A long tradition in US thought has emphasized the importance of economic security for ensuring individual liberty. But to truly realize equal freedom for all, we need a socialist politics fighting for democratic control over the economy.
There’s no doubt that individual freedom is fundamental to the American self-conception — as our national anthem has it, the United States is “the land of the free.” Yet despite its obsession with liberty, the United States is in many ways one of the least free countries in the developed world, with highly undemocratic political institutions, a vast carceral state, and a remarkably anti-worker legal regime.
Those facts are in large part the legacy of our “Founding Fathers,” who sought to limit popular rule to protect elite property rights. The free market ideas espoused by the likes of Milton Friedman and other neoliberal ideologues that provided justification for the dismantling of the New Deal order in many ways had their origin in those of America’s founders. Hollowing out the welfare state, weakening trade unions, and defending unrestrained free trade was justified by a vision of individual freedom restricted to a robust defense of the property rights of the wealthy.
On this view, freedom is a matter of people being protected against intrusions on their persons and property by the government, and assuring that people have equal legal rights to participate in the political process. These are by and large the sorts of protections enumerated in the US Bill of Rights, of course, and the later amendments to the Constitution.
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