Since rights are a political concept through and through, so is freedom (although liberty is an apter term, far better suited for politically-laden contexts and discourse). Indeed, underlying any meaningful talk of rights, there has to be at least the possibility of freedom, making good on our rights, and actualizing them, if not immediately, then soon after. In the absence of freedom, all talk of rights is but an empty gesture.
It may be appropriate then to say that freedom is the primordial kind of right, the prototype of all rights, the first premise, as it were, a precondition, a right without which no other sort of right could possibly get off the ground.
Freedom to or freedom from?
Corresponding to this distinction, we see a parallel development in all our discourses about rights: a right to do as one pleases (barring the usual restrictions concerning the impinging on another person’s rights) and the right to protect ourselves from all forms of coercion or oppression.
The former is the trademark of a libertarian; the latter, of a true patriot. And while the former appears to be a positive thing, insofar as it purports to be an affirmation of individual freedom, it is not because it’s essentially acontextual, devoid of any connection to responsibility, a right in name only.
Thus, it is to the latter that we must now turn — an assertion of a right to resist all manner of coercive systems. But here, what we find that even at its finest, the concept of rights is, at bottom, a defensive kind of concept; reactive rather than pro-active, an antidote, the best line of defense we can muster. And it’s made viable, let alone possible, only by the oppressive system in place; none but.
Not to minimize, of course, all the battles humanity has won in the name of rights, and the victories have indeed been formidable, we shouldn’t nonetheless espouse the cause of human rights and ride under that banner as though the be-all and end-all. Or if we do, let it be clear that while we do, oppression remains. Eliminate oppression, I say, and you have as good as obliterated the concept of rights! You’ve rendered it obsolete.
I’m not sure now whether this kind of analysis is equally applicable to our concept of freedom. “Freedom to” we can readily discard so long as it remains unconnected to any sense of responsibility, an empty notion at that. But what about “freedom from?” Aren’t we likewise laboring here under an oppressive system of sorts for that concept to have any function at all? It would appear that we do and that freedom and rights are both subject to the same internal logic and conceptual structure.
But these are but preliminary remarks, and as such, they form the groundwork for further exploration of the key concepts. Meanwhile, suffice it to say that an innocuous little idea like ownership, presumably restricted to economic activity, brings with it a whole array of politically laden concepts such as obligation (to the sovereign), rights, and freedom.
It is the singular achievement of the liberal theory that it had successfully merged both the political and the economic aspects of being into one indistinguishable whole.