America did last near 200 years as the land of the free

Which is a pretty good run for a socio-political system.

One of the people I hit it off with was Hoover fellow Jim Mattis, recently a Marine Corps general. He told me about being caught in a bar at the the tender age of 19. He was ready to fess up and go along with the cop but then the cop jabbed Mattis hard in the back with his club. Mattis reacted and decked the cop. He went to jail for 21 days. The next morning in class, I told my students, all of whom are officers in the U.S. military, the Australian military, or the U.S. Coast Guard, the story. One of the students said, “If he did that today, there would be a good chance he’d be shot.” I looked around the room and noticed a number of the students nodding sadly.

19 thoughts on “America did last near 200 years as the land of the free”

  1. This would be a free 200 years which covered slavery, Jim Crow laws, illegality of homosexuality etc etc? And it’s now the place is no longer free?

  2. Be worth asking what it is you’re defining as free.
    Surely you don’t mean freedom to do anything you like? Murder grannies, rape kiddies, rob banks? Can’t say I’ve ever been impressed with the Rawls argument, on another thread, regarding ‘rights’ & their extent. Putting the two participants standing up in a rowboat illustrates why. So one might define ‘freedom’ as the right to behave in a manner doesn’t transgress the consensual behaviour of a society.
    In which case, the incident illustrated & reaction to it marks points along which values of freedom are changing.
    One can see why a society might want to age restrict alcohol & police the restriction. Hence the bar incident. And one can see the friction around the limits of the restriction with a 19 y/o & a heavy handed cop. And the relatively minor outcomes changing to major.
    What’s changed?
    I’d say freedom’s been extended way beyond the consent of the society. The other side of the fear of being shot by the cop is the cop’s fear of what might occur to him. He’s being asked to police limits that many don’t acknowledge apply to them & believe they’re entitled to reject with any force they fancy.
    It’s not a lack of freedom the US may be suffering from but an overdose of freedom to the point where freedom itself becomes a freedom denying force. The end product of total freedom is anarchy & there’s no freedoms to be found living in anarchy.

  3. From our Monkeys who Love Their Cages Dept….

    The end product of total freedom is anarchy & there’s no freedoms to be found living in anarchy.

    Actually, the end-product of anarchy is total freedom.

  4. The end product of total freedom is anarchy & there’s no freedoms to be found living in anarchy.

    Actually, the end-product of anarchy is total freedom.

    Actually, the end product of anarchy is not defined. It’s just the absence of formal government. This might lead to any number of outcomes, ranging from a descent into violent chaos, to a peaceful individualism, to anything in between. It would seem to largely depend on the temperament of the population who give it a go.

    The real question is whether social order is a creation of government, or whether government is a creation of social order. Liberia has a government, but people kill and eat each other and shit in the streets. Botswana has a government, and the people there don’t do either of those things. So the causative link between government and social order seems poor.

    By the by, I was watching a documentary about Liberia yesterday on Youtube, and they visited West Point, a hellish accumulation of human waste, literally. There are no toilets, so the people just shit in the streets and on the beach. In the midst of this pile of turd was a sign, itself spattered with dirt, that said something like “Cleaner Streets Project– funded by the European Union”. Made me smile.

  5. The end product of anarchy is that the guy with the largest private army gets declared king and the entire cycle of civilisation starts again. Anarchy like communism works well on really small scales. Once you end up encountering people you don’t care to share all your worldly goods with it quickly resolves to a question of muscle. This is why us liberals tolerate a government and its monopoly on the administration of both public and private justice – the alternative is worse for a very long time, and sooner or later becomes a government anyway.

    Besides which, I am short of the doubtless thousands of examples of underage drinkers getting shot resisting arrest for being in a bar without ID. If a cop wants you to accompany him to the station, since resisting arrest is generally a crime anyway (and you might at that stage have the option to go along without getting an arrest (and likely conviction for resisting such) on your record) best to comply. If he’s in the wrong, your lawyer can sort it out later.

  6. @IanB, China has a huge and all-pervasive government and people still shit in the streets. I think that kind of thing is more a question of social mores. They don’t eat each other because the Chinese government is not keen on murder and capable of enforcing the prohibition and punishing murders that do occur; the Liberian government is not.

    Shitting in the street might not conform to my definition of civilisation, but I am not sure there are laws against it even in civilised places where it doesn’t happen.

  7. JamesV-

    I didn’t know that the Chinese shit in the streets. You learn something every day.

    As to government prohibitions, I’m not entirely convinced (I should add, I’m not an anarchist either). In situations in whch the people en masse indulge in something like murder, or indeed shitting in the streets, government seems to be rather powerless. South Africa, American ghetto gang culture, and so on. It seems to me that the reason the murder (and street shitting) rate in Britain is low is that most people don’t want to do either of them. The law against murder seems to just articulate that, rather than being the cause of it.

  8. When a tribe becomes a nation then that is good for business. When ideology become more important than business -things fall apart.
    What is good for business is good.

  9. It’s got to the point where when I read of a cop being shot in the US, I ask myself, “wonder what he did to deserve it?”

  10. @IanB
    The places you’re describing with ineffective governments are, despite what it says on the tin, more free. You are free to shit on the streets & free to enjoy shitty streets. You get shit free streets, not because most people don’t want to shit on the streets. There will always be people who do (outside my London apartment for a start). But because they create a government bans it & a system to enforce the ban.
    Sounds very “Big Brother’ but you are freest in a society bans lots of things but none of those things, over time, are things you wish to do. The “over time” there’s important. You may wish, as a teenager, to drive a fast car & get drunk. As a 36 y/o, after 20 years in a wheelchair following a drunk driving accident your views may differ.

  11. Yeah, I think I made the point about incapable governments. And we do have that pretty much everywhere. There are parts of Philadelphia where the US government isn’t the real government – and you can change territory just by crossing the street.

    Yes, people in China shit in the street. Probably not as much as elsewhere. I’ve only seen first-hand parents letting their infants do it, but come across piles of adult origin. It’s a big enough problem that it’s now a regular complaint in Hong Kong about the mainlanders coming in and urinating and defecating in the street. Because they have more-or-less 1950s British standards of public behaviour while the rest of China does not.

  12. I think the interesting thing about freedom is it’s negotiated at the margins. There’s a whole raft of things almost no-one wants. And a whole raft, most everyone wants. It’s where they touch we talk about “freedom”. And the discussion is as much about the negotiation method as the freedom’s itself.

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