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JFenix Post time: 2017-4-20 03:56
Right....but on the very fundamental american values?
“Freedom’s changing face”
Friday, Nov 16, 2007
Historian Eric Foner explores evolving definition of freedom
— By Lori Craig
The definition of “freedom” in America has been evolving since the birth of the nation, historian Eric Foner said at the sixth annual Law and Humanities Distinguished Lecture, presented by the USC Center for Law, History and Culture.
Foner presented a number of meanings and interpretations given to the core American value at the Nov. 8 lecture “The Idea of Freedom in American History, 1776-2007” held at Town and Gown.
“The history of freedom is a tale of debates and disagreements and conflicts and controversies,” said Foner, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. “And the meaning of freedom has been fought out, battled over, at every level of society — from Supreme Court decisions and Congressional debates down to slave plantations, labor picket lines, and even in people’s parlors and bedrooms.”
Foner pointed to several moments in American history when the definition of freedom underwent a change.
The United States was created to be and remains, Foner said, a unique embodiment of liberty — an “asylum for mankind” in Thomas Paine’s words or “an empire of liberty” in Thomas Jefferson’s.
“But, of course, the revolution also revealed this inner contradiction of American freedom … by giving birth to a republic rhetorically founded on liberty but economically resting in large measure on slavery,” Foner said.
Freedom came to be defined more and more by the boundary of race, and slavery essentially shaped the language and idea of freedom. Terms like “wage slavery” and “sex slavery” exist because “slavery” came to embody the notion of a lack of freedom, Foner said.
The modern idea of freedom as unbounded by racial identity was created by the abolitionists, he said, and the end of slavery turned discussions of freedom to economic autonomy and the free market in the industrial age.
“The free person is the person who is able to compete without any restriction in the economic marketplace for personal advancement,” Foner said.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on the other hand, linked liberty to economic security and equality.
Around World War II, there occurred a re-discovery of the Bill of Rights that reinvigorated the idea of freedom as protecting civil liberties, such as the right of dissent and freedom of speech. The fight against the Nazis and their theory of a master race once again put the question of racial justice on the national agenda and freedom in America was said to rest on tolerance and equality, Foner said.
When the Cold War and the USSR replaced Germany as the antithesis of freedom, the socialist idea of “freedom from want” became suspect and the economic definition of freedom again shifted to “free enterprise,” Foner said. He pointed to the famous 1959 kitchen debate between Nixon and Khrushchev as the high — or low — point of the consumerist definition of freedom.
The civil rights movement once again rediscovered freedom as a rallying cry for the dispossessed, notably women, who were the first group to elevate the idea of personal, private freedom into a political freedom, Foner said.
Most recently, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 spurred another turn in the history of freedom.
“The language of freedom again took center stage in our public discourse,” Foner said. “Freedom became the sort of all-purpose explanation for both the attack of Sept. 11 and the ensuing war against terror.
“This notion that the reason for this war is our freedom and that’s why the other side is the enemy of freedom is very powerful and very old, really, in the discourse of American history.”