Tibor R. Machan
On Monday, November 9, I took part in a panel discussion of the collapse of the Soviet empire, in the company of several others who have managed to escape the system, two former Cubans and one former Russian. We discussed our own personal experience under the system–which I hesitate to call "communist" since communism has never existed; aiming to bring it about has been used as an excuse for some of the greatest horrors of human history.
For my money the greatest lesson of the Soviet debacle is that collectivism breeds the worst of human relations while individualism makes possible nearly any sort and discourages the worst. Yes, an individualist society, were it ever realized–and the bits of it evident throughout recent human history prove this–does not erase all evil in human life. Nor does it promise to do so, since in freedom men and women can certainly make bad choices, even in how they treat one another (although evil is diminished since one may not legally dump one’s malpractice on others with impunity). But individualism teaches that everyone who does not violate the rights of others is of value and even those who do must first be convicted by means of a fair trial to be treated badly (incarcerated, for example).
Individualism is often derided by the sophists among us because it runs the risk of leading to human alienation. And, true, individualism has its corrupt versions. But it need not be any means go there. Because in individualist societies men and women have their right to liberty secured, which makes it possible that they mismanage their lives, of course, and some will do just that.
But in socialist, communist and other collectivist systems people’s lives are systematically, necessarily mismanaged by those who step up to rule them against their will. For that is what collectivism comes to, even the mildest version of it, such as communitarianism or democratic socialism. Some will make the deceptive claim to be speaking and acting on behalf of all and thus gain power over all. In fact, no collectivist system is actually possible; instead what we get under them is the rule of some folks over the rest. Collectivism would only be possible if human nature were to change so that it would resemble the nature of bees or termites. (Karl Marx fully realized this so he predicted that in time, when communism arrives, humanity will develop what he called "the new man.")
OK, all of this I mention here out because just as all these refugees from communism met to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, we learned, also, that President Barack Obama decided not to join other Western leaders in celebrating this event. Instead he delivered some rather uninspired words from his home, The White House, looking very much like he would much rather have been doing something quite different–say making another pitch to bring the Olympics to Chicago (a noble goal in support of which he did fly to Denmark not long ago). But he would not take the trip so as to commemorate one of the most pivotal international events in recent time, one that’s comparable only to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
The collapse of the Soviet Union apparently has not been all that welcome by Mr. Obama’s political base, the extreme Left Wing of American liberals. These folks have always had a soft spot in their hearts and minds for experiments in collectivism. Any anti-individualist polity is for these folks a progressive undertaking since by their lights humanity makes progress when it moves toward lumping all of us into a huge mass to be guided by the likes of Stalin, Hugo Chavez, or Fidel Castro, all of whom want to impose on it a one-size-fits-all way of life.
So it is very likely that skipping the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall was a calculated decision. It was, after all, the leader of the East German state who once answered a journalist, who asked him why they were shooting at those trying to escape across the wall, by saying, "Well those people are stealing from us." "Stealing what?" "Themselves."
You see, in that kind of system people literally belong to the state and when they try to leave, it amounts to theft. >