Mask warrants represent two conflicting ideas of American freedom



Text size

Maybe the whole point of American history is that it’s a work in progress, writes Edward Price.

Getty Images

About the Author: Edouard Price, a former UK economics official, is a non-resident senior researcher at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.

Americans only agree on two things: equality and inequality. All are created equal. Thereafter, anyone can excel.

It’s confusing, but necessary. There are two types of freedom, and Americans enjoy both. The first, freedom of, avoid what is bad. This (equality) is legal protection. The second, freedom To, pursues what is good. It (inequality) is against the rules. They are, if you will, the letter and the spirit of the United States. Collective restrictions alongside individual freedom.

So why does American freedom seem so completely dysfunctional today?

Take the obvious example: face masks. Many Americans believe masks are a protective measure that offers freedom of the new coronavirus. They probably support President Biden. For others, mask warrants violate freedom To decide. They probably preferred President Trump. Both are basically correct. The mask’s mandate is both coercive and beneficial. But there is simply no deal in sight.

Or take the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. Some Americans see guns as a freedom To live freely of fear. They are probably GOP. Others think quite the opposite. Typically liberal, they want freedom To live in freedom of guns, scary objects themselves. Guns are pretty scary (that’s the point). But they are much less so when they are worn by good ones, those who will protect. Let us always remember the visit that the Navy SEALs paid to Osama bin Laden. Again, both sides of the gun debate have good points. No one, however, has an interest in common ground.

Instead, today a group of modern Americans stubbornly insist on freedom of (often Democrats) while others fanatically prefer freedom To (often Republicans). And it’s getting crazy. Where the Americans of the past found objective solutions to their differences – constitutional in 1783, martial in 1861 – modern Americans are just spinning their wheels.

One of the reasons could be the cognitive disruption of social media. Social sites spread tasteless nonsense. In addition, America’s enemies have propagated many disruptive ideas. The Internet is full of less conspiracy theories, which embrace mystery, than explanatory theories, which seek certainty. Another reason is the slow impact of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the economy of odd jobs that followed. People are very fed up with it. Yet another is human nature, or the lazy urge to think one way. Plus the – soon to be endemic – coronavirus pandemic that has made everyone a little crazy. Modernity can really suck.

But what’s interesting is that America’s contemporary partisanship is so inconsistent. In the age of facial recognition technology, one would have thought that American libertarians would welcome the right to cover their faces. Not even a little. Likewise, one would have imagined that the American liberals would perceive the historical links between the great government and the autocracy much more quickly. Nope. Both sides are, in a way, right in their stubborn views. That’s because both have good old-fashioned Americanism on their side. But both sides are wrong, as they are also ignoring key aspects of the same. There is so little imagination. For example, the MAGA crowd, if clear-headed, would surely support minority rights as an analogue of theirs.

Perhaps today’s dysfunction was a long time coming. The two freedoms have, of course, never cooperated in a transparent manner. There was always tension, one as American as Oreo’s infused mint chocolate ice cream. It goes back to the creation of the Republic. If there was to be a new country, it needed effective authority. This was the point of the first federalists. But, if there was to be a purpose for this country, it had to limit that power as well. It was that of the early Republicans. This debate was never quite resolved and, later, good old Abraham Lincoln had to intervene. He protected a central authority, the federal government, in order to destroy another, the Confederation. He did it in the name of freedom. But by applying freedom of create freedom To, Honest Abe stomped on both, for example by hanging habeas corpus. Not just freedom, but defining freedom is complicated.

This mess is good. This country only exists because it refused kings. The English idea of ​​Magna Carta (freedom of) supported the rebellion against Britain and created the emerging United States. But a simply restrictive approach was not enough, and the United States continues to exist only because Americans also pursue their happiness (freedom To). It was a fudge. Witness John Adams pleading for central authority, freedom of, and Thomas Jefferson arguing for personal autonomy, freedom To. The two men spent their lives covering themselves with buckets of warm mud. But the fudge worked in the end. The founders finally compromised and the Union survived all threats.

Or, it must date. Maybe the whole point of American history is that it’s a work in progress, an ongoing attempt to take advantage of both freedoms. And that means there is work to be done. We cannot continue as we are. At the very least, America’s image, its soft power, is at stake in an increasingly competitive global landscape. Or maybe we can continue like this. Perhaps igniting and then exporting this debate will become America’s ultimate influence in the world.

What we can say is that if contemporary Americans persist in choosing That is the freedom that the government offers Where the freedom that individuals seek, they will most likely end up with neither. As Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. This is the danger now. Not so much foreign adversaries threatening Americans abroad as Americans threatening other Americans at home. How very strange, and at the same time very typical, of America.

Guest comments like this are written by authors outside of the Barron’s and MarketWatch newsroom. They reflect the views and opinions of the authors. Submit proposed comments and other comments to [email protected].



Leave A Reply