Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Defining Freedom

¡Hola! Everybody...
When I got my life back, school was a huge part of that process. I always associate the beginning of the school year with new beginnings, change, fresh-faced children trooping back to schools. I commend our president in wanting to inspire young children to educate themselves, to stay in schools, and achieve. I associate education with freedom, which brings me to my post today.

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-=[ Freedom & its Discontents ]=-

Whose freedom?

-- George Lakoff

The history of the last 1000 years, indeed the history of humankind, has been, in a very real way, the history of the struggle to define the word “freedom.”

Throughout much of history, in civilizations across the world, people have been ruled by the strong and lorded over by those simply born into power and privilege. Up until relatively recently few even questioned the divine right of rulers. Fewer still, challenged the idea that it was the place of the people to obey. Yet throughout history, the great thinkers had contemplated humankind’s ugly tendency to give in to its worst impulses of greed, fear, violence, and lust for power, and by the 1800s, this intellectual tradition had left its mark on the Western world.

Furthermore, advances in science and mathematics were changing the way educated people looked at the universe and were bringing a new understanding and respect for the laws of nature and the power of human reason. Centuries of political and religious turmoil in Europe inspired new ideas about the best ways for human beings to live together in peace, in the process rejecting the now antiquated notion that an invisible old and angry white dude with a beard preordained civilization and its structures.

I’ve just described about 600 years of the evolution of the definition of freedom in two paragraphs (not really, but close! LOL!). Missing from this all too brief description are some important points and nuances. One point in particular needs a little more treatment. in the 1200s, some powerful gang leaders (actually, “feudal lords” but same shit) confronted King John of England. They owned much of the economic wealth and basically told the king that if he wanted to continue to acting like a king he would have to sign a document they had drawn up called the Magna Carta. It guaranteed that before the king could imprison one of them he would have to show probable cause, attested to by witnesses, and sworn testimony, that the person had committed a crime (we’ve all watched Law & Order, right?). This is a right known as habeas corpus.

For four hundred years, the right of habeas corpus extended only to the British nobility, but shit started hitting the fan in the 1600s and it was then extended to gang members such as the more “commoner” knights and to a few others. Otherwise, you were shit out of luck -- no habeas corpus for the rabble.

However, the Enlightenment era of the 17th and 18th centuries brought about a new concept of freedom that took root. John Locke, for example, held that all men are created equal, with natural born rights to life, liberty, and property, and that these rights are always in jeopardy unless people compromise their absolute freedom and form law-abiding governments under which to live. Government, it follows, then, is legitimate only if it is by the consent of the majority of the people, and its power must not be absolute. Government must be limited to powers that the people have given it and that serve the public good.

We take these concepts for granted these days but at that time, Locke’s ideas were considered so radical that Locke, fearing for his life, never admitted he was their author until shortly before his death. In the American colonies, those ideas helped start a revolution...

With its opening phrase, We the people, our Constitution boldly proclaimed that the source of all government is from the people, and only the people. Well, some people, but that’s another discussion altogether, and I’m nearing the end of my 1-1/2 page Word document limit. The definition of “freedom” evolved between the 13th and 20th centuries, but it was mostly grounded in the notion that much of freedom had to do with individuals being free from harassment or imprisonment by government, or by exploitation by powerful groups or individuals. With the large-scale industrialization of the 19th century, another form of freedom took hold. Historically, a minority held wealth and one dimension of freedom was at least the ideal of protection of the average person from exploitation by those of great wealth.

However, with the 20th century came the development of some rather weird concepts of freedom. One such aberration -- fascism -- arose in Spain, Germany, and Italy in the early 1930s. In a fascist state, the right of property was absolute. While fascism was active in providing for the needs of the people, the reins of government was controlled by economic elites. Fascism has been defined as “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.” Fascism promised freedom through a strong control of the average person, with a core governing concept that the business elite of a nation was far more qualified to run the country than were mere “people.”

Benito Mussolini, for example, spelled all this out in his treatise titled, “The Doctrine of Fascism.” He plotted out a government, not by and of the people, but a government for the most powerful corporate interests in the nation.

In 1938, Mussolini manifested his vision of fascism when he dissolved Parliament and replaced it with the Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazoni -- the chamber of Fascist Corporations. Corporations were still privately owned, but now instead of having to sneak their money to politicians on the sly, they were openly in charge of government and could write their own legislation.

Next: I’ll answer the question, “What the Hell does All this have to do with Kansas, Eddie?”




  1. Benito Mussolini, for example, spelled all this out in his treatise titled, “The Doctrine of Fascism.” He plotted out a government, not by and of the people, but a government for the most powerful corporate interests in the nation. ~ This is great and it's the reason most progressives called The Shrub a fucking facist.

    But it shouldn't work for Obama's administration..except that lately I kinda wonder about his motives on some fronts..

  2. @Dusty: I guess it's not hard to see where I'm headed. LOL I'm going a little further and looking at what I feel are the underpinnings of the modern neoconservative movement. For that, we have to go back 35-40 years....


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