Professor examines difference between political and economic liberties
Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 17:05
Political science Professor Fernando Piñon said some people fear the government is being oppressive because they confuse political and economic liberties.
Political, or positive, liberty created the United States of America and the liberal democratic political system, while economic, or negative, liberty created capitalism, he said.
Piñon said despite differences in the values of capitalism and democracy, they complement each other.
Piñon’s April 25 talk “Liberty and Mexican-American Reality — A Constitutional Perspective” was part of the 18th annual Multicultural Conference, a Fiesta event sponsored by the English department.
He said democracy is based on equality, the belief in the common good, in the concept of justice for the political system to survive, and the concept of liberty by rights.
Capitalism believes in accumulation, class differences, the concept of liberty defined by capital, and belief in self-interest, hesaid.
Economic liberty is associated with the Declaration of Independence and launching the American Revolution.
Piñonsaid the revolution was based on the belief that individual liberty is a God-given right and that human labor created individual property.
“Those are the natural rights of men: the freedom to pursue livelihood, whichever way we want to, and to keep the fruit of our labor as our property,” he said. “Now these are not political rights. These are not the rights that define a democracy. These are the rights that define capitalism.”
Piñonsaid that although Americans are taught the pilgrims came to America for religious freedom, they actually came to pursue economic liberty.
“They came here more to make a living, to extract from the land. Not necessarily to create a political system based on the ideals that we believe distinguish a democracy,” he said.
Similarly, Americans are taught that political values started the revolution against English rule.
He said the Declaration of Independence is based on individual rights, not collective rights.
Piñonsaid the dominant ideology of the United States became to “make a living,” which made people believe individualistic liberty made the country great.
He said the likes of John Wayne, Davy Crockett and the Lone Ranger drove the freedom to accumulate land.
Piñonsaid these larger-than-life characters breathed life into Manifest Destiny for the United States through their representations of the explorers, pioneers and settlers who conquered the frontier and took what they claimed was God-given.
He saidwhen the frontier closed, the freedom to accumulate land shifted to accumulating capital, which brought about the riches of oilman John D. Rockefeller and banker J.P. Morgan, whose wealth represented the “American dream.”
“The American dream is about capitalist values,” Piñonsaid. “The more you have, the better off you will be.”
Hesaid while the founders continued to hold onto economic liberty as the bedrock of their revolution, they also began to shift to political liberty as the keystone of the creation of the United States.
Piñonsaid although most people believe it was the Declaration of Independence, signed July 4, 1776, that created the United States, the declaration was made on behalf of people of the “united States.”
Hesaid “united” is not capitalized because the states were not a political entity and they were meant to be free and independent.
“Many people will say, ‘See this is why we incorporated ourselves, so that we can be free,’ and that is not true. We were already free,” Piñonsaid. “We believe that we are born free and independent, so then why did we incorporate ourselves? To secure the blessings of liberty.”
Hesaid the plural form of “blessings” in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence is important because it means “which we acquire by being free.”
Piñonsaid the word “secure” means to bring about, to get possession and to protect.
“Here we are, a free people, incorporating ourselves so we can bring about the means by which we can obtain the blessings of liberty. The blessings of liberty is that which we have achieved because we are free,” hesaid.
Piñonsaid positive liberty, the way freedom is exercised, is not equally applied to Mexican-Americans and other minorities.
Hesaid in this country’s political system, everyone should have the liberty to acquire a sense of belonging.
“In the Mexican-American experience, this has never been the case,” Piñonsaid.
Hesaid the liberty to protect Mexican-American rights and liberties has been denied because they have been diminished in having access to the courts and legislature through gerrymandering, when an electoral constituency is manipulated to favor one party or class.