As the 18th century was drawing to a close it became clear that the values of the radical enlightenment had changed the way people think about the relationship between themselves and their rulers.
It is out of this climate that a wave of protest against British rule spread through Britain’s American colonies and gave birth to the USA.
As America celebrates its independence from Britain today. It might be worthwhile to reflect on the values that led to the Declaration of Independence. One of the most important of these was the idea of freedom.
History should not be a simple celebration of the past, but a meaningful inquiry. The freedom that the American colonists won probably didn’t mean much to the black slaves in the Southern states. Moreover since its beginning, the USA has done much to attack individual liberty both inside and outside of its borders.
Yet, as we observe current events it may seem that freedom has been largely left out of our national conversation. In the argument over public sector pay, the never-ending fallout from the Grenfell fire and a ruinous general election which sparked enormous protests in London this weekend. It may be tempting to conclude that arguing for individual liberty is pointless.
This does not have to be the case if people can make a positive case for freedom.
What the word freedom meant in the 1700s is very different from today given the changing historical context. That gives those who wish to defend freedom the task of making the ideals of autonomy fit for the modern world.
The narrative of ‘we should go back to the good old days’ is sadly doomed to failure.
A positive case for freedom can be popular if it addresses the concerns of people in contemporary Britain. This country is plagued with inadequate housing, low pay, an increasing household debt crisis, under-resourced services etc.
These are all issues that the freedom movement has answers for but the voice of independence is certainly lacking in our national conversation.
If it takes a foreign holiday whereby people celebrate their own independence from this country to help us realise that we can and should engage confidently with the modern world then so be it. Even now freedom is worth fighting for.