- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Freedom House: Freedom = Slavery ??!

Posted by: Nikhil Jaikumar ( DSA, MA, USA ) on September 12, 1999 at 00:27:26:

A while back i remember discussing with Gee the merits of Freedom House, a nonprofit org. that claims to study "freedom" in the world.
I said that it was another typical anti-communist faction which holds to a bourgeois conception of freedom.
He told me that I ought to critivize specific aspets of their methods, criteria, etc. After taking a look at their web page, I am going to attempt to do that. Judging by their own self-described criteria, and by their list of which countries were 'free, "partyly free" or "not free" since 1972, I claim that their methods are 1)un-objective, 2)inconsistent, 3) ideological and 4) non-contextual, 5)American-biased and I have specific examples in mind. The site itself is at www.freedomhouse.org

1) They make the study seem objective, by doing a checklist format of various benchmarks of civil and political rights, to which they then assign a "yes" or "no' to each country. This seems objective, and it's certainly better than a mere "I think the US is free, so..." But on closerr examination, it leaves a whole hell of a lot of room for subjectivism.

For example, one of the questions it asks is "Does country X have free speech, in theory and in practice". Censorship, even self-censorship, is seen as an enemy of freedom. However, they make no attemot to objectify what "free speech" is. For example, in America you have a mainstream press that shows dissent within a narrow range, i.e. no mainstream papers promote the nationalization of industry, the declaration of war on China, the disestablishment of the military, the deriminalization of cocaine, or similar "loony left" or "hard right" ideas. In India, you have a much broader spectrum of opinion, ranging from Maoist to Hindu-fascist. Is not India's press freer? yet both india nad america are considered to have a free press. Similarly, being able to change the governmet democratically is one of teh questions, yet in America some 51% of teh electorate does not believe they have any chance to influence their governmnet and thus does not participate.
objectively, is not such a system less "democratic" than one in which citizens turn out (voluntarily) in over 80% numbers to choose from seven major parties instead of two 9as was teh case in communist Nicaragua)? Yet FH ranks America's political rights as higher than Nicaragua's ironically. Finally, one of teh question asks, "Do totaloitarian parties....exert a strong influence." What is meant by "totalitarian"? by "strong"? by "influence"? with all this room for subjectivism, the illusion that FH's system is objective must be seen for whta it is, an illusion.

To avoid appearing nihilist, let me hasten to add that there are ways in which freedom of speech COULD be objectively measured. For example, you could do a study taking into account the number of times a paper disagrees from the establishment policy, multiplied by the circulation of the paper, averaged over all newspapers, to get teh average "freedom" of each newspaper. FH did not do that, however.

2. FH is inconsistent. When a candidte runs unopposed in Laos, that is called "not free", but when a candidate runs unoppsed in suburban Massachusetts, that is "free"....am I missing something?

Vietnam, in the late '70s-erly '80s held between 80,000 and 200,000 prisoners, many of them drug delaers, prostitutes, or soliders responsible for war crimes, in re-education camps. Religious freedom was allowed as long as you registered with the government and joined an officially sanctioned branch of the religion. They were governed by a single broad coalition party that made some eforts to involve the populace. In spite of some unfortunate bloody reprisals, no systematic genocide was committed.
Indonesia, in constrast, did not have freedom of religion even in theory. They held 250,000 dissidents in labor camps (would you rather be re-educated or killed?)They were governed by a single party which ruled in favor of a tiny elite, and 1/3 of the population of a sovereign nation was murdered by General Suharto's men.
Objectively, i think Vietnam was better off, dont you? Yet FH during this period sometimes rated Indonesia as freer than VN. Go figure. By their own standards they are inconsistent.

3) Their definition of freedom is ideological. While the Left and Right largely agree on political and civil rights, the Right believes taht entrepreneurial freedom is also part of teh "freedom" package (e.g. teh freedom to start your own business, etc.) while the Left believes in social freedom (the freedom to take a share of the food, medical care, housing, etc. in society, and in general to live a life that meets basic needs and allows for some 'pursuit of happiness'. You can't very well make philosophical discoveries and follwo your heart if you are starving in a gutter, therefore one kind of freedom without teh otehr is impossible.) FH openly supports the "Right" conception of freedom, rather than the Left one. Fair enough, but they don't even acknowledge that a contreversy about the meaning of freedom exists. If they were truly unbiased, they would use a broad definition of freedom that encompasses both social and entrepreneurial freedom. In the fashion of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, or Charles Humana's Human Rights Index. ( The latter takes into account such things as sexual freedom, by the way, and ranks Sweden as the freest country in the wotrld, with teh US coming 33rd I think. But he's no Stalinist, either; most Leninist countries come down near the bottom).

4. their definition is non-contextual. It doesn;t take into account the reason for some suppressions of freedom. For example, one newspaper was
closed down in communist Nicaragua for openly supporting an enemy in time of war and for spreading instability. In the US, not only woudl tehy have been closed down, but the editor would be arrested. Yet FH does not take into account the context and reason for that action, considering it in the same light as teh brutal suppression of all free speech in countries like Uruguay or El Salvador.

5. Their coverage is American-biased to the point where they flame Amnesty International for not kissing US ass. AI is a LEGITIMATE human rights group, unlike.... I could go on, but I don';t want to make this interminable. I'll save it for another post.

(Time for the mudslinging).

FH boasts on its board of directors noted figures like Andrew Young, Mara Liasson, and others. I wish they'd remove their august names from being sullied by jokers like PJ O'Rourke (a puerile comedian), Peggy Noonan (a political speechwriter), Jeane "Double Standard" Kirkpatrick (the laughingstock of the UN) and others. With a board of directors including the last 3 nuts, can you expect an objective survey?

FH claimed that South African whites in 1973 lived in a free country. This in spite of the fact that "there can be no freedom, even for masters, among slaves" (from Byron, thanks to Red Deathy), in spite of the fact that whites promoting subverisve ideas were exiled and murdered, in spite of the fact that whites were kept in so much ignorance that in 1994 they didn't know who the leaders of teh ANC were. No government taht keeps its citizens in sucha state of ignorance has anything to do with freedom.

FH ranked Nicaragua during its Communist days as partly free, but less free than such paradises as Guatemala (where a quarter of a million Mayans were being murdered), El Salvador (where priests saying Mass were gunned down) or Brazil (where homeless children were picked off the street and murdered.) In spite of the fact that Nicaragua was the only Central American country to give its citizens teh right to food, shelyter, and health care.

In the light of all of this, I hope that from now on people will take with a grain of salt the pronouncements of this ""Freedom"" House.

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