In 1944, as the combatants of World War II crept wearily toward their blood-bought peace, econimist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote:
“Contemporary events differ from history in that we do not know the results they will produce. Looking back, we can assess the significance of past occurrences and trace the consequences thay have brought in their train. But while history runs its course, it is not history to us. It leads us into an unknown land…”
Three years earlier…
It had been the unprecedented wilderland of World War II that provoked, in 1941, Dr. Hayek to wrestle his incisive thoughts down onto some kind of intelligible mat. He began to jot some observations about that death struggle embroiling Europeans in ferociously destructive warfare at that time. What emerged from his typewriter three years later was an historical opus which he named The Road to Serfdom.
But back in ’41 on this side of the Atlantic, you (or your grandparents) may remember…
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we Americans joined the Allies in their war to defeat Germany, Italy, and Japan. Together with the British, Russians, the resisting French, and a few other courageous nations, our brave soldiers collectively ran the Nazis into the European ground, and then chased the defeated Japanese back onto their island.
From 1945 onward after that terrible war, a widening political rift developed between us Americans and our former comrades-in-war, the Russians. We are a freedom-loving, constitutional democratic republic. The USSR was at that time a communist state. We wanted to make the world safe for democracy. They wanted to foment a worldwide revolution in order to overthrow what they considered to be our corrupt capitalist system, and replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat, the working classes.
For several decades the defeated Germans were thereby divided into two countries, one on each side of this politico/philosophical struggle. The dispute was known euphemistically as the Cold War. West Germany was being rehabilitated according to our democratic traditions, beginning with our American leadership as provided through Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. East Germany was being ruled by the communist Russians, led by Josef Stalin and then Nikita Kruschev. Those Germans in the western half of their country joined us western Allies as advocates of free democratic-republican government. Their countrymen in the east part of Germany were stuck with being occupied by the USSR communists.
The strange treaty arrangements that had followed negotiations after WWII divided not only the German nation, but also its capital, Berlin. This bizarre situation was further complicated by the fact that Berlin is located geographically in eastern Germany. Since the Allies insisted that the German capital not be yielded totally to the Russians, Berlin became a divided city of east/west, even though it was located in the midst of eastern Germany. West Berlin, or the western half of Berlin, became a (literally) isolated enclave city-state of western political freedom in the midst of communist East Germany. The freedom-seeking citizens of West Berlin were totally surround by communist, Russian-dominated East Germany.
But many Germans of the east were not content to stay on the totalitarian side. So many fled to West Germany, and many escaped to West Berlin. But the Russian overlords didn’t like this, so they built a wall in 1961 to keep the imprisoned east Germans from getting over to the free side.
But then along came, also in 1961, John F. Kennedy. Formerly a naval officer in the Pacific part of WWII, he had since been elected our American President. He took the mantle from President ( and former Commander of the Allied troops) Eisenhower. Jack Kennedy had kept his eye on Germany; he had been in the Oval Office less than a year when he decided to visit the Germans and give them some much-needed encouragement.
Those wall-ensconced west Berliners extended an enthusiastically fond welcome to President Kenndy. Standing at the Brandenburg Gate, in the very shadow, as it were, of the odious Wall, he told the eager Berliners:
“There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future… Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin. Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.”
A very good point, that, Mr. President.
He also told them:
“When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.”
That day of liberation did come for the Germany people, and for all the citizens of Berlin. Twenty four years later in 1987, another American president, Ronald Reagan, stood in the same Brandenburg Gate location and spoke boldly to the Germans gathered there. He used the occasion to challenge the top-dog Russian wall-keeper:
“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
In 1989, the Russians did tear down the Berlin wall, and the divided Germans were united once again–this time not in a nazified third reich– but in a democratic nation.
The great tide of freedom as expressed in democratic, constitutioanl government, and led by our American republic, achieved at that time, along with our freedom-generating allies, another landmark victory. The USSR gave up the abusive Stalinist ghost and decided to join the free world. I’m hoping the Chinese government will one day permit, or be required to enable, such political liberty.
However, as Friedrich Hayek had been trying to express back in the ’40s, history and its struggles are never as clearcut as we would like to think.
The 9/11 attack on World Trade Center and its ensuing terrorism may be a harbinger of a new death-struggle between ancient worldviews on the global horizon. While its true that developed nations have conducted a century of economic debates and political wars–both hot and cold–over freedom vs.totalitarianism, now that old ideological kamph is synthesizing. Communism (and fascism, as two peas in a rotten statist pod, whether they admit it or not.) are reconciling with “democracy”as strange bedfollows into a dialectical tension of constituionally-arbitrated political battles: socialists vs. libertarians, democrats vs. republicans.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or back at the caliphate, the real death-struggle among humans has reverted to guess what?–religion!
Go to New York City and see the hole in the ground. It was not dug there by communist workers, nor was it blasted by fascist fanatics. That rapacious gap was inflicted as an airborn, calculated casualty careening waywardly on a fateful collision course–a path plotted between Islamic hegira and liberty-hugging westerners. Let the world come and see. Let them come to New York! Let them come and see the hole in the ground.
We’ve got a new brave-new-world morphing here. The once-new brave-new-world is devolving back into an old brave-new-world. Its a different kind of beast we’re dealing with, much more vindictive than the animal spirits on Wall Street. And its zealous vehemence is much older than either communism or democracy. Now is the time for citizens in this land of the free and home of the brave to reach deeper into our spiritual heritage than politics or youtube will propel us.
Turn or burn.