Often used interchangeably, independence and freedom are NOT the same ideas, however they are extremely closely related. Everyone ever larps on-and-on about wanting freedom (whatever their definition is), but independence seems to get no love. Why is that? Let's find out!
I'm a big fan of Nietzsche's description of independence: "Few are made for independence - it is a privilege of the strong. And he who attempts it, having the completest right to it but without being compelled to, thereby proves that he is probably not only strong but also daring to the point of recklessness." (Beyond Good and Evil, aph. 29). This description of independence would likely turn off the average person, because, truth be told, it is kind of scary. Independence, narrowly assumed as being self-reliant, even goes against our hunter-gatherer origins since the groups usually were around 100 to 150 people. To be truly independent is reckless indeed.
So let's see what we can distill from this nascent idea. I think self-reliance is a given for independence, both in the physical forms of providing for one's self, and the more psychological form of trusting one's own thoughts/opinions without getting "expert," or herd input. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson,
So, independence, just as it sounds, means we cannot be dependent on others for the physical necessities (the more obvious idea), or the ideological necessities as explained by Emerson. Interestingly, those ideological necessities are probably what the words independence and freedom have best in common. In other words, self-reliance in both forms. Perhaps that's a rough definition; we can't all do everything for ourselves, but it serves as a good ideal against which to measure freedom.
Now, before you start thinking about the 'Murican Revolution, no, we are not talking about nations. Nations are just large dependency states for their respective populaces, at least for those that are full participant citizens; the more one is involved with the state, the more dependent one is on the state. We are talking about the individual, or the individual and his family, or maybe even a small community. Maybe its counter-intuitive to include small communities, but unlike sprawling nation-states, a small community can be independent in itself, and in today's world of hyper-dependence on people and forces outside of our influence (how many of your possessions did you or a friend make?), I would welcome the return of the small community where everyone knows, influences one another, and ultimately cares either directly or indirectly for one another.
Freedom. Oh boy, wish me luck in trying to make a decent definition for this absolutely loaded word. I'll just think aloud. I guess the idea touted by most libertarian types is the idea that they can do what they want as long as it doesn't infringe on anyone else's freedom. Not bad, but I think it isn't specific enough so let's see if we can expound upon it. That one's freedom does NOT infringe upon another's is a supremely important corollary, and we'll definitely hang on to that part of the definition.
So instead of "do what you want" as the first part of the definition, let's try "not being hindered by any institution of control." Wordy, I know, but its more specific, so stick with me. Let's explore these institutions of control; we'll start with the most obvious: government. Government is a racket in which some people directly control other people by using force, coercion, and extortion. Probably the chief justification for its existence is that it "created" and "preserves" society... this is horse-hockey; a healthy society could exist in absence of formalized big government. (As an aside, a society is created by people who wish to get along, because it is more beneficial for them to work together than it is for them to commit violence against each other, or ignore each other. Government forces everyone to grudgingly get along, and just how do they accomplish this? Through violence, or threats of violence of course!) With this in mind, I find it hard to reconcile our definition of freedom with government, or at least in its modern, bloated, intrusive form.
I think we can agree that government is the worst burden on actualized freedom, but government is not the only institution of control in the world; we have other entities such as NGOs, religions, and even homeowner's associations that WE empowered to control us by regarding them as experts, presumably for our betterment. That's the nature of this "expert society" we live in now. To acquiesce to this is not very freeing denotatively speaking, but at least its a voluntary form of control rather than the heavy-handed "thou shalt" of formalized government, so it is, perhaps, not as egregious.
Perhaps, but let me explain. In the case of religion/belief, we voluntarily submit to its dogma in today's society, because there is effectively no real life consequence of not submitting to its control except among Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, who'd probably kill me if they caught me saying such a thing. You are not forced to participate in these systems of control; it is your choice to do so. This raises some serious concerns about whether a person can be truly open-minded without effectively losing some sense of identity (i.e. don't "identify" with groups, you can only really identify with yourself), but that's a discussion for another time. Is it freedom to submit yourself to a system of control? Every person can answer that only for themselves.
We've got our provisional definitions for independence and freedom, and we've learned that they are definitely not the same idea. So what conclusions can we draw?
Imagine, for instance, a person who is totally self-sufficient in providing physical needs for himself, but does not think for himself. This person has some degree of independence, but he has no intellectual freedom whatsoever. He relies on foreign entities outside of his mind to control his thoughts rather than simply influence his thoughts. There's nothing inherently wrong with influence, but brain-washing is unacceptable, and that's exactly what our example here is suffering from. Perhaps even further, maybe our example man is living under an oppressive regime that directly controls him. He may have some independence (he meets our first criterion for independence, but not the second), but he has little to no freedom. At any point, his government could come to his house and abuse, extort, or coerce him.
Here's another: imagine a person who is a self-proclaimed free-thinker (and perhaps he is) that lives in the middle of a large city; he has very fresh takes on the basics of society, government, and morality; and his government is extremely freedom respecting, never forcing him to do anything, abusing him, or even taxing him. I shouldn't need to explain why that's a red flag, but here we go: as a city dweller, he is physically dependent on the local supply chains to keep him alive (food and such). In this situation, he can only ever be a consoooomer, and never attain to the self-reliance and self-sufficiency required for independence. Though our man may have "freedom" per se, he has chosen, by living in a metropolis, to become a dependent consoooomer.
Clearly, by these illustrative nonexamples, freedom and independence can exist without each other, but the results leave a lot to be desired. That's why I called the two words symbiotic in the above heading: they work better together than they do apart. At this juncture, let's explore the ideal example, the truly independent and free man, the autonomous man.
Let's imagine the truly free and independent man. We'll call him Gigachad.
Gigachad lives a self-sufficient, self-reliant life where he produces his own physical necessities whether by agriculture or hunting. Impressive, but so far, he's no better than our first nonexample. Well here's the difference: Gigachad not only cares for himself via independence, he is also capable of truly free thought, giving his innate thoughts the respect that they deserve just as Ralph Waldo Emerson told us a little while ago, and furthermore, Gigachad lives outside of a control state, so he is unhindered by the government to do as he pleases all without harming a soul.
So Gigachad seems like a pretty cool guy, but admittedly, he is an ideal, and it is perhaps impossible to achieve this ideal. But like all ideals, it is worth it striving for. Just as a person of faith should do his best to measure up to his faith's values, so should we try to measure up to the Gigachad of freedom and independence.
So here we have arrived: we learned that independence and freedom are not the same, how the two function better together than they do apart, an intersection of the two I like to call autonomy, and what the idealist perspective of these two ideas might look like, humorously, in Gigachad. Yeah, I'm ending on a meme; I called this site Bargain Bin Philosophy after all so what did you expect?
I wish I had a better answer for you at this time, but it seems the scourge of freedom-hating government has become the norm here in the 21st century. The best advice I can give is to move out of the city, and get some property in the countryside. It is harder to enforce the law out in the boonies, and the degree of surveillance is much less. Become as independent from the system as possible, and maybe we'll get the freedom we are entitled to when government finds out that we don't need it anymore.
As always, what I say is not fact, and last thing I would want for my readers to do is to dogmatically interpret what I have written, so respect your own thoughts on this topic, and we'll all come away from this with more insight into the nature of freedom and independence plus their symbiosis. Strive for both; to strive for one is limiting, but to attain both makes a strong person capable of true power over one's self in physical self-reliance, psychological self-reliance, and freedom from a state of control that only a veritable neo-Stoic is worthy of, not because he simply accepts his fate as the classical Stoics, but because he makes his own fate, unhindered by the shackles of his own incapabilities or a tyrannical government. Perhaps not everyone has the necessary will to accomplish this feat, but if you have the capability to reach this ideal, then you owe it to yourself to do so. The man who is both free and independent, the autonomous man, is a nigh unstoppable force, and serves as a high watermark for self-actualization.