Already pri­or to the SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM, stu­dents from var­i­ous dis­ci­plines and uni­ver­si­ties dealt with this year’s top­ic at a one-day work­shop. Four of them joined the dis­cus­sions at the SYMPOSIUM as our YOUNG ACADEMIA and offered their young generation’s perspectives.

Freedom starts in the mind and requires courage

What is free­dom? There is no uni­ver­sal def­i­n­i­tion for free­dom. Free­dom took the lib­er­ty of being diverse and every human expe­ri­ences free­dom dif­fer­ent­ly. For us, free­dom starts in the mind. We are all pris­on­ers of our spir­i­tu­al and phys­i­cal capac­i­ties. But no mat­ter what hap­pens, nobody can take the free­dom to think away from us. Free­dom means break­ing down new bor­ders again and again and to not be blocked by one’s own fears. It takes courage to be free and pow­er to stand up for it.

Free­dom means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, that’s why you can only dis­cov­er and live out your free­dom once you have found your­self and your way. Only this will give you strength and self-esteem. This was evi­dent in our dis­cus­sions in Gmunden. How­ev­er, we all agreed on one thing from the begin­ning: Free­dom is a pre­cious asset and free­dom is in strong con­trast to pro­hi­bi­tion and coercion.

Free­dom thinks for oth­ers, too Free­dom is a human right, it is a require­ment orig­i­nat­ing in the nature of mankind and is revoked from the pos­si­ble arbi­trari­ness of human gov­ern­ments. Free­dom of this kind, how­ev­er, is not one of indi­vid­u­als enjoy­ing their respec­tive free­dom in isolation.

It always means com­mu­ni­ca­tion, too, and respon­si­bil­i­ty towards fel­low human beings. As indi­vid­u­als and as cit­i­zens humans are deter­mined to be free, or quot­ing Jean-Paul Sartre, even con­demned to be so. It all is about indi­vid­u­al­ism and per­son­al free­dom as well as about exis­ten­tial and polit­i­cal free­dom. “Free­dom is the soul’s right to breathe.” Wolf Won­dratschek stat­ed that inner free­dom was strong­ly depen­dent on the cul­tur­al back­ground one comes from.

The Bedouin and west­ern people’s under­stand­ing of free­dom is fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent. It nev­er­the­less remains the same for all, free­dom is one of the most fun­da­men­tal assets rep­re­sent­ing the least com­mon denom­i­na­tor of the Euro­pean Union and even of our world. This is the asset which uni­fies us all.

Are we trampling our freedom underfoot?

Free­dom is pre­cious and yet, we very often tram­ple it under­foot. When Uffe Elbæk raised the ques­tion of whether the younger gen­er­a­tion takes free­dom for grant­ed, we could only reply that it is not only the younger gen­er­a­tion, but also the old­er one which takes free­dom for grant­ed. In most cas­es, peo­ple see much more impor­tance in safe­guard­ing their mate­r­i­al pos­ses­sions than their free­dom. Many are will­ing to give up their free­dom for their pos­ses­sions. The fear of los­ing mate­r­i­al things is much high­er than of los­ing one’s free­dom – an obser­va­tion which makes us all very reflective.

Fear fuels the opposite of freedom

In the last months we have seen how more and more peo­ple around us got scared about mov­ing freely and safe­ly in pub­lic spaces. The free­dom of feel­ing safe is increas­ing­ly threat­ened by this dif­fuse fear whose social impact we can­not yet fore­see, how­ev­er, it increas­ing­ly divides our pop­u­la­tion. Soci­ety increas­ing­ly allows itself to be divid­ed by the refugee cri­sis, it is will­ing to give itself up because of it and estab­lish fences. Incresing­ly the feel­ing aris­es that you have to decide which side you are on.

„For our gen­er­a­tion, free­dom has become tak­en for granted.”

This is not our vision of free­dom. Since to us, free­dom also means not being put in a draw­er and need­ing to stay in there, but to be allowed to be one­self. Only stick­ing togeth­er and act­ing togeth­er in har­mo­ny can main­tain our free­dom with­out deny­ing the fears and wor­ries which are linked to it. We thus appeal to pol­i­tics to pro­vide more room again for mutu­al respect, grat­i­tude and joy and to com­mu­ni­cate it to the peo­ple. Or as Uffe Elbæk put it: Make pol­i­tics with your brain and your heart.

Economy needs freedom

Europe has always been a con­ti­nent of diver­si­ty. This brings about pro­duc­tive com­pe­ti­tion which is nec­es­sary in mar­kets of polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and social sys­tems. The trans­fer of respon­si­bil­i­ties by mem­ber states to Brus­sels strength­ens the roll of politi­cians and bureau­crats. This inevitably brings about plan­ning, reg­u­la­tions, con­trol and coor­di­na­tion. There should, how­ev­er, be a greater eco­nom­ic and entre­pre­neur­ial free­dom with­out so much inter­fer­ence by the state or the EU. Dereg­u­la­tion with a good deal of com­mon sense will soon­er or lat­er become nec­es­sary for our entre­pre­neurs to sur­vive and will be deci­sive for our com­pet­i­tive­ness on the glob­al market.

Where are the limits of freedom?

The con­trast to this def­i­nite­ly is the free­dom of art. Is any­thing allowed in the name of art nowa­days? Are we allowed to denounce, abuse, defame and ridicule some­body in the name of satire? This would be in strong con­trast to the fact that in the last years, free­dom of speech has been increas­ing­ly lim­it­ed by polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Where does free­dom of speech end for the cit­i­zens and where for art?

Demand­ing free­dom as the most pre­cious asset def­i­nite­ly has its legit­i­ma­cy, how­ev­er, it very often shuts out the exis­ten­tial exces­sive demand relat­ed to it of every indi­vid­ual. Eco­nom­ic free­dom ver­sus com­pe­ti­tion, price pres­sure and awk­ward lifestyles, as well as lack of ori­en­ta­tion. Does free­dom always mean to lack respon­si­bil­i­ty and ignore the con­se­quences, fol­low­ing the mot­to: “Free­dom means hav­ing noth­ing left to lose”? Shouldn’t we appre­ci­ate sin­gle lim­i­ta­tions of (sup­posed) free­doms since they safe­guard oth­er free­doms? Isn‘t the pro­tec­tion of minors against media vio­lence bet­ter than the unlim­it­ed con­suma­tion of such con­tent asso­ci­at­ed with a false notion of being free? Pre­vent­ing a decep­tive free­dom is to a cer­tain extent a guar­an­tee for the devel­op­ment of a life in real freedom.

The fear of los­ing pos­ses­sions is much big­ger than the fear of los­ing freedom.
Regard­less of whether it’s Stal­in­ism, Nation­al Social­ism or the cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion of Mao Zedong – lim­i­ta­tion of free­dom by total­i­tar­i­an ide­olo­gies has always end­ed in pain and ter­ror. As a soci­ety and as indi­vid­u­als we have the duty to resist, because we con­stant­ly need to fight for free­dom. Carl Friedrich Frei­herr von Weizsäck­er once said that free­dom is an asset which grows when you use it and van­ish­es if you don’t use it.

There­fore it is soci­ety itself which needs to decide how much indi­vid­ual respon­si­bil­i­ty it is will­ing to bear and how far the state should or rather needs to inter­vene on a reg­u­lat­ing lev­el. Depend­ing on the “matu­ri­ty” of soci­ety, there will always be more or less a kind of freedom.


  • Sil­via Höller, Soziale Arbeit, Fach­hochschule OÖ – Fakultät für Gesund­heit und Soziales Linz
  • Anna Malis, Media Sci­ence and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Research, Uni­ver­si­ty of Vienna
  • Sara Mar­ic, Wirtschaftswis­senschaften, Johannes Kepler Uni­ver­sität Linz
  • Manuel Mol­nar, BSc Met­all- und Kun­st­stofftech­nik, Fach­hochschule OÖ – Fakultät für Tech­nik und ange­wandte Natur­wis­senschaft Wels