In 1990, George Michael released his song “Freedom ’90.” It was a time when everybody was deliriously singing along with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or the Scorpions’ “Winds of Change,” celebrating what people thought was the final victory of liberty and democracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Most abysmal of all these sing-along songs was David Hasselhoff’s live rendition from on top of the Berlin Wall of “Looking for Freedom,” a song describing the trials and tribulations of a rich man’s son trying to make his own fortune.
But George Michael did something entirely different. For him, freedom was not some liberal paradise of opportunity. Instead,
It looks like the road to heaven
But it feels like the road to hell.
What sort of freedom does George Michael’s song describe? It is not the classic liberal freedom defined by an ability to do or say or believe something. It is rather a negative freedom. It is characterized by absence, the lack of property and equality in exchange, the absence even of the author and the destruction of all props suggesting his public persona. And this is why the song feels much more contemporary than all the odes to liberty from a bygone age of the end of history. It describes a very contemporary state of freedom: the freedom from everything.
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