Years ago, there was a government publicity campaign that ran full-page pictures of the American flag with the caption: “Freedom Isn’t Free.” Because this ad was run during the time of the Bush Administration, it did not sit well with many liberals; but it did with me, a card-carrying feminist.
David Brooks, the New York Times columnist who takes on cultural issues that most avoid, recently commented on the public support for gay marriage---not as a new freedom, but as a move toward responsibility, the responsibility of marriage, parenting, and serving in the military.
Many on the more conservative side recognize that freedom has limits and can turn into something bad for society. When freedom is not coupled with responsibility and self-control, it can turn poisonous and self-engrossed.
We have seen in our own country an inevitable increase in what citizens may do. Racial constraints were removed by the voting rights legislation during the Johnson Administration----long overdue from the time of the incomplete emancipation from slavery. Over time, constraints were removed from bi-racial marriages, as well they should have been. Constraints were removed after World War II with the desegregation of the military, which has worked well, despite warnings of naysayers.
Ultimately, the greatest constraint of all was ended when the United States elected a bi-racial president—twice. This is not to say that all of our Black citizens have the same freedoms as White citizens; in practice, poverty and neglect still play a role, but freedom has made strides here.
Women, the world’s last slave class, have experienced the most revolutionary changes, but only in developed countries. They now vote, may serve in almost every employment capacity, are equal under the law in marriage, and thanks to modern medicines, have control over their fertility and longevity. The contrast between the lives of modern women and their sisters in the world’s backwaters is devastating.
As wonderful as these freedoms are, there is also a dark underbelly. When the Free Speech movement emerged in Berkeley, we entered an era of “anything goes.” Polite discourse bit the dust and a general vulgarization of how Americans speak to each other took over.
Freeing women from the constraints of traditional marriage also resulted in a rampaging divorce rate, shattering family life at the cost of the children.
The sexual revolution, while freeing women from unwanted pregnancy, also plunged many young girls into the dangers of exploitation by pimps, sexually transmitted diseases, and dead-end lives.
The initial freedom from constraint for homosexual males resulted in undisciplined behavior and the emergence of AIDS, which took a terrible toll and even spilled over into vulnerable women. The Gay Marriage act represents a return to responsible life and commitment, which appears to make lives happier than untrammeled license.
The most persistent holdout for freedom from any constraints are the anarchists, still active in our time. They profess that all governance is inherently evil and must be destroyed. They are vague about how they would replace the conventional constraints of governmental systems, imagining somehow that all people would be good, unselfish, and automatically virtuous. This pipedream has inspired the Nazis (the Thousand-Year Reich), the Marxists (government will shrink away), and the Islamists (a Caliph will rule the world in perfect Islamic Justice).
Around the world we are now hearing bellows of “freedom” from mostly young men, as we did in the Arab Spring. These men have rightly chaffed at the suffocation of their family lives, but they do not seem to have a clue that freedom also means responsibility---and that such freedom should be shared with women. This is not happening, and the freedom movements are dying on the vine.
In addition, removing dictatorships or collapsing empires never result in responsible law and order. Anti-imperialists need to look at what follows, which is anarchy and new tyranny. The Middle East is looking like the Medieval Middle East, without the older one’s splendid culture.
Freedom is not free. It must be responsible, unselfish, and diligently protected from the worst instincts of untrammeled human beings. Without good human institutions, there is no real freedom.
Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of Ten Inventions that Changed Everything. You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.