The Globalization of Public Freedom

Glen T. Martin

The idea of human freedom remains an elusive concept and an unattainable ideal for most human beings.  Yet freedom has emerged in history as an idea directly linked to the concept of being human. To be human is to possess a temporal structure that chooses among possibilities in varying degrees of actual or potential freedom.  The question freedom for what? enters the discussion in terms of the concept of peace. Phenomenologically, freedom appears as a specifically human quality linked with the structures of human temporality, a quality emerging out of the evolutionary process beyond the apparent necessity and causal determinism of nature.  The structure of personal and public freedom and its relation to the question of peace is the focus of this essay.

Freedom, bound up not only with time but language, constitutes our creative expression as human beings. As a language-using being, for example, a human being possesses the capacity to express an infinite variety of sentences (Pinker, Ch. 9). Language breaks a barrier of necessity found in all other biological creatures and unleashes a potentially unlimited freedom of thought, expression, and action. Our unlimited creative freedom provided by language is bound within the existential temporality of human life: the process of perpetual movement from the past into the future through a dynamic present.

If we were not bound in time, it is difficult to say whether freedom would have any meaning for us. It looks as though time, as Heidegger (1927) taught, and Kant (1781) before him recognized, constitutes a presupposition for our human being-in-the world.[i] In each day and hour and minute, we appropriate our past experiences, knowledge, and awareness within a lived present and project our lives toward a tomorrow, toward a future in the next minute, hour, day, year, or beyond.  We can even act in the present with a view to a future beyond our own lifetimes.  In this way, our freedom in some aspect allows us to transcend our own death.  We can commit to the future of our children, our religion, our nation, future generations, or humankind.

In the living existential present in which past and future dynamically combine to enable decisions that open up certain options for the future and close off others.  I can choose to study my lessons this evening, or listen to music, or go out with friends.  Each choice closes off options regarding the future and opens up other options.  Going out with friends may lead to meeting my future husband or wife.  Studying my lessons may lead to the discovery of special intellectual abilities or self-awareness about what I dislike or a greater understanding of history and human life.   Each day a human being makes innumerable small and large choices among the options available that close off certain possible futures and open up others.

This freedom emerges from, and remains contingent on, many biological and physical necessities that circumscribe our lives.  It requires physical and mental health.  We require basic necessities such as food, sanitation, education, health care, and housing. Our freedom to actualize certain options and preclude others is contingent on a host of necessary requirements, some of which we have control over, others (like natural disasters) intervene beyond our control.  The ones over which we have control often necessitate work: laboring in the sweat of our brows to sustain ourselves. 

Laboring itself, of course, requires perpetual choices within the dynamism of the present, even if its basic goal is simply survival.  But the will to survive, to live, goes beyond a mere biological instinct to live to the pleasure of living a temporalized existence, the joy of living as a being drawing upon its past and projecting itself into the future.  Freedom, therefore, expresses both the quality of life and our sense of the intrinsic value of human life. The so-called right to life recognizes the intrinsic value of this core character of our humanity.  The so-called right to life is routinely conjoined with liberty: the right to life must include liberty, indicating that the quality of a human life can be diminished or enhanced depending on the degree of latitude it has with respect to the future.[ii]

We recognize, therefore, that the freedom of temporalized existence is relative to the nexus of necessities that condition our lives.  Those who must work 12 hours per day, six days per week, to secure the most basic necessities of survival are not as free as those who do not need to work to live or who can secure the basic necessities with much fewer hours of work.  We also recognize that those who work at chosen vocations that can procure the basic necessities while having a meaningful and fruitful working existence are so much freer that those who perform some alien drudgery necessary for mere survival.

Nevertheless, temporality, the movement from past to future through the living present, forms an a priori framework for human life.  A second a priori framework, inseparable from the first, involves our always being with others.  The temporal structure of our lives is social. It is always and everywhere within a social context and many of its features, such as our sense of what options are open to us (as, say, women or Moslems or blacks) have socially constructed content. The freedom that we experience as temporalized beings is always a socialized freedom, inevitably dependent on the others: family, village, inheritance of the efforts of past generations, education, the very acquisition of language, culture, and government (Sherover 1989).[iii]

My temporal structure arises as human, and hence as a being among others. The others, therefore, like my body and the infrastructure of material necessities, form an a priori condition of my temporal freedom. We live as social beings from the very beginning and our individualized temporal freedom (the uniqueness of each of us as persons) arises from the community. The unique individuality of each of us is derived from the communities within which we are embedded and cannot be sustained or developed apart from those communities.   I realize that my unique freedom – my unique ability to appropriate my past and actualize my life-possibilities into a projected future – also involves a public freedom, that is, a freedom characteristic of the communities of which I am a member. Phenomenologically time, like my being with others, ultimately involves an a priori feature of our common humanity, a phenomena sometimes referred to as human ‘historicity’. Just as the individual human life is a temporalized freedom project so the course of human history involves a comparable freedom project (Heidegger 1927). We are temporally involved with others from the very beginning. Much political philosophy explores the forms and dynamics of collective decision-making appropriating a past in a lived present and projecting toward a collective future.

My possibilities derive not only from my most basic reality as a temporalized social being, but are also contingent upon a host of social factors: where I happen to have been born, the inherited social and material wealth into which I happen to have been born, the governmental, cultural, and religious forms of my communities, and the prospects for a secure and stable life building upon this inheritance (the absence, for example, of wars or natural disasters).  I understand that freedom is not a metaphysical property of my individual mind or soul but rather emerges as a social product. 

My individual freedom presupposes the freedom of all the others as similar social beings and presupposes the existence of the human community as a whole.  All language-using beings share this dynamic temporal structure. I cannot separate my personal freedom from that of all the others. As Jürgen Habermas expresses this: ‘The individual cannot be free unless all are free, and all cannot be free unless all are free in community’ (1986:146).[iv] Habermas has uncovered the presuppositional status of communicative action directed toward mutual understanding that places communicative dialogue before secondary and parasitic forms of speech: strategic, technical, manipulative, or ideological (1998a). Collectively, our future depends on the development of public spaces where dialogue directed toward mutual understanding and ‘collective will formation’ can take place (1998b: 450). The assumption of equality (of voice) and democratic decision-making is built into the very structure of language and hence our humanity.[v]

The community, therefore, and our common humanity (the human community as a whole) make possible the freedom of each of us as temporalized individuals. Our individuality is inseparably bound to the human community.  For this reason we must concern ourselves with the relation of the community to freedom.  My personal freedom to determine my life and my fate within the limitations specified above functions within a context in which community groups also manifest a temporalized existence drawing on a past in a living, shared present and projecting toward a possible future.  

This is done by my family, as when parents plan for their children’s marriage or college education or inheritance of the family business.  It is done by my local community through its collective decision-making process in which community resources are allocated and decisions are made that close off certain possibilities for the group and open up others. (For example, should a new road be built through the center of town, and what consequences are likely to follow upon this course of action?)

Collective decision-making processes are necessary at all levels of community existence, from the family to the global levels.  Regions need to make decisions about use of resources, such as rivers and forests.  Nations need to make decisions regarding economics, resources, protection of liberties, education, transportation, security, and a host of other factors.  In each case, those charged with making decisions draw collectively upon a more or less shared past and, in discussion with one another within the living present, make decisions that project the community into an imagined future, closing off certain possibilities and opening up others.   

My unique freedom is inseparable from multiple dimensions of public freedom.  It derives from the human community as its precondition, and the various levels of community within which I am embedded, from the family to the locality to the state, national, and global levels, bear on my own personal temporalized freedom. The decision made on the national level, for example, to go to war, or to institute a military draft, bears on my individual freedom: I may be required to pay my share of taxes to support the war or I may be drafted into the military in the service of this national war effort. 

As a thoughtful human being aware of this multi-dimensional temporalized structure of human freedom, I understand the importance of reflecting on the nature, organizational structure, and decisional processes through which the various communities within which I am embedded move into the future.  Historically, it has often been the province of political philosophy to reflect on government and processes of community decision-making in relation to the temporalized life-possibilities of the individuals within each community. [vi]

Emerging from this history of political philosophy has been the demand for democratic or republican forms of government that attempt to integrate the good of the community (and methods of determining its collective future) with the good of the individual (and the rights of individuals to determine their personal future insofar as this is compatible with the similar rights of all the others). I realize that my own temporalized freedom is linked to the public freedom within each of the communities within which I am embedded (Martin 2008; Chs. 4-6).[vii]

Unless there are democratic, transparent, and coherent decision-making processes within which I can participate and that serve our common human interest in freedom, my personal freedom is endangered and compromised.  I have, therefore, a very powerful interest in understanding the nature and possibilities of public freedom. I have a powerful interest in promoting, protecting, and participating in public freedom within all levels of community that encompass me.

For the past 200 years or more, the reality of human beings as one common species living on every part of the globe has become ever-more widely understood.  This awareness escalated with the First World War that gave birth to the world federalist movement with peace activists and advocates of world government such as Rosika Schwimmer or Lola Maverick Lloyd who expressed the need for representative democracy at the planetary level. These activists argued that the system of militarized sovereign nation-states is inherently a war system that can never lead to peace on Earth but only ever-greater mutual slaughters and wars. These activists adamantly linked peace with freedom. The Second World War, and the use of weapons of mass destruction, only served to increase this awareness of the need for a higher form of democratic decision-making beyond the level of the nation-state.[viii]

However, it is only in the past half century that awareness of so-called global problems has spread throughout the world.  Today, people everywhere are aware of problems such as global warming, population explosion, resource depletion, pollution, militarism, weapons of mass destruction, and other problems commonly recognized as global in scope and therefore beyond the decision-making capacities of individual sovereign nation-states.  With respect to global problems, there are no viable decision-making processes for our planet, and what little coordination exists through the U.N. is non-democratic in the extreme (since the U.N. sees itself in Article 2 of its Charter as a confederation of autonomous sovereign nation-states). Today’s globalized world exhibits a chaos of militarized nation-states and huge multinational corporations making decisions in relatively complete fragmentation from one another.  They are collectively and often unwittingly determining a future for our planet that looks extremely bleak.

My individual l temporalized freedom, like that of everyone else on the Earth, is in jeopardy.  For temporalized freedom is always future oriented, and I find that the future is cut off from me at every level.  Even at the level of my family, I cannot guarantee my children a future because the collective human future is itself in jeopardy.  My children will be forced to live or die in an environment hostile to life: full of pollution, deprivation, war, disease, and death. There is no planetary public freedom for the Earth. There are no democratic or republican political processes by which human beings can collectively discuss and determine a future for humanity, that is, a future that deals with the many global problems that are beyond the scope of nation-state decision-making processes (Harris 2000: 103).

Where does such freedom come from?  How are human beings to come together in a forum capable of action to reach, through dialogue, mutual understanding concerning the realities of our human situation (its totality)? How are they to devise a course of action directed toward the future? How are they to devise collective actions that must be taken to create and protect a future for humanity and our common home, the Earth?  Hannah Arendt writes:

Only in the freedom of our speaking with one another does the world, as that about which we speak, emerge in objectivity and visibility from all sides…. The freedom to interact in speech with many others and experience the diversity that the world always is in its totality….is rather the substance and meaning of all things political. In this sense politics and freedom are identical, and wherever this kind of freedom does not exist, there is no political space in the true sense. (2005: 128-129)

A number of world federalist thinkers (as far back as the two world wars) realized this fact that a public political space encompassing the diversity of all the world’s citizens for discussing the future of humanity does not exist.[ix]  Eventually some of these thinkers took steps for bringing together world citizens in four Constituent Assemblies (between 1968 and 1991) that created the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (Martin 2010b).[x] The Constitution provides humankind with a carefully worked out structure for democratic world government centered on public freedom. It articulates a process of discussion, decision-making, and action that completes and embraces the historical human project of temporalized freedom that all along (we have seen) included the entire human community as its most basic presupposition.

Article One of the Constitution states six broad functions of the Earth Federation – revealing that the sphere of action of the world government will be all those global problems beyond the scope of individual nation-states.  This is certainly vital and grounds for ratification of the Constitution by the people and nations of Earth according to the democratic criteria specified in Article 17.   However, philosophically, the Constitution does much more than this.   The history of political philosophy and human know-how today culminates in human beings taking practical steps to create public freedom at the planetary level.

The sixth broad function of the Constitution captures something of this dimension: to devise and implement solutions to all problems which are beyond the capacity of national governments, or which are now or may become of global or international concern or consequence.  The future oriented character of the global public space under the Constitution is here assumed: drawing on the collective knowledge of the world and members of the World Parliament, the government must address future problems that are beyond the capacity of the nation-states.

Having understood the temporal and community presuppositions of our individual personal freedoms, political philosophy has articulated the theoretical and practical foundations for democratic and republican forms of government, which are now understood as the only legitimate forms of government – since every person is a temporalized freedom with equal rights to participate in the communities of public freedom that bear in innumerable ways upon his or her individual life. However, with the ascent to the philosophy of democratic world government, political philosophy now fulfills its historical quest to understand and properly institutionalize the relation between individual and public freedom in its only fully coherent and logical possible form – public freedom for the entire human community (Harris 2008, Ch. 8).

The historicity of the human project, involving it’s a priori temporalized and ‘always with others’ structures, logically demands political forms of freedom applying to humanity as a whole. The organization of these structures, however, is necessarily ‘federal,’ that is, there is public space for democratic government at every level, from the local to the regional to the national to the world level, for collectively people require freedom at each level to arrive at public decisions regarding issues appropriate to that level.

The anti-globalization movement resists the domination of huge fragments (such as nation-states or multinational corporations) in the name of peoples’ right to life, liberty, and security of person, that is, in the name of democracy.  Indeed, local democracies today are often the most transparent and effective loci of freedom. At the national level this essential transparency soon disappears within a fragmented world of militarized nation-states premised on secrecy for the sake of national security.  The so-called democracies within these militarized nation-states often assume freedom is possible within a nation while human rights violations, support for dictators, covert operations, and war are acceptable in foreign policy.  This constitutes a fatal mistake that destroys freedom at every level.  The national-security state closes off republican government in a veil of militarized secrecy, hence defeating democracy at the national level, and making democratic openness, communication, and transparency more difficult at every level.

Global economics as it operates today performs the same destructive function. Banking cartels, multinational corporations, World Bank structural adjustment programs, and other global economic actors inevitably impinge on government at every level making democratic decision-making extremely difficult throughout the planet. Ultimately, ‘there can be no freedom unless all are free’ requires a global public political space where the future of humanity as a whole can be decided in the face of the many global problems that exist beyond the scope of individual nations. Ultimately the system of fragmented militarized nation-states and the system of global economic monopolies defeats freedom at every level.  These forces can only be controlled by a non-military democratic global government that replaces violence and the threat of violence with a world parliament providing public space for all cultures, peoples, nations and regions to enter into a discourse regarding the future of humanity upon this planet.

The Preamble to the Constitution for the Federation of Earth provides perhaps the most basic philosophical framework for the Constitution through making clear that the principle of unity in diversity is the only possible coherent basis for planetary peace, justice, and freedom.  And the Constitution itself provides a framework for global public space within the World Parliament encompassing all the peoples and nations of Earth along with the set of institutions, from judiciary to civilian police, necessary to maintain and protect that global public space. Here lies the real significance of the Constitution for philosophers and global thinkers. It culminates the human quest for freedom and draws humanity together into the global community that is already presupposed by every individual temporalized life-project and every community of decision-making on Earth.

Its practical effects will likely result in binding humans together within a framework of common dialogue and decision-making regarding our common human fate. For institutions are established that make all persons equally responsible as legal world citizens before one, universal common law that allows for democratic diversity at every level within the world federal system. It brings the theoretically understood structure of human freedom (that the human community is presupposed in every individual temporalized freedom) into the practical public realm by institutionalizing a public freedom for the human community (where that public freedom ultimately belongs) to deal with issues insolvable at the local and regional levels.

This public freedom is not only a fulfillment of the philosophical quest of political thought over the centuries and a major actualization of our human quest for freedom. It is also the foundation stone for human survival and flourishing upon planet Earth – for that survival and flourishing can only take place in freedom – through the establishment of a planetary public freedom embracing and protecting the individual personal freedom (and hence the future) of every citizen of our precious planet Earth.


[i]  Kant recognized the a priori status of time, calling it the form of inner sense, a feature of our human perceptual apparatus that remained itself (in some ways) a static way of organizing experience. This characterization ignored the movement inherent in our existential experience of time.  Hegel attempted to overcome this static character of Kant’s division between the phenomenal appearances and the noumenal thing in itself by temporalizing the relation between phenomena and noumena as the progress of the World Spirit within history, thereby projecting a priori temporality onto a metaphysical, world historical plane. In the early 20th Century, drawing on the existential (temporalized) thought of Kierkegaard and the phenomenological method of Husserl, Martin Heidegger phenomenologically described the human experience of temporalized, existential existence in Being and Time. (1927). Jean-Paul Sartre, in Being and Nothingness (1943),also understood freedom in somewhat similar terms as the actualizing of life-possibilities, a theme that he developed as a critical social philosophy in Critique of Dialectical Reason(1960).

[ii] See, e.g., the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 1-3. Article 3 states that ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’

[iii] The phrase public freedom is not often used by Sherover, nor by Hannah Arendt (2005) or Habermas (1998b). However, they are describing something closely related in their similar concepts of positive freedom that requires a public space within which citizens can dialogue with one another concerning their common future.

[iv]  Habermas writes: Freedom, even personal freedom, freedom of choice in the last instance, can only be thought in internal connection with a network of interpersonal relationships, and this means in the context of the communicative structures of a community, which ensures that the freedom of some is not achieved at the cost of the freedom of others…. The individual cannot be free unless all are free, and all cannot be free unless all are free in community.

[v]  In his inaugural address, Habermas writes: ‘The human interest in autonomy and responsibility is not mere fancy, for it can be apprehended a priori. What raises us out of nature is the only thing whose nature we can know: language. Through its structure, autonomy and responsibility are posited for us. Our first sentence expresses unequivocally the intention of universal and unconstrained consensus.’ (1971: 314).

[vi]   Although the language of political philosophy evolved through the centuries, the central question can be expressed in this way.  Aristotle opens his Nichomachean Ethics, for example, by claiming that all human activities are future oriented toward some good and then asserts that politics is higher than ethics because it involves community action directed toward the good of the whole.

[vii]  In Western thought, the Greeks first conceived of public freedom in relation to the polis and initiated the reflection concerning what types of governments can preserve and enhance this freedom, a process in some ways culminating in the democratic revolutions of the 18th century and continuing thereafter with a wealth of reflections on republican and democratic forms of government.

[viii]  See Martin 2010b: Introduction.  The theoretical foundations for this, of course, date back to the Greek and Roman Stoics in their concept of a universal order of things under a common logos informing the intelligence of all men.  The first elaborated modern theoretical statement is found in Kant’s Perpetual Peace, originally published in 1895. In Western political thought, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and Hegel (as well as others) recognized the system of sovereign nation-states as inherently a war system.

[ix]  Emory Reves, The Anatomy of Peace (1945) is a classic expression of the sovereignty of humankind and the absolute need to express that sovereignty within a global political public forum or world parliament. Albert Camus, in his famous essay, Neither Victims, Nor Executioners (1946) also argues for a world parliament premised on dialogue as the only thing that can free us from being murderers, or accomplices of murderers.

[x]   The Constitution for the Federation of Earth, which has been translated into some 23 languages, can be found on-line in a number of places, for example, at