What is freedom? This reoccurring question has plagued the United States since its conception, and even today in 2013, scholars continue the debate.
As a part of the Frederick Douglass Forum, the Department of Political Science hosted the “Politics of Freedom” debate Feb. 26 in Riley 201.
Split by liberal and conservative views, the topic looked at the question. Representing the liberal side was Corey Robin, associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. Mark Blitz, Fletcher Jones professor of political philosophy at Claremont McKenna College took the conservative side of the debate.
Blitz started the debate off defining freedom as being “the authority to direct one’s self and not to be constrained in directing one’s self.”
“To preserve freedom or liberty is crucial to understand the freedom or liberty we want to preserve,” Blitz said.
Blitz’s central point in the debate on freedom was that “the primary condition to secure and advance natural freedom is to understand and preserve liberty and equality in this individual sense, which as the Declaration of Independence shows is the intellectual root of our country.”
Robins took the floor after Blitz and pointed out that both “the left and right side view liberty similarly.”
“Freedom on both sides says that it is the right to what you want to do,” Robins said.
Robins went on to describe what freedom included for both sides. The left included personal expression and privacy, freedom of political assembly and sexual and reproductive choices. The right included economic and religious opportunity.
Robins spoke of where the threat to freedom lies. His argument went on to say that the workplace is the main institution where freedom is lost, where rules and regulations can strictly dictate behavior.
“Freedom is the freedom of a body to move unimpeded by external constraints,” Robins said, quoting Thomas Hobbes’s definition of freedom.
Both men described aspects of freedom and what it meant to be free. While there is no single answer to what freedom is, the debate will continue on.
Kaylyn Peterson can be reached at