CONTENTS FOR NOVEMBER 2003
Ten Days in the Old Empire
Break our Spirit? Never!
National Vote: Red Map Rising
Colorado Vote: Bright Ideas Bomb
Wisdom from the Founding Era
TEN DAYS IN THE OLD EMPIRE
For Americans, 70 years is a long time; from FDR’s inauguration to the Iraq war, for example. A throne that stood for 700 years is almost unimaginable to us. But that’s how long the Haps-burg empire lasted. Austria and Hungary, its heartland, along with their Czech and Slovak provinces north of the Danube, became fledgling democracies after World War I, then endured something less than a decade under Hitler’s thou-sand-year reich, then 40-plus years under Stalin’s brutal empire.
Austria escaped to neutrality in 1955, but brave bids for freedom in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) were crushed by Soviet tanks. Only in the 1990s did Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest join Vienna as independent capitals with elected governments and market eco-nomies. Donna and I visited all four cities for ten days in October, delighting in the storybook scenes of ancient castles and churches, admiring the fresh start these history-laden countries have made since the West secured their liberation by winning the Cold War.
Prosperity there is vibrant though not unclouded. Democratic institutions and habits are steadily taking hold. But we saw reason for concern that a new, soft imperialism may be reaching eastward from France and Germany to envelop this region into a corporate superstate as the price of economic integration with the EU.
This fear was dismissed by the technocratic professors who briefed us at a conference in Prague for legislators from 26 US states. But free-market leaders from across Europe (and other countries as far away as Oman, South Africa, and Canada) underscored it when we attended a 13-nation seminar at the F. A. Hayek Foundation in Bratislava a week later. They urged Americans and all friends of liberty to beware the suffocating embrace of the Brussels bureaucracy.
Empire takes many forms, not all of them enforced with bayonets. A scholar from tiny Montenegro, part of the former Yugoslavia, reminded the Hayek meeting of Churchill’s prediction: “The empires of the future will be empires of the mind.” The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek’s 1944 classic, warned that utopian collectivist ideas were gaining exactly that sort of subtle dominance over leading nations in the West as well as the East. Even now their hold is not yet fully broken, despite the collapse of communism.
The continuing threat and challenge are eloquently voiced in a little book called Living in Truth, published late in the Soviet era by Czechoslovak dissident leader Vaclav Havel. He became the reborn republic’s first president in 1989 and oversaw the “velvet divorce” permitting Slovakian independence in 1993. The integrity, humility, and realism required for genuine freedom, genuine (which is to say, individual) self-government, shine out from every page of this fearless collection.
By the 1980s, Havel wrote, communist cruelty had forced politics in his country “to return to its only proper starting point… individual people.” He explained that “because of the misery in which we find ourselves… the central concern of political thought is no longer abstract visions of a self-redeeming ‘positive’ model… but rather the people who have so far merely been enslaved by those models.”
Democratic societies, Havel added in the same unsparing spirit as Hayek, face the identical need to think anew, but “things will probably have to get worse there before the urgent need for that revolution is reflected in politics.” Notice that he refers to a revolution in ideas, not in institutions and practices – though the latter would doubtless follow.
Has this occurred yet in the Western democracies? Even with the transformative influence of Reagan and Thatcher (with whose names and that of Gingrich the word “revolution” has been too loosely used), I would have to conclude it has not. Far from it, sad to say.
To be fair, nothing we saw on our trip suggested that Hayek’s and Havel’s vision of a truly humane and moral order is anywhere nearly realized in these post-communist countries either. But that’s not the point. For me, the entire ten days were a sort of pilgrimage, really more spiritual than political or economic, dramatizing the endless demand upon all of us everywhere, to live in truth.
Innumerable small, daily choices confront us with the crossroads between the road to serfdom and the road to freedom. We choose thoughtlessly all too often – at peril to our country and our souls. I came back to home soil, back from the Danube via the Potomac to the Platte, resolved to do better.
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BREAK OUR SPIRIT? NEVER!
SBG: America’s at war, but who’s the enemy? Like Pogo, have we met the enemy and it’s us? The toll for Bush’s ill-conceived assault in Iraq continues to mount. Rumsfeld admitted the Pentagon may not be structured to defeat the terrorists – the US faces a long, hard slog. Does the chaos in the White House merely reflect ego-jousting among Bush insiders? Or is it a more serious symptom of foreign policy gone awry?
JA: Who is the enemy? You can’t really be asking that, one year after the DC sniper and two years after 9/11, a decade after the World Trade Center car bomb and two decades after the Beirut truck bomb. The enemy is global Islamic revolution, mobilized as stateless terrorism and terrorist states. Iraq is now the central front in the war against that enemy, and we are slowly defeating him there. We must not stop now.
SBG: Following the recent suicide bombings, Gen. Mark Hertling said the attacks were the work of “foreign fighters.” Those attacks, in the heart of Bagdad, killed 30. I hate evil, too. But when we send Americans to war, we better know more about what we’re up against, who they are and where they’re from. There’s too much confusion and guesswork for any American to feel confident about the outcome.
JA: There’s no guesswork here. This is the next great war for freedom after the Cold War, and if our leaders just help the American people understand that, we will persevere and win. We will defeat Islamism for the same reason we defeated Communism – because freedom is stronger than tyranny. Iraqi guerrillas and their shadowy foreign friends hope to break our spirit. They think we’ll risk another 9/11 rather than accept mounting casualties. Never, never, never.
Note: This mini-debate, and the next two, are from my Head On TV series with Susan Barnes-Gelt. See HeadonTV.org for full scripts and airtimes.
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NATIONAL VOTE: RED MAP RISING
JA: How appropriate that Howard Dean and his Democratic rivals are fighting over the Confederate flag. All the Confederates were Democrats. So was the entire segregated South down to the 1960s. Meanwhile, the off-year elections saw Republicans defeating Democrats for governor in Kentucky, Mississippi, and California. GOP momentum looks good going into 2004.
SBG: If I belonged to the vast right-wing Republican conspiracy, I’d be mighty worried about Gov. Arnold. He’s pro-choice, anti-gun, pro-gay rights, and he’s appointing a slew of tree-hugging moderates and Democrats to his cabinet. Arnold is the emerging face of the Republican Party, potentially embarrassing Bush in his quest for California’s votes.
JA: Democrats tolerate no dissent on social issues. Republicans span the spectrum. Republicans favor limited government at home and a strong defense abroad. Democrats favor the opposite, as their presidential contenders proclaim. Weep not for Bush; Schwarzenegger will only help him in painting the map red next year. It’s the left wing that should be worried.
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COLORADO VOTE: BRIGHT IDEAS BOMB
SBG: No, No and Hell No! Thus did the voters, demonstrating wisdom and good judgment, reject an ill-conceived water storage plan, a poorly defined tax initiative, and an idiotic gambling proposal. The biggest surprise? Not a single Colorado county approved the Governor’s pet initiative: a blank check for water storage and diversion projects.
JA: After months of whining by the spending lobby against our Taxpayers Bill of Rights, the voters gave it a ringing endorsement in this off-year election. They said no to ill-defined fiscal changes at the state level while approving dozens of specific tax proposals locally. Memo to liberals: TABOR works just fine.
SBG: The voters didn’t endorse TABOR, they rejected an anti-homeowner, pro-business proposal. Polls show Coloradans want to address the whole problem – the interaction of Gallagher, TABOR, and Amendment 23. This session’s legislative challenge will be to thaw the perfect storm caused by the nexus of these three constitutional amendments.
JA: The ultimate poll is election results. Every bright idea for bigger government on this year’s statewide ballot got clobbered. Tourism subsidies, water bonds, and property-tax hikes all lost. The perfect storm fizzled. Taxpayers like their bill of rights just the way it is. Here’s one legislator who gets that message.
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WISDOM FROM THE FOUNDING ERA
“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.”
The last in George Washington’s 110 rules of civility, written into his copybook at age 14.
“How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.”
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