[First published February 2, 2006] In his State of the Union speech, President Bush said:
Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer — so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause.
Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time. In 1945, there were about two-dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today, there are 122. And we’re writing a new chapter in the story of self-government — with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink, and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom. At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half — in places like Syria and Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran — because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom, as well.
In the past too many have identified power with greatness, thugs with statesmen, and propaganda with results; they have let moral and cultural relativism silence our outrage, while conceding the moral high ground to the utopian dreamers; they have refused to recognize evil as evil; and they have ignored the catastrophic human cost of such confusions, and the natural and moral right to freedom. This cannot be said of Bush, who well recognizes why people should be free.
In the world today, billions of human beings are still subject to impoverishment, exposure, starvation, disease, torture, rape, beatings, forced labor, genocide, mass murder, executions, deportations, political violence, and war. These billions live in fear for their lives, and for those of their loved ones. They have no human rights, no liberties. These people are only pieces on a playing board for the armed thugs and gangs that oppress their nations, raping them, looting them, exploiting them, and murdering them. We hide the identity of the gangs—we sanctify them—with the benign concept of “government,” as in the “government” of Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Stalin’s Soviet Union, or Hitler’s Germany.
The gangs that control these so-called governments oppress whole nations under cover of international law. They are like a gang that captures a group of hikers and then does with them what it wills, robbing all, torturing and murdering some because gang members don’t like them or they are “disobedient,” and raping others. Nonetheless, the thugs that rule nations “govern” by the right of sovereignty: the community of nations explicitly grants them the right by international law to govern a nation when they show that they effectively control the national government, and this right carries with it the promise that other nations will not intervene in their internal affairs.
International law now recognizes that if these gangs go to extremes, such as massive ethnic cleansing or genocide, then the international community has a countervailing right to stop them. However, this area of international law is still developing, and in the current examples of Cuba, Burma, Iran, North Korea, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria, among others, the thugs still largely have their way with their victims. This is unconscionable. The people of these countries, and all people everywhere have the right to freedom of speech, religion, organization, and a fair trial, among other rights, and one overarching right to be free subsumes all these civil and political rights. This right overrules sovereignty, which is granted according to tradition based on a system of international treaties, not natural law. Freedom, by contrast, is not something others grant. It is a right due every human being.
For too many intellectuals, however, it is not enough to point out that a people have a right to be free. They will counter by arguing that freedom is desirable, but first people must be made equal, given food to eat, work, and health care. Freedom must be limited as a means to good ends, such as the public welfare, prosperity, peace, ethnic unity, or national honor. Sometimes the intellectuals who go about creating such justifications for denying people their freedom are so persuasive that even reasonable people will accept their convoluted arguments. Need I mention the works of Marx and Lenin, for example, who provided “scientific” excuses for the tyranny of such thugs as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot?
To many compassionate people, such intellectuals, arguing that freedom must be sacrificed for a better life, have had the best of the argument and the moral high ground. These intellectuals have tried to show that freedom empowers greed, barbaric competition, inefficiency, inequality, the debasement of morals, the weakening of ethnic or racial identity, and so on.
To be defensive about freedom in the face of such justifications is morally wrong-headed. No moral code or civil law allows that a gang leader and his followers can murder, torture, and repress some at will as long as the thugs provide others with a good life. But even were it accepted that under the cover of government authority, a ruler can murder and repress his people so long as it promotes human betterment, the burden of proof is on those who argue that therefore those people will be better off
There is no such proof. Quite the opposite: in the twentieth century, we have had the most costly and extensive tests of such arguments, involving billions of people. The Nazis, Italian fascists under Mussolini, Japanese militarists, and Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek have tested fascist promises of a better life. Likewise, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot have tested the utopian promises of communism, to mention the most prominent communist experiments; and Burma, Iraq, and Syria, among others, also have tested state socialism. All these vast social experiments have failed, utterly and miserably, and they have done so at the vast human cost that has included global social upheaval, the displacement of millions, the impoverishment of billions, and the death of tens of millions from famine, extreme internal violence, and the most destructive wars—not to mention the many hundreds of millions murdered outright.
These social experiments have involved the mass murder of 262,000,000 Russians, Chinese, Cambodians, Poles, North Koreans, Cubans, Vietnamese, and others, such that were their souls to comprise a land of the dead it would be among the world’s top three in population
In sharp contrast, there are the arguments for freedom. Not only is a right certified in international law (e.g., the various human rights multinational conventions), but a supreme moral good in itself. The very fact of a people’s freedom creates a better life for all.
Free people create a wealthy and prosperous society
When people are free to go about their own business, they put their ingenuity and creativity in the service of all. They search for ways to satisfy the needs, desires, and wants of others. The true utopia lies not in some state-sponsored tyranny, but the free market in goods, ideas, and services, whose operating principle is that success depends on satisfying others. Moreover, it is not by chance that:
No democratically free people have suffered from mass famine
It is extraordinary, how little known this is. There are plenty of hunger projects and plans to increase food aid for the starving millions, all of which is good enough in the short run. A starving person will die before the people can kick out their rulers or make them reform their policies. Yet simply feeding the starving today is not enough. They also have to be fed tomorrow and every day thereafter. However, free these people from their rulers’ commands over their farming, and soon they will be able to feed themselves and others as well. There is an adage that applies to this: “Give a starving person a fish to eat and you feed him only for one day; teach him how to fish, and he feeds himself forever.” Yet teaching is no good alone, if people are not free to apply their new knowledge—yes, teach them how to fish, but also promote the freedom they need to do so
Surprisingly, the incredible economic productivity and wealth produced by a free people and their freedom from famines are not the only moral goods of freedom, nor, perhaps, even the most important moral goods. When people are free, they comprise a spontaneous society the characteristics of which strongly inhibit society-wide political violence. Freedom greatly reduces the possibility of revolutions, civil war, rebellions, guerrilla warfare, coups, violent riots, and the like. Most of the violence within nations occurs where thugs rule with absolute power. There is a continuum here:
The more power the rulers have, and the less free their people, the more internal violence these people will suffer
Surely that which protects people against internal violence, that which so saves human lives, is a moral good. And this is freedom
Then there is mass democide, the most destructive means of ending human lives of any form of violence. Except in the case of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews, few people know how murderous the dictators of this world have been, and could be. Virtually unknown are the shocking tens of millions murdered by Stalin and Mao, and the other millions wiped out by Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-sung, and their kind. Just omitting foreigners, who are most often murdered during a war, such thugs murdered about 161,000,000 of their own people from 1900 to 1987. Adding foreigners and including the whole twentieth century raises the toll they have killed to nearly the incredible aforementioned 262,000,000.
Even now, in the twenty-first century, these mass murders still go on in Burma, Sudan, North Korea, and the Congo (DR), just to mention the most glaring examples.
What is true about freedom and internal violence is also so for this mass democide:
The more freedom a people have, the less likely their rulers will murder them. The more power the thugs have, the more likely they are to murder their people
Could there be a greater moral good than to end or minimize such mass murder? This is what freedom does and for this it is, emphatically, a moral good.
There is still more to say about freedom’s value. While we now know that the world’s ruling thugs generally kill several times more of their subjects than do wars, it is war on which moralists and pacifists generally focus their hatred, and devote their resources to ending or moderating. This singular concentration is understandable, given the horror and human costs, and the vital political significance of war. Yet, it should be clear by now that war is a symptom of freedom’s denial, and that freedom is the cure. First:
Democratically free people do not make war on each other
Why? The diverse groups, cross-national bonds, social links, and shared values of democratic peoples sew them together; and shared liberal values dispose them toward peaceful negotiation and compromise with each other. It is as though the people of democratic nations were one society
This truth that democracies do not make war on each other provides a solution for eliminating war from the world: globalize democratic freedom
The less free the people within any two nations are, the bloodier and more destructive the wars between them; the greater their freedom, the less likely such wars become
The more freedom the people of a nation have, the less bloody and destructive their wars.
What this means is that we do not have to wait for all, or almost all nations to become liberal democracies to reduce the severity of war. As we promote freedom, as the people of more and more nations gain greater human rights and political liberties, as those people without any freedom become partly free, we will decrease the bloodiness of the world’s wars. In short: Increasing freedom in the world decreases the death toll of its wars. Surely, whatever reduces and then finally ends the scourge of war in our history, without causing a greater evil, must be a moral good. And this is freedom
In conclusion, then, we have wondrous human freedom as a moral force for the good, as President Bush well recognizes. Freedom produces social justice, creates wealth and prosperity, minimizes violence, saves human lives, and is a solution to war. In two words, it creates human security. Moreover, and most important:
People should not be free only because it is good for them. They should be free because it is their right as human beings.
In opposition to freedom is power, its antagonist. While freedom is a right, the power to govern is a privilege granted by a people to those they elect and hold responsible for its use. Too often, however, thugs seize control of a people with their guns and use them to make their power total and absolute. Where freedom produces wealth and prosperity, such absolute power causes impoverishment and famine. Where freedom minimizes internal violence, eliminates genocide and mass murder, and solves the problem of war, such absolute power unleashes internal violence, murders millions, and produces the bloodiest wars. In short, power kills; absolute power kills absolutely.
Now, to summarize, why freedom?
Because it is every person’s right. It is a moral good—it promotes wealth and prosperity, social justice, and nonviolence, and preserves human life. And it enables all other moral goods.