My sixth commentary on the book: The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow

On page 426, they write: “Over the course of this book we have had occasion to refer to the three primordial principles of freedom, those which for most of human history were simply assumed: the freedom to move, the freedom to disobey and the freedom to create or transform social relationships.”

Commentary: I have no objection to these freedoms. But I do have an objection to calling them “primordial.” A better approach is provided by Joel Feinberg in the book Social Philosophy, 1973. In the first chapter, “The Concept of Freedom,” he analyzes the concept of freedom as the absence of constraints, and then he distinguished internal from external constrains, on the one hand, and positive from negative constrains, on the other. Thus giving us a fourfold classification with examples:

Positive ConstraintNegative Constraint
Internal Constraintheadache,
obsessive thought,
compulsive desires
ignorance,
weakness,
defieciencies in talent or skill
External Constraintbarred windows,
locked doors,
pointed bayonets
lack of money,
lack of transportation,
lack of weapons

If there is to be a primordial principle, it surely should be the freedom to strive to survive. This means the freedom to be a hunter, gatherer, farmer, and pastoralist. And all these freedoms can be summed up as the freedom to use subsistence land.

An internal negative constraint is beautifully illustrated in the film “Walkabout,” in which a young boy and girl are stranded in the Australian outback, and without the fortunate encounter with an Aborigine youth, they would have died. He has the knowledge and the skills to get food and water which are necessary for survival. Below is a trailer:

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