Is there any concept more misunderstood than freedom? And, more to the point, freedom, in our modern degenerate sense, appears to be little more than license which is not a good.
License, in short, is the undisciplined abuse of freedom, or even the abuse of free will. Man has no “right” to be licentious as he does to own property or hold office. Instances of licentiousness are often described in sexual terms, but that scope is quite limited: frittering away one’s money or property, unjust use of power, drug use, or coveting one’s neighbor’s wife are all licentious acts, that is, they may not necessarilly be against the law, but that does not make them good. The problem of license is that it more or less says, “If it is not against the law, then it is my free choice or right.”
Not all good is inscribed in law; especially in our degenerating Western states, we are, in fact, inscribing license in the law under the guise of freedom. The abortion of a gestating child is sold to us as a woman’s right, her freedom, but people with good sense know very well that this is not a disciplined use of freedom, reasoned over carefully by the woman; it is a decision of the passions with no regard to the potential bound-up in that child, which is license.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches,
“And forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have free-will.” – Q.83,Art.1 Summa Theologia
It seems reasonable to me that we could flip this conclusion to the negative thus,
“And forasmuch as man is irrational is it necessary that man does not have free-will.”
The passions of man are not rational, and when overcome by them, he has no free-will; he becomes a slave to them, as the Apostle teaches,
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot…” – Romans 8:7, emphasis mine
If the irrational mind cannot submit to God’s law, a far greater law than any earthly law, how could we expect it to submit to man’s lower civil laws?
Those whose idea of freedom is merely “do whatever you want,” have been thus shown to be advocates of license. Committing certain actions which harms man’s rational part is far from freedom, because it is that very rational part that makes him free in the first place. This might be compared to a freeman freely making himself another man’s slave. Such a decision is complete nonsense as the freedom he had before enslaving himself will be completely absent thereafter. A realistic example of this is in pornography usage: some will say it is your freedom to consume pornography, but if you do so, you will find that pornography is in fact working against your rational faculties; it is license, an abuse of freedom, to freedom’s own detriment now that the hyperstimulation of pornography consumes you. Any sort of “freedom” that is self-defeating is, in fact, license.
Aristotle speaks thus of desire,
“And the avarice of mankind is insatiable; at one time two obols was pay enough, but now, when this sum has become customary, men always want more and more without end; for it is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.” – Politics Book II, Chapter 7
If most men live only for the gratification of never-satisfied desire, then permitting license to so gratify those desires is social and political suicide. The state or political community will not last long as such. Freedom does not have this damaging effect as does license because, we may propose, that it is man’s will tempered by his reason. License is letting loose the beast without the supervision of reason.