Freedom and oppression
“Between the weak and the strong, between the rich and the poor, between the lord and the slave, it is freedom which oppresses and the law which sets free.” This quote of Jean-Baptiste Henri-Dominique Lacordaire sums up the dynamics of today’s political economy as accurately as it did back in the aristocracy of the 19th century. We really haven’t traveled too far. “Freedom” in the real world is almost always a tool of mass oppression. For the giant multinational corporations, we have “free trade”; to the 5% that own almost all financial wealth, we have “free enterprise” and “freedom of contract”; to the monied owners of the US electoral system and media, we have “freedom of speech” and “free elections” and a “free press”; to consolidated financial capital, we have “free capital mobility”; and to the economics profession, we don’t have a world of power and oligopoly, we have “free markets”.
The world is in a state of “freedom” yet so many feel oppressed. It’s easy to identify an oppressor when a bloody tyrant is the head of government, but it’s a lot harder when all one sees are “freedoms”. I think the words of Lacordaire are an important reminder that the fight is about differing versions of “freedom” and that between oligarchy and democracy, one side’s freedom is the other’s oppression. Where you place yourself in this essential divide is the key political and moral decision each of us must make.
Update: Thank you to commenter Péter Szil for correcting my error in originally attributing this quote to Rousseau.