It’s a Free Country

You don’t hear it very often these days, but there used to be an extremely common expression, which seemed to have been coined mainly to get up other people’s noses.

That expression was, “It’s a free country”.

It could be used permissively:

Me: Do you mind if I smoke in here?
You: Go ahead. It’s a free country.

Or dismissively:

You: Could you please extinguish that smelly cigarette?
Me: Get stuffed, it’s a free country.

In either usage, it’s a rather feeble act of passive-aggression.

And what does it really mean? What the hell is a free country? It brings to mind some imaginary Third World country which isn’t “free” and people are forced by the State to have manners and be decent to one another.

Substituting “country” for “world” in the age of the Internet and generously overlooking the fact that we don’t live in a free country and one cannot always do what one likes, “It’s a free country” refers to the fact that we have a broadly Libertarian moral system. Few would disagree with the idea that “So long as your actions do not harm another, you’re free to do what you like”.

But there lies the problem. The entire problem with a Libertarian system is inherent in the expression “It’s a free country”. We too often forget the “So long as your actions do not harm another” proviso. Somewhere along the way, we’ve abandoned that important part of it and Libertarianism, now tried up with strong forces like the free market, has become equal to the statement “I’ll have my fun and that’s all that matters, woe betide anyone who tries to stop me”.

Which isn’t really on is it?

Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount today.
Or buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.

About

Robert Wringham is a humorist and the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist.

Leave a Reply

Latest issues and offers

1-7

Issues One to Seven

A bundle of our first seven issues. Featuring minimalism, Houdini, Leo Babauta, Bohemianism, Alain de Botton, Sartre, and Tom Hodgkinson. 567 pages. £35.

8-11

Issues Eight to Thirteen

A bundle of our last six issues. Featuring Luke Rhinehart, Flaubert, Mr Money Mustache, part-time work, Will Self, home life, Richard Herring, and E. F. Schumacher. 593 pages. £30.

Issue Thirteen

Our final edition. Featuring an interview with celebrity mortician Caitlin Doughty; Matt Caulfield on zen fool Ryokan; and Reggie C. King on David Bowie and Sun Ra. 122 pages. £7.

Escape Everything!

A hardbacked guide to scarpering. Essential reading for wage slaves and slugabeds alike. Published by Unbound. 230 pages. £12.