The paradoxical slogans of 1984 don’t necessarily allude to a distant dystopian future fiction more than it does the distorted and inverted human condition of the present.
“Freedom is Slavery” has been modernity’s rallying-cry following the era of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. In spite of their particular differences on the manifestation of “natural liberty”, both presupposed just that — autonomous freedom at birth from all “constraints” including the fundamental ancient notion of “telos” which was completely rejected. In contrast to the innovations of the “Enlightenment” thinkers, the ancient and later Christian medieval philosophers understood human nature to be continuous with the proper order of the natural world requiring self-governance/limitation according to our “telos” for liberty to be cultivated through virtue. Additionally, contrary to the pagans, Christianity recognizes the image of God embedded in human nature justifying equal human dignity. However, the “liberty” of autonomy and the absolute absence of all constraints introduced in the 17th-century, is ultimately slavery.
Consistently, human nature itself becomes a constraint (as the transhumanists now admit) that needs to be subject to conquest. Anticipating a Fourth Industrial Revolution, the biotechnology becomes ever more available for “liberating” humans while ironically becoming increasingly suspect of fundamentally lacking the option about adopting these technologies that become ever-more inevitable and autonomous. All in the name of regulating the exhaustion of our planet—a consequence of 17th-century conceptions of “liberty” itself. In the illusory ambition of becoming “liberated” from all constraints, we find ourselves constrained by necessity and the circumstances of scarcity. On the individual level, when “liberty” is the natural state, not standard, self-limitation ceases to become a necessity. Thus, the enslavement to our own instinctive tribal “natural” desires has no grounds to be objected against (as the postmodernists argue).
On either plane, we neither have control over the trajectory of the technological world nor the self. Is slavery actually freedom?
For the Christian, liberty is redemption. Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, in-line with the orthodox understanding of creation’s “telos”, beautifully writes:
“Again, the title ‘Righteousness’ is given to God because he assigns what is appropriate to all things; he distributes their due proportion, beauty, rank, arrangement, their proper fitting place and order […] it gives the appropriate and deserved qualities to everything and that it preserves the nature of each being in its due order and power […] This divine Righteousness is also praised as ‘Salvation of the world’ […] redeems everything in accordance with the capacity of things to be saved and it works so that everything may keep within its appropriate virtue. This is why the theologians name it ‘Redemption’ […] bringing back order and arrangement where there is disorder and derangement, making it perfect and liberating it from defects.” (The Divine Names, 896A-897B)