The Modern Slave

On the Fourth of July, Americans came together in their communities to honor the birth of our nation. But this year in particular, celebrations occurred against the backdrop of a nation adrift. Politically and culturally, various ideologies war for dominion over the consciousness of the country as Americans struggle to define our sacred, core value: freedom.

What is Freedom?

Everyone, whether they identify as Republican, Democrat, conservative, or progressive, advocates for freedom. However, it has no self-evident definition, and the culture that birthed the American Revolution bears almost no resemblance to present-day reality. The American founding predates our current era by over two centuries. The Founding Fathers lived during the time of the Enlightenment, long before the ideas popular in postmodernism took root in Western culture.

And, while the belief in individualism has always been at the root of American identity, there has been a dramatic shift in our cultural understanding of the term. In 1776, it was widely believed that the ability to live as a responsible and authentic individual involved virtue and a commitment to sound moral character.

Contrast that with the prevailing idea of individualism today and the difference is striking. Now, expressive individualism has replaced the traditional understanding of individual autonomy. This phrase describes the belief that people are defined by their feelings and that individual identity is found in the ability to publicly act out these feelings without constraint.

Although this belief has its roots in philosophers of the past, its dominance in society took centuries to emerge. But what was once novel is now baked into our cultural DNA. From the dogma of bodily autonomy to the insistence that a rejection of the use of newly created neopronouns is a form of bigotry and abuse, the rich philosophical theory of liberty championed by our forebears has been hollowed out.

Free to Become Slaves

Freedom once came with a cost paid in the currencies of self-control, prudence, and temperance. To live free meant to voluntarily place passion and emotions in their appropriate places. Liberty was the acting out of deeply held philosophical or religious beliefs, making it the synthesis of belief and action, not the realization of fleeting inner feelings.

Now, liberty has become synonymous with licentiousness. Our founders debated philosophical differences between structures of self-governance. Today, we debate whether men can, in fact, become women. With this simple fact in dispute, our culture now has serious conversations about whether individuals should face legal liability for refusing to deny biological reality.

As celebrations of liberty wane and our nation stares down the barrel of contentious and absurd elections, lawsuits, and political events, Americans should look at the state of our culture and ask questions that go far deeper than partisan politics.

For, as Ronald Reagan once opined, liberty is “never more than one generation away from extinction.” And freedom is lost culturally before it manifests in the political realm. Simply put, we did not get into this mess overnight. For generations, we pursued rights without responsibility, freedom without virtue, and autonomy with neither scrutiny nor self-control.

Today, we reap the benefits of irresponsibility. Tomorrow, our children may find themselves born into slavery from the squandering of freedom’s blessings.

May we all, individually and collectively, determine how to responsibly use the freedom we have—before it is too late.


Leslie Corbly, author of Silent Suffering: Poems of Pain and Purpose, is an author, poet, and attorney. Her debut poetry collection, Silent Suffering, critiques the predicates of progressive/postmodern beliefs by exploring the suffering of those who fall on the margins of the present era’s culturally dominant moral philosophies.

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Notable Replies

  1. What a fine piece! Definitely worth the price of admission. The most difficult thing on earth is the mastery of one’s own flaws. Of course, as other excellent contributors here have noted, that begins with acknowledgement that they exist and that we are not gods, but mortals. The necessity of self-reflection, introspection and the will to reform oneself is absent from all of modern life except in the most superficial sense. Being beautiful, looking young, having a great head of hair, and other such trivialities trump the deeper, spiritual concerns facing every life.

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