mad career of policy and feasibility has not overthrown or smothered; and this, consequently, is selected as the first stepping-stone in his ascent towards order and harmony. What, then, shall we end from the myriads of various combinations of impressions, thoughts, and feelings that make up the mental part of each individual?

    Every thought, every emotion, every desire, being at the moment of its existence, just as much a component part of the individual as the stand for or the stature! and yet, all human institutions call on us to be similar, in thought, motive, and action! Not simply are no two minds alike each other, but not one remains the same from one hour to another! Old impressions are becoming eradicates new ones are being made; new combinations of old thoughts continually being formed, and old ones exploded. The adjoining atmosphere, the contact of various persons and circumstances, the food we subsist on, the conditions of the vital organs, the transmission of the blood, and diverse other influences, are all combining and acting variously on everyone’s diverse constitution, and, like the changes of the kaleidoscope, seldom or never twice alike, even upon the same individual!”

    In dominant account of the development of modernity, Bauman has argued that one of its defining individuality was its war against ambivalence (1991). Within contemporary societies, forms of both individual freedom and social control stem from this struggle and the fears that lie behind it (Bauman 1988, 1991). The intellectuals and state functionaries who develop into the promoters and agents of this war against ambivalence become, for Bauman, entangled in a legislative project that seeks to order society. For Bauman, that ordering project, while never fully proficient, was utopian in its design. Following Foucault and his use of the symbol of the panopticon, Bauman seeks to illustrate that the modern idea of legislation entails the intertwining of dreams about both freedom and order.

    The spatiality of modernity, linked to its processes of social ordering, often entails the idea of utopia but not the formation of utopia in them. In contrast, they may in fact be seen more precisely as counter-modern or romantic orderings of society that defy the main processes of spatialization within modern societies. Instead, it is the manner in which the utopian ideal, the idyllic of a good and ordered society is a definitely modern phenomenon beginning with Thomas More’s Utopia, influenced and shaped the spatializing processes within modernity. The major issue concerns the way in which spaces were formed that were to have a lasting impact upon the development of contemporary ideas and their visions of social order and ordering, rather than the minor communitarian experiments whose influence was less considerable.

    Bauman (2000) contends that we are living in a time of ‘liquid modernity’. But this fluidity, however, often leads to more, not less, management. In hierarchically organized structures an increase in the volatility of the environment often leads to attempts to enhance the solidity of the unit, to control the gates and focus on the protection of the ‘core’. Politicians in such contexts generally appeal rhetorically to the ‘natural’ consistency and cohesion of the bounded area in which people live. On the one hand they address the need to try to attract the ‘right’ assets from outside and, on the other hand, they persist in maintaining control over future movements that are ‘threatening’ to erode the present wealth in the territory.  Also Available At:

    It remains a contentious question whether the advanced industrial societies are on the doorsill of a post-modern age. Giddens (1990) considers that, as long as the four basic institutional proportions of modernity prevail-capitalism, surveillance, military power and industrialism-in their present form, we are still in modernity. Though, he concedes that we are moving into an age in which the consequences of modernity are becoming more radicalized and universalized than before’ (1990:3). He suggests that: ‘this means that the route of social development is taking us away from the institutions of modernity towards a new and discrete type of social order’ (Giddens 1990:46).

    The freedom of the individual was only potential on the basis of a just arrangement of economic life. But such a condition should be brought about by the people themselves and could not come as a gift from a wise government which for most of the social reformers of the older schools was the source of every blessing. Laws and constitutions do not create social institutions, they spring from life itself. By endeavoring to power the tendencies of social events into settled grooves they over and over again become the greatest impediment to any new development. Laws can be interpreted in diverse ways by judges and politicians; it is constantly the dead formula of law which fetters real life and criticizes it to inactivity. Only the joint relations between men and the equality of social conditions were, in Warren’s opinion, the true stimulus of progress.

    Nothing is more treacherous and hurtful to natural development than the effort to bind the future to the laws of the past. Freedom alone strives for a continual renewal of life. The blind recognition of dead forms which have long outlived their value produces but chaos and death, oppression and domination. In reality government protects no one and secures anything. There is no globe of social life in which voluntary involvement would not have been able to achieve far more than government has done. Under the deceptive pretense of protecting person and property governments have spread mass obliteration, hunger and misery over the whole earth. They have shed more blood and have caused more death and obliteration in wars against each other and for the exclusive privilege of governing than society without government would ever have had to endure.

    “Everyone must feel that he is the supreme arbiter of his own, that no power on earth shall rise over him, and that he is and always shall be sovereign of him and all relating to his individuality. Then only shall all men realize security of person and property.” Josiah Warren, The First American Anarchist

    A Sociological Study by William Bailie Boston Small, Maynard & Company

    1906 Also Available At:

    In Ulrich Beck’s theory of the “society of risks,” Alain Touraine’s approach has been further developed in a motivating way. Beck argues that old conflict areas are becoming insignificant because we are facing new and devastating dangers from the massive risks of a highly-developed technology; the prototype of this is Chernobyl. These new dangers diverge from the more typical risks of industrial societies in that they cannot be contained spatially, temporally, or socially. The recognized rules of ascription and responsibility fail in these cases, the damages caused are typically irreversible; the imminent dangers can never be barred, but only made minimal. In addition, they are diverse from natural risks because they are—like the risks of industrial society socially comprised. Science, technology, politics and economy are concerned in these new dangers (e.g., nuclear technology, or genetic engineering), as providing the conditions which make such dangers probable

    Beck calls the belief in progress, as well as its pessimistic destruction, “industrial fatalism.” He wants to say that in a culture in which the independence of the actors is institutionalized only an extremely limited range of decisions are influenced by individual choice or political contribution. This argument does not simply aim at a democratization of the economy or the suppression of the economy to state planning. It does remind us, though, of the new questions that the dangers of high-technology pose for self-understanding within democratic institutions. According to Beck, we lie involving a technocratic loss of democracy and a non-technocratic Enlightenment. This becomes additionally significant because of the substantial dangers now confronting modern civilization.

    In facing today’s dangers, says Beck, the reserved dynamics of industrial society reassert themselves: “Dangers are also externalized, bundled, objectivities subjectivity and history…They are type of a compulsory collective memory to remind us that in the situations we face our decisions and mistakes are concerned.” And he concludes that such dangers should force us to reflect on differentiation, since they remind us “that even the highest amount of institutional autonomy is only independence until revoked, a borrowed form of action that can and should be changed while it means self-endangerment.”

    Unlike Luhmann, Beck retains that the size of today’s dangers leads to a consciousness concerning the reversibility of achieved differentiation. Unlike Touraine, the appearance of social movements is not seen by Beck as providing freedom for the disagreement of value systems but rather as coercion to such conflicts in order to avoid the prospective dangers faced by society. In this context he attempts to unite the tendencies of “individualization” with the appearance of social movements when he asserts that such movements recruit their members typically from those milieu and cohorts in which “individualization” is mainly advanced (Beck, U. & Beck-Gernsheim, E., 2001).

    Beck’s idea of a new automatism, that is the generating and mastery of dangers sounds like a recurrence of old Marxist ideas concerning the tendencies of capitalism to break down and the view of a revolution linked with such a breakdown. The industrial system which enduringly produces new risks—according to Beck—leads inevitably to a questioning of its economic, political, juridical, and scientific configurations. The intellectual problematization of this system and the enunciation of protest motives in social movements emerge in Beck’s theory as if they were mere phases in a prearranged process.

    We can evade this deterministic approach and open up Beck’s theory by envisioning of its elements as inconsistent dimensions. Then we must ask how apparent are the appearance of social movements which address the degree and direction of demarcation in modern societies.

    Becks notion of “individualization” is much too basic for a rebuilding of the developmental stages of individual inspiration. In spite of Castoriadis’ influence on Touraine, the latter’s approach does not expand the psychological and micro-sociological aspects into a full deliberation of the creativity of action. This deficiency is also feature of other influential social-psychological analyses of the present. Habermas’ dualism of “system” and “life-world,” for instance, is suitable for articulating the advantages of “systemic” organization in significant subsystems of society. But he tends to draw the border between these subsystems and the other subjects in which normative agreements among the actors produce structuration, rather than considering of the boundary as empirically variable and seeing it as the object of discussion and conflict. The reification of this difference leads him to include the process of macro social collective action under the improper category of the “life-world.” Because he does not develop this kind from a comprehensive theory of action, but instead from his beginning of “communicative action” which is alienated from all instrumentality, the notion of “life-world” does not clutch the diversity of everyday actions.

    In the process of struggling for, and gaining power and independence within or from the existing establishments, several of the elites genuinely also struggled for, and attained certain benefits for the classes or groups whose interests they represented, and by which they were supported, including certain social and political reforms. Mostly they did so only as long as the interests of those classes or groups coincided with their own; in some cases they subsequently abandoned or partly abandoned the interests of those classes or groups. furthermore, the reforms they helped bring concerning came slowly and belatedly; they were piecemeal and uncertain. Thus, the achievements they “delivered” to those groups were often much smaller than was at first expected. Yet, eventually, the elites’ struggles led to the reshaping of the existing supporting and social structures in a more democratic fashion (though not, of course, to the abolition of inequalities), and to the gradual development of the principles of democracy as (with all its deficiencies) they exist today.

    In short, the struggles of consecutive elites for a share of power, their incorporation into the founding on the one hand, their autonomization, or the development of the relative (though incomplete) autonomy of elites on the other, and their delivering of (even limited) achievements to definite classes or groups whom they originally represented, were all inextricably interlinked with, and manifested in the development of the principles of western democracy, and their outcome were then protected in those principles.

    As a result, the principles of democracy, as we recognize them today and as (though imperfectly) implemented in western democratic regimes, are also principles that legitimize and safeguard the relative independence of elites. The elites whose relative autonomy is now legitimized by those principles also have an interest in their maintenance, and thus continue to sustain them. But, by the same token, the principles also sustain, continually regenerate, and safeguard that autonomy. Thereby, they also protect the capability of those elites to countervail, or partly countervail, and thus to limit the power of the leading elite.

    The principles of democracy: the electoral principle, the principles of freedom of involvement (or organization) and of speech, and the principle of the separation of powers within the state, serve to legitimize and defend the relative autonomy of elites both in themselves, and in their diverse combinations. Thus, the electoral principle, in combination with the principles of freedom of organization and speech, confront the governing political elite with a recurring, institutionalized, threat of substitute, and thereby provide the underlying principle, and make possible the organization and goings-on of its potential replacer. They thus provide a system which underpins and legitimizes the survival and the relative autonomy of another part of the political elite: the opposition or the parties not at present in power.

    The latter two principles, both disjointedly and in conjunction with each other, also keep and legitimize the virtual independence of the media elite which, together with the opposition, serves as a watchdog restriction the governing elites’ uses and abuses of power. The principle of the separation of powers between the government, the executive, and the judiciary and, within the executive, between the elected government and the chosen bureaucratic elite (however faultily implemented) has an equivalent effect. They legitimize and safeguard the relative autonomy of the legal and bureaucratic elites respectively, which at times (though by no means always) also has had certain efficiency in countervailing and limiting the power and the abuses of power of the governing political elite.

    Organizations are accumulators of resources. The principle of freedom of involvement or organization thus also spells freedom to accumulate resources, including economic resources that are, moderately, exempt from state control. Freedom of organization thus needs, inter alia, economic organizations (albeit not necessarily capitalist ones) that have as a minimum a partial immunity from state intervention. The principle of freedom of involvement or organization also protects the relative autonomy of a diversity of other elites. Where there is freedom of association, and where the society is varied, actual, relatively autonomous, groups, associations, and organizations intended to promote class, group, or other sectorial interests (including, for example the labor movement or trade unions and social protest movements) with their own elites are pertinent to arise.

    Work Cited

    Bauman (1988) Freedom. Milton Keynes. Open University Press.

    Bauman, Z. (2000), Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Also Available At:

    Beck, U. & Beck-Gernsheim, E., 2001, Individualization, Sage

    Giddens, A., 1990, The consequences of Modernity, California,

    Hugo Assmann, Theology for a Nomad Church (Mary knoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1976), pp. 34-35.

    Josiah Warren, The First American Anarchist

    A Sociological Study by William Bailie Boston Small, Maynard & Company

    1906 Also Available At:

    Juan Luis Segundo, Faith and Ideologies (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1984), p. 16.

    Míguez Bonino, Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation, p. 90.

    Segundo, Liberation of Theology, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1976 p. 176.

    Stanford University Press

    Are we becoming more `free` than we were in the past?. (2016, Jul 11). Retrieved from

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