Editor's Note: The Deep Politics of Freedom


In "Thank Deng Xiaoping for Little Girls" (page 40), Senior Editor Jacob Sullum details the adventure he and his wife undertook when they adopted their second daughter, Mei, from a Chinese orphanage in 2004. In doing so, they've given Mei a life that she never would have had in her native country. Yes, China is on the rise and things there are getting better by the minute for most individuals, but Mei will benefit incalculably from having two loving parents (and an older sister) and from being raised in a developed country that reveres our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Yet Sullum's story is not a celebration of unexpected opportunities. It is a disturbing exposé of how China's restrictive one-child policy has created a population of unwanted girls in a monstrously misguided attempt to increase national wealth. Implemented in 1979, rules governing family size, when combined with longstanding cultural preferences, have led to a serious gender imbalance in contemporary China and the heavy use of abortion as a way of selecting the sex of children. Although many Chinese flout the official rules by taking in foundlings, orphanages are overstuffed with abandoned daughters. Incredibly, the government is bent on making adoption more difficult.

This is a story about the deep politics of freedom, about what happens, as Sullum notes, when the government tries to "dictate the most basic and intimate of life's decisions." It leads not only to outrage but to the sort of haunting paradox that no parent should ever have to contemplate. "As grateful as I am for the opportunity to see Mei every day and watch her grow up," Sullum writes, "I realize that in a better world we never would have met."

Other stories in this issue explore the preconditions for and the limits of the politics of freedom. In "Let the Viewer Decide" (page 50), Managing Editor Jesse Walker talks with the influential documentarian Frederick Wiseman, whose 40-year-old film about a Massachusetts mental hospital, Titicut Follies, remains the only movie to be banned in the U.S. for reasons other than obscenity or national security. In the legal proceedings surrounding the work, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union refused to support Wiseman's right to free expression even as the judge despaired that the film's nondidactic approach scandalously left the viewer "to his own devices as to just what was being portrayed and in what context." Autonomy is dangerous stuff, it seems, especially in a darkened theater.

In "The Party of Jefferson" (page 34), Damon Root recovers the legacy of the great libertarian lawyer Moorfield Storey (1845–1929), a Democratic Party operative who opposed the Spanish-American War, advocated free trade, served as the first president of the NAACP, and argued and won Buchanan v. Warley, the 1917 Supreme Court case that struck down an odious residential segregation law.

In a better world, we wouldn't need a Storey, a Wiseman, a Sullum. In ours, we need them more than ever.