Some 250 years of American history is long enough time to go without a revision of some of its foundational tenets. I like to think I am not alone in my anticipation for the long overdue US Constitution 2.0. Since the eighteenth century, a few things have changed and perhaps the highest legal document in the land of the free ought to reflect certain social iterations. Yet, an alarming number of US citizens believe all the thinking that could ever be necessary for such a monolithic entity was completed in 1787. Such mental framework starting points are, well, they aren’t much of a starting point at all. In fact, this can be a very destructive hurdle as it threatens to reduce democracy, something having to do with the voices of a contemporary people engaged with one another, to the Indian intellectual, Ashis Nandy’s conception of a mere custom, frail and at the mercy of the slightest breeze. And to keep it real for the realists, indeed, it would be quite the ordeal to organise a constitutional convention again. A brief stay on CSPAN will show you how much harder it is for representatives from fifty states to agree on things than when there were only thirteen. So, if you cannot be sold on the whole, how about a taste? For a starter that is sure to tickle the palate, let’s try one of the more problematic good old-fashioned American principles that is making quite the scene in our postnormal times.
Liberty, the American variant in particular, has gone the way of far too many Hollywood child stars. Something once so full of promise, a sure hit for all those utopian expectations, now a window into how bad things can get, calling much into question, especially our continued negligence and outdated thinking on mental health and drugs. American exceptionalism, with no small aid from Euro-fascism’s abduction of liberal sentiments, has seen to several Enlightenment ideals’ rot from a tool for combating oppression into a torture implement for a new ignorant oppression that wears the skin of freedom. Beyond bastardisation, it has become a fundamentalism existentially threatened by anything that deviates from its freedom to the utmost extreme. Its fans, fanatics, bathe in its seemingly infinite contradictions that constitute the bricks and mortar of the house built for individualism.
Give me liberty or give me death. Be free or die. Liberty once lost, is lost forever. Liberty and justice for all. Sweet land of liberty, let freedom ring! Every slogan, either simply empty or repeated beyond the point of anyone remembering any original meanings, spewed through foaming mouths reinforces the converted and lays bare the faults in an already shaky position. And then of course there is the far too often quoted comment of the United States’ third President Thomas Jefferson, ‘the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants’. Liberty, the name given to the ninety-three-metre woman who reigns over the border between New York and New Jersey, seem incompatible to society itself. Or at least a society that is not at constant war with itself. Imagining ways to reconcile the fundamentalist defenders of liberty with the other values of a so-called Enlightened democratic spirit, community, society, or even civilisation is utterly incomputable. But that cannot be right. How could something so critical have gone so far astray?