Thursday, December 28, 2006

Americanism Stresses Individual Freedom

I've been reading some of the writing of C.B. Macpherson a Canadian political theorist. He is a very clear and logical writer and a pleasure to read. In 1962 he published a book called The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. As so many writers do, he saw an emphasis upon individual freedom as central to Western liberal thought. However, he saw two different concepts of individualism: 1) where the individual wishes to be free to pursue satisfaction of needs, utility; 2) where individual freedom is seen as central because it allows the individual to develop and express all his human capacities to the fullest extent he desires. The first notion seems to characterize the nature of America and its emphasis upon consuming. The second is a broader and fuller notion of individual freedom allowing the individual to pursue whatever talents he possesses for any goals he chooses. However, the latter notion also requires that the individual have access to the means of development and expression and, although there is much lip service paid to "equality of opportunity" in America, an honest look shows that true equality of opportunity or anything approaching it does not exist because some of our citizens begin life with many resources while others begin life with little but the bear necessities. "Equality of opportunity" is a myth unless all Americans start out with at least a solid beginning and have available to them the resources necessary to developing themselves through education or other such endeavors.

Whenever equality comes up right-wingers immediately erect the straw man of differences in biologically based characteristics to argue that complete equality is not possible. Most people are fully aware that 'complete equality', whatever that might mean, is not possible and do not advocate any such foolishness. However, 'equality of opportunity' is quite another matter and to be meaningful would have to accord basic resources and opportunities for developing one's human potential.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Or, as Franklin Roosevelt put it in his 1936 speech at the democratic convention:

"Throughout the Nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.

An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living-a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor-other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.

The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the Government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the Government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the Government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.

Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place."