The non-freedom of being free

The quest for freedom can trap you within its thick walls.

Freedom is like a backpack given to the wanderer who sets out along an unknown path: it is filled with food and utensils, and this, together with the will to move forward, ensures that the subject can explore ever more distant lands.

It allows him to stay in the woods longer, to feed and forage for food as his reserves are depleted. In other words, this backpack allows the traveler to be free. Freedom has one tremendous and unjustifiable virtue: that of making it accessible.

However, what has just been enunciated is not a play on words: freedom is not objectified or possessed, nor can it be surrendered. Freedom is a particular form of being-in-the-world and is therefore manifested through entities (humans) who, because of it, have the possibility or duty to behave in a particular way.

In truth, the former case is only illusory; in agreement with Sartre’s thought (beautifully expressed in his masterpiece “Being and Nothingness“), man has no possibility of either choosing or denying freedom. The man is forced, once aware of his status, to be free until his death. The mere fact of being able to think the opposite hypothesis results from that same freedom that allows it to be grasped.

Suppose Sartre said that man is condemned to be free insofar as he is locked in the cage of freedom itself. In that case, we can conclude that one is not “free to be free,” for if this were false, and if, therefore, man could use his freedom against himself, he would, first of all, be basing his attack on the same army designated to win a war against the same soldiers.

To, theoretically, renounce freedom, one must first enliven it with awareness and then, through the power it confers, try to define a condition where that power no longer has any value. This results in a vicious cycle with no way out.

But why, after all, worry so much about the impossibility of denying freedom? Man has always struggled for affirmation, paying tribute to it in every form of celebration: artistic, poetic, musical, philosophical, etc. Even so, at a certain point in his thinking, the “free” man (loaded, that is, with a spacious backpack full of valuable tools, and therefore also heavy) was confronted with the trauma of the effort required to continue to be free.

The identification of man-freedom, being existential, has ipso facto transformed man-being into man-freedom and, thus, non-man-being into not-being-at-all. To take note of this is disarming; the “non-power” is destroyed in its essence by a “power-and-then-duty,” nullifying even the psycho-dramatic illusion of a subjective state in which the subject could first barricade himself.

A depressed person who is confronted with the condition of can-not-be-depressed, just as a slave who, having been freed, is made irreversibly accessible as a no-longer-slave, is like the Thomas of the Gospels who, seeing and touching, is now compelled to believe unless he destroys his whole self in order not to accept what is revealed before him.

That is why freedom, fascinating and attractive, se-ducts (i.e., leads to itself) to bind, as did the sirens who, in their song, concealed the certainty of the condition of being able and, therefore, having to hear. Odysseus resists, but in doing so, he is still a victim of that beguiling singsong, for by remaining tied to the ship’s mast, he acknowledges and admits his inability to escape that danger freely.

I conclude by observing (and hopefully making the observation) that freedom is unjudgeable. That is, it escapes any value judgment. It is neither positive nor negative; it is neither on the side of good nor even on the side of evil. Given its nature, it is beyond all dualism in that only through it can dualism take place.

“To be condemned to be free” thus has no meaning assimilated to a judgment: it is the voiceless observation that man “lives” in the face of a non-place where even his innate “linguistic condition” fails to reign with fullness.

Brief biographical-philosophical note on Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialism

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980) was an eminent French philosopher who significantly developed existentialism. His philosophy centered on the concept of existence preceding essence, emphasizing the freedom and responsibility of the individual to create his or her meaning in life.

One of Sartre’s critical contributions to existentialism is the idea of existence preceding essence. According to Sartre, humans are not born with a predetermined nature or purpose. Instead, they first exist and define themselves through their actions and choices. This concept challenges the traditional view that individuals have a fixed essence or predetermined destiny. Sartre believed that human beings were constantly becoming and that life was a continuous project of self-definition.

Central to Sartre’s existential approach is the notion of radical freedom. He argued that individuals have complete freedom to choose their actions and are responsible for the consequences. This freedom, however, comes with a significant burden of responsibility. Sartre believed that individuals should take responsibility for their choices and fully accept the consequences, even if they are uncomfortable or difficult to bear.

Jean-Paul Sartre in a modern portrait, the blurred contours of which may highlight existentialism's tortuous path toward the search for being
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980) in a modern portrait

Sartre also emphasized the concept of authenticity of living. He believed that individuals should strive to live authentically by being true to themselves and their values. This involves rejecting social expectations or external influences hindering personal growth and self-expression. Authenticity requires individuals to deal with the inherent uncertainty and anxiety of existence, making choices in line with their truth rather than conforming to social norms.

Existentialism, as propagated by Sartre, also touches on the idea of existential angst or existential terror. Sartre argued that individuals experience a sense of anguish when confronted with the burden of their freedom and the responsibility of making meaningful choices. This anxiety arises from the recognition that there is no external source of guidance or predetermined purpose. However, Sartre believed that embracing and facing this anguish was essential to the human experience, as it opens the possibility to true freedom and authentic existence.

In conclusion, Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism revolves around the concepts of existence preceding essence, radical freedom, authenticity, and existential angst. His ideas challenge traditional notions of predetermined destiny and emphasize the individual’s responsibility to create meaning in life. By embracing the existential approach to life, individuals are encouraged to live authentically and take responsibility for their choices despite the inherent uncertainty and anxiety that may arise.

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