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.

Comments (3)

  • avatar

    vjack

    Good post. I really would like to see my fellow Americans take a break from waving flag, blowing things up, and chanting “USA USA” in order to reflect on how to get our country back on track. I’ve posted some similar thoughts on the matter here: http://tinyurl.com/3bgk6z

    The just of it is that I’d like to see us lead by example rather than by arrogance and imperialism.

  • avatar

    Joanna

    Yes, we Americans must seem very arrogant from the perspectives of the international community and the folks to our northern and southern borders! I enjoyed your post and it made me think more about this timely topic of “patriotism” and “nationalism”. The whole immigration debate here is such an embarrassment….a country that is supposed to be so welcoming to new citizens is acting like the complete opposite….only giving opportunities to people that can prove their economic worth, rather than finding them intrinsically valuable! Time to shut down the Statue of Liberty…it’s just a symbol afterall. So much for the American Dream. (And this was the only domestic policy that I ever agreed with Bush on!) And it failed to get the votes necessary to pass. That was disappointing. It had its faults but I thought it was at least a step in the right direction.

    Recently I’ve been reading an old book by Woodrow Wilson titled , “The New Freedom”, and it really makes me feel fortunate that the literary works of great statesmen (and women) are available to enjoy….people that write from the heart, as proud citizens. And great human beings. So much of what Wilson wrote in the early 1900’s still rings true today. Seeking the ideals of progress and widespread prosperity. Not allowing “big business” to rule us or to own our public servants, the people that are supposed to represent OUR interests.

    Maybe you could dismiss this as patriotism or sentimentality but it’s something more…a hope for a better future. Not just for fellow Americans here in the U.S. but for the entire world community. That idea of being a beacon of light…an example of how to behave and prosper and help others do the same. Not by imposing it, but by offering it freely to those that want it. I would never promote proselytizing…… : )

    We are eternal optimists and idealists for the most part. Trying to look on the bright side. And that spirit of adventure….our enterprising nature lives on. ( We don’t mean to act like imperialists…but sure end up in a bad spotlight in places like the Middle East….our intentions to “sow the seeds of democracy” have not born fruit, that’s for certain…but rather anger/resentment/hatred/death…we aren’t successful at transplanting the seeds, I guess).

    Our decision to invade Iraq was a huge military blunder…we had such high hopes. To promote democratic ideals and free the Iraqi people from tyranny. It has become such a nightmare when compared to our previous diplomatic gains under Clinton, internationally speaking. A kind of “shoot first, ask questions later” aspect can be applied to our mouths these days as well as our Cowboy mentality.

    I think that is the major flaw in our “national character”….we’re just so darn sure about our ideas and principles and values that we come across as rigid and stubborn (and arrogant). Best characterized by Bush’s famous “You’re either with us or against us” statement. And we fail to learn from past mistakes….or to see the value in learning from previous generations and other countries experiences… our impact on global events. Sometimes there seems to be a disconnection between heart and head….often with disasterous consequences. Passionate claims of treason and bitter rivalry in our Senate and House. A secretive President and executive branch that tries to behave “above” the law…for the sake of “national security”.

    But there are people that want to bring the two sides of this country together…the bi-partisan approach, the moderate approach. (And renewing our standing in the international community is paramount). Personally, it is very distressing for me to think of my country as divided so severely along the “cultural divide”….the reds and the blues, the left and the right. With 2008 just around the corner and so many presidential candidates to choose from, it makes it difficult to take the time to really tease out their differences and perspectives…other than Party Line: Democrats v Republicans. Wish me luck. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

  • avatar

    Rohit Sidhu

    That’s the problem with capitalism, corporations control government. But in communism the government is the corporation.
    Both are seemingly perfect in theory:
    Capitalism : To promote individual business, to create competition to improve quality and standard of life. Ends up with one or a few company on top with a monopoly and super high prices that could be dirt cheap if there was actual competition.
    Communism: To create equality among the people, same pay, choice of job, massing of product by single entity resulting in lower quality product.

    What I think would be perfect would be a balance of the two. Implement some aspects of capitalism into communism, and make a way so that their is no chance for dishounesty, because that’s what gets us in the end, human nature (desire for power, money etc), greed, envy.
    For example look at Norway, they have an amazing government, leaning towards communism, but not completely.

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