Freedom East And West
Ever since the Enlightenment, Western culture has presented itself emphatically as a culture of freedom. Constitutional documents and charters celebrate the importance of human freedom and individual liberty, sometimes to the point of erecting the entire constitutional structure on this foundational premise. Needless to say self-presentation of this kind feeds on an opposition or contrasting foil. Thus, when America presents itself quite specifically as the “land of the free,” there is at least the implication that other countries or societies are marked by a lesser degree of freedom and perhaps by unfreedom. This contrast, to be sure, is not entirely of a modern vintage. As we know, ancient Greek and Roman cultures defined themselves largely in terms of the dichotomy between civilized and “barbarian” peoples—with barbarian peoples being basically characterized by their unfreedom or servile submission to despotic rule. Over the centuries, this legacy congealed into the doctrine of Oriental or Asian despotism, a doctrine that functioned for a long time as a staple in Western political thought. More recently, with the demise of colonialism, the doctrine has come to be muted, though not entirely abandoned. Recast in an evolutionary mold, the ancient legacy resurfaces as the contrast between developed and developing societies—where the latter, though steeped in servility, are seen as at least moving in the direction of Western freedom.
KeywordsHuman Freedom Indian Thought Roman Culture Evolutionary Mold Foundational Premise
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