Leave the United States (Redux)
An earlier blog post Leave the United States if you can" in which I urge people to move their persons and wealth out of America has stirred controversy and prompted email inquiries. I want to answer one inquiry in a public manner: namely, “why have you become so pessimistic.”
By nature, I am not a pessimist. Nor am I currently pessimistic about my own life or the prospect of freedom in other areas of the world. But I see little reason for any optimism about freedom or prosperity within the US over the next several years; instead, I see the rise of a totalitarianism that is unparalleled in my experience. I know many people think nothing has fundamentally changed State-side; they believe the economy or society is just going through a bad patch. Perhaps people feel this way because they wake up every morning at the same time beside the same person, they eat a customary breakfast with coffee the way they like it and, then, drive well-known roads to work. Thus, life may be more stressful but it is basically unchanged, and anyone who warns them that a slow car accident is heading their way is an alarmist.
By contrast, I believe the United States has fundamentally changed since 9/11. Although many people’s lives follow the same routine as last year and the year before, I believe the political, economic and social framework that allowed Americans to be the freest and richest people in the world is now gone.
Here I must make a distinction between America and Americans. America to me is not geographical boundaries but a nation built (as much as I have ever known) along the principles of individual liberty and the celebration of productivity. I always resonated to Ayn Rand’s statement that she was more American than those born within US borders because she chose to be American. I am Canadian but I have chosen to make a lifelong study of American history and politics because it is fascinating and sometimes an expression of what I consider “the ideal”…or as close to it as flawed and self-contradictory human beings can come. When I say “America”, I mean the specific institutions (e.g. the Bill of Rights) which established a civil society sanspareils and protected the individual – largely against the State.
What do I mean by Americans? De Tocqueville described the American character superbly in Democracy in America, including the characteristic that later became known as rugged individualism. But why did Americans develop these characteristics more often and in a more heightened form than the French or Spanish? The answer can’t be genetic because there is no genetic American (I leave aside the issue of Indians); I don’t think it is cultural because (especially in de Tocqueville’s time) the U.S. was a patchwork of cultures and far less cohesive. I believe the American character arose as a result of breathing in the freedom, safety and confidence that true civil society offers to individuals. Rugged individualism arose largely due to the institutional structure of society in which people bowed their heads to no ruler and were expected to come to their own conclusions about their own lives.
I don’t think that structure still exists. The institutions that were the framework in which individualism flourished have been so discarded or distorted as to be unrecognizable. The justice system has no connection to justice. Police agencies do the opposite of protecting you from violence. Public schools do not teach how to think but how to obey. ‘Defense’ agencies are obsessed with conquering and occupation a nation that never attacked America. Ask yourself…if institutional frameworks like the Bill of Rights gave rise to rugged individualism, what sort of person results from the institutions of Big Brother government?
Is rugged individualism dead? I don’t think so. I see it whenever I look at the areas/issues where the fight for freedom is still raging – for example, the gun rights movement. But it has ceased to be a defining or prevalent characteristic in the American psyche or politics. Is the Bill of Rights dead? Of course not; in its essence, the Bill of Rights is a set of ideas/ideals that existed long before a piece of paper was signed; the continuing existence of those ideals does not depend upon any document.
Moreover, institutions and civil society can be rebuilt. This has happened repeatedly throughout history and around the globe.
But it will not happen in the midst of an economic crisis such as the one into which the United States is just starting to slide. Economic crisis, as much as War, is the health of the State. I don’t think the rebuilding of American freedom will occur with much effect for years. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying…liberty v. power is the best fight in town and one to which I committed long ago. But I'm also going to tell the truth as I see it vis-a-vis the odds of success...all the while being very grateful that the United States is only one of many, many places in the world. Just as ideals do not depend on pieces of paper, freedom has no natural native soil.
comments powered by Disqus
Nicole Paluszek - 8/15/2008
Can anybody suggest any countries to move to? Is there anywhere left on earth that hasn't gone Orwellian yet, where you are truly left alone to follow your bliss?
Allan Walstad - 8/9/2008
Well, Jeff, I've lived my 61 years here in the US and I'm damned concerned about the direction this country is taking, especially since 9/11. If there were some remaining big bastion of liberty, as the US itself once was, more or less, then I'd be thinking about moving, especially if I had children who I hoped would live free. But as it is, there are only some scattered locales, freer in some ways for the time being, in which to hole up. So I guess I'm with Jim Davidson's response in Wendy's earlier post--stay and fight. As long as democratic institutions remain viable, "fight" means political and social action for me.
Jeff Riggenbach - 8/6/2008
"I know many people think nothing has fundamentally changed State-side; they believe the economy or society is just going through a bad patch. Perhaps people feel this way because they wake up every morning at the same time beside the same person, they eat a customary breakfast with coffee the way they like it and, then, drive well-known roads to work."
Yawn. Or perhaps people feel this way, because, unlike you, they actually live in the United States and know something about the way things are there.
- Did a historian who said he’s a victim of McCarthyism get the story wrong?
- Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.
- How Does It Feel To Have One’s Work as a Historian Cited by the Supreme Court? Cool. Very Cool. Thank You Very Much.
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing