A day to think about the meaning of freedom
I’m not an American. I live in Canada, and although our two nations share many things in common, our views of liberty and patriotism differ significantly. This difference is rooted in the past, and how our countries gained their independence. For Canadians, the sovereignty of our nation took the form of endless negotiation. By the time our country was properly formed, some 140 years ago, the British Empire’s stranglehold on the world was starting to wane. The principles of the Enlightenment had a powerful influence on politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, and as a result, the British realized human beings could not effectively be colonized and deprived of self-determination.
Canada was not dominated by fierce independents; instead, we developed a tradition of cooperation and diplomacy that is still the hallmark of our country today. Part of that diplomatic skill also is because few Canadians are fanatically patriotic. Although there are still many people who display their flags proudly, this nation thrives on the fact that we cannot be easily moved into a frenzy simply through the utterance of patriotic rhetoric. It is also of paramount importance that Canadians continue to re-evaluate their values and ideals as the realities of the world change around them.
Americans have plenty to be proud of. Their Founding Fathers were pioneers during what is perhaps the most important phase in modern human history: The Enlightenment. This period was marked with endless optimism on the future of mankind, and of the power of freedom to change the world. But that optimism was still marked with the conventional wisdom of the time, and the pursuit of freedom in America was often an exercise in violence rather than one of reason and diplomacy. And ensconced within that history was a powerful patriotism, rooted deeply in pride. For many other countries, however, it is this pride that makes Americans seem arrogant, unyielding, and undiplomatic. The rest of the world has changed while many of America’s values seem dangerously antiquated.
That is not to say, however, that all of their values are. Many in the West are often too complacent, and rely too heavily on the mechanism of diplomacy to effect change. It is not every country that respects the rule of law, or the rights of the individual. There are many nations that suffer from brutal tyrannies, who are murdered by their own governments and armies while the rest of the ‘civilized’ world remains insular and indifferent. Some countries try to create sanctions against such abusers, but in the end, these efforts only end up punishing the very people who need help. In these instances, it is necessary to stand up and fight for those who cannot do it themselves. If liberty and freedom really are universal principles, it is conceivable the use of force may sometimes be necessary, and we may all be asked to risk our lives for such noble causes.
Of course, such powerful principles are easily manipulated, and the American government has been especially skillful at deceiving its population through the use of rhetoric and patriotism to justify the erosion of its own values. The days of accountability, of checks and balances, and of bipartisanship have been abandoned, replaced by strict, divisive doctrines on both sides of the political spectrum. The right, in particular, has declared itself the repository of America’s values, values that are sometimes the antithesis of their own. These dysfunction has created a schizophrenic country, divided between the principles it upholds so dear, such as equal opportunities for all, respect for the rule of law, and the right of political dissent, with the fears of immigration, religious expression, and the right to privacy.
It is on this day, this 4th of July when Americans should take a serious look at the state of their Union, and ask themselves whether or not they live in a place their forefathers would be pleased with. It is not the time to wave flags and call out dissenters. Rather, it is time for them to exercise their most powerful muscle which has seemed to atrophy; their political one. If they do not, they may soon find themselves with an empty celebration, where only the phrase Independence Day is remembered, rather than its spirit.