On the Limitations Of Freedom

My Essay of the Week published in the Sunday Tide of June 10, 1990
My Essay of the Week published in the Sunday Tide of June 10, 1990

My article, “On the Limitations of Freedom”, was published in the Sunday Tide newspaper, Port Harcourt, on June 10, 1990. I was doing my National Youth Service at the Rivers State government-owned media company at the time. I should say, with all sense of responsibility, that I was one of the leading writers in that organisation at the time, in spite of my young age and exposure. In this particular article, I waxed philosophical, as can be seen from the excerpts I am bringing here. I stumbled on a copy of the paper recently but, unfortunately, it has gone bad due to poor storage. I had to stitch the page together with cello-tape. Perhaps one day I or someone will get a better copy from the library of the Tide.

Even though it is difficult to read the whole piece here, one can glimpse an overview of my opinion at that time on the concept of freedom, which many scholars had written about. The headline of the article suggests what it contains. I began by quoting J.J. Rosseau, who said that “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” That set the tone for my argument.

 “Many people have attempted to provide us with the exact definition of freedom,” I wrote. I went ahead to quote Bob Marley and Western figures like G.K. Chesterton, Colin Wilson and Fitch. I wrote: “Chesterton mentions an anarchist who declared that since freedom is man’s ‘inalienable right’, he had all the right to punch someone in the nose. Chesterton defensively replied, ‘No, your freedom ends where my nose begins’!”

Elsewhere I quoted Wilson, who said, “Man is not born free. He is born a slave to his body, his desires, his hunger, his biological needs – his temperament, as well as to fear, illness, boredom and death.”

I continued to submit that political freedoms are restricted by the peculiar circumstances of a given nation. In the so-called developing countries, “flag independence” has not guaranteed real freedom.

I wrote: “Indeed, this view is open to any controversy, but the heart of the matter, as aptly discovered by Wilson, has to be accepted: we experience the ecstasy of freedom at the moment of becoming free – when the schoolboy escapes from school, when the grown man averts danger or emergency just as you most enjoy the warmth of the bed when you have to get up in five minutes on a freezing winter morning.”

Continuing, I wrote: “Political freedom is indubitably a valuable ideal, but it guarantees nothing. The real destroyer of freedom is boredom and lack of purpose.”

On personal freedom, I wrote: “Some men subject themselves to absurd dangers – climbing mountains, sailing the world in a leaky boat to prevent the sense of freedom from falling asleep. Others are possessively competitive, pursuing fame or sex or possessions for the moment of triumph also brings the pure taste of freedom.”

I asked: “Years after pronouncements of independence, are the years of trial of learning to walk. But then how many of us ‘liberated’ nations are able to stand on our feet without necessarily propping on the stilts of the IMF, the World Bank and the London and Paris Clubs, talk less of actual walking? One would like to know how many so-called free nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America do not carry the cumbersome loads of debts on their frail shoulders. And with coups swinging in always, patients dying in hospital beds, hunger and starvation posing threat to life, freedom becomes undeniably beaten to the walls… sure, there is no easy walk to freedom!”

My conclusion is important, perhaps, in understanding the whole gamut of the write-up. I wrote: “Man must bow down to God, pray and seek His forgiveness. If man is able to attract the Lord’s sympathy, that would definitely be his greatest achievement in life. It is regrettable, indeed, that man is so proud.”

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