Freedom is a collective good in which your freedom is largely co-dependent upon mine and vice versa. This is probably the best way to understand freedom as a societal phenomenon because it treats freedom as something that can be approached through political and cultural development. But there is still room for describing the different levels of freedom enjoyed by citizens as (in)dividual people. There are bound to be minorities within each country who have significantly lower degrees of freedom than others, just as there are elites whose freedom is significantly higher.
The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.
Let me suggest this simple scale without lingering much upon it:
- Slavery—your rights and freedoms are at the whim of another and you do not own even your own body.
- Serfdom—you formally own your body but your lowly social position is predefined and you are not allowed to travel freely and others can take a significant portion of the fruits of your labor.
- Subjected citizenship—you can travel around freely and do what you want but have no say in public matters.
- Impoverished citizenship—you have a basic enfranchisement and entitlement in public matters but no real say in them without taking significant risks, such as in socialist republics.
- Basic citizenship—as above, but you can try to have a say without significant risks.
- Socially active citizenship—you have a meaningful and substantial relationship to public affairs that affect your life.
- Integrated citizenship—you have real and effective ways of affecting things happening around you.
- Norm-defining citizenship—you also have real and effective ways of affecting the political discourses and arenas around you.
- Co-creative citizenship—society at large, its arenas, institutions and functions feel and effectively are as your own home and you feel comfortable and entitled to participate in any part of it.
Viewed from this perspective, it is clear that the majority of citizens even in the “most free” countries of today are quite far from the highest reaches of freedom. If you consider countries such as Sweden, Germany or the US, most people have a freedom level of “5” according to this scale, while significant minorities have freedom levels of 1-4: trafficking victims, illegal immigrants, kids stuck with tyrannical parents and so forth. If you look at countries like China, most people are in the ballpark of freedom 3-4.
The point here is that there are real demographics out there with different distributions of these levels of freedom. Even in theory it is impossible to imagine a society in which “everybody” has the highest level of freedom, freedom level 9. But it certainly is conceivable that we could create societies in which much larger portions of the population climb the ladder by one or two steps, and where there are smaller pockets of oppression.
Roughly speaking, however, it is clear that these different levels of freedom must be tied to the overall cultural and institutional development of freedom in society. It is difficult to imagine a society run by fear and guilt in which a significant part of the population would feel as deeply enmeshed cozy co-creators of the whole of culture (levels 7-9)—or even as dignified and protected citizens (level 5).
The Highest Reaches of Freedom
Let us look at freedom viewed through a more transpersonal lens, with the emotional regimes. A part of us wants to escape from freedom. And yet, the future of society depends precisely upon our ability to cultivate such a higher freedom and embrace it.
What, then, happens after the emotional regime of Sklavenmoral? What lies beyond the chains of fear, guilt, shame and Sklavenmoral; beyond hatred, judgment, contempt and envy?
If a person is no longer constrained by such negative emotions, but still remains socially and ethically functional, I would argue that she is approaching a more profound existential freedom, one that Nietzsche personified in the concept of the Übermensch.
This Übermensch can only come into being if there is sufficient inner personal development: self-discipline, intrinsic motivations, a strong compass, self-knowledge—and the four dimensions of psychological development: cognitive complexity, access to the right symbolic maps of the world, higher inner states and greater inner depths (intimate knowing of both the light and darkness of existence).
Übermensch is usually translated as “superman”, but this translation is somewhat misleading. There is a distinction in the German language between different uses of the word über—it can mean “over” or “above”, but it can also mean “through” or “across”.
A better translation may thus be “the trans-human”, a category that reaches through and goes beyond what we normally think of as human existence. In this interpretation, the Übermensch is not a superhuman comic hero, but rather a person who lives relatively unrestrained by the normal dynamics of everyday life as we commonly experience them.
And, in this view, the Übermensch is not really a description of a certain kind of person, but more of a social category. We have seen that my freedom depends on you. The Übermensch state in a particular person is only possible to the extent that the larger patterns of our social interactions and emotional exchanges can bring it into being.
So at the end of the painful and winding road towards freedom, a wheel turned through endless painful variations of dividuation and integration, waits that crazy Nietzschean moustache: the Übermensch, which renders the very concept of freedom obsolete. Human beings long to be emancipated—the Übermensch wants to be unleashed.
What then, would a human being—her relational body and mind—be, if she were entirely unrestrained by fear, guilt, shame and Sklavenmoral; freed from the shackles of others’ hatred, judgment, contempt and envy?
This is not a question of fantasy or theoretical speculation, but indeed a real and empirical one, even if the answer at this point remains hypothetical. If these regimes that control us weren’t there, but we were still highly functional members of a global society, what would we do? What would we be?
I’ll tell you what I think. A life form unrestrained would begin to consciously self-organize in ways that create higher subjective states, greater existential depth, grasping for greater complexity. It would gaze deeper into the universe and recreate it, while recreating herself in the image of the order of the cosmos.
In sheer terror before the empty meaninglessness of the universe that reveals itself at the end of all external and societal oppression, we must garner superhuman courage to resist folding over and escaping from the formlessness of pure freedom.
I believe that we would—we must—plunge head-on into the mysteries of existence, not as individuals, but as an evolving global network of posthuman transindividuals, living in volitionally organized virtual tribes. Unhinged, uninhibited, we would explore with rapacious curiosity, play with religious fervor, worship with trembling devotion, fuck like beasts—dissolving our very sense of self into the crystal-clear night.
Serving beauty and mending tragedy, we would dance, fight and laugh our way towards more terrifying heights and depths of consciousness, manifesting pristine universal, impersonal love—a love that fathoms and embraces reality, and all sentient beings, with mathematical precision. We would co-create worlds and we would co-destroy them. And we would bear the heavy burden of such responsibility.
At the top of this edifice we call civilization, when this tower of Babel touches the skies, a profoundly familiar call echoes through all of us: the call of the wild. This is the alpha and omega point. Before civilization, there is the wild, the untamed, the naked. After civilization, there is the wild, the untamed, the naked. But this time the call echoes into higher complexity and into the terrifying emptiness of outer space. Freedom must be hard and it must be wild.
At the highest reaches of what we think of as “freedom”, we can explode beyond what has hitherto been thought of as human. Art conquers everyday life and subdues its tamed structures to a radical creativity. The wild. We become poets. And the poet acts; to create relative utopias, to pursue dangerous dreams.
To the sound of roaring electric guitars we recognize that we are indeed gods with anuses; and as the flies buzzing through the enchanted meaninglessness of the cosmos, in an act of necessary vanity, we set our controls for the heart of the sun.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.