The Nature of True Freedom I: Balancing Personal Rights and Collective Responsibilities

The Nature of True Freedom I: Balancing Personal Rights and Collective Responsibilities

Most men. after a little freedom. have preferred authority with the consoling assurances and the economy of effort which it brings  -Walter Lippmann. A Preface to Morals

In examining the nature of true freedom, I am guided by three independent though related dictums. First. I propose that true freedom requires a balancing between a concern for individual personal rights and a concern for collective, shared responsibility. Second, I believe that true freedom requires a society in which there is a convergence of interests among all sectors of this society. Third, true freedom requires the construction of a shared vision of the future so that members of a society may determine a sustained course of action that ensures both personal rights and collective responsibilities. It is a pathway into the future that is founded on a societal harmony of interests. I consider the first of these notions in this essay and the other two in subsequent essays.

The Conflicting R’s: Rights and Responsibilities

As I address the challenge of achieving true freedom, it is appropriate to turn as I have in the previous essays in this series to Erich Fromm’s social-psychological analysis. Fromm believed that the affirmation of others and the union of the individual with others, which is critical to true freedom, requires a concern for collective responsibility, not just individual rights. He writes eloquently in Escape from Freedom of the basis of true (or positive, to use his term) freedom in what he calls the “spontaneous activity of the total, integrated personality” (Fromm, 1941, p. 258). Fromm describes spontaneous activity in terms of the relationship between the individual and the society of which they are a member (Fromm, 1941, pp. 260-261):

We have said that negative freedom [false freedom: freedom from but not freedom to] by itself makes the individual an isolated being, whose relationship to the world is distant and distrustful and whose self is weak and constantly threatened. Spontaneous activity is the one way in which man can overcome the terror of aloneness [Jung’s numinous] without sacrificing the integrity of his self; for in the spontaneous realization of the self, man unites himself anew with the world—with man, nature, and himself. Love is the foremost component of such spontaneity; not love as the dissolution of the self in another person, not love as the possession of another person, but love as spontaneous affirmation of others [collective responsibility], as the union of the individual with others on the basis of the preservation of the individual self.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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