Freedom or socialism? It’s a false dichotomy, Mr Pence

US political leaders love to boast don’t they? Earlier in the week, Mike Pence declared the US to be “the most prosperous and powerful nation in the history of the world”. And what makes America GREAT? Why, it stands for ‘FREEDOM’ (remember to cap those words up in case someone misses them), and not socialism.

Where does one begin with this dumbed-down binary thinking? For a start, it’s worth introducing to Pence the ideas of a truly great American, Eugene Debs. Debs declared: “They tell us that we live in a great free republic; that our institutions are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people. That is too much, even for a joke”. Debs, who ran five times for president as a socialist candidate, the last time from a prison cell, was doubtful that genuine ‘freedom’ could exist under capitalism. “As long as he (the capitalist) owns your tools he owns your job, and if he owns your job, he is the master of your fate. You are in no sense a free man. You are subject to his interest and to his will. He decides whether you shall work or not. Therefore, he decides whether you shall live or die. And in that humiliating position any one who tries to persuade you that you are a free man is guilty of insulting your intelligence.”

And this insulting of our intelligence is still going on.

We hear a lot about ‘freedom to’ in the US, but very little about ‘freedom from’. Freedom from things such as concern over the economic consequences of becoming ill or being involved in an accident. Around 10% of people in “the most prosperous nation in the history of the world” to use the Veep’s own words, have no health insurance. Millions of middle or lower income Americans are just one major illness (or heart attack) away from financial ruin given the lack of a national health service.




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It’s a concern that, at least for the time being, Britons don’t have, thanks to the 1945 Labour government which gave us the NHS.

Think too of how the high crime rate in many US cities impacts negatively on the freedoms of those who simply want to live their life without fear of attack. The positive ‘freedom’ to bear firearms, means a great reduction in freedom in those killed or traumatized in the regular “going postal” mass shootings. Or, as the philosopher Isaiah Berlin would have put it, “freedom to the pike is death for the minnows.”

In any capitalist society (in America or anywhere else) the amount of freedom which any individual has is in direct proportion to the amount of money that they possess. The rich can buy their freedom but the poor and not-so-rich cannot.  

Far from being inimical to freedom, socialism, or at least certain types of socialism, can greatly enhance it, by protecting the minnows from the pikes.

One man who understood this well was the writer and playwright Oscar Wilde. In ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism,’ he argued that it was only under socialism that man could be truly free. Socialism would encourage genuine individualism, one in which people would really be themselves. The individualism created by socialism would, in Wilde’s words, be “unselfish and unaffected.” People would lead “free, beautiful lives.” The alienation that the majority feel under capitalism, a system where we are defined by our economic relationship to each other, and human beings are actually described in terms of how much they are ‘worth’ financially, would disappear.

The US has never experienced socialism, but the nearest it came to it was in the Roosevelt New Deal period and the era following WWII. Interestingly, this was also a time in which crime rates generally fell. Not surprisingly a lot of older Americans look back nostalgically to these times. Yet for ‘freedom crusaders’ Roosevelt was a villain, particularly after his ‘Four Freedoms’ speech of January 1941, in which he listed ‘freedom from want’ and ‘freedom from fear’ alongside ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of worship.’




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FDR was right though. Freedom of speech and freedom of worship are crucially important. But so too are the ‘freedoms from’ and it is these that the likes of Mike Pence won’t acknowledge. Not only does the US fall down on the ‘freedom from want’ and ‘freedom from fear’ stakes, the freedoms it did once score well on, have been eroded. Political correctness, and the role of certain special interest lobby groups, has greatly reduced the parameters of freedom of speech, despite the First Amendment.

The US today languishes in 48th position in the World Press Freedom Index.

How ironic that it was a lack of ‘freedom of speech’ (in the political arena), and media pluralism that communist governments in eastern Europe used to be berated for in the 1970s. Some of these governments were also attacked for having ‘political prisoners.’ The ‘Land of the Free’ would never have those, would it? Fast forward forty years and the US is pressing for the extradition of a journalist who published material which exposed war crimes carried out by the US. If found guilty, that journalist, who is not even American, faces a prison sentence of up to 175 years. In fact, the next time Pence starts to brag about the US standing for ‘FREEDOM’  (in big capital letters), and not socialism, we simply need to respond to him with two words. JULIAN ASSANGE.

Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66 and @MightyMagyar

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