03 March 2011

American Liberty

"Perchance, when, in the course of ages, American liberty has become a fiction of the past,--as it is to some extent a fiction of the present,--the poets of the world will be inspired by American mythology." HDT

"And in this country one sees that there is always margin enough in the statute for a liberal judge to read one way and a servile judge another."

[I'll admit to a slight grin as I typed "servile judge".]

It was not until 1828 that Dissenters gained legal equality in matters of religion and education in England. Hazlitt, in 1818, wrote the following eloquent praise of his coreligionists, the sectaries--the men and women who embodied what Edmund Burke had called "the dissidence of dissent and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion." The nonconformists, Hazlitt wrote, "are the steadiest supporters of [England's] liberties and laws, they are the checks and barriers against the insidious or avowed encroachments of arbitrary power: and they are depositaries of the love of truth." Dissent or religious individualism was always more a state of mind than a doctrine, and it was opposed to the Establishment...[emphasis added]
--Harold Bloom, The Visionary Company

"The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Handle With Care", Esquire Magazine (March 1936).

I would like to think one might be able to conceptualize "individualism" in two distinct ways, both of which seem readily applicable to what we think of as "mine".

1) Property
2) Liberty

You can see how these two "ideas" are difficult to hold in the mind at the same time. And perhaps we are coming to what seems like a clear rift in our national consciousness in consequence of these ideas "coming apart" in our minds.

Let's define the terms:

1) ownership; right of possession, enjoyment, or disposal of anything, especially of something tangible

2) freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.

We are a nation beholden to propertied interests--and that includes our own if we are owners or debtors--houses, cars, land, etc., yet we are a nation whose mythology is one where Liberty is a central tenet.

It turns out, though, that Liberty is only an abstraction (a powerful one to be sure, but most useful for the human drive to creativity); and that Property is regnant in the world at large.

1) Conservative: Possessive: Tradition: Establishment: Servile
2) Liberal: Creative: Subversive: Dissident: Equality

Which do you prefer?

I saw the Sacs & Foxes at the Statehouse on Monday--about 30 in number. Edward Everett addressed them & they replied. One chief said "They had no land to put their words upon, but they were nevertheless true." RWE

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