How U.S. Freedoms Compare to Europe

The civil systems between the United States and Europe are founded upon different notions of “freedom.” According to a Quora post, Europe allegedly stresses “negative freedom,” which is to say “freedom from” the influence of other people or other things. The United States stresses “positive freedom,” which is to say “the ability to do” something without the interference of others.

But this might be slightly too simplistic and also flat-out incorrect. There is a general crossover between both of these concepts. For Americans, society is positive insofar as individuals can theoretically take control of their lives. But as such, when others are impeding on them, the state moves in to ensure that rights are not being trampled.

A good example would be the economics of laissez-faire that dominated the early 20th century. It was only after horrific working conditions were discovered, such as those in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, that led to the passage of 30 health and safety laws promoting the general welfare.

On the other hand, American society is negative insofar as citizens have a right to be free from the encroachment of a bloated government. The premise of the American founding was to limit the government from tyrannizing over its citizens deriving from the American colonists’ argument that the British government was doing that to them. But the founding also stressed a limitation on the majority of citizens so that they could not tyrannize over other individuals.

While there appears to be a balance in American society between these two conceptions of freedom, when contrasted with Europe we can see a starker distinction. The European Union Charter on Fundamental Rights is different from the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights in how it delineates “rights.”

To the EU, basic human rights include things such as education, healthcare, and housing. In the U.S., these are entitlements, but might be subsidized by the social welfarism of the government for those who are struggling. The U.S. calls this a “social safety net,” ensuring that people have access to taxpayer-funded care; but Americans generally do not see charity as the responsibility of the government and, by extension, other people. This attitude goes back to the idea of negative freedom.

In the U.S., citizens have freedom of speech guaranteed. Ideally, this entails the freedom to say what one pleases without unjust reprimand or censorship from the government. Americans also enjoy the right to bear arms.