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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Violence and Freedom

In our chapter on political culture, we discuss the relationship between crime and American individualism (p. 136). David Paul Kuhn writes at RealClearPolitics:

Harvard's David Hemenway and UCLA doctorial student Erin Richardson studied 23 wealthy nations. The United States had one-third the total population but accounted for eight in 10 firearm deaths.


There is an unspoken willingness to tolerate our share of murders. American hyper-capitalism makes a similar tradeoff. We subscribe to social Darwinism to a degree unseen in Western Europe. It's one reason our economy is the fittest. But it also explains why the wealthiest nation in the world has a weaker social safety net than other developed countries. The conservative equation of freedom: lower taxes and fewer regulations on guns, equals more freedom. Liberals adhere to their own zealous formulation of American freedom. The left has won more civil rights for the mentally ill, but those rights will sometimes risk the public's welfare. It's this most-American value that Jonathan Franzen explores, within the ordinariness of middle class daily life, in his recent novel "Freedom."

The National Rifle Association has long understood that guns are best defended as tools of that value. It ran a multi-million dollar ad campaign to defeat Al Gore in the 2000 election. NRA billboards read: "Vote Freedom!"

As Franzen wrote in his novel, "The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage." The Arizona tragedy is not an inevitable consequence of freedom. But the nation has accepted its American berserks as one of the prices of that freedom.