The bankruptcy of the idea of ​​individual freedom

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By DENNIS DE OLIVEIRA*

Capturing the idea of ​​freedom is a reactive action of authoritarian subject conceptions

Em article published on the UOL portal On January 5th, Milly Lacombe comments on the controversy caused by the number one tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic, who was prevented from entering Australia for refusing to take the vaccine against Covid-19. This article draws attention because it presents a reflection on the idea of ​​“freedom” so used and abused in times when authoritarian ideas gain weight.

The Bulgarian thinker Tzevan Todorov, in “The Intimate Enemies of Democracy” warns that attacks on democracy and citizenship today are carried out by organizations that have appropriated the word “freedom”. He says that “since 2011, the term seems to have become a brand name of far-right, nationalist and xenophobic political parties: Freedom Party, in the Netherlands (…); Austrian Freedom Party (…)”

Why was the idea of ​​freedom captured by the extreme right?

Firstly, because of the fact that the idea of ​​freedom is exclusively associated with the isolated individual, dissociated from his socialization and mediation. The self-centered conception of the subject was challenged by the new identity paradigms of postmodernity, according to Stuart Hall, who demonstrates that the evolution of sociological thought itself was responsible for dismantling this idea. Hall cites, for example, the fragmentation of the subject exposed in Freud's psychoanalytic theories, in Marx's theory of class struggle and in the structuralist current of Sausurre and Levi-Strauss. There is no way to think of the individual dissociated from other social processes.

However, there is a second issue: I think that this capture of the idea of ​​freedom is a reactive action of conceptions of authoritarian subjects that were displaced with questions from social movements and also from the countercultural scene of the 1960s, which impregnated a significant part of contemporary social thought ( even though the notion of “conflict” has been set aside, generating a market absorption of the right to difference).

This reactive action is produced precisely by a conception of the subject that has lost its meaning due to the advances of capitalism: the patriarchal subject. The advance of industrial capitalism transformed this “classical patriarch” from a spatiality that combines familiar logic with capitalist production management into something anachronistic. Family commands of companies lost space for professional management, feminist movements advanced in expanding the public sphere to dimensions hitherto considered private and intimate – for example, the fight for the punishment of domestic violence – other social movements brought to the scene other demands that required State regulation, such as affirmative action, public policies, among others.

The various generations of human rights have significantly altered the relationship with the State. If in a first generation, the State was seen in a negative way (the State as a potential enemy of individual freedom), the following generations, when incorporating the claims of protection and guarantee of equity, see the State as potentially positive. For this reason, the idea of ​​freedom appropriated by the extreme right is a tragic return to a first generation of human rights that sees any regulation by the State as something that undermines “freedoms”.

Milly Lacombe, in her article, gives examples: individual freedom is the “freedom” to drive a car at 150 km per hour, to refuse to take vaccines, not to wear a mask and going further: to go to the supermarket and buy everything whatever you want within what your income allows – even if when you leave the store, you find a family going hungry and asking for crumbs to eat.

What the social movements pointed out when repositioning the State from a negative perspective to individual freedom to the guarantor of the right in the collective sense was that freedom can only be thought of in the collective dimension. The individual is not isolated, he is a subject who practices actions and, therefore, interacts with the other. In this sense, freedom can only be thought of in this dimension of social interactions, which means that individual freedom is not and can never be unlimited. And this has nothing to do with a “structural malaise of the human condition” as stated by Freud, for whom the fact that human beings are atavistically violent with others makes them need control (one of the sources of the structural condition of malaise according to Freud is the relationship of the human being with another human being). It has to do with ensuring that freedom is a source of well-being for all. Democracy is a collective process, but not just as a “sum of individualities” but as a guarantee of equal conditions for all voices to be expressed equally.

In this appropriation of the idea of ​​freedom on the part of those bothered by these displacements operated by social movements, we have the technobureaucratic elites that operate the communication systems (“media regulation is an attack on freedom of the press”), of male chauvinists who complain about the invasion of privacy of homes that intend to command patriarchally with regulations that punish domestic violence against women and children and adolescents; of racists who complain that icons of racist and misogynistic thought be repositioned in history (ah, Monteiro Lobato's censorship!), of those who are comfortable in the places of straight, white, male and Eurocentric normativity when the naturalization of their positions is questioned.

The coronavirus pandemic brought a positive aspect: the solutions to face it are of a collective nature. Getting vaccinated, stopping crowding, wearing a mask is a commitment to the collective. Defenders of individual liberty cry out against this. However, it becomes increasingly clear that individual freedom in these terms leads us to the hole.

*Dennis De Oliveira He is a professor in the Journalism course at the School of Communications and Arts at USP and in the graduate programs in Social Change and Political Participation at EACH and in the Integration of Latin America (Prolam).

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