Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Independence and freedom

I've been thinking about how I'm going to celebrate our country's independence this year, and it's occurred to me that there are really two things going on in that celebration. Back in the 18th century, it wasn't just independence we were after. We wanted independence, sure, independence from the English government, and from a despotic and unstable ruler called George. More than that, though, we wanted freedom. The freedom to govern ourselves, and the personal freedoms for which we give guarantees in our Constitution.

We think of them, of independence and freedom, as going hand in hand, but they don't. It's certainly possible to have independence without what we've come to think of as freedom, as we can see in places like North Korea, Libya, Cuba, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But it's also clear that freedom can be had without independence, and not every territory seeks the latter. As far as I'm aware, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Guam are happy as they are, despite taxation without representation. And a decade ago, Hong Kong went from being governed by the British to being governed by the Chinese, with little attempt at independence from either.

But for us at the end of the 18th century, they did go hand in hand. With one document we declared our independence, and with another — the Constitution — we declared our freedoms. It's those freedoms that I celebrate, on this day and on every day. And it's those freedoms that I do my small part to defend by writing about them and about the abuses that threaten them.

That I think they're especially threatened today, by another despot called George, is no secret, and I've written about that plenty in this space. But that's not what today's post is about; to be completely honest, while the current administration is particularly bad, it's not just the modern King George whence the threats come. Every leader has a tendency to try to push things his or her way, usually at the expense of a freedom or two.

It's why our Constitution defines three branches of government, with checks and balances among them. But it's also why every one of us has to be watchful of our freedoms, why each of us must play a part in the checking and the balancing and in keeping the watchful eye. New citizens take an oath that includes this:

I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic
Those of us who were born here get to be citizens without taking that oath, but we have no less responsibility in that regard.

So today, on the fourth of July, I aim to celebrate not so much our independence, but our freedoms. Join me?

1 comment:

Maggie said...

Very nice idea, Barry. I do think of our freedoms more than our independence when I think of this country, and it seems a more relevant thing to celebrate.