Comment: Everything should be free in America |
Stephen Sondheim memorials didn’t have to look far to find parallels between the musical “West Side Story” and America’s class and ethnic disunity in 2021. Sondheim’s lyrics “Everywhere Grime in America, Terrible Time in America âbecame the words of Jacobin’s title for a 60th anniversary retrospective of the film version two weeks before his death on November 26.
Meanwhile, the 2021 academic claims that “white identity is intrinsic to Western ideas about freedom” might as well have borrowed the verse “Life is fine in America / if you’re all white in America.”
Less fashionable are the sentiments celebrating the right to be “free to be whatever you choose” almost two decades before Milton Friedman popularized a shorter version of the phrase. In contrast to the line that this meant simple freedom to “serve tables and shine shoes,” Friedman documented how economic constraints, rather than their absence, trapped workers in low-paying jobs and kept products out. consumer reach.
Sondheim’s hymns to expanded personal options were also echoed in the late 1960s in “Karl Hess’ libertarian insistence on men being free to spin steel cables, as well as smoke dreams.” Hess noted the breakup of the emerging libertarian movement with “the patriots who sing about freedom but also cry out banners and borders.” The young rebels of “West Side Story”, confronted with prejudice and legal harassment, refuse to be excluded from the “sweet land of the free” which they quote in the lyrics of another song called “America”.
Esquire critic Dwight Macdonald saw in “West Side Story” the replacement of a “lively and disrespectful” musical style with a “schmaltzy” style at odds with the urban grain. Ironically, the same Macdonald defended the cultural ferment of city-states “torn apart by factions, stormy of passionate antagonisms” stifled by the “uniformity and agreement” necessary for “that conquest of power over other countries that is the great goal of modern political art. As Hess has observed in writings like ‘Neighborhood Power’, decentralization of politics to the smallest scale possible does not necessarily have to lead to social decentralization. Freedom of choice has enough room for all of us.
New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is Senior Information Analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.
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