Monday, May 02, 2005

Column on Whether to Besmirch or Praise Liberty

To Besmirch or to Praise, that's the Question

Tibor R. Machan

One may, I think, assume that from the beginning of human thought there
has been this battle between those who stress our capacity to screw up and
those who focus mainly on all the nifty things we can accomplish. Just
think about the idea of original sin?why make such a big deal of the fact
that people are, of course, free to sin or do vicious things, when they
are also just as able and even more likely to act virtuously, creatively,

Alas, it would be quite a task to do the math here. Are people more
likely to do well or badly? It looks like on the whole the more optimistic
assessment wins out, although it is difficult to show this without a
pretty well worked out set of standards, ones that are likely to be highly
controversial. On a common sense level, too, the task is daunting because
the reporting of good news is so much less popular in the mainstream
media; even the fictional representation of humanity?s lot tends to stress
the dark side. In the realms of art and entertainment the macabre or
horrible, wherein people and their circumstances come off pretty much on
the downside, seems to dominate. While some religions, like the Seventh
Day Adventists, do advise us to look on the bright side of things?I am
thinking here of my favorite bumper sticker, ?Notice the good and praise
it,? which I recall them producing some years ago?mostly they tend to
focus on us all as sinners.

I am reflecting on this after having finally seen the award winning
German movie, ?Good Bye, Lenin,? about the East German lady who falls into
a coma just before the Berlin Wall comes down and, so as to spare her any
excitement when she awakens, she is kept in the dark about all the changes
that have occurred in consequence of this momentous event. As the changes
are depicted in the movie, you get a good illustration of how some folks
revel in a negatives of human affairs.

The West, of course, has been much more free for people than the East,
during the Cold War, and this can use examination and illustration in a
film like ?Good Bye, Lenin.? So what do we get from the people who gave us
this widely acclaimed little gem?

Well, the first thing about the free West that?s depicted for us is
pornography. Next come some pretty gaudy advertisements. Then scenes after
scenes of decadence. That is how the prevailing freedom in West Germany is
represented for the viewing audience.

There is not a thing about the benign creative initiative that freedom
unleashes, no showing of how freedom of commerce makes lives so much more
promising for everyone, nothing much about the bustling employment market
or about civil liberties, no. It?s all about how when you get to be free,
you can make a gory mess of things.

And for this the flick was hailed as being so insightful, so quaint, so
important to make so as to show how East German idealism had to give way
to crass ?McCapitalism.? The director and co-author, [ ]Wolfgang Becker, never tires of
rubbing it in that where freedom reigns, people can behave in less that
admirable, noble ways. This is probably the criticism that has undermined
the free, capitalist society for centuries, indeed from the very beginning
when the idea of human political and economic liberty began to be floated
among political theorists. Acknowledging that human beings ought to live
in freedom has always been undermined by this pessimist outlook, one that
while true, is also far less than half of the truth.

A classic example comes from Karl Marx, when he said, in his famous
essay, ?On the Jewish Question,? that ?the right of man to property is the
right to enjoy his possessions and dispose of the same arbitrarily,
without regard for other men, independently from society, the right of
selfishness.? Never mind for the moment that ?selfishness? may not be all
that terrible, should it include, for example, one?s better education, the
health care of one?s loved ones, etc. Let us just grant, for the sake of
argument, that such a right?as the right to one?s life or one?s
liberty?makes it possible for people to do some shady stuff, including to
dispose of their possessions arbitrarily, ?without regard to other men,
independently of society.?

Yet, of course, they could and mostly do make use of their private
property productively, creatively, in what is called a win-win fashion,
exchanging what they have for what others have in a way that everyone is
better off. But no. Old Karl, just like our little movie, had to focus on
the worst possible cases, on how some folks might make less than the most
efficient, most admirable use of what they have the right to do and own.

To all this I wish to recall our nifty bumper sticker: ?Notice the good
and praise it.? Just pay attention and notice if I?m right.

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