Does “The Land of the Free” Have Any Rational Meaning?

I once knew a man who was a deacon in the Catholic Church. During certain ceremonies, his job was to raise his hand in a gesture of blessing over a church member and say some Latin words. The problem was, this guy had become a fairly serious atheist. So, instead of the prescribed Latin blessing, he would say the Latin words for “can’t help you, can’t hurt you.” No one noticed, not even the priests.

I feel like I’m watching something similar when I see the beginning of a sporting event and hear thousands of people singing “the land of the free” as a benediction over themselves. They don’t assimilate the words that their mouths are forming; they may as well be singing Latin.

What I mean about not assimilating the words is this: People understand these words as a type of self-blessing or self-praise, but they never examine their actual meaning. “The land of the free” has become holy dogma—an uncritically accepted truth. To critique those words is to reveal yourself as a heretic.

So much for our progress from the Middle Ages. Reason has again become treason.

But if reason makes us heretics, let’s at least be explicit heretics.

The Knee-Jerk Responses

Rather than explaining what freedom is or isn’t, I think I should start with the knee-jerk responses to disagreements with the American state’s holy words. They do, after all, erupt instantly upon the appearance of heresy.

“If you don’t like it here, go to North Korea!” Translated into honest speech, that means this:

If we’re not as bad as North Korea, we have freedom.

And that is simply a lie. Worse, it confuses people. There are degrees of evil, after all. The guy who was just shot in the stomach is far better off than the guy who was just shot in the head, but we never say that such a person is uninjured.

Likewise, someone who is half enslaved is better off than someone who is fully enslaved, but it’s a lie to call that person “free.”

So North Korea being worse does not mean that we are free. That’s pure BS.

“You’re a blame-America-firster!” Actually, there’s a lot about America that I really like and even defend. For example, the people here still retain a gut feeling that they should be left alone. That’s a big, important deal, even if they’re confused about what it should mean. There’s also an assumption of productivity and adaptation among the American people, and I like that a lot too.

I think the American people have a lot to offer. As for their rulers, I don’t think much of them, but the two aren’t remotely the same thing. Listen to Americans complain about their government, and you’ll see that most of them land on my side of that argument.

The issue here is that I don’t reflexively endorse US military ventures. And that accusation is true. I don’t like sending young people out to be wounded and killed, and I don’t endorse the stirring up of wars.

It’s telling that American pro-military dogma excludes relevant opposition. To believe in it, you must blank out the most decorated Marine of his era declaring that “war is a racket,” and Dwight Eisenhower solemnly warning the American people about their military industrial complex.

So if I’m blaming America first, I’m joining Major General Smedley Butler and the supreme Allied commander of World War Two.

“You hate soldiers!” That one is simply a lie. I feel compassion for most soldiers. I’m sure there are a few monsters among them, but every large group has a few monsters in it. Moreover, war turns normal people into monsters.

I feel sorry for the kid who joins the Army because he or she doesn’t know what else to do, sees no job prospects, wants the benefits, and knows that he or she will get rivers of praise for joining. At 18 years old, none of us is particularly good at perspective and choice-making.

And over recent years, the odds have been fairly good that such a kid would be thrown into combat… a situation I’d wish upon almost no one. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but no one is made better by killing people. Our children are not coming home better; they’re coming home worse. Is that something to celebrate?

And how come the emotionally wounded soldier is shuffled aside by the VA and the flag worshippers? Maybe it’s because he or she is no longer useful for spreading the dogma?

“You are…” Someone is always going to come up with a new response. It happens automatically once you tear into one of their old defenses.

Dogma in humans leaps to defend itself. It is (as I explained at length with my friend Sean Hastings) a type of parasite that hijacks the human brain in order to reproduce itself. All dogma—ancient, medieval, modern, Eastern, whatever—abuses humans in this way.

New responses are fairly easy to deal with if you can take a bit of time to examine them. The difficult moment is when the new response is delivered to an emotional crowd. Emotional effects (which bypass reason) can be countered quite well, but not within a two-second timespan. So a clever defender of dogma can usually land the first blow.

That first blow, however, is more or less all the heretic hunter has. If that blow is parried or countered, dogma loses. That’s why these people go for fast, emotional kills, then scurry away from the subject.

Land of the Who?

Ah yes, “the free.” But to call US citizens “free” puts a hell of a strain on the definition of free.

(Liberty and freedom, by the way, mean the same thing. Freedom comes to the English language from German and liberty from French. Both mean “unbound” or “unrestrained.”)

As I mentioned above, freedom in the dogmatic context merely means “oppression is worse somewhere else.” And that’s not much consolation once you stop to consider it.

What, then, can we say about productive Americans? Their money is taken from them by income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, and probably a dozen taxes on their utility bills. Together, these impositions remove half of their earnings, much of it before they hold it in their hands. Can we call such a person free?

I can tell you that neither Sam Adams nor Thomas Jefferson would have called this situation “freedom.” Neither would most of the American founders. The dogmatics can emotionalize however they like, but they are not standing with the Americans of 1776.

Here, for the record, is Thomas Jefferson’s definition of freedom, which is very close to my own:

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add “within the limits of the law” because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

So here’s the Jefferson Test: How free are Americans to act according to their own will, limited only by the equal rights of others?

  • If we allow others to keep all their earnings, can we be free to keep ours?
  • If we agree that others should be immune from speed traps, can we be immune too?
  • If we agree that others should be free from mass surveillance, can we be free of it too?
  • If we allow others to self-medicate peacefully, are we free to do so?

We all know the answers to these questions, and we all know that freedom in America fails this test. The problem lies in having the guts to admit it.

In the end, characterizing modern America as “the land of the free” has to be judged as a dirty lie.


So, if we were to honestly sing the national anthem, we’d have to reference North Korea and sing “the land of the less enslaved.” Singing the dogmatic way would propagate a lie, even if it was melodic and in unison.

Paul Rosenberg

This article was originally published by Casey Research.