Sunday, September 07, 2008

When did the idea of freedom become a political orphan?

You know there should be another question posed. What is freedom? Freedom has a different definition for everybody.

I have my notion, but my notion is very different from another guy's or lady's. I have the freedom to determine my own destiny without interference from another individual. That would be my definition although I'm sure the dictionary definition would differ from that.

Still the ideas of freedom and liberty is a normative concept. It's abstract but that doesn't stop people from defining them in their own ways. In fact that definition that I gave for my concept of freedom isn't enough.

So here's the aptly named column from Steve Chapman on the two major parties and why they didn't discuss freedom at their nominating conventions in the past two weeks:
This year's Republican National Convention had a different theme for each day. Monday was "Serving a Cause Greater than Self." Tuesday was "Service," Wednesday was "Reform" and Thursday was "Peace."

"We must, and we shall, set the tide running again in the cause of freedom. And this party, with its every action, every word, every breath, and every heartbeat, has but a single resolve, and that is freedom. "

—Barry Goldwater, accepting the 1964 Republican presidential nomination

So what was missing? Only what used to be held up as the central ideal of the party. The heirs of Goldwater couldn't spare a day for freedom.

Neither could the Democrats. Their daily topics this year were "One Nation," "Renewing America's Promise" and "Securing America's Future." The party proclaimed "an agenda that emphasizes the security of our nation, strong economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, honest government, and civil rights." Expanding and upholding individual liberty? Not so much.

Forty-four years after Goldwater's declaration, it's clear that collectivism, not individualism, is the reigning creed of Republicans as well as Democrats. Individuals are not valuable and precious in their own right but as a means for those in power to achieve their grand ambitions.

You will scour the presidential nominees' acceptance speeches in vain for any hint that your life is rightfully your own, to be lived in accordance with your beliefs and desires and no one else's. The Founding Fathers set out to protect "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but Barack Obama has a different idea.

The "essence of America's promise," he declared in Denver, is "individual responsibility and mutual responsibility"—rather than, say, individual freedom and mutual respect for rights. The "promise of America," he said, is "the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper."

In reality, that fundamental belief is what you might call the promise of socialism. What has set this country apart since its inception is not the notion of obligations but the notion of rights.

What do Republicans believe in? McCain told us Thursday: "We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law . . . We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities."

Would it be too much to mention that what sustains the American vision of those things is freedom? That without it, personal responsibility becomes hollow and service is servitude?

Apparently it would. Republicans are big on promoting freedom abroad, but in this country, the term encompasses a lot of things they don't like—the right to a "homosexual lifestyle," the right to protest the Iraq war, the right to privacy, the right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and more. Conservatives who once thought Americans had too little freedom now sometimes think they have too much.

Liberals, on the other hand, are wary of embracing freedom precisely because of its historic importance to the right. They fear it means curbing the power of a government whose reach they want to expand.
It can be argued that neither side believes in this idea called freedom. Enough not to make it apart of their conventions. Perhaps both sides take this concept for granted. Perhaps one side or another disdains the concept for whatever reason they might have.

It's easy for me to turn this post into a convoluted argument for why freedom is either a good thing or a bad thing. Perhaps the question should be posed as a matter of philosophy. What is freedom?

I think I mentioned that everyone has a different concept. Freedom might mean an entitlement, but the entitlement might be the provision of services such as an education or health care. Some believe that this should be provided of course the lack of freedom comes in how to pay for these services. Not everyone wants to pay for public education or universal health care alas one is not able to opt out if they wish.

Anyway I said too much what is your concept of freedom?   

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