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FAIRNESS AND FREEDOM [Hardcover]

David Hackett Fischer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Jan. 23 2012 0199832706 978-0199832705
Fairness and Freedom compares the history of two open societies - New Zealand and the United States - with much in common. Both have democratic polities, mixed-enterprise economies, individuated societies, pluralist cultures, and a deep concern for human rights and the rule of law. But all of these elements take different forms, because constellations of value are far apart. The dream of living free is America's Polaris; fairness and natural justice are New Zealand's Southern Cross. Fischer asks why these similar countries went different ways. Both were founded by English-speaking colonists, but at different times and with disparate purposes. They lived in the first and second British Empires, which operated in very different ways. Indians and Maori were important agents of change, but to different ends. On the American frontier and in New Zealand's Bush, material possibilities and moral choices were not the same. Fischer takes the same comparative approach to parallel processes of nation-building and immigration, women's rights and racial wrongs, reform causes and conservative responses, war-fighting and peace-making, and global engagement in our own time - with similar results. On another level, this book expands Fischer's past work on liberty and freedom. It is the first book to be published on the history of fairness. And it also poses new questions in the old tradition of history and moral philosophy. Is it possible to be both fair and free? In a vast array of evidence, Fischer finds that the strengths of these great values are needed to correct their weaknesses. As many societies seek to become more open - never twice in the same way, an understanding of our differences is the only path to peace.

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"Fischer has written an engaging work of interest to both general readers and historians. His excellent introduction to the relative weighting of thse key values in New Zealand and the United States should encourage scholars to emabrk on broader studies of why shared commitments to fairness and freedom have resulted in different balances in the histories of open societies." --Journal of American History


"A pioneering, illuminating, and at times startling book...Ambitious and observant...Fairness and Freedom is a work of frequently profound historical and social analysis" --The Atlantic, also selected as one of the 15 best books reviewed in The Atlantic or published in 2012


"[FAIRNESS AND FREEDOM] provides valuable insight into the American identity . . . In an era of increasing inequality, his is a timely argument, and one well worth hearing." --Washington Post Book World


"So far it is the best non-fiction book of the year, by a clear mark." --Tyler Cowen, MarginalRevolution.com


About the Author

David Hackett Fischer is University Professor at Brandeis University. His books include The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas, and Washington's Crossing, which was a New York Times Bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fairness and Freedom Nov. 22 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As usual Fischer makes his case very well. Much work on his books. Good scholarship, always pleased never disappointed. He really sticks to the theme.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How history influences political choices Feb. 17 2012
By Maureen Eppstein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Visiting New Zealand for extended stays during the 1990s, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer, who teaches at Brandeis University, was struck by the difference in political values between New Zealand and the United States. Liberty and freedom ring in the US. In New Zealand, he noticed, fairness and social justice matter more. In FAIRNESS AND FREEDOM: A HISTORY OF TWO OPEN SOCIETIES, NEW ZEALAND AND THE UNITED STATES, he explores how the attitudes that founded these two English-speaking nations, two hundred years apart, continue to influence their political and social choices. He traces the themes of "fairness" vs. "freedom" through the parallel histories of both countries, in chapters on immigration, race relations, women's rights, world affairs, and the conduct of wars. Extensive quotes from each nation's political figures reinforce his argument.

It seems at first an unlikely pairing: a tiny South Pacific nation and the massively powerful United States, and one that few, if any, historians have previously attempted. But in the context of comparative political philosophy, it succeeds remarkably well. Readers on both sides of the Pacific who care about the moral dimension of political constructs will find much to learn. Fischer's book will help explain to New Zealanders why their Kiwi notions about fairness have made it difficult for them to comprehend Americans' emphasis on freedom and liberty at the expense of social justice. Americans will learn why political movements that emphasize fairness, such as the recent Occupy protests, seem such a revolutionary idea in this country. FAIRNESS AND FREEDOM is a fascinating book, both in its comparison of the two societies and in the broad swathes of social history it elucidates.
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Two Countries Feb. 28 2012
By H. P. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Fairness and Freedom combines four of my favorite subjects: language, political theory, history, and the durability and importance of cultural mores. Fischer looks at the United States and New Zealand through the prism of what Fischer sees as foundational values of the respective societies--the vernacular ideas of liberty in the US and fairness in New Zealand. Fischer draws on his earlier works, Albion's Seed (e.g., he repeatedly references Rawl's mixed north-south Maryland heritage while discussing Rawlsian political theory) and especially Liberty and Freedom, but Fairness and Freedom is something unique, the first book to be published on the history of fairness.

Fischer is careful with his language, as should be expected from a historian who already wrote a book entitled Liberty and Freedom. Liberty, freedom, fairness, equity, and justice all have distinct meanings. "Liberty is about the rights and responsibilities of independence and autonomy. Freedom is about the rights and responsibilities of belonging to a community of other free people." On the other hand, "[f]airness...exists in the eye of the beholders--unlike justice, which refers to an external standard of law, or equity, which implies an external and even empirical test of being even, straight, or equal by some objective measure." (For simplicity's sake, I'll stick to liberty and fairness throughout my review.)

This dichotomy is in part a sort of linguistic-cultural founder effect--liberty was more common in British usage and played a greater role in the debates of the day during colonization of America, likewise for fairness during colonization of New Zealand. Readers of Fischer's previous work, Albion's Seed, will be well aware of American colonists' views on liberty. These founding ideas were affected by and in turn amplified by contact with the respective indigenous populations. The massive American frontier also played a role in the divergence. America and New Zealand went on to have dramatically different experiences with immigration, the women's movement, racism, and the Progressive movement. Fischer addresses each in depth. These sections are in general excellent short summaries of important chapters in American and Kiwi history.

The freedom and fairness paradigm is particularly evident in foreign policy. America has from its founding pursued a largely unilateral course while New Zealand has always been a strong proponent of multilateralism. One could argue that these approaches were inevitable for the world's largest economy and a very small and vulnerable one, but America was acting unilaterally in foreign policy long before it became the world's largest economy and New Zealand was much more aggressive in pushing multilateralism than it needed to be. I found New Zealand's actions during and in the run up to WWII to be particularly strong examples of its commitment to multilateralism. While Europeans appeased and Americans willfully ignored, Kiwis pushed for an aggressive response to Italian and Japanese belligerence. When war broke out, they made the shocking decision to leave most of their troops in the Middle East, judging Germany to be the greater threat and relying on Australia and the United States to wage war in the South Pacific. Obvious differences in approach between the two allies persisted during the Cold War. New Zealand's "leaders spoke eloquently of international justice and the rule of law. The purposes of the United States were case more in terms of a struggle for liberty and freedom against a Communist aggressor."

Fischer rounds the bases with the Great Depression, the military, and reform and restructuring. The New Deal surely represented a turning point in the role of the federal government in America, but Fischer shows us that its expansion during the Great Depression did not remotely compare to that of New Zealand, which became one of the most socialistic countries in the world during that period. America and New Zealand have different military traditions and experienced different patterns of reform and restructuring (although government reform in both cases curiously came from the left).

The format is not quite the drag on Freedom and Fairness it was on Albion's Seed but ,devoted to a methodical approach, Fischer sometimes both veers from his thesis and resorts to regurgitating textbook history. The section on the Progressive movement in the US is particularly disappointing from this perspective. He does little to demonstrate just how antithetical to American ideas of liberty it was, how it co-opted (or did not co-opt) the language of liberty and freedom, and how opposition to the Progressive movement was rooted in concepts and used the language of liberty and freedom. The Progressive movement's abhorrent record on race and gender gets a single throwaway line.

Fairness and Freedom ends with a summary of the virtues and vices of liberty and freedom (in America) and fairness (in New Zealand). For example, Fischer criticizes the opposition to all new taxes in the name of liberty in America and the Tallest Poppy Syndrome in New Zealand. But Fischer sees liberty and fairness less as opposites than as "two ideas that are useful as ways of reinforcing each other." He thinks Americans would do well to add another splash of fairness to their healthy dose of liberty and likewise with New Zealand and liberty and fairness.

The notes, etc. take up over 40% of the Kindle version. They include: an appendix (discussing scholarly work on fairness in other fields), notes, list of maps, list of illustrations, acknowledgments, index (indexed to the print version). Fairness and Freedom is heavily illustrated--the list of illustrations is 20 pages long in Kindle version. Unfortunately, the maps are usually quite hard to read.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great March 18 2012
By Michael H. Reddell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Hackett Fisher set himself an ambitious task in writing a parallel and comparative history and analysis of two settler societies: the United States and New Zealand. Any reader will learn something from reading the book, and yet most are likely to come away a little disappointed. Perhaps that is partly a reflection of the scale of the task. I would add three specific observations:

1. Hackett Fisher is clearly quite sympathetic to the social democratic tradition that has played such a significant part in New Zealand, and to the idea of "fairness" which he regards as a defining emphasis of New Zealand life, policy, and political debate. But he gives almost no attention to the relative economic decline of NZ. Prior to World War One, NZ and the US were among the handful of countries with the highest incomes in the world. NZ now languishes with Greece, Italy and Spain - a relative decline paralleled in few other countries (think Argentina or Uruguay). Perhaps there is a connection between a focus on fairness, and outcomes that mean that so many NZers need to leave NZ to secure First World incomes and living standards.

2. It is also striking how little attention Hackett Fisher gives to religion, and the influence of religion in public life. In the US that place is prominent, while in NZ barely visible - but it was not always so, if one looks back to the Protestant Political Association and the sedition trial of Bishop Liston. Similarly, I was surprised to get through the book and find no mention of abortion - an issue which shapes political debate in the US but, sadly, excites little ongoing political interest in NZ.

3. A similar point could be made about alcohol. THe US experience with Prohibition is mentioned, but not how close NZ came on several occasions to voting in Prohibition, or that it was only around 25 years ago that a referendum on the legal status of alcohol ceased to be a feature of every national election.

Some of the fact-checking also leaves a little to be desired (as just one example, the Bank of New Zealand (a commercial bank) and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (the central bank) are repeatedly confused.

All this said, anyone would benefit from reading the book, and perhaps NZers are more likely to do so (harder for Americans to get a sense of why NZ might make an interesting comparator). Sadly, in the month or more since the book came out I have seen no mention of it in the NZ media, and it is not on sale in NZ bookshops. Thank goodness for Amazon!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More about Fairness than NZ History April 14 2012
By Lysander - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an important book. I understand the perspective of the reviewer who described as "Good, but Not Great," but I do not share it. I do not see this as a general history of New Zealand. I do see it as the application of the insights in "Albion's Seed" to NZ and a book on social constructions of fairness. I was fascinated by the identification of the various groups who colonized NZ. I have been there many times and I have lived there and I can say that there are still distinctive cultural footprints of the different groups who colonized different areas. I was also greatly interested in the identification of Sir James Stephen's pervasive influence in the Colonial Office in London - something like social Gospel Toryism. Fischer's description of the nature of "fairness" in Australia was also insightful. I was disappointed that there was not at least an intentionally exhaustive description of "fairness" in the NZ context. Interestingly, there was one for Australia. Fischer has not fully identified the tension between rules and fairness in the NZ vision - in Australia, the rules give, which points to lawlessness - but it is still a remarkable book. I was also disappointed that there does not appear to be a prominent recognition of the fact that in English law, "natural justice" does not refer to some meta-principle for deciding hard cases, etc., but rather to the audi alteram partem rule and the rule that no one can be a judge in his own cause - procedural concepts. I have also lived in the USA and visited many times. In my view, the USA and New Zealand are remarkably similar since the budget and market reforms of the 1980s - reforms which thankfully stopped an Australian takeover and bailout of NZ - think of Canada and Newfoundland. Why I find that interesting is the USA started out as a Whig country and NZ started out as a radical Tory country - there has been - at least for a time and a season - a convergence. Something that Fischer could focus his remarkable powers of analysis on is what is distinctive about Texas that delivered the country LBJ and GWB and on one view - GHWB. Certainly, so far as GWB is concerned, he belongs to the right of that New England interventionist Puritan tradition - just as BHO belongs to the far left of that tradition (Punahou School - established by Congregationalist (Puritan) Missionaries - and Romney belongs to the center right of that tradition. Why the Puritan influence is so strong is something worthy of investigation by the writer of "Albion's Seed" - which I also highly recommend.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing March 22 2012
By Jamie Freed - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting book by a former professor of mine at Brandeis. Even more so because since graduating from there nine years ago I have lived in Australia, which is in many ways comparative to New Zealand and often has similar ideas of fairness. (I am an American.) But in other ways, Australia has a similar relationship to New Zealand as the United States does to Canada and I was slightly disappointed the book did not make more such comparisons. New Zealand is no doubt a fascinating example of the Anglosphere but it's population is smaller than that of Sydney and I don't believe the relative population and what that means for a society was taken enough into account in the book nor was the impact Asian immigrants has had on a formerly Anglo and Maori society. No doubt being biased I believe a book on the US relative to Australia would make for a more interesting comparison given both have continents and more similar experiences with Aboriginal populations, Irish populations, militaristic traditions and even convict histories in addition to projecting regional power. Yet Australia like New Zealand very highly values egalitarianism and a "fair go".
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