At Least I Know I’m Free: A Myth That Unites

I was talking with a relative recently who was telling me about an incident a while back where the maintenance staff at the building he worked at had gone on strike and were picketing the building. Emails had gone out from the building management telling people not to get into arguments or cause incidents with the picketers, and it became a source of quite a bit of topic around the office. My relative was amused to hear expressed several times the sentiment, “That’s what makes our country different from the rest of the world. Here, they have the freedom to hold a protest like that.”

It if, of course, true that they have the freedom to picket their employer here. However, that’s not necessarily a contrast with the rest of the developed world. They could do the same in thing in Canada, or the UK or France or Germany, etc. There is, as my relative pointed out, a tendency at times for Americans to assume that because our country was very consciously founded in order to secure certain freedoms, that this means that people who don’t live in the US don’t have the same freedoms. Obviously, some don’t. One’s freedom of political and economic expression is severely limited if you live in North Korea or China or Cuba or some such nation. But there are many other countries in which people enjoy basically all the same freedoms that we do.

This American tendency to assume that we are the only ones to enjoy the freedoms outlined in our Bill of Rights is something which very much annoys many people who consider the US to be dangerously nationalistic, or who would prefer that we see the US as just one other region, not better or worse than others. They have, thus, a strong reflex to squelch these kinds of slightly misguided patriotic outbursts when they hear them.

I do not argue that it’s better for people to be ignorant of the legal conditions in other countries than otherwise, but there is, I think, a certain virtue to Americans’ tendency to see America finding its uniqueness in being “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal”.

Americans have traditionally identified our freedoms a defining characteristics of what it means to be an American. As Lee Greenwood song that seemed to be playing all the time a few years ago went, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

Before people get angry about Americans acting like they have a monopoly on freedom, however, they should keep in mind that all countries are built around some sort of uniting characteristic. The US is moderately unique in that its uniting characteristics are abstract and essentially philosophical: ideas about political freedom and limitted government as laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, as well as a host of other writings ranging from Common Sense and the Federalist Papers to the Gettysburg Address and the I Have A Dream speech. Other countries tend to be founded fairly explicitly on the basis of a ethnic or cultural commonality. This idea that any unified cultural group deserves it’s own country in some deep and important sense can lead to a great deal of conflict, especially when two culturally separate groups live mixed together (Israel and the Palestinians, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, etc.) or when a culturally dissimilar group has traditionally been incorporated into a country run by some larger groups (as with the Basque independence movement in Spain or the conflict over whether Russia should control Chechnya).

I’d much rather have Americans occasionally displaying ignorance about the civil rights available in other countries when talking about how essential they see freedom as being to our republic, then have people building their sense of identity and patriotism around being of suitably Aryan stock, or some other sort of ethnic or cultural characteristic. Freedoms are something which not only can, but should, be extended to all people who live within our borders, and as such I can think of no better characteristic to base a sense of national identity. A sense of identity rooted in our political liberties not only makes it harder to interfere with the liberties themselves (which is doubtless a good thing) but also provides a unifying potential which is quite the opposite of the more traditional ethnic and political sources of national identity.

16 Responses to At Least I Know I’m Free: A Myth That Unites

  1. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Before people get angry about Americans acting like they have a monopoly on freedom,”

    Considering the speech codes in place in many countries that claim to be democracies, America may not have a monopoly on it, but I think we take the concept a great deal more seriously than most other countries. The link below sets out laws against “hate speech” in various countries around the world.

    A great many countries around the world which are considered to be free are manifestly less free in the key area of speech than we Americans are. All Americans should take rightful pride in this.

  2. c matt says:

    except that we have our own “unofficial” speech codes. Not as bad as other places, but less free than we used to be. I suppose if a rising tide raises all boats, a receding tide must also have the equal and opposite effect.

  3. dymphna says:

    They don’t have free speech in Canada or England.

  4. I think this is a bit of a false dichotomy. I think we can be aware of strikes in France (which always seem to involve setting cars on fire for some reason) without descending into ethnic cleansing.

    Although I think we do tend to do the same thing based purely on political/philosophical ideals. I think democratic socialism would be great. I totally have the right to say that in the US, England, France, Germany, etc. If I said that at a Tea Party, however, I’d be lucky if all got was spit on.

  5. Phillip says:

    Though if you said you thought democratic capitalism was great in France, Germany etc. you might be lucky if you only got spit on.

  6. Gabriel Austin says:

    One supposes you meant “Aryan” [whatever that is] and not “Arian”.

    For the rest “comparisons are odious” to quote grandma. There are severe restraints on various freedoms in this country.

    Am I mistaken in believing that the Constitution does not “speak” of freedoms or of anything else? It is a document that established the government and continues to modify it.

  7. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Am I mistaken in believing that the Constitution does not “speak” of freedoms or of anything else?”

    Yes. See the bill of rights and various other portions of the Constitution and the amendments thereto.

  8. Tito Edwards says:

    I would take the word of Donald, he is a lawyer after all.

  9. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “I would take the word of Donald, he is a lawyer after all.”

    Heaven forfend Tito!

  10. Joe Hargrave says:

    “Yes. See the bill of rights”

    And don’t forget that it almost didn’t make it into the final draft. Thank you Thomas Jefferson 🙂

  11. Tito Edwards says:

    Thank you Thomas Jefferson indeed!

    He was not a deist, but a Christian. He knew full well the importance of Christianity to the new fledgling American Republic. 🙂

  12. cminor says:

    Dunno about the Christianity, Tito; read some of his letters. Though I’ll grant he (like Franklin) understood the importance of the Christian worldview to the republic.

    Having spent my formative years living in the shadow of Mistah Jefferson’s Little Mountain, I confess something of a love-hate relationship with the man’s legacy. While he was instrumental in the formation of our nation, he had plenty of notions that I am greatful were not generally implemented. While the man was neither such a hero nor such a villain as is often made out, he was a crotchety fellow to say the least (my DH is of the opinion that he had Maoist tendencies long before Mao, but I’ll leave that to him to explain.)

    Don’t forget that crucial freedom-of-religion thing. One or two (occasionally a few extra) established churches are the norm even in most “free” countries. Consider that a country with an official belief system (even if that system is wonderful) has ample leverage to subjugate it or even abolish it in favor of a belief system more congenial to its ambitions. This is much more difficult to accomplish in a country with no official belief system and no official policy of hostility to religion.

  13. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Cminor, that is exactly my reaction to Jefferson. I love the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase and his strictures against the dangers of government. I hate his infatuation with the French Revolution, his dalliance with the doctrine of state nullification, and assine statements he often made, for example,”The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”-that from a man who never served a day in the Continental Army and put his own skin to risk on a battlefield! Yeah, Jefferson definitely qualifies for love-hate in my book.

    Jefferson was in no sense a Christian as his scissors attempt to remove the miracles from the Gospels indicated. Jefferson was most definitely a Deist.

  14. American Knight says:

    I too love Jefferson. No, I despise him. Wait, yes, love-hate, that’s the ticket. Oddly enough I feel the same way about America. I love her Christian and republican (small r) ideals – I hate her Masonic and totalitarian trajectory. America was doomed long before the Continental Congress met and it is a miracle (no matter how many TJ cut out of his Bible) that the united States of America ever came to be. It is a miracle we are still here.

    Are we different than all the other ‘free’ countries in the world? You bethca. Why do so many immigrants, like me, come here instead of say, China or Zimbabwe (Rhodesia)? There is no contest as much as this country sucks, we are the best the world has ever seen – warts an all.

    If someone doesn’t like it, they are welcome to leave or just never come here in the first place. The rest of the world owes America a great big thank you for the freedoms that have been preserved by this nation and the sacrifices of many of her people especially our fine military folks. Deservedly or not, we provide the blanket of freedom for the world. Can you imagine the atrocities that will be rampant when America eventually goes down?

    But, not yet. I think our best days are ahead of us. I also think that we’ve only gotten this far because so many of us (sadly not as many Catholics as I’d like to see) are faithful to Christ Jesus. Compare Christianity in American with that in say what used to be Europe (now Eurabia).

    Sadly, we have the stain of Masonic infiltration and that needs to be purged in all of its ill forms from the Federal Reserve to the current socialist/communist trajectory of our corrupt politicians. America does not like Jacobins, Luciferians or Shriners.

    I think it is safe to keep the America in the American Catholic and know that it means uSA (despite what our southern continental brethren may think). May God bless the united States of America (and the American Catholic).

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