In his literary debut, Creating Freedom: Power, Control, and the Fight for our Future, Raoul Martinez thoroughly examines what freedom really means in the western world, and the implications it has in today’s society.
Strongly arguing that freedom is illusory, Martinez powerfully and consistently produces surmounting evidence for this by looking at our economy, the market, our legal system, the media and the political situation.
Drawing effectively on the scholarly discussion of philosophers, psychologists, politicians and economists ranging from JS Mill to Adam Smith, Martinez offers an extensive scope of research regarding this specialised topic.
He begins with a gripping and substantial premise, which is effectively summed up when he writes, “we make choices with a brain we didn’t choose” as a result of “the lottery of birth”. Ultimately, this is a simple yet thought-provoking concept. The implications of such a view are explored throughout, especially in terms of inequality leaving many without the opportunity to achieve their potential.
The structure is incredibly formulaic with its three sections, showing a clear line of argument from establishing that we, as a society, are not free, and looking at the evidence for this in order to find various solutions to the problem. Martinez concludes with his aspirational yet admirable solution for Creating Freedom, which requires individuals to draw on deeper, human values such as empathy. Better still, he highlights the importance to extend such emotions further and attempt to make them materialise in the world around them.
Martinez’s argument is admirably contemporary, particularly in his reference to climate change and its links to the concept of freedom. By titling this chapter ‘Survival’, he identifies how pressing these issues are in a technological world. He goes as far as poignantly writing: “climate change exposes all the flaws in our social, economic and political systems”, including “racial injustice”. While his fervent use of persuasive language may seem compelling, it must be admitted that his work lacks the substantial evidence needed to make such a bold statement sound convincing.
It is clear that this book does not want to shield us from reality, evident in his heavily researched summaries of economic and political history in the USA. However, here Creating Freedom can be criticised for being self-contradictory. From the first page Martinez goes out of his way to establish that freedom is an illusion in democracy as clearly demonstrated by these historical accounts. And yet, his solution is to democratise several sections of society including politics. That said, such contradictions are forgiven through his offering some more innovative solutions, such as job rotation.
Overall, Raoul Martinez adequately challenges readers of what our collective perception of freedom really means in the western world. He supports his view with copious amounts of evidence from different academic, economic and political disciplines. While relatively succinct and comprehensible, at some points he arguably comes off too strong in his approach, which has the potential to undermine some of his more subtle ideas and arguments. Nevertheless, Creating Freedom is certainly a step in the right direction.
Creating Freedom by Raoul Martinez (Canongate, 2016)
Photo courtesy of Canongate