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Who Stands for Freedom?

For decades, Americans have been led to believe that liberty is more or less synonymous with anti-government market fundamentalism. But, because this conception of liberty fails to account for the complexities of real societies, it cannot possibly deliver the "freedom" it promises.

NEW YORK – The Republican Party has long wrapped itself in the American flag, claiming to be the defender of “freedom.” The GOP believes individuals should be free to carry firearms, spew hate speech, and eschew vaccines and face masks. The same goes for corporations: Even if their activities destroy the planet and permanently change the climate, the “free market” should be trusted to sort things out. Banks and other financial institutions should be “liberated” from regulation, even if their activities can bring down the entire economy.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, the pandemic, and the acceleration of the climate crisis, it should be obvious that this conception of freedom is far too crude and simplistic for the modern world. Those who still espouse it are either mind-numbingly blinkered or on the take. As the great twentieth-century philosopher Isaiah Berlin put it: “Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.” Or, put another way, freedom for some is unfreedom for others.

In the United States, the freedom to carry guns has come at the expense of the freedom to go to school or the store without being shot. Thousands of innocent people – many of them children – have died so that this particular freedom can live. And millions have lost what Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought was so important, the freedom from fear.

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