The notion of freedom is abstract and takes on a variety of concrete shapes depending on the circumstances in which it is encountered or sought, and sometimes it remains formless and elusive. It is a magnet towards which every American is drawn. By their culture Americans enjoy not only acting freely, but being free persons. Americans wish to be free in so many ways that it is impossible to list them down. Free: to go where one pleases, to do what one wants, to live and believe as one sees fit, to think what one will, to say what one wants, to associate with others or not, to wear any clothes, to choose any friends, to adopt any calling for which one is qualified, to be what one wants to be.

 

The roots of freedom as a cultural value lie in the American Revolution as well as in the economic conditions of the New World, both of which loosened the grip of the past on the lives of ordinary people and turned their gaze toward a future in which some degree of freedom could be sought. The former provided an ideological base for the incorporation of this notion into the culture, for it promised that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were inalienable human rights.

 

It is a mistake to suppose, however, that Americans simply make freedom their cherished object and ignore authority. It is evident from the way contemporary Americans talk about freedom and authority that the latter holds considerable appeal. And there are, in fact, several reasons to expect that a culture that was forged in an effort to break the grip of the past and create a new, free human being will continue to have a place for the idea of authority, and will be divided in its attitude toward authority.

 

A culture that trains the eye towards the future and towards freedom makes use of the past and the authority as the devices of contrast. Indeed, in American culture, the past is deeply associated with authority and the future with freedom.

 

The idea of freedom thus seems to require the idea of authority, for to be free in American culture is to be free from something, and typically is to be free from authority, whether of the legal system, the church, tradition, etc. In the USA one knows one is free when one can question authority, when one can say "no" to the boss or spouse and experience the thrill of rebellion. The Boston Tea Party is an important page in American culture because it gives historical explanation to a recurrent urge to overthrow, get back at, undermine, and otherwise resist established authority.


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