Column on The Struggle

The struggle–the long arc of advances in human liberty

Tibor R. Machan

is some good news: The march of liberty has so far proven to be
generally unstoppable. Over the span of human history there have been
periods during which hardly any sign of respect for human liberty had
been in evidence.  In other eras the globe has seen advances toward
human liberty by leaps and bounds.  That is to say, in some periods
clear evidence can be pointed to showing that some men and women–such
as kings, queens, czars, Pharaohs, Caesars, dictators, tyrants,
politburos, political bodies of all types and uncivil majorities–have
began to recede in their efforts to suppress other men and women, to
treat them as their tools, instruments, subjects, and such.  In other
periods the opposite trend has been in evidence.

overall the trend has been toward the spread of liberty.  More and more
of us have become masters of our own lives, fewer and fewer are in the
position of ruling others.  Even when in some areas, such as national
economic policy, liberty has taken a beating, there are others where
fewer impositions and restrictions are made into public policy–for
example, the basic rights of members of minorities, women, gays,
natives, the press, etc., are being recognized and provided legal
protection alongside onerous economic policies. And globally, while the
former beacon of human liberty, the United States of America–itself,
sadly, never fully committed–is now rather halting in its defense of
human freedom, other communities–for instance, the former Soviet and
other colonies–are slowly but surely shedding the idea and practice
that would have some people run roughshod over others, especially as a
matter of official public policy.  

this is not all that surprising.  In any area of their lives people can
do better or worse or just linger in some kind of mediocre limbo.  And
this is so when it comes to political matters.  Sometimes, in fact,
there can be improvement in one sphere of human life and a decline in
others–for instance, while economic liberty can widen, it is possible
for personal or cultural fulfilment to be on hold for many.  Not
everything is moving in the same direction at once and with the same
speed.  (One can easily confirm this by just checking one’s own life and
noticing that there can be advances in one area while another can be
faltering–one’s career can even soar while one’s health might not

this is enhanced by the sheer fact that the surrounding natural world
in which men and women may struggle to strive, to flourish, isn’t
uniformly supportive–storms, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes,
diseases and other adversities not of our making are often complicit in
making life not so triumphant for us all.  Fortunately, here, if men
and women are substantially free to live their lives without being
oppressed by others, they tend to do better at figuring out how to deal
with these non-human adversities–the sciences, philosophy, technology,
education, and other features of life tend to get improved treatment
when we are free, less time needs to be spent on fending off the
intrusive ones among us.

as one contemplates developments in one’s immediate or the broader
human sphere, it is a good idea to keep in mind how even without a
inevitable trend toward a better and better existence, in the long run
human beings are experiencing a better and better life (just as the late
Julian Simon and his students (e.g., Matt Ridley) have been stressing
in the midst of the endless doom-sayings of the likes of Paul Ehrlich
and Paul Krugman).  

often predictions of doom come from politically disgruntled folks,
those who still believe that they should be in charge of others and not
respect the rights of everyone to sovereignty, self-government.  Also,
as one gets older and senses that ones own life is slowly declining, one
may be tempted to project this on to the rest of the world and declare
it all going to hell in a hand basket.

there isn’t a guarantee of a steady march toward liberty–it is truly a
matter of eternal vigilance.  But fortunately there are many, many
people who exhibit this vigilance in various parts of their lives,
throughout human history and around the globe, and thus help keep afoot
the advances toward greater and greater freedom and, alongside, a better
chance of overall improvement in human affairs.

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