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Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies: New Zealand and the United States [Kindle Edition]

David Hackett Fischer
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews Review

Take a Look Inside Fairness and Freedom

Fairness and Freedom
How do we explain differences in relations between Europeans and native peoples in America and New Zealand? Part of the answer lies with the enlightenment-inspired leader Captain James Cook, who regarded all people as sharing a common humanity.
Fairness and Freedom
How to create a society that offered equitable opportunities to people in search of land? The American solution: continuous acquisition of land to reconcile freedom and liberty with an idea of equity. An example is this broadside for new lands in Iowa and Nebraska (1872).
Fairness and Freedom
Betty Friedan gave the new feminism a depth of purpose in her extraordinary book, The Feminine Mystique (1963), which centered on an old "problem that has no name" and a new goal of "raising consciousness" among women. To traditional ideas of liberty and freedom it added the idea of psychological liberation.
Fairness and Freedom
A pivot point in the history of racism was World War II. Under heavy pressure from Afro-American leaders, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order banning racial discrimination in war industries. The result was a revolution in economic opportunity, for those welders in New Britain, Connecticut, 1943, and millions of others.


"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,

Product Details

  • File Size: 4635 KB
  • Print Length: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (January 13, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006UQ96HQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #496,149 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How history influences political choices February 17, 2012
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.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Two Countries February 28, 2012
By H. P.
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.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great March 18, 2012
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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Way over my head. Very philosophical. Only read ...
Way over my head. Very philosophical. Only read the beginning.
Published 2 months ago by Karen J B
5.0 out of 5 stars An Insightful Contrast
This is a highly literate and very perceptive exploration of New Zealand, and its fundamentally contrasting character to that of the United States. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Dan Zirker
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating thesis
The author also wrote "Seeds of Albion" which explained different American traditions based on origin in Britain. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Nancy Shinno
5.0 out of 5 stars long but enjoyable
I learned a lot about New Zealand, but also a lot about US and world history. It really made me realize the need to have both Freedom and Fairness for a well functioning society. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Pam
4.0 out of 5 stars Freedom doesn't work for everyone...
This is a book in the tradition of comparative political history, explaining why two liberal societies, the US and New Zealand, have such different political values, with freedom... Read more
Published 17 months ago by David Last
4.0 out of 5 stars Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies: New Zealand and...
Fairness and Freedom is a thoughtful and scholarly review. It contrasts the historical development of open societies in New Zealand and the US. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Pogie
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting comparison of two countries so similar yet so different
Being an American living in New Zealand for the last decade, I've thought a lot about the many ways Americans and Kiwis agree and disagree. Read more
Published on May 27, 2013 by Honest reviewer
5.0 out of 5 stars History as it should be
I am still a few dozen pages from finishing this wonderful book, but couldn't restrain myself from writing a review. Read more
Published on January 29, 2013 by M. Thorn
5.0 out of 5 stars Fairness
Excellent historical comparison between two open societies , one dedicated to treating residents fairly, one devoted to freedom. Relevant to current American political differences.
Published on January 21, 2013 by elliott ashkenazi
5.0 out of 5 stars The difference between "Fairness" and "Freedom"
This book really explains a lot about what happens when a country emphasizes "freedom" versus "fairness." I real eye opener to many of the problems the US is now having
Published on November 10, 2012 by Bert
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More About the Author

David Hackett Fischer is University Professor and Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. The recipient of many prizes and awards for his teaching and writing, he is the author of numerous books, including Washington's Crossing, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history.

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