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Freiheit (freedom)

If you ask yourself what comes to mind first, freedom is generally understood as a state of independence that is worth striving for or retaining. One feels free from constraints or paternalism in the unhindered exercise of one's own will, unfree, however, in that kind of restriction which opposes what is wanted. Of course, it would be too short-sighted to understand freedom only as freedom from someone or something. This is already indicated by the usage of the language, which does not only know the expression to be free from something, but also to be free to or for something. But the origin of the word also points to this.

Frei (free) can be traced back to the Indo-European root prai- or prî- ('to love, to like, to spare'). The p in the initial sound became the f already before the turn of time (as in piscis 'fish'), the long i only later, in the Middle Ages, the ei (as in mîn 'my' and dîn 'your'). The development of 'loving' to 'free, independent' is explained by a notion of 'belonging to those whom one likes and spares': to relatives and tribesmen (as opposed to the non-tribal unfree and prisoners of war). To the same word clan belong friend (originally: 'near one', also 'relative'), free ('to want to marry, to woo') and peace (originally: 'state of benevolence, of sparing'). Freedom was therefore formerly what one granted to the friend; one left him in peace, spared him, whereas one seized the enemy, the stranger ('distant', not near), made him a prisoner and slave.

Freedom, as it turns out, had causally to do with love. This is true for those on whose language ours goes back. In this sense, the philosopher Martin Heidegger defined freedom as "letting something be", by which he did not mean "refraining from something, turning away from it", but "letting something be itself, allowing it its peculiarity". So not: to make oneself free from something, but for something. And in doing so, perhaps discover a friendship, an unknown kinship of essence. But perhaps also the double character of freedom, which, rightly understood, also always includes unfreedom: For "in the liberal sense, liberal does not mean only liberal" (Loriot).
This is an old idea, which in earlier times, however, had clearer religious-moral characteristics. True freedom also means service out of love. In Martin Luther's exemplary formulation: "A Christian man is a free lord over all things and subject to no one. A Christian man is a servant of all things and subject to everyone."

Jochen A. Bär  (source)





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