America or Western Europe?

Where is there more personal freedom: in America or Western Europe? Discuss.

Both regions are pretty free, and from a personal freedom point of view I’d be pretty happy to live in either.

But if you get down to the level of concrete examples of particular freedoms, it’s easy to find instances in which one region seems to have the edge on the other. For instance, it would be impossible in the US to pass the kind of legislation that some European countries have to restrict or prohibit the wearing of particular kinds of religious headgear, which suggests that as regards headgear choice I would have more freedom in the US than here. On the other hand, if I want to send my children to a school with a particular religious character, I might find that more attainable in a European country where such schools can be state-aided than in the US where they cannot. If I’m on trial for a deeply unpopular crime I might find my freedom was maximised by tougher European restrictions on pre-trial publicity and commentary; if I want to comment on a deeply unpopular crime, by contrast, I might find the US environment left me freer. And so forth.

I think there’s two big problems with the question.

First is that “Western Europe” is too big and too diverse to really just be rolled up and averaged. And the second is that it probably depends on the extent to which you put weight on certain freedoms. I mean, if you consider the ability to own guns to be a vital freedom, then the U.S. comes out on top over some Western European countries.

One freedom you’re not likely to find unrestricted in Europe is the right to own guns. Americans often seem puzzled by this, as to them it is one important freedom - some even go so far as to say it’s the one freedom that makes all the other possible. We Yuros agree to disagree on that particular point :).
In most European countries you’ll have regulated sale of hunting weapons (shotguns, small caliber carbines), and in some countries you can apply for and jump through bureaucratic hoops to be allowed ownership of a handgun, but that’s about it. Nowhere that I know of will you be able to own “as many military-grade automatic rifles as yer goshdurn please” as you can in some States - even in Switzerland they only get their one government issued rifle, I think.

Whether that’s a good or bad thing is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

By “America” the OP means just the United States, right? “America” could apply to the North and South American continents, which contain a few countries which are clearly not very free at all, what with various military juntas and whatnot.

I have never heard anyone genuinely confused as to what country people are talking about when America is referred to. Once in a while a pedant will bring up that America could refer to someplace other than the United States, but even they know country America refers to.

Interesting - I think that the protections a lot of western European countries offer their citizens in the areas of things like racial or sexuality discrimination put it above the states, where it seems (certainly with the latter) that the right to discriminate comes before the right not to be discriminated against. There’s also the actual practical level of freedom one has from peer pressure and social norms in society. The states are way waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more socially conservative than most of western Europe, you can do pretty much what you want here (legally of course) without people giving you the social freeze or shaming that seems prevalent in the US.

It’s all very well to argue about the legal and constitutional freedoms, but if in day to day life you can’t actually live how you want to because people around you will disapprove it’s not really worth much.

Then I am offended by the exclusion of Canada, which is better than Western Europe and “America”. Verily! Harrumph!

I believe even Canadians take “American” to mean “United States-ian”

There’s also the question of where in the US, as many freedoms vary on a state by state level. Such as marriage, for instance.

There are mixed bags of freedoms that are available in the USA, not available in Western Europe, and vice versa.

I’m sure most Americans here are aware of the fact that other democratic countries have a vast amount of personal freedom, but really, for decades the US has been brainwashed into thinking that “the land of the free” is somehow extra-special in personal freedoms. I hear it all the time in political speeches, and in the media, and from the general public.

Truth is America is not really all that special when it comes to personal freedom. If incarceration rate is any kind of a benchmark, you’ve got a long way to go.

If criminals didn’t commit crimes they wouldn’t be incarcerated. I fail to see how an individuals decision to break a law is America’s fault as a whole.

Of course it affects personal freedom. If two countries both have marijuana and prostitution illegal, but one locks up anyone caught involved in either, but another has a non-enforcement policy, then the latter country has more personal freedom in that area.

And also a high incarceration rate is a sign in other ways. A higher crime rate impacts an individual’s freedoms - to walk safely down a street, for example.

I am Argentinian and “America” refers to the United States. “The Americas” refer to all the continent.

That being said, to my knowledge no country in the South America is governed by a Junta. And with the exception of Venezuela I would argue that, nowadays, most countries in Latin America are more free than the U.S.A.

Let’s take Argentina, for example:

  1. Gay marriage is legal in Argentina. Homosexual couples have the same rights than the heterosexuals, including adoption.

  2. Aliens, ilegal or legal, are more protected in Argentina than in the USA Aliens from neighbouring countries can easily obtain a residency.

  3. No Department of Homeland Security.

  4. Drugs. Drug traffick is ilegal but not the consumption.
    Arguments for USA.

  5. There is a distance between the law and the practice in Argentina. There are still abuses by security forces.

  6. Economic freedom: We value our personal liberties more than our ecomic freedoms. The state has an stronger influence in the market than in the U.S.A.

You first.

And I got accused that my latest (train wreck) OP was light on details. :stuck_out_tongue: You would need to define what ‘personal freedom’ actually is, since it’s going to vary. As you list them out, what you are most likely going to find is basically ‘it depends’. Where in ‘Western Europe’ are we talking about? Where in ‘America’? ‘personal freedom’ varies, and it depends on who’s ox is getting gored as to whether or not they are being impeded, and to what extent…and really, what the local population THINKS is ‘personal freedom’, and how they feel about it when it’s impeded, or not impeded.

As a quick example, take freedom of speech. It’s protected in the US and in ‘Western Europe’ (which, btw, is many different countries, with many different languages, customs, norms and hats…lots and LOTS of different hats). However, in the US you could, say, publish a book about Nazi-ism or Holocaust denial…or have a Klan rally, if you didn’t mind being hit by some tomatoes or large heavy metal objects. In some parts of ‘Western Europe’, however, you couldn’t do the equivalent things because there are laws against it…or even cultural mores that would shun such action or highly disprove of it. Who is more free due to this? Gods know…‘it depends’.


I am not sure what you are getting at here. It strains the definition of freedom for one but the main point is that crime rates overall are much higher in most of Western Europe than they are in the U.S. The U.S. takes the lead on mostly targeted violent crimes like murder but almost all of Europe leads the U.S. in overall crime. If you are a petty thief or a house robber, I can see how the rather harsh treatment of that sort of behavior would lead you to believe your freedoms are being restricted in the U.S. but I don’t think that is what we are talking about. The average person is more likely to be the victim of some significant crime in Europe over the U.S. Murders aren’t random or especially common among the population as a whole whereas the sheer numbers of petty crimes in most of Europe affect a significant fraction of people.

I know. Someone is going to call Cite! because they have their own preconceptions that don’t match up with this statement. I will give you one if you insist but it should border on general knowledge and is easily searchable. Uncle Cecil has even done related articles on it. One benefit of the U.S. locking such a huge number of people up even for questionable crimes is that they aren’t available to cause any mayhem on the outside when they are confined to jail or prison so others walk around a little more safely.

The way you’ve put it indicates pretty clearly to me where you stand on the issue. Yeah, I know we ignerent hillbilly amerrikuns r really dum with r obseshun with r guns (cause we gots to comp-in-sate fer r little tiny peenuses). On the other hand, in living memory, the supposedly free countries in Western Europe were taken over by idiot dictators who ran them into the ground and murdered millions of people.

Gun freedoms aren’t the only freedoms though; there’s no doubt that America has some backwards ideas when it comes to smoking a plant or paying for some pussy. In that regard, Europe is certainly more free than America.

You read a hell of a lot more than there was in what was supposed to be a light hearted jokey turn of phrase. Defensive, much ?

Its a complicated issue, and is certainly not cut and dried on way or the other.

Coming from the point of view of a brit whose lived in the US several years, I do like the idea of a small set of unalienable rights that written down explicitly and are pretty much unalterable, no matter who is in power. Europe is missing this and it means crap like this which would not happen in the US, not because there aren’t enough ignorant people to get a law like that passed, but because even the most extremist, republican appointed judge, would still consider it a violation of the 1st Amendment and rule it unconstitutional.

On the other hand in numerable smaller ways you have far more freedoms in Europe than America. This ranges from relatively trivial things like Jay walking (wtf ? I don’t have the freedom to choose where I cross the street) or Drinking age (an adult cannot choose to buy beer). To more serious things like US asset forfeiture and anti-terror laws.

Not to mention the simple fact that its hard to describe a country where 1% of the adult population is in prison as more free that one where one 0.1% is.