My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.
Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.
October 7, 1952
Speech in Detroit
[At first glance this appears to be a decent one line definition. Some simple tests are as follows:
- In some societies it is unpopular to be of a particular religion/ethnicity/sexual-orientation. But in a free society such people will not be harmed as long as they do not intimidate or harm others. In an non-free society they may lose their jobs, socially shunned, their property destroyed, or even killed for merely for being suspected of matching an unpopular attribute.
- In some societies it is unpopular to be a gun owner. But in a free society such people allowed to go about their business without restraint as long as they do not intimidate or harm others.
It is clear that the U.S. is not a free society. It has various degrees of freedom depending on the relative popularity of the activities of the person. 100 years ago gun owners were relatively free but today in certain political jurisdictions we are at great risk of going to jail if we attempt to go about our business even though our actions harm no one.
100 years ago to be homosexual in many locations in the U.S. was very risky and Christianity very low risk. Today homosexuality is much lower risk and Christianity is at some risk.
Stevenson definition is a pretty good for those issues. But as you dig into things more your realize Stevenson definition is not really adequate. What about alcohol production? Beer and wine are quite popular but highly regulated. Cars are very popular but highly regulated.
I have a half-baked hypothesis that total freedom in our country is a near constant. As it increases in one area it decreases in another. People demand control over something.
In the beginning it was black slavery, indentured servants and intolerance of non-Christians. Then as those went away it was regulation of things like alcohol, guns, drugs, business, tobacco, and a million little things. It doesn’t seem to have any relation to public safety, economic prosperity, or anything of importance. It’s just control.—Joe]