Thursday, July 5, 2012

America "Is" about Freedom

It depends on what the meaning of the word " is" is.
President Bill Clinton, 1998
July 5, 2012 -  America "is" freedom.  I mention this because  the Presidential campaign is shaping up as contest between advocates of freedom and individualism and proponents of security and social justice. 
I remember vividly my late brother-in-law,  Jim Witkins, a World War II veteran who fought under General Patton.  Each year on July 4, after a few two many beers,  Jim would stand on the veranda  overlooking the ocean on Cape Cod, and shout. “Do you know what the Fourth of July is about ? It’s about Freedom!”,  then for emphasis, “Did you hear me? It’s about Freedom! And don't you ever forget it!”
As indeed it is. 

But what is freedom?  Veterans understand what it "is".  So do immigrants who flock here from abroad seeking it.  As  Rob Asqhar, Pakastani immigrant who made it big in America,  proclaimed in an aptly titled piece in the July 4 Christian Science  Monitor “How Immigrants Fall Crazy In Love with  America.”  So do entrepreneurs and innovators searching for the Big Idea and Society-Changing and Self-Enriching Inventions that make a Big Difference . So do small business persons in search of a better life. So do physicians buckling under federal regulations.
But for these people, others, and most of the rest of us,   freedom remains imponderable, unfathomable ,  immeasurable, psychological, and often inexplicable.   It’s a feeling.  It's something you live.  It’s something you know when you see it.  It’s a possible and impossible  dream.  It’s  the ability to try and fail,  to take risks, to re-invent yourself,   to rise above your circumstances, to judge for yourself what and who is right and what and who is wrong, to  do better than your parents and your family, to see beyond the horizon, to roam free in a huge land. It's about "me", not "we".
It’s a  distinctly American thing.   And it may be separate from  equality, social justice, or security.
 A recent Pew poll asked people to pick between “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference” and the “state guarantees nobody is in need.” Americans selected freedom 58 percent to 35 percent. European responses were reversed: Germany’s 36 percent to 62 percent was typical. By wide margins compared with Europeans, Americans believe that “success in life” is determined by individual effort and not by outside forces. Yet, in their voting habits, Americans often prefer security. Yet we are not yet  Europe, and we do not aspire to be.
In the upcoming election,  will we choose to remain loyal to our America’s traditional belief in individualism and freedom?  Or will we drift more towards the European collectivism and assuring no one is need.   It will not be an easy choice. As Friedrich Hayek (199-1992) observed in the Road to Serfdom (1944), which today might be called the Road to Bankruptcy, “I am certain that nothing has done so much to destroy the juridical safeguards of individual freedom as the striving after this mirage of social justice.”
Tweet: Economic and individual freedoms,  even at the sacrifice of a modicum of social justice,  is a distinctly American belief system.

1 comment:

Jane Stephenson Fairburn said...

Thank you for sending this message to Jay - I'm so glad you that he was willing to send out both sides of the issues to his e-mail list. I agree with you and your messages. I don't read your Blog often enough. Blake's writing was scary to me - can't see how people come to the conclusions that he did, yet far greater number of the ORHS class of '52 seem to think the way he does.
Keep up your good work!!