STIGMERGY: The C4SS Blog
Perfect Freedom

Perfect freedom is often dismissed as a fantasy. This post is aimed at refuting that notion. A good starting point is the late Ellen Willis’s distinction between personal and sovereign freedom. The former pertains to the ability to do whatever you want as long as you obey the law of equal freedom. This law stipulates that you can’t impinge upon another’s autonomy through force, coercion, violence, and compulsion. Sovereign freedom is essentially the negation of true liberty, because it grants license to do so. True liberty is synonymous with personal freedom.

The reason that many people don’t understand perfect freedom is due to the conflation of personal and sovereign freedom. Instead of recognizing that so called sovereign freedom involves the ability to exercise power over others, they use the two interchangeably. Some might say that one’s man freedom is another man’s oppression. This confuses the subjective with the objective. What may be experienced by an individual as oppressive may not really be so. A racist might see the court mandated end of Jim Crow as restricting his or her freedom to avoid African-Americans in public places. This is hardly an instance of oppression. Perfect freedom depends upon seeing how this is not truly repressive.

As long as we delineate the boundaries protecting each individual’s autonomy, we will be in a position to understand the difference between personal and sovereign freedom. The encroachment upon the legitimate space of another is not about liberty. It isn’t in keeping with the law of equal freedom. You act as if you possess more liberty than the other person by not respecting his equal rights. What you really claim is license to violate the rights of another. This creates an inequality of power and status.

Another good example of this is a person claiming that liberty requires he or she be allowed to control the actions of employees. In this instance; the person is claiming sovereign dominion over people based on business ties. Left-libertarian, Kevin Carson, has described this as contract feudalism. A concept about the preservation of feudal relations between lord and serf in the modern workplace. You may contract into it, but you have little choice about working for somebody else. Independent employment is harder to make successful.

A final instance of so called sovereign freedom pretending to be about liberty involves claims by nation-states pertaining to independence from external forces. This is really about the uncontested control of territory and prerogative to order others in that physical space around. Let’s work to put an end to sovereignty and increase personal freedom.

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