Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the Land of the Free

In the May 29th, New York Review of Books, there is a long piece based on a book by Anthony Lewis “Americans are freer to think what we will and say what we think than another other people.” Perhaps, but as Rousseau would know, we are not free. (I am reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Restless Genius, by Leo Damrosch (Mariner Books 2007)

How do we explain our recent history when virtually the entire “media” embraced the obvious lie, that our enemy had weapons of mass destruction? This was a very transparent reason to go to war, which, since the Romans, all law minded nations demand, and even a simpleton that paid any attention at the time could figure out. So how do you explain that the clearly intelligent, educated people that are the writers and reporters, all go for this? And that is followed by the support in the Senate, including most of the liberal Democrats, by the shameful vote for war, yet another low mark in our history.

Is this the Tyranny of the Majority that we have all studied but not always understood? It was fear that seized all these smart well meaning people; fear of each other. Almost none of them, expect poor old shaking Senator Byrd of West Virginia dared to stand up to the apparently torrential social pressure of their peers. The reporters were the worst. Because their jobs were not involved in any popularity contest, they are paid.

So the great free society proved itself neither Free nor Great. Yet we never tire of pointing out the flaws in how the Chinese govern themselves.
“Even while government and laws give security and well-being to assemblages of men, the sciences, letters, and arts, which are less despotic but perhaps more powerful, spread garlands of flowers over the iron chains that bind them, stifle in them the sense of that original liberty for which they seemed to have been born, make them love their enslavement, and transform them into what are called civilized peoples.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1750.

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