Freire gives the term “freedom” a specific meaning: it is the freedom to critically question and change the world. In other words, a person is free when they are able to understand and change their own conditions. According to Freire, this kind of freedom is a primary goal of all people, “the indispensible condition for the quest for human completion.” Freire also asserts that “humankind’s central problem”—the problem that he seeks to solve with Pedagogy of the Oppressed—is the problem of “dehumanization.” Dehumanization, according to Freire, is a process that prevents human beings from affirming their identity through freedom. Freire argues that human beings can only solve dehumanization by striving for personal and social freedom, since only people who question and transform the world are able to feel fully human.
To Freire, oppression is a situation in which oppressors impose unfair conditions on the oppressed, preventing the oppressed from achieving freedom. Dehumanization is the natural result of oppression, and it refers to the effect oppression has on human beings. Since oppressors deny freedom to the oppressed, they make the oppressed less human. Freire argues that in an unjust system, the oppressors view humanity itself as an “exclusive right” or “inherited property.” Oppressed people, who are consistently denied freedom and treated like objects, often internalize this view of humanity. This is especially true because, in an oppressive system, people become successful when they become like the oppressors. When the oppressed see oppressive conditions as good or right, they can be paralyzed by a “fear of freedom.” Therefore, achieving freedom requires oppressed people to reject their previous notions of what a good or right society is, and to understand that an oppressive society cannot give them freedom.
To create the conditions for freedom, educators and political leaders have to enable oppressed people to affirm themselves and to question and change their own reality. This is a difficult proposition, since oppressors fear this affirmation, because it means that their superior position will be threatened. Furthermore, although educators and political leaders often sincerely try to fight oppression, they can quickly become oppressors themselves when they do not give oppressed people the freedom to understand oppression on their own terms.
In order to help the oppressed gain freedom, then, educators and political leaders must be careful with their methods. It’s crucial to trust oppressed people’s ability to come to their own conclusions, and to allow them to create change for themselves. When educators and political leaders seize too much power themselves, they rely on oppressive methods of teaching that take away the agency of the oppressed.
Freire suggests that enabling oppressed people to seek their own liberation is the only way to end dehumanization—not just of oppressed people, but of oppressors as well. When oppressors dehumanize the oppressed by denying them freedom, they simultaneously dehumanize themselves: Freire argues that oppressors prevent themselves from critically questioning their own conditions, because they rely on them to keep power. To achieve freedom for all human beings and create a new society, then, oppressed people have to liberate themselves and their oppressors at the same time.
Freedom and Oppression ThemeTracker
Freedom and Oppression Quotes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed
This volume will probably arouse negative reactions in a number of readers. Some will regard my position vis-à-vis the problem of human liberation as purely idealistic… Others will not (or will not wish to) accept my denunciation of a state of oppression that gratifies the oppressors. Accordingly, this admittedly tentative work is for radicals.
…The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself…the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.
While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern.
This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves.
Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes a myth. It is rather the indispensible condition for the quest for human completion.
Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one. The man or woman who emerges is a new person, viable only as the oppressor-oppressed contradiction is superseded by the humanization of all people. Or to put it another way, the solution of this contradiction is born in the labor which brings into the world this new being: no longer oppressor, no longer oppressed, but human in the process of achieving freedom.
Any situation in which “A” objectively exploits “B” or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human.
For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.
Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them”; for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated.
Implicit in the banking concept is the assumption of a dichotomy between human beings and the world: a person is merely in the world, not with the world or with others…In this view, the person is not a conscious being (corpo consciente); he or she is rather the possessor of a consciousness: an empty “mind” passively open to the reception of deposits of reality from the world outside.
Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings, and consciousness as consciousness intent upon the world. They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the world.
To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.
Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause—the cause of liberation. And this commitment, because it is loving, is dialogical.
The revolution is made neither by the leaders for the people, nor by the people for the leaders, but by both acting together in unshakable solidarity. This solidarity is born only when the leaders witness to it by their humble, loving, and courageous encounter with the people.
Prior to the emergence of the people there is no manipulation (precisely speaking), but rather total suppression. When the oppressed are almost completely submerged in reality, it is unnecessary to manipulate them. In the antidialogical theory of action, manipulation is the response of the oppressor to the new concrete conditions of the historical process.
In cultural invasion it is essential that those who are invaded come to see their reality with the outlook of the invaders rather than their own; for the more they mimic the invaders, the more stable the position of the latter becomes.
The role of revolutionary leadership…is to consider seriously, even as they act, the reasons for any attitude of mistrust on the part of the people, and to seek out true avenues of communion with them, ways of helping the people to help themselves critically perceive the reality which oppresses them.
...Organization requires authority, so it cannot be authoritarian; it requires freedom, so it cannot be licentious. Organization is, rather, a highly educational process in which leaders and people together experience true authority and freedom, which they then seek to establish in society by transforming the society which mediates them.