The Erosion of Free Will: Why Society’s Loss of Belief in Freedom is Dangerous

Pay attention to how people are talking about freedom. It’s a leading indicator of cultural (and economic) trends.

Luke Burgis
9 min readApr 7


Eva Bee / Getty Images

Everyone is fighting for “rights” and the freedom to make various choices, yet few people seem to believe that we actually have any.

All ideas are in some sense correlated. In other words, your idea about one thing — especially something as fundamental as whether creation is good, or whether humans have the ability to act freely, or other metaphysical stances like a belief in the dignity of all human life, regardless of merit — affect your ability to accept or even to grasp other ideas.

Some ideas are more correlated than others. They tend to create a cascade effect of other ideas and beliefs. For instance: if you accepted the idea that you have smoked too long and that “the damage is already done, so there is no use in quitting”, your actions are going to look very different than someone who has not accepted that idea — someone who believes change and recovery is possible. Ideas matter.

And certain ideas, like leading indicators for the economy or the stock market, are leading indicators of cultural movements and the philosophical assumptions that underpin them.

Even before the slow slide into nihilism began, there was at least one leading indicator that it was going to happen: the way people were talking about freedom, and specifically about free will.

Conversations about free will have been going on for a very long time. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, free will has been foundational. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse: therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Of the three major cities of modern life, the position of Jerusalem has been the most consistent when it comes to the question of humanity’s ability to choose.

The view from Athens (the city of Reason) has been mixed. In the modern world, where “empirical evidence” is the only thing admissible, honest rationalists have no consensus view on the question. Still, there is a long philosophical tradition that supports the idea that it’s far more reasonable to believe…



Luke Burgis

Author of “WANTING: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.” Find more at