Introduction | Freedom House

Introduction

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INTRODUCTION
By Peter Ackerman

Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Freedom House

Freedom House was established in 1941 by a distinguished group of Americans who were committed to the defense of freedom, then under grave assault by fascism in Europe and the Far East. The Freedom House Board of Trustees saw and continues to see world freedom as indivisible, understanding that to preserve freedom at home, Americans must be willing to protect and advance it in other societies.

The reverse is also true. Freedom House has always believed that American democracy must be robust and secure if the United States is to sustain its position as the most significant supporter of freedom around the world.

Freedom House does not view freedom as an abstraction, but rather as a tangible, meaningful set of rights to which every human being is entitled, no matter the country or circumstances of his or her birth. By its very nature, freedom is never fully attained in any country. It must constantly be defended and refined.

Evaluating the extent to which human rights are protected is essential to freedom’s progress. That is why we have published Freedom in the World, our flagship survey of political rights and civil liberties in every country in the world, for the past three decades. These and other assessments serve as a platform for spurring constructive and vigorous dialogue within societies as to how they can progress further toward freedom.

One of American society’s greatest strengths is its willingness to turn the spotlight on its own practices and critically evaluate the state of its democratic institutions. At Freedom House, we think that now is an ideal time for reflection about the state of American democracy.

The upcoming U.S. elections offer a unique opportunity to debate the state of the union and especially the freedoms enjoyed by its citizens. But this debate cannot be advanced only through partisan politics. The excessive polarization in American politics today too often caricatures the serious problems that we confront as a nation and underestimates what we are capable of as a society.

In the hope of prompting a broader discussion about the state of freedom in America, Freedom House is publishing Today’s American: How Free? The study evaluates the current on-the-ground condition of democratic institutions in the United States, describes their historical context, and, where relevant, gauges American performance in comparison with other developed democracies. The title comes from a 1986 book published by Freedom House, which consisted of essays written by eminent intellectuals about various challenges to American democracy.

Though consistent in spirit with that earlier work, the present version differs in that it subjects the basic institutions of American democracy to a comprehensive assessment. Today’s American: How Free? is organized into 10 chapters, each of which addresses a discrete institution or topic: the political process, political corruption, the effect of counterterrorism policies on civil liberties, freedom of expression and the press, race relations, the status of immigrants, criminal justice, equality of opportunity, freedom of religion, and academic freedom.

Many of the issues in the report are also evaluated in Freedom in the World,whichassesses the strength or weakness of the core characteristics of freedom in every country, including in the United States. But the narratives in an annual global survey are naturally too brief to provide the sort of fulsome examination that we feel would be useful in catalyzing a richer dialogue. Therefore Freedom House has produced its first book-length study assessing the state of freedom in a single country.

The methodology used in this report is similar to those of other Freedom House publications. Freedom House analysts prepared initial drafts of the chapters, which were then reviewed by the distinguished scholars and experts noted in the Acknowledgements.

The Freedom House Board of Trustees has approved the methodology and approach undertaken in this study. Many members of the board provided extensive input and made important contributions that have greatly enhanced the quality of the report.

On behalf of all his fellow trustees, I want to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to Stuart Eizenstat, vice chairman of the board, for his vital role in this important project. Stu headed the board working group on the report, and his leadership, careful reading of numerous drafts, and incisive observations played an important part in ensuring the accuracy of the study, its fair presentation of legitimately competing interests, and the salience of its conclusions.

The diversity of views represented on the Freedom House board—one of the great strengths of the organization—helped to spur vigorous discussion and debate on various issues in this report. While the board as a whole has approved the overall findings of the study, individual trustees may not agree with each and every statement or conclusion. The final editorial judgments, as with all Freedom House publications, were made by the Freedom House editorial staff.

It is our hope that Today’s American: How Free? will spark renewed and informed dialogue about the state of freedom in America, and how it can be further enhanced. We also urge other societies to undertake their own self-evaluations. Freedom House would be happy to facilitate the process, and to provide needed support and assistance.