America is still the freest country

Many readers will be able to smile condescendingly at the title of this article. They want to remind the author that the United States isn’t even in the top ten of the world’s freedom indexes. These freedom indices miss something about American culture, freedom.

The United States is now in the teens on the latest round of indices ranking the freest countries around the globe, such as Freedom House and Cato Institute. However, these lists and rankings are often compiled by academics who believe that one can understand the world through only numbers. In fact, one must become a part of a culture and its people to truly understand it.

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The reason why North European countries such as Sweden and Germany score higher than the United States on press freedom, for example (as in the Reporters Without Borders index), is that–to put it only somewhat exaggeratedly–everybody in those countries basically thinks alike. Because so many people feel the same way about so many things, it is not difficult to notice restrictions on freedom from Norway to Italy. It is rare that there is any conflict between the government and the press or private citizens. Although Sweden’s press freedom is often praised, it is also because there is very little conflict between the state and the press. It is often interpreted by culturally ignorant people as tolerance on the part of the state. But the truth is that everyone, the state and the media, has similar opinions about everything. In those countries, what is considered polite conversation is less common than in the United States. There is therefore less room for conflict.

Most Western European conservatives agree with progressives, stating that one cannot say that one’s culture is superior to another. They feel this would be xenophobic. This and many other agreements help to create the illusion that European governments are more open to the press and private citizens than the United States. If the Scandinavian and German press outlets and their citizens were only half the loud as those in America and had half the number of diverging opinions, we’d soon discover that their governments are much more hostile than they appear. This is evident in the fact that citizens in Canada and Europe are often fined or even arrested for their speech. It is still almost impossible to do so in America.

Comparing the federal systems of Germany and the United States revealed a similar dynamic in Covid responses. In Germany there appeared to be more harmony on Covid policy than in America, because the German state governors–the Ministerprasidenten–all agreed with each other about cracking down on freedom, so there was much less antagonism between them and the central government. On the other hand, the U.S. has a wider range of opinion and thought. We find antagonism between different entities in the United States because we don’t agree with one another and because the Overton window here is much wider than elsewhere. This antagonism causes us to score lower on freedom indexes, even though it is a sign of freedom of thought and press, and the intellectual diversity that remains here in the United States.

America is currently ranked low on freedom indices due to its greater tolerance for disagreement and consequently for conflict. Because conflict is a sign of unfreedom, nations that have less conflict are considered to be more free because they are less open to being different. On a historical scale, the main reason that the debates are less in Europe than in America is because European countries have lost their historical power. In Europe, the social pathology of self-effacing and oikophobia has been defeated while the battle for the United States is ongoing. Although it might seem like the battle between conservatives and progressives in Europe is raging in recent elections in Sweden and Italy that have seen right-wing blocs win, the truth is that the conservatives have already won. This is what happens to a society when it leaves its historic phase.

As Sweden was getting ready for its parliamentary elections, my last visit to Sweden showed me how little the difference between left- and right-leaning campaign sloganeering was. The campaign sloganeering was focused on innocuous claims like wanting to make Sweden stronger and better, while some “conservative” parties and daring parties suggested that something should be done about the increase in gang violence. However, they were hesitant about naming the cause. Maybe Europeans will rise up and take to the stage again. A direct Russian attack or cultural humiliation due to the continued influx immigrants could lead to such an event. We would see a wider range of perspectives among Europeans in that scenario. However, this isn’t the case yet. Most European conservatives would be horrified at American mainstream conservatism.

America is free partly because freedom of speech is strong here and we have preserved the most intellectual space for different views. Cancelling culture is very American. However, cancelling culture in Europe is less needed by oikophobic extremists. The law is already on their side and people are already closer ideologically. To those Americans who are afraid of speaking their mind, and to my fellow academics whose minds are not completely influenced by modern education, I say: Remember how fortunate you are to be able to live in America. Get a backbone and be bold.

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