During the Cold War Americans were very eager to say they were free and this was the free world. Since the end of the Cold War that obsession has not been the same. But we all want America to be free. Much of the reason that the memory of slavery in America has so much power as an image for Americans is that Americans prize freedom. Both the Americans fighting in the American Revolution and those fighting on both sides of the Civil War felt largely that they were fighting for their freedom. But we also feel and have concerns about our freedom being diminished. When there are huge prisons, huge numbers of students more hled in school than eager to be there, huge barriers to starting a small business or saving the family farm — people feel less free. When there are no signs of vast new projects that will create new opportunities and preserve a future people feel less free in American terms. I have written about costly and risky things that could be done to create a freer future here and here.
But we still send people out to fight for our freedom and we want to believe they are really preserving some. I think there is no doubt most people should be grateful to anyone who keeps their country from being invaded and makes it a hard target. But freedom from foreign invasion is not enough for most of us.
Obviously there is still some freedom in the United States of America. I am able to write this blog and put it onto the internet. The voting booths are still operating in the good old USA. A variety of houses of worship operate regularly with little interference from the government and I have a gun I don’t have to inform an official about in order to use or move it. But this post is about the advancing threats to and restrictions of freedom in ways which can and may be significant. Freedom is very important to Americans for a number of good reasons.
American identity has always evolved and transformed itself over time. In that way it is like all living and active traditions. But there have been some themes that have been continuous and sustained for much of our nation’s journey through history. People sacrificed a great deal as they left Europe to coe tom North America. There were some who came to North America from Africa, the Caribbean and Central America wherever they may have traced their ancestry but the story behind the founding of this country and its development was and is the story of the migrations from the Continent of Europe and the British Isles to what is now the United States, Canada, Mexico and a few islands of the Caribbean. These people had complex interactions with the peoples who were here and the cultures which developed from those interaction and from complicated interactions between various colonies began to create the framework of a distinct history for this land. Mixed in with these influences came the populations of African slaves and then various migrations of slaves, freedmen and freedwomen and who had various mixtures of genetic and cultural background and tied the various colonies together and in time came to significantly divide some societies evolved from colonies the ones from the others on questions of race and slavery
In this context the self determination of polities, communities, families and individuals developed into a highly prized objective. Americans were deprived of many of the riches of the old world and did not always handle the riches of the new one in a way they themselves could feel entirely good about but they felt the richness of the complex ways and varied choices related to their developing an independent and promising future. It is not entirely clear what was going on in North America before the year 1000 A.D. But we do have a pretty good idea of what happened during historical times. From 1492 there was a vast area of challenging wildernesses, abundant natural resources and small population groups linked by rather vast transportation networks. One of the traits that was shared by many of the people of North America north of the kingdoms and empires of Mexico was the fact that many of them consisted of people who could and did maintain a society where people could leave and join another band where captives enslaved after warfare could rise to prominence in their new tribes if they first secured their liberty. Many groups were practitioners of conciliar forms of government in which people could and did opt out of the community if the regime in power was deemed unbearable. this was a very different mirror than European colonists found in their neighbors in Goa, India or Macao or Hong Kong. It was different that the European experience with invaders from Islamic North Africa or the Middle East. Nor can it really be compared all that well to the Australian experience. The Australian Aborigines had been there for a long time but they still felt like strangers in their ancient land and although they had transformed it they had been through a unique human experience. For Australia really is alien and the Australia that the people th Europeans met had colonized was the most alien environment people have colonized so far. Mesa Verde, the birch bark canoes, the totem poles, the pueblos, the wampum, the burial mounds shaped like animals, the ruins at poverty point, and even ruins of ancient trading posts from abroad met the European colonists of these lands although some were not well reported even those formed a whispering world of the American possibility and inspired ideas of a different possible society built on skills they knew. We are still struggling to see what will come of those societies The linguistic, technical and economic diversity among groups of North American Aboriginal Peoples known as Indians or Native Americans was not achieved in Australia and the strangeness and distance of Australia itself made it more foreign than North America ever was and in ways that North America never was Europe an North America had in some very ancient past been part of the same super-continent. In that ancient era of super-continents Australia was part of the same very different continent as Antarctica. The whole biology of the place was a kind of alien reality. Those in the early colonies found a great deal in the Americas that they could easily confuse with Europe and children born in the colonies replaced the plants and animals found in the Bibles, poetry and traditional rituals with those nearby whether European imports or their relatively close American cousins. So the bridge was close.
American governments, business and leaders have a special historical obligation to seek out opportunities and preserve freedom of opportunity. This is not just any place this is America and people here lack many things for which their ancestors gained a freedom of opportunity. We feel a totalitarian jackboot when our liberties are curtailed because we have already paid a great deal in the lack of institutions that existed int he world we left behind. It has gotten to the point that nobody can discuss this cost in any public forum. All our myths go against the idea of a cost of being American. But a real free future will have to deal with all of those costs and see that the future holds rewards specific to our situation here…. That will mean teaching history well and being aware of the complexities of our history. It will mean having some sense of the realities I discussed in the last few paragraphs.
Over time with public education, newspapers, the telegraph and a large military we began to achieve an American origin story which was much simpler and more understandable than the complex realities I have alluded to so far. This narrative in turn has become the battlefield of ideas throughout most of my life and the life of my parents and grandparents.How has the recent set of trends in American society since World War II interfaced with the larger framing principles and influences which have shaped America as a land of people who saw the development of society always as measured largely within the context of human freedom as a very important and much desired treasure. We are still a country with a great deal of complex cultural heritage and those realities still shape our lives.
Today we face the future of the country in a state of relative confusion about what our identity is and should be. My Facebook friend and recently retired Commander-in-Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has recorded an interview here which responds to some of the recent controversy related to the Confederate flags and other symbols. There is a lot of reason to fear the energies currently loosed upon the Confederate heritage, legacy and institutions of the United States as it currently exists. But that is not the primary focus of this blog post. I want to put the confederate crisis of the moment in a larger context of American history and culture.
I have been blogging about what has been going on in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. You can read those posts here, here and here. America has responded to the images of Roof with the Confederate Flag by seeking to renounce a lot of Confederate Imagery. I have in the past written about a number of subjects through the lens of my own Confederate Heritage here, here and here in this blog. I have also sprinkled other references throughout the blog and elsewhere.
But the loss of the Confederate perspective is not the only loss. There is a great deal that is lost which the American right opposes all efforts to preserve in its opposition to multiculturalism and the Left handles by coming up with a kind of multiculturalism that does not allow for the cultural history and momentum of this society to work its way into the future.
America has to be true to who were are in a variety of ways that we are different from one another as well as in the ways in which we are all one people. The path to a future worth having is never easy for any society and it will not be easy for us.
Bobby Jindal the Governor of Louisiana has announced that he is running for President of the United States of America. I wonder if he will win. He did some good things and some bad things . I have met the man and he makes a good impression over all but I cannot ever forgive him for using tht office for monolingualist purposes and his piggish insensitivity and stupidity as regards French and Spanish linguistic history. Conservative talk radio and many other founts of information are full of nonsense about how societies have never endured that were multilingual. But the level of nonsense that pervades our society on all sides is a very high level. There is far too much to address properly here in this post.
However, beyond abolishing a competing view of the reality of how our country was meant to be in the Confederate tradition, and abolishing the linguistic heritage to replace it with very truncated English and besides the fighting of our whole political struggle on a simplified official history — are we losing our freedom?
America has little to connect the Constitution to the way that much of government operates. I have discussed some of those problems here, here and here. However, the problems relate to the way laws apply through regulators and officials and courts not operating as the Constitution envisioned. Then there is a reality that craftsmen, free markets like the bazaars, fairs and mercados of much of the world can scarcely exist in much of the United States. The freedom to find a meaningful and sustainable life would have been hard to preserve and I have written a lot about how that might be done. But I do believe we could get closer than we are getting these days for many Americans.
We have to move forward in our lives. We have to live in a changing world. We have to secure a national identity. But I believe real freedom must also be rooted in our past and dynamically connected to it. We must find the future which offers American freedom a chance to survive. There will be a lot of challenges along the way. All of them will be demanding. But unless the freedom is a freedom of life and substance Americans will rightly feel particularly cheated and pained.