Freedom Just Ain’t Enough

Here’s a story I’ve heard many times over the years: someone is fed up with working for large corporations, something he has done for the past 20 years, and so dreams of being free. Finally, that person musters up the courage to leave finance, big tech, or some other industry and then strikes out on his own.

So far, so good.

When you ask that person what it is he cares the most about or why he did what he did, the first answer is: freedom. I wanted to be free–to be free from certain restraints and constraints but also to be free to pursue my own interests.

This is a good starting point, but don’t stop halfway. Financial independence of the kind FIRE waxes poetic about or f*ck you money, which makes a cameo appearance in Nassim Taleb’s books, is not enough. It’s a halfway house. Now your soul, as it were, hangs in the balance.

In 1982, a then-young political philosopher Michael Sandel published a weighty critique of Rawlsian liberalism. In Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, Sandel argued that liberalism (in the political theoretical sense, that is) had fobbed off considering substantive conceptions of the good life. A huge loss this. Yes, each citizen is free within certain, well-specified limits, but what is he or she free for?

“Well,” you might say, “deciding that is up to him or her.” No! Subjectivism is laced with nihilism.

Someone beginning to enjoy his freedom must now begin to inquire: “What is it, above all, that is worth living for? In view of what telos shall I exercise my freedom?” A very bad answer to these questions would be: work, meaningful or otherwise. Another flimsy answer would be: whatever I’m currently interested in.

Think again. The good of your life is at stake.