On the 28th of October, 1886, amidst much celebration, the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was officially dedicated on what was then Bedloe’s Island at the entrance to New York harbor. It was a gift to the people of the United States from the people of France and was the work of the French sculptor Frédéric Aguste Bartholdi. It was meant to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of U. S. independence, but for financial reasons and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 it was delayed. It is, of course, one of the most iconic symbols of the United States.
Unfortunately, I fear one statue isn’t enough.
Americans certainly take their liberty—their freedom—very seriously. They also take it for granted. Unfortunately, far too many Americans take the idea of personal freedom to mean that no one can tell them what to do, ever. I say unfortunately, because this is the point of view of a dick. Or, if you want me to kinder about it, it is the world view of a spoiled three-year old. Which, come to think of it, is really the same thing, except that in a three-year old it is at least excusable. Because in this imperfect world, no one has the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and they never have.
It is true that in our Declaration of Independence the Founding Fathers stated that they held certain truths to be self-evident, and that among these were that all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. These self-same Founding Fathers then went on to write a Constitution that sets forth exactly how the government of the United States was going to limit those rights.
It is worth noting that one of the first things they added to the framework of the Constitution was an Amendment deliberately excluding God from the process of limiting or extending the citizens’ rights. And even the most fundamental rights of a citizen of a republic were limited to white male landowners. That all adults of every race can now vote is a right that was given to us by the government. It was not automatic, and it was not by any means God-given.
And there are certain acts that a three-year old might hold to be self-evident that are clearly a bad idea. The right to drive a car on the wrong side of the road. The right to walk into a crowded building and open fire with an assault rifle. The right to do damage to someone by telling lies about them. Even the right to shoot someone to death during a break-in to their house by the police does not exist, though certain people seem ready to question that.
In a country of something like 327 million people, people’s rights have to be limited by laws. None of us can do just what we want, because one person’s rights must not impose on another person’s safety. That’s why we have laws controlling traffic, guns, and slander among other things. What the Founding Fathers had in mind was the right to be governed by laws that you had a hand in making. Up to and including the right to demonstrate when you feel that the laws are unjust or being unfairly enforced. It has never included the right to put people’s lives at risk by dangerous, foolish, or selfish acts.
Which brings me to why I think one statue isn’t enough.
In 1889, ninety-three years before the people of France gave us the Statue of Liberty, they had their own Revolution inspired, in part, by ours. The motto of that revolution was not Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, but liberté, égalité, fraternité — liberty, equality, and fraternity. In fact, this was adopted as the motto of France by the Third Republic, the government that sent the statue to us.
I really wish they had included statues of the other two at the same time. Because it seems we need both equality and fraternity to moderate our overblown demand for liberty. The freedom to pay workers a certain amount should be met with the equality of fairness, that people doing the same job should get the same amount, whatever their age, sex, color, religion. The freedom to choose whom you offer services to should be balanced by the equality of the rights of the person wanting your service.
The freedom to vote for public officials should be shared by all equally. The value of one vote should always be equal to every other vote, not discounted, undermined, or denied by gerrymandering electoral districts.
And most of all, the rights of all before the law should be equal, regardless of sex, age, religion, race, wealth, or elected office.
But even the equality before the law is not enough if we have no respect for our fellow citizens. If we have no sense of fellowship, of fraternité, with the others who make up our society, liberty and equality count for nothing. No one has the right to abuse a salesperson because their shop insists on customers wearing a mask to slow the spread of disease. But more importantly, no one should think that somehow they have the right to abuse another human being for any reason. Screaming into the face of a nurse in her hospital scrubs is not the act of a free man; it is the act of a spoiled child, of a dick.
We call ourselves the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, but we have become the Land of the Entitled and the Home of the Dick.
I think we need two more statues, one maybe in New Orleans, perhaps of a beautiful black woman, to symbolize Equality, which we so sorely need in this country. The other maybe in San Francisco, perhaps of a Native American, a figure of Fraternity, our sadly undervalued shared humanity.
Because clearly, Liberty alone isn’t doing it for us.