The Idea of Freedom in Asia and Africa

The Idea of Freedom in Asia and Africa

The Idea of Freedom in Asia and Africa

The Idea of Freedom in Asia and Africa

Synopsis

Universal ideas of freedom are to be found throughout the world's diverse intellectual and political traditions, spread by the global trade in ideas which has grown exponentially during the past 200 years. In Africa and Asia, the conceptualization of freedom for individuals and societies has been heavily influenced by the translation of specific European or American ideas of freedom into new political and social contexts. This volume represents a pioneering preliminary assessment of some of the causes and consequences of this process.

Africa and Asia have too often been portrayed in Western accounts as having no historical purchase on ideas of freedom, but the chapters in this volume reveal that these societies have long had their own ideas about the proper degree of individual autonomy relative to the authority exercised by the state and other institutions.

The topics covered here are ideas of freedom in Africa from the slave trade era through colonialism to the nationalism that followed World War II (Crawford Young); the many forms of freedom in the states of sub-Saharan Africa since independence (William J. Foltz); why certain concepts of freedom have been empowered and others not in the Arab states of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq (James L. Gelvin); the differing ideas of freedom in modern India for individuals and for specific social groups (Sudipta Kaviraj); the contrasting fates of ideas of freedom in Burma and Thailand (Robert H. Taylor); political struggles in the Philippines and Vietnam about the meaning and practice of freedom (Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet); the evolution of the idea of freedom in Japan with respect to freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom ofassociation, and the liberation of such unfree persons as prostitutes (Sheldon Garon); and the ways in which Chinese conceptions of political freedom resemble or depart from modern Western conceptions (Andrew J. Nathan).

Excerpt

There are universal ideas of freedom to be found in the diverse intellectual and political traditions of the globe. The ways of conceptualizing and operationalizing the implications of ideas of freedom have been heavily influenced by the global trade in ideas which has grown exponentially during the past 200 years. In Africa and Asia, the conceptualization of freedom for individuals and societies has been heavily influenced by the translation of specific European or American ideas of freedom into new political and social contexts. In this volume we are attempting a preliminary assessment of some of the causes and consequences of this process. Africa and Asia too often have been portrayed in Western accounts as having no historical purchase on ideas of freedom; but as in any effort to appreciate the historical processes of change which created the modern world, their complex histories must be appreciated in their own right. As the chapters in this volume reveal, these societies have had their own ideas of the proper degree of autonomy by the individual relative to the authority that the state and other institutions can and should have over him or her.

The range of issues and topics which could be dealt with in a volume of this kind seems almost endless. We have attempted to concentrate on only those few which can assist in making some coherent comparative analysis of changing conceptualizations of freedom relative to the state and political authority and action. However, when these questions are examined with any kind of historical regard to the specificity of particular societies and their histories, it quickly becomes apparent that the discussion cannot be divorced from ideas of freedom in regard to other institutions, most particularly the economy and the family. The totality of life as perceived by . . .

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