We are free when we have the right and the liberty to choose for ourselves. Freedom is among the most highly prized of our values.
- I do not believe we can have any freedom at all in the philosophical sense, for we act not only under external compulsion but also by inner necessity. Schopenhauer’s saying— “A man can surely do what he wills to do, but he cannot determine what he wills”—impressed itself upon me in youth and has always consoled me when I have witnessed or suffered life’s hardships. This conviction is a perpetual breeder of tolerance, for it does not allow us to take ourselves or others too seriously; it makes rather for a sense of humor. [Albert Einstein, from Henry Goddard Leach, Living Philosophies (Simon and Schuster, 1931).]
To take full advantage of our autonomy – to see what is possible, to plan and to choose – we must be free. Freedom is the state of being free, as contrasted with the process of liberation. Given the luxury of doing so, people value their freedom above nearly everything else – or so they think.
- Myra B. Young Armstead, Freedom’s Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture, and the Hudson Valley in Antebelllum America (New York University Press, 2012). “He believed in public order, personal responsibility and self-discipline.”
- Erica Benner, Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017). “Machiavelli: Good Guy or Bad? This Biography Argues for the Former”
- Maggie Nelson, On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint (Graywolf, 2021): “She doesn’t aim to provide a positive account of the meaning of freedom. But if we understand freedom, above all, through our opposition to bondage, we can learn a great deal, as her book shows, from carefully cataloging and challenging the many ways of being unfree.”
- Alice L. Baumgartner, South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War (Basic Books, 2020): “Enslaved, Terrorized, Disenfranchised: Black Americans Still Found Ways to Change America”.
Privacy as an element of freedom:
- Lori Andrews, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy (Free Press, 2012): how personal data are exploited by Web sites, search engines and Internet technologies.
- Paul R. Abramson, Steven Pinkerton and Mark Huppin, Sexual Rights in America: The Ninth Amendment and the Pursuit of Happiness (NYU Press, 2003).
- John W. Johnson, Griswold v. Connecticut: Birth Control and the Constitutional Right of Privacy (University Press of Kansas, 2005) [links to the full text of the Court’s opinion, and oral arguments, in this landmark case, which established a constitutionally protected right of privacy].
- Amy Gajda, Seek and Hide: The Tangled History of the Right to Privacy (Viking, 2022): “The law professor Amy Gajda writes about the tug of war between the right to know and the right to be let alone.”
On the dark side:
Russia and its gulags:
- Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History (Doubleday, 2003)
- Jehanne M. Gheith and Katherine R. Jolluck, Gulag Voices: Oral Histories of Soviet Incarceration and Exile (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).
- Golfo Alexopoulos, Illness and Inhumanity in Stalin’s Gulag (Yale University Press, 2017).
- Masha Gessen, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead Books, 2017). “Gessen . . . tells Russia’s story through the eyes of seven Russians.”
- Witold Szablowski, Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny (Penguin Press, 2018): “. . . he provokes a far-reaching and unresolved conversation about what freedom really means.”
- Ezra F. Vogel, Deng Xiaopeng and the Transformation of China (Belknap Press, 2011): “ . . . for most of his long career Deng Xiaoping did less for China than he did to it."
Dark days for Freedom in the United States:
- Adam Hochschild, American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis (Mariner, 2022): “By some measures — and certainly in many quarters of the American left — the years 1917-21 have a special place in infamy. The United States during that time saw a swell of patriotic frenzy and political repression rarely rivaled in its history. President Woodrow Wilson’s terror campaign against American radicals, dissidents, immigrants and workers makes the McCarthyism of the 1950s look almost subtle by comparison.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- Anita O’Day: Life of a Jazz Singer: remembrances of a jazz singer who lived a long but difficult life. “What repeatedly comes to mind when people invoke Ms. O’Day is her feral, instinctive drive for freedom, both artistic and personal.”
Technical and Analytical Readings
Privacy, an aspect of freedom:
- Garret Keizer, Privacy (Picador, 2012): a definition of privacy that “seems to fit within the European tradition of conceiving privacy as a way of protecting human dignity (as opposed to the American one, which is more interested in privacy as a way of protecting liberty).”
- Daniel Solove, Understanding Privacy (Harvard University Press, 2008).
- Helen Nissenbaum, Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life (Stanford Law Books, 2009).
- Wolfgang Sofsky, Privacy: A Manifesto (Princeton University Press, 2008).
- Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy, The Right To Privacy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).
Technology and freedom:
- Daniel H. Holtzman, Privacy Lost: How Technology is Endangering Your Privacy (Jossey-Bass, 2006).
- Jamie Susskind, The Digital Republic: On Freedom and Democracy in the 21st Century (Pegasus Books, 2022): “As Susskind makes clear, the problem of big tech will not be solved by lobbing barbed critiques or by waiting for corporations to do the right thing. What we need are new laws that will force the companies to be less dominant and do less damage. Susskind offers an array of solutions, and they are the most important part of the book.”
Film and Stage
- Kiss of the Spider Woman, a film illustrating the vastly different approaches to freedom that shape and color the human community: “By the end of the film, what started out as a contest between two opposite personalities has expanded into a choice between two completely different attitudes toward life. And the choice is not sexual, although for a long time it seems so. It is between freedom and slavery.”
- Hair, about a young man in his last few days before entering the military service during the Vietnam war
From the dark side:
- Pan’s Labyrinth: a “meditation on the costs and limitations of totalitarianism”
- Rabbit-Proof Fence, dramatizing the true story of three aboriginal girls who walk 1,200 miles to return home after being taken from their families by government officials
- Timbuktu, on oppression in Mali
“Well, Tom,” said St. Clare, the day after he had commenced the legal formalities for his enfranchisement, “I’m going to make a free man of you; — so have your trunk packed, and get ready to set out for Kentuck.”
The sudden light of joy that shone in Tom’s face as he raised his hands to heaven, his emphatic “Bless the Lord!” rather discomposed St. Clare; he did not like it that Tom should be so ready to leave him.
“You haven’t had such very bad times here, that you need be in such a rapture, Tom,” he said drily.
“No, no, Mas’r! ’tan’t that, — it’s bein’ a freeman! that’s what I’m joyin’ for.”
“Why, Tom, don’t you think, for your own part, you’ve been better off than to be free?”
“No, indeed, Mas’r St. Clare,” said Tom, with a flash of energy. “No, indeed!”
“Why, Tom, you couldn’t possibly have earned, by your work, such clothes and such living as I have given you.”
“Knows all that, Mas’r St. Clare; Mas’r’s been too good; but, Mas’r, I’d rather have poor clothes, poor house, poor everything, and have ’em mine, than have the best, and have ’em any man’s else,—I had so, Mas’r; I think it’s natur, Mas’r.” [Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly (1852), Volume II, Chapter 28, “Reunion”.]
Novels, from the dark side:
- Dave Eggers, The Circle (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013): a seeming heaven of creature comforts and high good taste is a hell in which “(a)nonymity is banished” and “everyone’s past is revealed”.
- Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge (Penguin, 2013): the main concern of “America’s great clown laureate of paranoia”, reflected in his literary work, is dehumanization as a result of “vast and totalizing systems of control.”
- Rachel Kushner, The Mars Room: A Novel (Scribner, 2018): “’The Mars Room’ is a major novel, a sustained performance, one that broods on several exigent ideas. The sense of constriction I mentioned above plays out in many ways. Nearly every character has had radically limited options from birth.”
- Angie Cruz, Dominicana: A Novel (Flatiron Books, 2019): “The titular Dominicana of Angie Cruz’s third novel refers to both her narrator, Ana, and a hollow ceramic doll that serves as a vessel for all her secrets. It’s an apt metaphor for Ana’s role in her family: carrying within herself all their hopes to eventually build a life in the United States.”
- Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police: A Novel (Pantheon, 2019): “Objects don’t vanish, exactly; people wake up knowing they are ‘gone,’ and destroy them. Those who can’t forget receive a visit from the Memory Police, who enforce the disappearances by carting off families and eliminating contraband while betraying no signs of their intent.”
- Carolina De Robertis, Cantoras: A Novel (Knopf, 2019): “In 1977, five rebellious friends (or singers, as lesbians were called) escape the spying neighbors and disapproving parents of Montevideo for the remote seaside fishing village of Cabo Polonio. They want to be alone, to eat, drink and talk openly in ‘a circle of the possible.’”
- Ali Smith, Companion Piece: A Novel (Pantheon, 2022), “is set in a pandemic-ravaged, post-Brexit Britain, with a perplexing choice at its center.”
- Lydia San Andres, Compromised Into a Scandalous Marriage: A Novel (Harlequin Historical, 2022): “Sebastian’s public resistance to the brutal traditions of the sugar industry has its mirror in Paulina’s domestic struggle to escape her greedy brother’s control: You don’t have to think about post-colonialism when reading about what goes down at the governor’s ball, but you’ll still be left gasping if you do. Sweet but satisfying, this book is as good a vacation as you can have without leaving home.”
- Rinsai Rossetti, The Girl With Borrowed Wings (Dial Books, 2012): a young person’s novel in which the author “uses the colors of nature to convey the disparity between who Frenenqer is expected to be and the person she truly is . . .”
- Neel Mukherjee, A State of Freedom: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Company, 2018): “”
- V.S. Naipaul, In a Free State: A Novel (HarperCollins, 1971): “These new stories focus on the failure of heart, on the animallike cruelty man exhibits to other men and on the avarice that, as Chaucer's Pardoner told, is the root of all evil. Are we in a free state really? Or are organisms driven by the violent compulsions within us?”
- Jessamine Chan, The School for Good Mothers: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2022): a wayward mother of three small children “is sentenced to a prisonlike rehabilitation program where she must complete nine units of study — Fundamentals of Care and Nurture, Dangers Inside and Outside the Home, the Moral Universe and so forth — and pass a series of tests or risk having her parental rights permanently revoked. She is allowed to speak to Harriet at ever-dwindling intervals, missing her daughter’s birthday and first day of school and all the milestones in between. She must practice her new skills on a robot doll.”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Western "Classical" compositions:
- Janáček, Taras Bulba, JW6/15 (1918), reflects the indomitability of its subject.
- Gillis, Symphony No. 3, “A Symphony for Free Men” (1942)
- Karabits, “Musician”
- Kosenko, Two Pieces, Op. 4 (1919)
- Lyatoshinsky, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 19 (1926)
- Skoryk, “Hutsul Triptych” (1964-1965): 1. Allegretto; 2. Dance
- Kryvopust, “Capriccio”
- Shchetynsky, “An Episode in the Life of the Poet”
- Silvestrov, Violin Sonata, "Post Scriptum" (1990)
- Stankovych: “Angel’s Touch"
- Glière, The Red Poppy, a ballet glorifying the ideals of the Russian Revolution of 1917
- Elena Ruehr, Toussaint Before the Spirits (2003): “Toussaint summons Gran Bwa, the spirit of the forest and of healing. Through her, both Moyse and Toussaint realize that the Tree of Liberty cannot be destroyed and that all three of them embody the tree . . .”
- Boukman Eksperyans, Libéte (Pran Pou Pran’l!) [Freedom (Let’s Take It!)]
- Henry Butler, “The Village”: The Village; Music Came; Swingin’ at the Palace
- “Ukraine: Journey to Freedom - A Century of Classical Music for Violin and Piano
- Eric Revis, “Slipknots Through a Looking Glass”
- Airto Moreira, “Free”
- Roy Brooks, with George Coleman, Woody Shaw, Hugh Lawson and Cecil McBee, “The Free Slave”
- Joey Defrancesco & The People, “Project Freedom”
- Dr. Lonnie Smith, “Breathe”
- Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, William Parker & Bobby Kapp, “Heptagon”
- Yothu Yindi, “Freedom” (1993), with lyrics, from a world-renowned Australian aboriginal group
- Yothu Yindi, “Homeland Movement” (1989), about the movement to establish freeaboriginal communities
- We Banjo 3, “Open the Road” (2022)
- Soweto Gospel Choir, “Freedom” (2018): here are the lyrics.
From the dark side:
- Leos Janacek’s dark-toned opera “From the House of the Dead” (Z vrtmého domu), JW I/11 (1930) celebrates freedom as an elusive ideal. The story is about prisoners in a Siberian prison camp. After a protagonist is killed, a wounded eagle is set free, symbolizing the ideal. Here are links to performances conducted by Boulez, Abbado and Mackerras.
- Verdi’s Aida also portrays freedom as a distant ideal (here are links to performances with Price & Pavarotti; Freni & Domingo; and Aaron & Aldrich).
- Poulenc: Figure humaine for 12 voices, FP120 (1943): Human voices, standing alone (a capella), expressing the cry of oppressed peoples for freedom.
- Behzad Abdi, “Hafez” (2013), is an example of art reflecting life. The composer was born in Iran in 1973, only six years before an oppressive new government banned opera. This opera is about a courageous poet who confronted an oppressive regime in his time.
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high / Where knowledge is free / Where the world has not been broken up into fragments / By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth / Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection / Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way / Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee / Into ever-widening thought and action / Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
[Rabindranath Tagore, “Where the Mind Is Without Fear”]
- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, “Bury Me in a Free Land”