The Corner


Land of the 86 Percent Free

Charles Cooke points out that a global panel of experts has ranked the United States among the bottom 10 nations worldwide for its treatment of women. International rankings depend heavily on the biases of the “experts,” of course, and they all love to dump on the U.S., though not always so flagrantly. Another example of this tendency is the annual “Freedom in the World” survey conducted by Freedom House (which was discussed in these pages earlier this year). In this survey, the U.S. is considered “Free,” but it lags most of its peers in that category with a so-so rating of 86 out of 100. Canada, by contrast, gets a 99, falling short only for its mildly deficient treatment of indigenous peoples. The Canucks receive perfect marks for free speech (which some might dispute), and the section on Canadian academic freedom reads, in its entirety, “Academic freedom is generally respected” (ditto).

You can get an idea of what the experts are looking for by looking at Norway, one of the Freedom House teacher’s pets with its perfect 100 score (neighbors Finland and Sweden are also deemed flawless). Norway has a parliamentary system that yields awkward coalitions arrived at through byzantine and tortuous negotiations that make our Electoral College look straightforward; it bans political advertising on television and radio (this is somehow deemed to promote open debate); and until last year it had an established church. Yet Freedom House considers Scandinavian democracy to be its exemplar of perfection.

The two-touchdown gap between Norway and America results from penalties assessed against the latter for the Electoral College, the Senate’s two-members-per-state rule (OK, that’s a fair criticism), Russia’s farcical attempts at influencing our elections, President Trump’s impulsive management style, a judiciary that Freedom House seems to think is quivering with fear (“The courts regularly demonstrated their autonomy during 2017, for instance by repeatedly blocking or limiting executive orders issued by the Trump administration. However, Trump in some cases responded by verbally attacking the judges responsible . . .”), insufficient union rights (this rating will probably go down another notch next year after Janus), lack of free assembly (i.e., rioters are sometimes arrested), the catch-all “political dysfunction,” and assorted others. Our protection of gun rights, you’ll be shocked to learn, is considered a flaw rather than a virtue.

Still there is one area where the U.S. gets perfect marks. According to Freedom House, America earns a solid four points out of four on each of “Are there free and independent media?,” “Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?,” and “Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?”

Not to mention this:

Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4

The academic sphere has long featured a high level of intellectual freedom. While it remains quite robust by global standards, this liberty has come under some pressure in recent years. University students at a number of campuses have obstructed guest speakers whose views they find objectionable by shouting them down or holding strident protests. In the most highly publicized cases, students and nonstudent activists have physically prevented presentations by controversial speakers, especially those known for their views on race, gender, immigration, and other sensitive issues. University faculty have also reported instances of harassment — including on social media — related to curriculum content, textbooks, or statements that some students strongly disagreed with. As a consequence, some professors have allegedly engaged in self-censorship.

If that rates 4 out of 4 points, I’m wondering what a 3 would look like. But when the intimidation is committed by the Left, Freedom House won’t admit it’s a problem.

Fred Schwarz — Fred Schwarz is a deputy managing editor of National Review.

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