Freedom is complicated. As H.L. Mencken wrote, “the average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.” In this statement Mencken explored the real meaning of what we call freedom. The meaning that we have hardwired in our minds doesn’t envelop the entire realm of the word freedom, but it does an incredible job at keeping us safe.
The United States Constitution supports a persons freedoms only to the point that they do not interfere with other people’s safety. This want to keep citizens safe interferes with them being completely free. Though this document was written over two hundred years ago, the aspect of it that grants freedoms only to the point that also grants safety is still relevant to contemporary society. There are many examples of these “incomplete freedoms”, especially in law: one cannot murder people, one cannot steal property, one cannot commit assault, one cannot consume alcohol and drive, and so on. All of these laws prevent citizens of this great country from being completely free. However, I for one would rather keep these laws intact than have unadulterated freedom for the purpose of keeping me safe.
Distopian novels often exemplify this ideal, as in Lord of the Flies. The stranded boys experienced that feeling of absolute freedom, and the effect of it: utter chaos. Novels such as these show that mankind needs order and laws to guarantee safety more than we need complete freedom.
People don’t think of freedom in this respect very often, instead they think of freedom as freedom from being oppressed. That is how we are taught in America to see ourselves: a nation of once oppressed people who are now free, because of the Declaration of Independence, The Revolutionary War, and The Civil War, which made us free from ourselves. And since Pearl Harbor that is the definition of freedom the government has taught our military, and rallied our servicemen to fight for: to free the oppressed and to fight for freedom. That is an incomplete definition, but it does its job by allowing citizens the right to vote and to voice their opinions while still guaranteeing their safety.
There are less governed nations in developing countries where the citizens experience more absolute freedom, though they are not as safe. This is like a constant where you can only have so much freedom and still have guaranteed safety I will never experience absolute freedom, but that knowledge does not bother me, because I know that the same laws that prevent me from being completely free also persecute those who interfere with my guaranteed safety.