What is freedom?
As a US resident since just mid-April, perhaps no better day than July 4th to pose this question.
As a British citizen, born in London towards the end of WWII, I am well aware that Britain has had a long tradition of ‘owning’ colonies. In 1770 explorer James Cook charted the East coast of Australia and returned to Britain recommending colonisation in the area that became known as Botany Bay, now part of Sydney. Britain’s response was to set up a penal colony in 1778.
In 1617 the British East India Company was given permission by an Indian rajah to trade in India. Via lots of convolutions that I don’t understand, that led to the British Crown taking over in 1857.
So far as America is concerned, the British ended up with 13 colonies along the Eastern seaboard during the period 1607 to 1733. Then we had the British West Indies and Canada and …… well, you get the message!
Wikipedia has a summary of the US independence timetable,
During the American Revolution, the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. After voting for independence, Congress turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision, which had been prepared by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author. Congress debated and revised the Declaration, finally approving it on July 4. A day earlier, John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Adams’s prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated independence on July 4, the date shown on the much-publicized Declaration of Independence, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was approved in a closed session of Congress.
Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States of America. As one of the founding fathers, Jefferson envisioned America as an “Empire of Liberty”.
So it came to pass that Independence Day is annually celebrated on July 4. The celebrations have deep roots in the American tradition of political freedom.
Reflect then on that notion of liberty and freedom as you watch the first episode from a most compelling series from Adam Curtis that was broadcast by the BBC in 2007. The series is called The Trap, the first programme entitled ”F**k You Buddy” (11 March 2007)
Individual freedom is the dream of our age. It’s what our leaders promise to give us, it defines how we think of ourselves and, repeatedly, we have gone to war to impose freedom around the world. But if you step back and look at what freedom actually means for us today, it’s a strange and limited kind of freedom.
Politicians promised to liberate us from the old dead hand of bureaucracy, but they have created an evermore controlling system of social management, driven by targets and numbers. Governments committed to freedom of choice have presided over a rise in inequality and a dramatic collapse in social mobility. And abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attempt to enforce freedom has led to bloody mayhem and the rise of an authoritarian anti-democratic Islamism. This, in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain. In response, the Government has dismantled long-standing laws designed to protect our freedom.
The Trap is a series of three films by Bafta-winning producer Adam Curtis that explains the origins of our contemporary, narrow idea of freedom. It shows how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today’s idea of freedom. This model was derived from ideas and techniques developed by nuclear strategists during the Cold War to control the behavior of the Soviet enemy.
Part Two of this article is being published on the 7th, next Thursday, and Part Three next Monday, the 11th.