The con­cept of free­dom is used in many areas of dai­ly life. Free­dom of the press, free­dom of expres­sion, free­dom of choice are just a few facets of free­dom which sup­port the pil­lars of our soci­ety. Many free­doms are asso­ci­at­ed with oblig­a­tions and these oblig­a­tions are increas­ing­ly turn­ing into con­straints. Free­dom and con­straints – how do they fit together?

Stress fac­tor free­dom Ear­ly on it is com­mu­ni­cat­ed to young peo­ple in the West­ern world that they will have to reach many mile­stones in order to lead a good life. A range of options unfolds that seems almost unman­age­able: spe­cial­ized schools, voca­tion­al and sec­ondary schools, appren­tice­ships with high school diplo­ma, count­less degree pro­grams at uni­ver­si­ties, cours­es, sem­i­nars, intern­ships, stud­ies abroad and many more.

This wealth of choic­es – the sup­posed free­dom to make exact­ly the right choice for one­self from count­less options – cre­ates a stress fac­tor. And access is becom­ing even more com­plex: You need to pass entrance exam­i­na­tions and selec­tion pro­ce­dures; pos­si­bil­i­ties to study abroad are com­pet­i­tive and some­times quite expen­sive. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, few­er oppor­tu­ni­ties in the past were often put to bet­ter use. Choic­es cre­ate stress and they are not nec­es­sar­i­ly deter­min­ing mea­sure for lead­ing a hap­py life lat­er on.

Aris­to­tle believes that you can only achieve hap­pi­ness if you are free to act inde­pen­dent­ly. How­ev­er, the demands of soci­ety – hav­ing goals, per­form­ing well, fin­ish­ing your stud­ies in time, being suc­cess­ful – restrict inde­pen­dent and free action. Choice becomes tor­ture. And those who don’t want or can‘t use this “free­dom” with­draw from the sys­tem to find their inner freedom.

„We can only live in free­dom if we accept responsibility.”

Limits of freedom

Every­one is free to buy a Fer­rari; how­ev­er only very few can afford it. Free­dom has lim­its and they are most­ly con­nect­ed to resources: mon­ey, raw mate­ri­als, work, time. The gap between rich and poor has reached a degree where it is becom­ing increas­ing­ly appar­ent in oth­er sec­tors of soci­ety. This inevitably leads to rad­i­cal­iza­tion, demar­ca­tion and the call for dras­tic mea­sures. After all, in the long run, those who can­not live their own free­dom won’t respect that of oth­ers. Moral­ly we see a lot of restric­tions to free­dom at the moment. For exam­ple, smok­ing or eat­ing meat is con­demned as mis­be­hav­ior by lob­by­ists with regard to its harm­ful­ness to one’s own life or alter­na­tive­ly to the envi­ron­ment. The stigma­ti­za­tion of entre­pre­neurs in this part of the world is also part of this: the suc­cess­ful ones are stig­ma­tized because they are exploita­tive; the bank­rupt ones are stig­ma­tized for hav­ing failed.

Leeway for mistakes

Where does the free­dom to make your own mis­takes begin and where does it end? How can you make mis­takes and draw the nec­es­sary con­clu­sions from them? Isn’t pater­nal­ism also a con­straint in this case? Doesn’t it make us more incom­pe­tent, depen­dent and less free? You also have to learn how to fail. It is an essen­tial ele­ment for the resilience of our econ­o­my, pol­i­tics and society.

There­fore, it is also nec­es­sary to pro­mote eco­nom­ic free­dom. Europe is gen­er­al­ly some­what under­de­vel­oped in this respect. Think about the reg­u­la­tion mania in Aus­tria: No mat­ter whom you talk to, every­one has for a long time been say­ing that we need to do some­thing about mak­ing entre­pre­neur­ship more attrac­tive, but no one is doing any­thing about it. It has to become much eas­i­er to start a new business.

Challenges in a free world

The hot spots in the Mid­dle East and the refugee cri­sis cur­rent­ly pose com­plete­ly new chal­lenges for Europe. In this case Europe has a key posi­tion and assumes respon­si­bil­i­ty by help­ing the refugees and pro­tect­ing them from war. How­ev­er, Europe must not be left alone with these chal­lenges; the sit­u­a­tion affects the whole world and has to be resolved by join­ing forces.

Some Euro­pean states do not assume their respon­si­bil­i­ty and take the lib­er­ty to cre­ate bor­ders and leave the solu­tion of the refugee cri­sis to oth­ers. This leads to even more pres­sure in coun­tries like Aus­tria, Ger­many or Swe­den. To make mat­ters worse, there are inner-Euro­pean con­flicts in the con­text of the finan­cial cri­sis, weak­en­ing the Union’s sta­bil­i­ty even further.

Society and values

The chal­lenges to main­tain peace and free­dom are enor­mous. Sus­tain­able solu­tions can only be found in fight­ing the caus­es, and this in turn requires unit­ing the forces of a world com­mu­ni­ty which assumes respon­si­bil­i­ty col­lec­tive­ly. Whether and how this path will be tak­en is up to the indi­vid­ual states and the val­ues that form the basis of their soci­eties. Our soci­ety has to find its way back to the val­ues on which it was found­ed and should not for­get that those val­ues have to be defend­ed again and again.