The problems of American freedom

We saw in the last post that Americans live in a unique situation: we enjoy all three types of basic freedom, national, political, and individual. Listing the nations that have offered all three freedoms to all of their citizens is a counting-on-one-hand proposition. Successfully providing and defending all three freedoms is what makes the United States great.

But it also presents some problems. Over the generations, Americans have veered between putting national freedom first and putting individual freedom first. We’re sometimes willing to give up individual freedom to be safe from attack, and sometimes unwilling to perform our duties of national and political freedom in the name of individual freedom. When the U.S. faces attack or threats to its safety, many Americans want to put laws in place curtailing individual freedoms like freedom of speech, religion, and assembly in order to at once weed out troublemakers and create a more homogenous society. Conversely, when the federal government tries to put sweeping legislation into effect, such as government-paid health care or social security or gun control, many Americans loudly protest the move as an infringement of their individual rights.

Individual rights also lead many Americans to neglect their political freedom to participate in government by holding office and/or voting. The feeling that participation in our democracy  is unnecessary, an extra rather than a basic tenet of American citizenship, is pervasive. Resentment of “big government” leads many people not to want to participate in government at all, as if they would be supporting an invasive federal government by voting or running for office, although the way to change the nature of government is to join it or vote in those you wish to have representing your views. The belief that our government is an impediment to individual freedom is sadly prevalent.

Holding all three freedoms in equal esteem is difficult. Many Americans have come to see our individual freedoms as the wellspring from which national freedom is born, and thus individual freedoms are the most important. But these individual freedoms come from our government, from the Constitution, and last only as long as we have our national freedom. Without national freedom, there is no individual freedom, and national freedom only lasts as long as we have political freedom. Giving up our right to vote—for refusing or failing to vote is tantamount to giving up that right—is a dangerous step toward losing national and individual freedom. Once we stop demanding that our government really represent us, our democracy is crippled, and then the nation is open to outside threats. If individual freedoms are seen as separate from or at odds with national and political freedom, then we begin to prioritize our liberty to do whatever we want at the expense of national safety.

Individual freedom is really our freedom to live up to the founding principles of our nation. It’s our freedom to speak and worship and serve our country as we each see fit, and not really the freedom to be lazy and uninvolved and prioritizing our own choices over other people’s choices. It is the freedom to live together as one without having to be the same, not the freedom to push our own ways at the expense of everyone else’s.

Political freedom is our freedom to have a democracy, to be represented accurately in the federal government, and to preserve the individual freedoms we enjoy.

National freedom is the end result of the first two freedoms, because we who value our individual and political freedom will not allow our country to be destroyed by outside forces—or by those Americans who don’t believe in the full triad of freedoms.

Going forward, we’re seeking to bring our three freedoms into balance and remember that each is equally valuable, and each demands our equal time and effort to maintain.

4 thoughts on “The problems of American freedom

  1. While I agree with you on most of the premises there are a few points of contention. First most western nations today, and for that matter, most first-world nations have the same level of freedom that we Americans do, generally speaking. Which is to say that while the ratios of each type of freedom by vary among those first-world countries, for the most part it averages out to about what we enjoy. This means that while this period in time may well be unique, the Unites States is not.
    My second contention is this, (though it was going to something else) it seems to me that you are misinterpreting the definition of individual freedom, it is the freedom to do WHAT EVER you choose so long as you harm no one else, incidentally the United States is some what lacking in this form of freedom, especially when interpreted as it is phrased. Individual freedom as it is phrased is typified by a general lack of laws, I do not necessarily mean an anarchic society, but rather one which seeks not to guide and shape its people through legislation, or participate in social engineering.


    1. I have no idea what you are including in your “generally speaking” when you say that
      “most first-world nations have the same freedoms that we Americans do”. I know of NO other country that offers the true freedoms that the great nation offers. In addition, more freedoms are expressed in our Constitution, as amended, and this is certainly NOT the case in any other country that I know of. Our freedom of speech is by far the most complete that other countries offers. What is said, even the obvious lies concerning our president and other government officials go unpunished, and our news papers are filled with items that would be a crime in many countries.Our system of justice, innocent until proven guilty, also the model for some countries, is the world’s highest.Our freedom of religion is the model of other countries but none have the diversity found in America.
      While serving as a Marine for 28 years, and while living and traveling abroad for some years since retiring, I am aware of NO country that offers the scope of true freedom the is commonly held to ALL Americans.


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