A discourse on restriction of freedom of will

 Restriction of Freedom of Will

Freedom of will can be considered to be the ability to choose, think and act voluntarily. This concept has been mentioned in and has served as the theme of several texts. However, the presence of command structures, both in society and the individual, have restricted this freedom of human beings.

In his work Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche claims that “in every act of the will, there is a ruling thought.” (Beyond Good and Evil 215) He believes the will to be nothing but “an affect of the command.” Thus, he thinks that in every action, there is a thought that commands our body to move, and the will is nothing but the feeling that the sensations accompanying the movement are caused by this ruling thought. This is why we consider ourselves to have free will over our actions. However, Nietzsche goes a step further and reminds us that if there is a ruling thought, then there must be something that obeys that thought. He explains that “A man who wills commands something within himself that renders obedience, or that he believes renders obedience.” Thus, there is a structure of command within ourselves, such that we are both “the commanding and the obeying parties.” (Nietzsche 215-216)

Most of the time, we consider ourselves to have exercised our will only when we command an action and the effect of the action was to be affected, and thus in our minds, we connect the command to the appearance of the action, “as if there was a necessity of effect.” And so, we ascribe to ourselves both the command and the action of the obeying party - such that we take credit for the actions of what Nietzsche calls the “under-wills” or the “under-souls”. He thus compares our bodies to nothing but a social structure composed of many souls, creating an endless cycle of obeying and commanding as each “under-will” commands its own “under-will”. Therefore, he who believes himself to have freedom of will confuses the will itself with the successful carrying out of the will and mistakenly attributes both to himself. (Nietzsche 216) This also brings into focus another point, that since will seems to be a multiple concept instead of an individual one, then perhaps ‘I’ is also a multiple concept as far as exercise of freedom goes. This suggests that all these “under-wills” are a part of what makes up ‘I’.

 But this clearly means that freedom of will - as we understand it today - is impossible as all our choices require the “under-wills” within ourselves to be deprived of their own choices. Therefore, in such a situation, it is clear that the structures within ourselves that are doomed to obedience and command, i.e. the “under-souls” have no free will. Hence, their freedom, which is also our freedom, is being restricted by the very command structures that seem to provide to us the faculty of our freedom to will.

Nietzsche takes this idea further and applies it to society as well. He compares it to how leaders in the commonwealth take credit for the work of the masses, thus only exercising their freedom to command by depriving the workers of theirs. (Nietzsche 217)

The Dialectic of Enlightenment seems to raise further such questions about society. Adorno and Horkheimer claim that the commanders themselves, the leaders of society, are also being deprived of their freedom as “exemption from work—not only among the unemployed but even at the other end of the social scale—also means disablement.” (Dialectic 35) Despite Odysseus’, i.e. the proprietor’s, freedom to enjoy nature, he cannot abandon himself in this joy, so he renounces not only the joy but even the right to participate in this labour and finally even its management. Whereas, in case of the workers, in spite of their closeness to things, they cannot enjoy their labour as they are performing it under pressure, under enslavement and their senses have been stopped. Thus, while “the servant remains enslaved in body and soul, the master regresses.” Adorno and Horkheimer claim that no authority in society has yet been able to avoid paying this price. (Dialectic 35) Thus, it is clear that through the mechanism of command, the rulers are forced to lose their freedom to enjoy things i.e. nature and thus lose their freedom to choose to enjoy. On the other hand, workers, despite experiencing things, cannot enjoy them because they are unable to exercise their freedom to choose to experience these things. This domination of one class over the other seems to leave the ruling class impoverished in other ways as well. Their self-dominant intellect “separates from their sensuous experience in order to subjugate it.” Therefore, the thought processes resign themselves to unanimity in order to be able to control the senses and keep the ruling class “objective.” This means that both their apparatus of thought and experience remain impoverished (Dialectic 36).

This leads us to the conclusion that this structure of commanding rulers and obeying workers has led to the restriction of the freedom of both in society.

In his A Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau talks about the state of nature and how all men were free in the state of nature. He says that Nature commands all beasts, and all beasts obey but Man is different as “Man receives the same impulsion, but he recognizes himself as being free to acquiesce or resist” (Discourse 88). He points to society itself as a source of inequality. As men were forced to live together, they grew more and more dependent on each other and thus this gave rise to the first rules of civility to avoid offending others. As the number of rules and laws grew in society to keep it running efficiently, the restriction of freedom also grew (Discourse 114).

Rousseau also talks about inequalities, which he groups into two types – “natural or physical” and “moral or political”. Natural inequalities include all physical and mental inequalities and inequality of talent. Moral inequalities, on the other hand, are a direct result of the formation of society. They include the ability to charm other people, and the importance of your family (Discourse 77). As society grew, the

“natural inequality merges imperceptibly with inequality of ranks, and the differences between men, increased by differences of circumstance, make themselves more visible and more permanent in their effects, and begin to exercise a correspondingly large influence over the destiny of individuals.” (Discourse 118)

Thus, it seems clear, as inequalities grew due to effects of society, man’s freedom to do as he wishes – as he had in the state of nature – also became more and more restricted by his means and abilities. The rise of these inequalities also led to several ugly emotions being incited in humans, such as “a devouring ambition”, “the hidden desire to gain an advantage at the expense of other people” and “a dark propensity to injure one another” (Discourse 119).

As such, humans started to want to gain power over and get ahead of each other, thus leading to the formation of power structures as in the poor and the rich. As a result, in order to protect their new-found property and wealth, humans decided to form governments, which meant that they gave up their freedom and agreed to be ruled over by laws and those who created and upheld those laws. Rousseau says that “people have given themselves chiefs to defend their liberty and not to enslave them” (Discourse 124-125). But this seems to be contradictory in itself, as simply by giving themselves chiefs, people seem to have given up this very liberty, their freedom of will. This seems to lend itself to a conclusion that the power structures that result from the formation of societies, and the inequalities it causes severely restrict our freedom as compared to the state of nature.

In High Windows, Philip Larkin talks about his ideal society, what he considers to be his “paradise”. He says that everyone old dreams of a life devoid of “bonds and gestures” which are the hallmarks of society and its structures, and that he wishes that everyone young was just “going down the long slide” to endless joy (High Windows para 2). He wants society to be a place where people can make their own decisions, without having to worry about God or “sweating in the dark about hell” (High Windows paras 3-4). He wants it to be a society where there is no religion, and no priests who you might need to be scared of. He wants to get rid of the idea that worshipping in church is paradise, but instead to look beyond religion, to look outside the “high windows” and the “sun-comprehending glass” of the church (High Windows para 5).

Philip Larkin wants a society where there is no idea of anything above man i.e. anything or anyone that man might have to obey - no God, no priests that you have to listen to, nothing. He wants everyone to believe that the deep blue air outside the church that shows “Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless” (High Windows para 5) is all there is, thus relieving humanity of any power structure in the form of priests or even Gods and the angels who might claim to be higher than mankind. And as a result, humans are free to do as they wish without having to succumb to the laws of religion. They can use birth control, such as “taking pills” or “wearing a diaphragm” (High Windows para 1). Thus, this society, due to its freedom from any structures of command, is more able to exercise its freedom of will.

Beyond Good and Evil talks about the multiplicity of will, and how this multiplicity means that there are “under-souls” carrying out our will within ourselves, and given that these are a part of us, true freedom of will is impossible. The Dialectic of Enlightenment talks about the differences between the ruling class and the workers and how they experience the world. It makes it clear that the very act of commanding and being forced to obey restricts the freedom of both classes to be able to enjoy their experiences and to be able to do as they wish. Rousseau is attempting to find the source of inequalities, which is in society, and how these inequalities create structures of power and lead to the formation of governments, thus leading humans to give up their liberty in favour of keeping their property. Thus, having to obey laws which command you to not do things also restricts your freedom. In another way, High Windows talks about the poet’s ideal society, which is free from the restrictive bonds of religion and God. The idea of a being greater than us in any way is taken away in this society, and thus freedom of will can be exercised more freely. As a result, it becomes clear across these four texts that there are command and power structures present across both society and the individual, and these structures seem to restrict our freedom to exercise our will.

I would like to conclude by raising a question – if freedom of will is restricted by the necessity of command and obedience in societal and individual structures, then does it even exist as a concept? And if it does indeed exist, then what questions does this raise for the existence of any higher beings, given that they would naturally have power over us?













Works Cited

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York:Vintage Books, 1989.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. The Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. John Cumming. New York:Continuum, 1998.

Larkin, Philip. “High Windows” High Windows. London:Faber and Faber, 1979.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. A Discourse on Inequality. Trans. Maurice Cranston. London:Penguin, 1984.