For this post I want to deal with two oft used and abused terms in political discourse, freedom and liberation. We have thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of organizations that use the terms freedom” and/or “liberation” in their names and manifestos. People call for freedom from tyranny and liberation of X people. In the United States, our liberal democracy and its Constitution uses the idea of freedom to talk about “Freedom of speech” and “freedom of assembly”. It suffices to say that for the Left that these are the terms that describe us when boiled down to its essence much like conservatives and the terms “family” and “tradition”. Because of the importance of the terms to the Left, it’s a useful exercise to look into how we use these words and what they mean when we say them.
Now why I described both of these terms as being abused (especially by the Left) is because in very few instances do we actually use the terms correctly and because of that we sometimes muddle in our language our true goals of our movements. The main to note about using freedom or liberation in a piece/ speech/ movement/ organization name is that unlike in general usage in the context of political movements and ideology they are not synonyms. I’ll explain why.
As I mentioned above, freedom is usually used to talk about either “freedom from X” or “freedom to X”. The rhetoric of freedom in how it’s usually used is paired with the idea of “rights” and the advocacy for rights. If you achieve freedom from slavery, you are now free to control your labor. If you have freedom of speech, you can say whatever you want. The concept is very simple but there is something about it that is very important that is implied in talking about it. Freedom and freedoms/ rights are talk about in English as objects, which can be given to you. You can have freedom of or from whatever without doing anything to achieve it. In most cases one asks for their freedom, or asks for freedom (of or from X) and these freedoms are given to you in a document of freedoms or rights. The use of freedom as an object is ground into the English language and all forms of freedom are either state of being or non-physical nouns/ objects.
Why is this important? Let’s contrast this with the idea of liberation. Liberation is defined as “To set free, as from oppression, confinement, or foreign control.” On the surface it looks the same as the idea of freedom but liberation is different in that it can’t be used in conjunction with a noun (can’t have liberation of speech or assembly). Liberation can only be used to describe a state of being and its other forms are all verbs. Think about it in contrast to freedom which is usually used in conjunction with nouns and spoken as an object. Because liberation is a verb/state of being achieving it can only be done through action. Unlike freedom, liberation cannot be given to you. Liberation being the idea of being outside the control of an outside force means that if it was given to you, your still within the control of the outside force, therefore you are not liberated.
What does this English lesson mean for political movements? If you are dealing with an oppressive system, are you fighting for freedoms and rights or are you fighting for liberation? If you are fighting for freedom, it can (and in most cases are) be given to you by the oppressor, but it can also be taken away. We have freedom of assembly but as we have seen many times, this can be taken away from us. Liberation on the other hand entails you rejecting the influence of the oppressor and gaining power over your own being. Control and power cannot be taken away from you and because you have control over your own being you can have any freedom you so desire. So at the end of the day when we use freedom we are looking to an endgame that’s based on the oppressor giving us something, while liberation denotes the taking of power and influence, which can then be used for whatever you want. It’s the difference between the freed slave (getting better food but still under control of the racist system) and Nat Turner(taking power over self and stands outside the controls of the racist system).
So when we think about and use the words freedom and liberation let’s think about the deeper meanings behind both words in both their linguistic and political contexts. The choice to use one or the other can have a large effect on how we and the masses perceive our movements and the goals of our movements.