Last Updated 27 May 2020

Arendt And Freedman: Political Freedom

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Political freedom is an ideal for both Arendt and Friedman. As political theorists they offer not only definitions to understand what political freedom is for them, but what necessary preconditions must exist in order for their ideal to be vitalized. Arendt explains political freedom as the right to be a participator in government. She implies that this means more than voting for a representative or having the opportunity to run for office. Arendt advocates that political freedom requires equal participation on behalf of all citizens and the involvement in politics is the most important part of an individual’s life.

Friedman states that political freedom is the absence of coercion with the necessary precondition of economic freedom. Arendt and Friedman have different understandings of what political freedom is, but within their differences are similarities. Understanding what Arendt does not view as political freedom is essential in understanding what is political freedom because it helps in establishing the necessary means involved in obtaining political freedom. ” should be no reason for us to mistake civil rights for political freedom, or to equate these preliminaries of civilized government with the very substance of a free republic. (Arendt P220)

Arendt has established civil rights as something other than political freedom. Civil rights apply to liberation and not political freedom because civil rights do not necessarily assume the presence of freedom. Civil rights can be granted to a population under the rule of a tyrant in the form of a law, but when the population is not part of the formation of such a law then political freedom does not exist. According to Arendt, the presence of poverty does not permit the presence of political freedom.

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If individuals are forced to focus their efforts to fulfill biological needs such as food and shelter then they cannot possibly be political. Capitalism also prevents the existence of Arendt’s political freedom because capitalism is based on consumption. When the members of society are focused on obtaining goods and material possessions they become just as preoccupied as those in poverty. So capitalism creates greed and creates unnecessary needs and desires that inhibit political freedom. Political freedom requires an absence of as many social conditions as it does a presence of other conditions.

Political freedom, as discussed in “The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure,” obliges the presence of a population who thinks in terms of “we” rather than “I. ” When everyone in a society acts for a better community and thinks in terms of the community, they will be able to exist politically free. When the focus of the individual shifts from the private interests created under capitalism to a public interest necessary for political freedom, more will be done to benefit society as a whole as opposed to individuals in a private realm.

Learning to escape the private realm and understand that of the public means to understand the possibility of a greater good found in working together rather than many separate smaller goods held by only certain individuals. When there are individuals with separate smaller goods there has to be individuals with their own separate failure and lack of essential good. Milton Friedman does not offer the same definition for political freedom, thus his means for obtaining political freedom are also separate from Arendt’s.

Friedman presumes that economic freedom must exist in order for political freedom to exist, and the means to true economic freedom is through the capitalist free market. Friedman writes, “History suggests only that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. ” (P10) The free market should take care of it self, be free from forced government intervention, and thus establish an environment in which coercion does not rule. Friedman believes that it is the power instilled in Washington D. C. that is responsible for the current coercion through their economic power.

The economic power of the government is derived through the process of taxation, a process of coercing the citizens of the state to fund an organization against their will to do the jobs that capitalism, when left to its own devices, will achieve. Friedman suggests that government should focus on military effort, and not issues unrelated. He says: This danger we cannot avoid. But we needlessly intensify it by continuing the widespread governmental intervention in areas unrelated to the military defense of the nation and by undertaking new governmental programs – from medical care for the aged to lunar exploration. Friedman P202)

So Friedman believes that government intervention leads to the collapse of political freedom. He goes on to discuss his fear of intervention. I believe that we shall be able to preserve and extend freedom despite the size of the military programs and despite the economic powers already concentrated inWashington. But we shall be able to do so only if we awake to the threat that we face, only if we persuade our fellow men that free institutions offer a surer, if perhaps at times slower, route to the ends they seek than the coercive power of the state. Friedman P202)

Political Freedom for Friedman is then merely the absence of government coercion and the presence of an economically free population that, through the free market, can actually take care and supervise themselves. Friedman is relying on the same factors to create political freedom that Arendt sees as inhibiting freedom. That is, he sees a capitalist free market as the necessary means to actually bring people voluntarily together, not coercively. Friedman says:Exchange can therefore bring about co-ordination without coercion.

A working model of a society organized through voluntary exchange is a free private enterprise exchange economy – what we have been calling competitive capitalism. (Friedman P13)So Friedman is actually advocating that capitalism is not as competitive as it appears, and that it actually requires citizens to work together and thus benefit each other through their actions. This is similar to what Arendt signifies as thinking in terms of “we” rather than “I,” yet it is the exact ingredient that Arendt classifies as creating the “I. ” It is peculiar that such contrasting opinions and explanation actually lead to the same ideal.

Friedman and Arendt offer opposing means of obtaining political freedom, but there are similarities in what their means accomplish before the existence of political freedom. Both want a society in which individuals do something for each other, they work together for a greater good. The difference is that Arendt wants the cooperation to be based on politics while Friedman wants the cooperation based on free enterprise. Friedman wants less government involvement because he understands such involvement to be the basis of coercion. Friedman would rather have individuals voluntarily come together than be forced to come together.

He sees political freedom as being free from the control of the state, free to evolve independent of government influence, and free to decide how to evolve. Friedman wants the government to have limited power because free enterprise will thrive in the absence of government intervention. Economic freedom will be created in the free enterprise and political freedom is the result. Another similarity between Arendt’s and Friedman’s differing views is the requirement of economic freedom. Although it is quite a major aspect for Friedman, Arendt does not focus directly on the topic.

Arendt is just as much a supporter of economic freedom because she acknowledges that a state dealing with poverty and the fulfillment of basic needs cannot deal with political freedom. Economic freedom is the absence of such struggles and the presence of a means to be politically free. The similarity through presence of economic freedom is divided by the role of government. For Friedman political freedom is the absence of coercion, namely governmental coercion, not the presence of a highly involved government that Arendt advocates.

Arendt’s political freedom is not the absence of government, merely the absence of representative government. She sees the concern of private life being too dominate under a representative system because, ” the voter acts out of concern with his private life and well-being, and the residue of power he still holds in his hands resembles rather the reckless coercion with which a blackmailer forces his victim into obedience than the power that arises out of joint action and joint deliberation. (Arendt P 273)

She is saying that representation leads to the problem of coercion, and it is coercion that Friedman sees necessary is not existing in the existence of political freedom. Without a direct democracy at the basis of a highly involved government political freedom is impossible because there is too much corrupt behavior and focus on private interests when the majority elects a minority to make the decisions for the state. Arendt envisions a society in which all of its members equally partake in the decision making of the government and they all work for the good of each other, not for a private good.

Arendt establishes the aspects of life that have been private in the past as needing to be public in an effort to prevent corruption and maintain political freedom. Friedman does not advocate the same direct democracy that Arendt envisions. Instead, he expects the free market to essentially rule itself and take on the duties of Arendt’s government in the form of free enterprise. He sees the government as the cause of the coercion and presumes that the power should be taken out of the government.

So this is an opposite response to Arendt’s view that the government should become larger, so large that all citizens are involved and have an equal say, thus preventing the possibility of coercion. Both Arendt and Friedman see coercion as preventing political freedom and both offer different means of ridding society of coercion. Political freedom is not an easily definable term. It is much like love, god, and friendship in that it has different meanings for different people at different times. Political freedom is about both the means of obtaining the ideal as well as the ideal itself.

Friedman and Arendt present what they presume to be the means and the ends of political freedom, but neither is completely right or entirely wrong. It does not seem possible to create a set definition as to what political freedom is, much less what the appropriate means of obtaining political freedom are. It seems more important to try to distinguish certain common traits of what political freedom is rather than attempt to create a set definition. The common traits shared by Arendt and Friedman are that economic freedom and absence of coercion are necessary for political freedom.

Political freedom, for both theorists, requires the action of a public community and not private individuals. They do not agree about the role of government, nor do they agree on the form government should take. Although it is important to distinguish what are and are not characteristics of political freedom, it is more important to understand that political freedom cannot be defined. Political freedom can be speculated about, but will not be truly comprehended until it is actualized. Only when political freedom exists will it be understood.

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