Hannah Arendt wrote in essay in the seventieth from her American exile: The freedom to be free. The article gives a precise definition what freedom is and is not. It is more than the absence of fear and constraints. It is the possibility for political determination and the forming of social conditions. A fact that may have been observed with astonishment by Western Europeans from a far. But it is also a fact that appeared again in the Occident carried out by the “Yellow west movement” in France and which also arrived in Germany with the governmental Corona restrictions. Back then Hannah Arendt wrote: “My topic is, I am afraid, current in an almost embarrasing way.” That’s all there is to it.
What is freedom?
In her definition freedom is in its core the access to the public sector and the participation within affairs of state. The author claims there is more to it than a life free of suppression, fear, poverty and misery, it is rather the chance to maintain a political life.
To be seen and respected
Quoting John Adams the following starting point is on the table that every human being has the wish to be seen, heard, respected, no mater if rich or poor, young or old. Besides this psychological basic right Adams describes the pathological characteristic as the desire to be the best. I’d like to make a point here: First of all it I can see no condemnable in wanting to be recognized by others as long as this wish does not have any narcissistic traits. In this context however the tyrant is on focus who is not interested in being the best but to rule and to exclude himself from society. And it is exactly this type of person we think of, such as Erdogan, Putin, Trump or Urban, who works agains the freedom of the individual and who needs to be defeated. Because the freedom as Arendt understands it asks for equality among all people. This kind of freedom however, Arendt claims, has always been a privilege of a few.
What is a revolution?
What is a real revolution? Arendt subdivides it in two phases: at first it is about uncaging oneself from political bonds, tyranny or monarchy. This phase is being accompanied by violence. In the second phase it is about attaining freedom. And this freedom is not about changing the present type of government but asks for a new social order.
An example out of latest history illustrates precisely why Arendt claims that revolutions are accompanied by violence: terror that takes place after the old regime has been replace and the new regime has been installed. I immediately have to think of Iran, namely the revolution of 1979, and the attempted coup in Syria. Both examples proof Arendt’s analysis of the applied violence right.
It is another consideration of Arendt that might help to explain the failure of the (Syrian) Arbellion. Two things are crucial for a successful revolution. On the one hand there must be people who are willing and able to seize power, to push into the power vacuum and quasi intrude it. On the other hand it is the fact that foreign powers have to recognize that revolutionary methods are irreversable.
The freedom to be free
The timeliness of Arendt’s considerations is amazing. She focuses on a definition of freedom that has to be understood as participation of the individual in political life. Be it the sheer possibility or actively in words and deeds. Out of this understanding I would like to know what the philosopher might have thought about the current Corona politics. I admit frankly that until mid of march 2020 I did not care too much about German politics. Actually until then I did not think about it or considered it possible that my personal freedoms, regarded as naturally, would be ever restricted by governmental order – even though it did not happen out of personal claim to power but because of health protection reasons for the individual. I argue that I suddenly realized almost over night how quickly social conditions and political participation can change. This perpetual timeliness of considerations to my opinion turns essays like this to classics.