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It's All About Freedom

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation Philippine Office Campaign Slogan
It's All About Freedom
© FNF Philippines

For liberals, as the name implies, the key value on which society is based upon is freedom or liberty. However, in Germany as in many countries around the world, the value of freedom is increasingly under attack. Many people lay more stress on equality of outcomes, or on the emotionally charged but ill-defined “social justice,” or “security,” while being suspicious of individual freedom. It is noticeable in the resistance to open markets and competition, but also in the zeal to regulate and control what people can say in public, how they dress, behave, what food they eat and who they associate with. The “War on Terror” has produced a suspiciously eager response from governments around the globe, among rich and poor nations alike, to expand police powers and curb individual liberties.

This is a worrying trend, and one that seems to ignore the lessons of history. Socialism collapsed less than 20 years ago. Not due to external forces, but (to quote Marx with tongue firmly in cheek), due to its own inherent contradictions. Asia was swept by a tide of democratization after 1986 when the Philippines started it all by toppling the Marcos dictatorship. There were good reasons for that. Dictatorships underperform. Restrictions on economic freedoms end up impeding growth and perpetuating poverty. Lack of political freedoms means no restraint on rapacious governments. 

By contrast, political freedoms reduce the potential abuse of power by governments. It limits the time power can be exercised. Economic freedom empowers the creative spirit. Competition directs resources and energies towards their most efficient use and spurs innovation. The rule of law safeguards individual freedom from infringements and ensures that political and economic freedoms are exercised within clear and enforced bounds. A truly free society thus needs all three institutional elements. Leave one out, and the others are in danger. 

The historical and philosophical case for individual freedom in all areas of life is strong. But freedom often terrifies people because it is inherently unpredictable. It will produce unexpected change and will keep on changing society. For people and cultures that value stability and certainty, this is a hard thing to accept. For people who value sharing and community, the competitive spirit and the pursuit of wealth feel somehow wrong. 

Maybe freedom is ingrained in the human spirit, but it battles with human instincts that have been conditioned over the millennia. Maybe we have to keep fighting between our heart that values stability and harmony, and our brain that tells us that no one has the right or the ability to impose a master plan on society. Society is constructed anew every day by individuals. The human spirit will make and remake it forever. No one can know where it will lead. All we can do is channel this creative energy so that no one is crushed in the process; No one is excluded, and that all have access to its opportunities. The one thing to avoid is stifling it. That way lies stagnation and decay. 

This is why we want to remind ourselves and our partners that our work is not just about liberal policies or democracy or human rights. It is, ultimately, about what we believe the human condition to be on a very fundamental level. It gives us a yardstick by which to measure all our work.