Illusions of Freedom

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2004-04-29

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This dissertation examines Marxism's and liberalism's conceptions of freedom as they appear both in the respective theories and in the societies inspired by these theories. It argues that both Marxism's and liberalism's notions of freedom are illusory, because neither conception of freedom can be adequately implemented in practice. Marxism can neither realize the freedom of the creatively producing individual nor create a society based on total freedom that is not at the same time totally oppressive. Similarly, liberalism cannot deliver on its promise to protect the individual from outside interference with her autonomy. The danger of trying to implement the Marxist and liberal conceptions of freedom is that the resulting societies may push individuals into strictly private, isolated lives which are neither free nor autonomous. But there are, as Hannah Arendt points out, alternative conceptions of freedom within both the Marxist and liberal traditions; these conceptions view freedom and autonomy as something practiced in public rather than in private. This is the type of freedom which informed the revolutions of 1989, and if we want to give liberal democracy a chance of fulfilling its promise of freedom, we must protect the everyday public spaces in which people can practice alternative forms of freedom.

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