In anarchism, freedom is not a right that is bestowed by other individuals; rather it is something intrinsic to the society we wish to live in.
What does it mean to be free? The Oxford English Dictionary definition says it is not being under the control or power of another. Most political philosophies will run a mile from this concept, placing all sorts of restrictions so as to render it meaningless. However, for anarchists the starting point is that they should be unfettered as far as possible. There are other philosophies which place the freedom of the individual at the centre of their theory, and this approach is referred to as “libertarianism”.
When applying the notion of freedom we consider power relationships between one person and another; or an individuals relationship with government, corporations or a group in society.
When anarchists proclaim their desire to be free, it is asserting that no other individual, corporation or government should be able to coerce us as to what to do, what to think or what to say. There is still the possibility that we can be persuaded that their point of view is the correct one, but in being free we have the option to reject it as well.
The forces of compulsion are essentially blackmail and fear, enhanced by turning them into social pressures, which are not supposed to be questioned, or received wisdom that cannot be overturned without a struggle. Co-opted religions is also used to keep people in line, effectively using a fear of damnation and social rejection, as well as maintaining the standing of powerful elites connected with them. Other tools used by states use include economic pressure, such as control over jobs, and fear of criminalisation, linking both to social standing. Mainstream media in turn constantly re-enforces all these norms, and actively scorn those who chose not to conform.
Of course this does not mean that one person’s freedom can come at the expense of others. Great freedom comes with great responsibilities, and how our freedom is tempered by social and environmental needs is a real strength of the anarchist approach. The interplay of mutual aid, solidarity and ecological sustainability with the demands of freedom and equality make anarchism a rich and rewarding approach to life.
It also throws out many challenges. We have been raised in a society that bombards us with messages all the time, and whose attitudes we have absorbed without ever really having a chance to question them.
Thus to be an anarchist requires more than just adopting the label, or shouting anti-government slogans. We have to face up to our own behaviour and our relationships with each other and society in general. We have to undo the conditioning and question our own positions of privilege.