The idea of freedom is a contested concept at the core of the American ethos.
In the video that announced his reelection bid for 2024 -- titled 'Freedom,' President Biden outlined his vision and declared:
MAGA extremists around the country are taking on fundamental freedoms. They're cutting Social Security, which you have paid for all your life, and cutting taxes for the wealthy. They're also dictating the health care choices that women can make. They're banning books, telling people what they can read, and telling them who they can be with.
Biden asked viewers: 'The question that we face is whether we will enjoy more or less freedom in the future. More rights or less?' Biden added:
Each generation of Americans will have to defend the democracy. Stand up for your personal freedom. Stand up for our civil rights and the right to vote. This is our time.
The 2024 elections show every sign that they will become a partisan struggle to claim ownership over the ideal of liberty, with both sides determined to convince voters that the assertions of the opposition are not only false but also a threat to the rights of individuals and groups.
Freedom is a concept that has many meanings, some of which are conflicting. Since centuries, the debate has been raging over the boundaries between freedom, democracy, liberty, rights autonomy, responsibility, fairness, justice and citizenship. But, the recent liberation movements, including the gay, lesbian, civil and women's rights, have intensified the debate.
Gov. In stark contrast to Biden's views, Gov. In his book'The Courage to Be Free', Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, warns in "The Courage to Be Free" -- published in February -- that 'the danger to freedom isn't limited to governments but includes a number of aggressive, powerful organizations hell-bent on imposing an agenda on our nation'.
DeSantis claims that the enemies of freedom are "entrenched elites" who have 'driven our nation to the ground'. These elites 'control federal bureaucracy and lobby shops on K Street as well as corporate media, Big Tech firms, universities, and corporate media.
DeSantis claims that these privileged few 'use undemocratic methods to force everything from environmental, Social, and Governance (E.S.G. ) DeSantis argues that these privileged few 'use undemocratic means to force everything from environmental, social, and governance (E.S.G.) policies on corporations.
The debate is part of a broader context, as famously described in Isaiah Berlin's 1958 Oxford University address entitled "Two Concepts of Liberty":
When I am prevented from doing something I would normally do, then I am in that degree not free. If this area is contracted out by men above a certain level, then I can be called coerced or, perhaps, enslaved.
Positive freedom, Berlin continued,
The desire to be one's own master is what drives the desire for independence. I want to be the master of my own life and make all decisions. I want to be the instrument for my own will, and not that of others. I want to be the subject and not an object.
Jefferson Cowie is a Vanderbilt history professor who captured the intensity of the divisions over freedom in the Civil Rights Movement with his book Freedom's Dominion, A Saga of White Resistance To Federal Power. This week, it won the Pulitzer Prize.
Cowie wrote the following: "George Wallace's inaugural address, 'Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow and Segregation Forever', was delivered on January 14, 1963.
Wallace invoked 'freedom 25 times, more than Martin Luther King Jr. did in his I Have a Dream speech at the March on Washington later that same year. Wallace said, 'Let's rise to the call that freedom-lovingblood is in us and send our response to the tyranny which clanks its chain on the South.
Wallace's right to segregation, then, was a form freedom.
The contrast between George Wallace's notions of liberty and those of the Rev. The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is still polarizing the country today.
Rogers M. Smith is a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote me an email in response my question about the battle for freedom.
Biden is a part of the liberal tradition that dates back to F.D.R. Biden is a part of the liberal tradition that dates back to F.D.R.
Ronald Reagan, said Smith, "thought freedom was being free from government interference in the lives of people, whether it be through regulation or assistance." He believed in freedom, as self-government.
Smith argued that freedom was more restricted and constrained for Trump and DeSantis. These two:
Freedom is having government policies that protect their preferred ways of living against those who don't. They have the most narrow definition of freedom: it's a justification for governmental coercion, or in Trump's instance, private violence against those they perceive as threatening their preferred way of life. They are in favor of democracy, but only if it brings about the desired results.
Jack Citrin is a Berkeley political scientist who pointed out that different freedoms can impact on each other and create winners and losers.
Negative freedom is the absence of external constraints, primarily from the government. It is the predominant idea in the Bill of Rights, according to me. It is closely linked to individualism, libertarianism and other values. On the left, I'm free to change my sexual orientation or have an abortion. Positive liberty is the freedom to take action to achieve collective good. It's easy to see how there could be tension between these two.
This term is flexible, allowing competing parties to claim their own version of freedom. Biden portrays Trump as a danger to the freedom of an abortion or voting; Trump says that the deep state threatens your legal or privacy rights. The freedom of one group can also constrain the freedom of another.
Conor Friedersdorf's article titled'Ron DeSantis’s Orwellian Redefinition Of Freedom'was published in The Atlantic on April 29. The essay's title suggests that it is a broad-ranging criticism of policies implemented by the DeSantis government in Florida.
Friedersdorf quoted a recent DeSantis address: 'I do not think you are a free state because you have low tax, low regulation and no Covid restriction, if you allow the left to impose their agenda on the education system, the business sector, or any other area.' Friedersdorf said that a free state is one where you protect your people against the left's pathologies on all fronts. He would call it an anti-woken nanny state and not a place which values freedom.
Friedersdorf's criticism is not limited to the conservative Governor and very likely Presidential candidate. He points out that his state, California, a Democratic bastion in the United States, was also criticized.
We are burdened with high housing costs and homelessness because we lack the freedom to build new dwellings. Kids from poor families are forced to attend failing schools because of our lack of educational freedom. Taxes that are higher than average do not translate into better public services and assistance. California's response to the coronavirus outbreak was far from a haven of sanity. It included a lot unscientific overzealousness.
In reality, neither the right nor the left has a clean hand on the issue of freedom.
DeSantis and other conservative Republicans, such as DeSantis and others, have restricted the teaching of race and sex to students in public schools. They have also banned books from public libraries and barred localities from passing ordinances regarding minimum wage, paid leave, firearms policies, plastic bags, marijuana decriminalization and plastic bag policy.
Although not the same, students and professors on the left have been leading in their efforts to "cancel" professors who do not adhere to progressive orthodoxy. They also disrupt conservative speakers at campuses and try to ban or restrict teaching materials that are harmful or hurtful to marginalized groups.
Isabel V. Sawhill is a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. She suggested in an email Biden and the Democratic Party were well-positioned to claim the mantle of freedom:
This focus is not only warranted, but it also has great appeal. First, there is the fight over abortion rights. Second, the Republicans' new attitude toward business.
She added that she believes that abortion is a fundamental human right.
We had reached a compromise before the Dobbs ruling: we would not allow abortions or limit them after 24 weeks, when fetal viability is achieved. The six-week abortion limit now in Florida and Georgia is a complete violation of the rights women.
DeSantis’s attack on Disney, and other so-called "woke" companies is beginning undermine the party’s reputation.
She concluded that "when Democrats talk about liberty, it's more than just rhetoric." The message is not just rhetoric.
Francis Fukuyama is a senior fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He argues that threats to freedom coming from the right are much more dangerous than from the left.
In his essay "When Conservatives Used to Be Liberals" he claims that historically American conservatives were different from their European counterparts because of 'their focus on individual freedom, a smaller state, property rights, and a vibrant private sector. He continued that these principles 'defined Ronald Reagan's Republican Party, which sought lower taxes, deregulation and federalism, as well as multiple limitations on state power.
Fukuyama writes that the rise of Trumpist populism has rewritten this understanding of conservatism.
The result is that 'American conservatism now sounds more like the older Europeans,' those older Europeans 'like Spain’s Francisco Franco or Portugal’s Antonio Salazar' who were pleased to see their country’s democracy completely abolished.
Fukuyama has acknowledged this.
The woke left has a lot to criticize, but the new conservatives are not just talking about rollingback specific policies. They are also challenging the liberal state's very premises and playing with authoritarianism. The woke left is not just deluded with lies about 2020, they are willing to accept nondemocratic results to get what they want.
Fukuyama wonders how such a situation could have occurred in the history of America during this time period.
The new illiberal conservatism talks about an "existential" crisis in American society: the United States, as it is traditionally understood, will disappear under the pressure of the woke Left which justifies extreme measures to respond.
In fact, Fukuyama counters:
In 2023, it's hard to recall a time in which the United States was more free. The woke left is only a problem in a few sectors of American society, such as universities, Hollywood and other cultural spaces. It only affects certain issues relating to race, ethnicity and gender. These spaces can be terrible, but the majority of Americans do not live there.
Fukuyama's right to cite the right's exaggerated fear of the "woke" political agenda as a justification for authoritarian attacks on democracy. But he underestimates what many voters see as the detrimental consequences of the unrestrained liberal excesses that threaten freedom.
There are progressive policies which support the release without bail of violent criminals; progressive prosecutors refuse to pursue gun cases; homeless camps and open drug deals on the streets of Democratic cities.
Many voters feel that these policies and situations violate their freedom to live in a secure and safe environment, free from crime, disease, and harassment.
Homelessness is the topic of a continuing debate about the meaning of freedom. This debate is taking place in New York City, where Mayor Eric Adams sparked angry protests before a passenger of the F train killed a homeless man named Jordan Neely on May 1, by placing him in a chokehold. His call to "involuntarily hospitalize" people who are dangerous to themselves sparked anger.
Homeless advocates in city centers across the nation argue that homeless people should be allowed live and camp on public land, while others say that the state must be able to shut down camps that are a threat to public health and sanitation.
William Galston is a senior Fellow at Brookings who argues, in a 2005 article titled "Taking Liberty," that "for most of the 20th Century, progressives led the way in defining freedom as well as advancing its boundaries."
Teddy Roosevelt expanded 'the 19th-century laissez faire conception of freedom' to include workers' and entrepreneurs' liberties to advance in the world. From F.D.R.'s redefinition to include social protection against the ills caused by want and fear, to the Rev. Galston argues that the liberals were successful in their argument that civil and political rights should be available to all Americans.