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Liberal Iranian
Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Freedom and Power
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It is common, especially in leftist literature, to confuse the meaning of freedom and power. If the words freedom and power are to have a separate meaning of their own at all, at most only one of the following two statements can be correct:

1. Not being free implies not having power;
2. Not having power implies not being free.

This is just a matter of logic; otherwise, freedom and power would be identical concepts. The confusion is caused by assuming that the second statement is correct where it is not. The first statement, however, is correct by any reasonable definition of power: to have the power to do something, one first needs to be free to do it.

Consider a case where one is in principle free to do something but does not have the physical, mental, or economic power to do it. This situation does not violate the existence of the original freedom. In fact, so far as the basic freedoms of doing things are not violated, one can, over time, acquire the necessary power. This is the manifestation of the accumulative nature of power, whether in the life of one individual or the history of the generations in a society.

Now consider the converse situation where one has the power to do something, but is prohibited by law or other people from doing it. This could mean that one has only the physical, mental or economic power, but not the power in its full sense. Power is a compound quality because tasks to which power applies are compound entities. If I am able to talk, but not able to listen, I am not able to converse. If I am able to lift, but not able to walk, I do not have the power to move objects. And so on. In this regard, the most basic ability to do anything is, not to be prohibited; that is, to be free.

In short, freedom is the necessary condition for power, not vice versa: it is not sufficient.

This discussion rejects at once the notion, put forward frequently and vocally, that "a person who does not have enough money, has already lost his freedom of choice." 
Comments:
I agree that the actualization of potentials is conditioned to socio-poitical liberty and in that sense, freedom is a prerequisite in acquisition of power (we still need power at individual level to begin with). However, while “being allowed to” is the most objective and useful translation of freedom, it represents a minimalist approach and doesn’t define the ideal freedom (which is “acting independently”). This distinction doesn’t probably serve a practical purpose; however it is important to note it, in order to stay realistic and show the limitations of our proposed political system.
Thanks for your nice post.
 
Houman,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. If I understand correctly, your distinction between "being allowed to" and "acting independently" refers to the existence of a "subject", who must allow, in the former, and the lack of it in the latter. Is that right? If so, I agree that a consistently free (or liberal) political system must indeed be based on the latter notion of freedom. For the purposes of my discussion here, as you noted, I took "being allowed to" to mean "acting without external interference" = "acting independently."
 
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