I have had the advantage of spending most of twenty years outside the USA from 1987 until the end of 2005. I still spend half of the year outside of the States, but during the 90s and the first half of the 00s, I only came to the States for a week or two each year. So I saw the transformations that the USA has undergone like a disjointed slide show rather than a continuous movie. Perhaps that is why so many things that the rest of my countrymen accept without question seem alien to me.
For instance, when I left the States to live in South America, most of the cars on the road were used. Shiny new cars made up a small percentage of the vehicles that one saw around town or on the freeway, and then in stagger steps, due to my periodic trips north, I saw the mix of vehicles change. It was very noticeable from my perspective. In steps I saw old cars disappear and ever bigger, ever shinier and more expensive and newer cars outnumbered older, used cars. After a couple more stagger steps there were almost no older, used cars at all.
I thought, what does this mean? Are people really making that much more money? Is this really the age of prosperity for everyone? But I noticed another trend in stagger steps on my periodic short trips back to the land where I was born. My slide show view of America revealed that credit scores had become almost a definition of net worth, or even a definition of personal merit. How and why did credit scores get to be so important all of a sudden? Well, given that the importance of credit scores and the percentage of new cars dovetailed perfectly, the conclusion was pretty obvious: people were not necessarily making any more money, they were just all going into debt, and what mattered to them was their ability to take on even more debt.
From my viewpoint, a number of transformations to the American panorama look very surprising, but the Americans haven’t had my slide show view and don’t seem to notice the changes. One transformation that drives me crazy is the change in number of that essential American word: Freedom. Throughout the history of America, freedom has always been expressed in the singular.
Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.
Mr. Lincoln did not speak of freedoms. He spoke of freedom.
Freedom can be preserved only if it is treated as a supreme principle, which must not be sacrificed for particular advantages.
Mr. Hayek, who certainly understood the topic, did not speak of freedoms. He used the singular.
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.
Perhaps, Mr. Reagan, we didn’t manage to pass freedom on to the next generation because over the last twenty years, freedom has been replaced with freedoms. Freedoms imply something very different than freedom. George Dubya Bush spoke of freedoms almost daily, although he couldn’t pronounce the word very well. When he said it, it came out sounding like freedomsh. So what’s the difference between freedom and freedoms?
Freedom is an overarching state of being. It is a natural God-given right to owe no homage to any man or to any government. Under freedom every man is a king and no man is a king. Under freedom the government fears and obeys the voters, when freedom is in wane, the voters learn to fear and obey the government. Freedom touches and encompasses everything. It applies to our ability to move about the city, state and country. It informs our ability to do business as we wish, where we wish and with whom we wish. Freedom gives us the right to live as we will without having to comply with any codes of conduct. The only caveat to our freedom is that our actions cannot impinge on the freedom of others. As a free man I can do what I will, as long as it does not harm or restrain any of my fellows.
Freedoms, on the other hand, are enumerated rights. Freedoms are granted by the government and each is limited in scope and easily revoked upon the whim of the government. When the President speaks of defending our freedoms, what does he mean? Does he want to defend my natural right to do what I will as long as it doesn’t harm others? Apparently not, because if what I want to do is to smoke a marijuana cigarette, the presidents laws will threaten me with violence and lock me up. If I care to build a restaurant on a second floor balcony over looking the street that does not have an elevator, than the government will close it because I have violated the freedoms of a person who cannot walk up the stairs. Apparently the freedoms of that person trump mine, and the state uses violence or its threat to take away my freedom so that another may decide what I do with my property. That’s not freedom. Its freedoms.
As a country we now exercise one of our freedoms to go and kill people on the other side of the world who never did anything to us and never could. And we are told that defends our freedoms. In order for our freedoms to be properly defended we do have to give up the right to habeus corpus, we also have to give up the right to have private conversations, we have to give up the right to have our property inviolate without a court order. It seems to me that while I was in Chile, Americans traded in their freedom for a short list of freedoms.