In this issue of the Web Forum, excerpted from a longer work in progress, James K. A. Smith critically examines the meaning of “freedom” used to support the expansion of a new, global, market-based imperialism. He argues that this kind of freedom is at odds with other values held by those who affirm a Creator and a teleological good for humanity. A better alternative, he contends, is an Augustinian account of desiring freedom:
In the history of philosophy and theology, there have been two dominant, and competing, concepts of freedom…one is a “libertarian” understanding of freedom that equates freedom with freedom of choice or the power to do otherwise. To be free is to have options to choose and the ability to choose, uncoerced and unrestrained, from among these options….
This conception of freedom has become so dominant that it is almost impossible for us to think of freedom otherwise. And it is particularly this notion of freedom that feeds Empire and its market network. Because this libertarian, non-teleological, and negative concept of freedom eschews any specification of a telos as a restriction or constraint on my options, and therefore a restriction of freedom, it fosters the proliferation of choices without any valuation….This is precisely the environment necessary for the flourishing of the market, which requires endless creation of new “goods” for consumption…
But the primary deficiency of libertarian freedom is that it disconnects freedom from the dynamics of desire.