The Problems of American Freedom

Posted on December 2, 2016. Filed under: Politics, U.S. Constitution | Tags: , , , , , |

We’re re-running this 2010 post because it seems fitting to revisit these issues as 2016 draws to a close.

 

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.

Advertisements
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )

The problems of American freedom

Posted on October 4, 2010. Filed under: Civil Rights, Politics | Tags: , , , |

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.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )

What are the freedoms we have as Americans?

Posted on September 28, 2010. Filed under: American history, Politics, U.S. Constitution | Tags: , , , , |

Citizens of the United States have been proud of their freedom for many generations. It has become a shorthand—we are admired for our freedom, hated for our freedom, we need to preserve our freedom, fight for our freedom… the list goes on. But, inspired by Dr. Rufus Fears’ interesting lecture on the topic, we thought it would be helpful to provide a clear definition of our “freedom” in the U.S. We’ll start by referencing Dr. Fears’ categories of freedom, then provide our own analysis of how they play out in American society.

As Dr. Fears points out, there are basically three types of freedom: national, individual, and political.

National freedom is the independence of a political state—freedom from occupation or other foreign control.

Political freedom is the right of citizens of a political state to participate in government (through voting or acting as a representative) and to have a fair trial.

Individual freedom is the freedom to do and say what you will so long as you don’t hurt anyone—freedom of speech, assembly, religion, freedom to choose where you live or what job you do or don’t do, freedom to make money and spend it as you please.

Of all these freedoms, national is the oldest and perhaps the most widely accepted. It’s hard to find a country, city-state, or any other unified entity that has not placed self-preservation at the top of its priorities. Historically, it has been the only freedom that is universally honored; that is, while many states still do not grant full individual or political freedoms, it’s hard to find one that does not stand for national freedom. Only completely failed states like Somalia or Sudan cannot and do not provide national freedom to their citizens.

Political freedom is about as ancient as national freedom; just about every society has a “ruling class”, whether it is Iron Age priests, medieval lords, or modern representatives to Congress. Rulers—kings, presidents, etc.—have almost always had political bodies advising them, managing the government, and/or curtailing the ruler’s powers. Extending political freedom beyond the top 2% of the population to the lower 98% of the people—granting real democracy—has been rare in human history. The concept of a fair trial has changed over time, and been infrequently offered.

Individual freedom—the rights Americans are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights—is the least common type of freedom. Very few societies have been willing to let their citizens do whatever they want so long as no one is hurt. Individual freedom is a result of true representative democracy, which has been rare in human history and is still not the type of government offered by most nations of the world. The only way for a tiny minority—sometimes just one person in the form of the ruler—to control millions of other people is to strip them of their right to complain, to move away, to become rich, etc. They must remain completely under the control and at the mercy of the ruler/governing class, whose power is exercised by deciding what is legal and what is not and finding that most things are illegal.

So where do we stand in the United States when it comes to these three freedoms? We are in the unique position of enjoying all three of these freedoms, a situation that is almost unparalleled in human history. The Founders worked unbelievably hard to create a government that was strong enough to protect the state (national freedom), offer fair representation before the law and equal participation in the government (political freedom), and give its citizens complete personal liberty (individual freedom). The latter is especially important; in fact, we as Americans believe national and political freedom cannot really exist without individual freedom.

This is what makes the United States unique and admirable, but it does create some problems, which we’ll get into in the next post.

Next time: The problem with triple freedom

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...