Book: Freedom by Sebastian Junger

Book: Freedom by Sebastian Junger

I’ve read a number of reviews of Junger’s new book, Freedom. It is based in part on his experience walking the railroad lines of the East Coast, which is illegal everywhere and for good reason along some of the lines. Many of the reviewers of this book including the New York Times were disappointed by the book which is divided into three essays, inter-related by the subject of the book and his travels.

Mostly, I was struck that his book is refreshingly apolitical, and thus, unique and authentic; which may be the source of media disappointment. Junger took on a quite difficult word and lent his own perspective on it through his experience with armed conflict and a passion for raw history. At the individual level, Junger says historically, the threat to your safety or the strength of desire for a kind of independence from oppression are the two primary drivers to seek some version of freedom. Both of which cause you to exchange one kind of suffering for another. Settlers fleeing an oppressive state ran into the wilderness where their lives were threatened but they could carve out a life mostly unbothered by an unfriendly government. Freedom in that world, Junger points out was not being free of dependency on, nor duty to others. But it gave a person a say and a degree of options to live life.

The other aspect of Freedom involved Junger describing freedom and constraint within a group. From Junger’s previous books, he has noted that accountability and duty come with leadership of any kind for those leading a movement or community. On the one hand, leaders need to be willing to, if necessary, give up their lives for the freedom they seek. Otherwise a smaller group has no chance at all to resist a larger, less free, but more powerful group. Those same leaders must be willing to share power with the group, giving up some of their own freedom. “In a deeply free society, not only would leaders be barred from exploiting their position, they would also be expected to make the same sacrifices and accept the same punishments as anyone else.”

I did not feel the need for Junger’s points to be tightly woven into 5 things you need to be free. I appreciated that he didn’t spend 400 pages reiterating the same point and captured my attention for most of the 133 pages. I think Junger’s view is that freedom sits deeply and uniquely within some people; and in some circumstances but that it has little to do with validation of one set of values or another beyond the fact that you are willing or even compelled to suffer for it.

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