Why The Germans Blinked
Tibor R. Machan
Jana Henselis, who is herself from the former Easter Germany, wrote about
the winner by only the slightest margin of the German election for
chancellor, held Sunday, September 18, Angela Merkel, that she is ?a woman
almost without qualities.? She noted that Merkel ?thought that she could
represent the whole of society by the strength of her reformer's will and
her neoliberal conception of the state.?
Merkel ran on a platform that came to the following: "I want to serve
Germany." As Henselis put it, Merkel ?described the communist system as a
sort of prison in which she learned to love freedom more than people who
were already used to it.? She didn?t approach the election from the usual
special interest perspective but argued, in general terms, again quoting
Henselis, that ?it was necessary to reduce the role and responsibility of
the state in almost all sectors of society.?
According to Henselis, this ?was too radical for most West German
voters.? And that is a very good point to make, not just of German voters
but of most people around the world, when it comes to their attitude and
understanding of the principles of the free society.
Ayn Rand, the Russian American novelist and philosopher who has been a
lifelong defender, on complex philosophical ground, of the fully free
society, told The New York Times, on February 20, 1966,
It is earlier than you think. The status quo of today is a mixed economy
with a fascist, rather than socialist, trend....Today, the advocates of
laissez-faire capitalism...are and have to be radical innovators....
This comment was made with reference to the 1964 US presidential contest
between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater and it pointed up the problem
of trying to attain a free society without an electorate that has a clear
idea of why such a society is best.
In today?s Germany, too, there are many people who have a vague notion
that a country that?s free is better than ?the communist system [which is]
a sort of prison.? Indeed, the bulk of the European?and even
world?population has a vague notion to this effect. What they lack is the
firm conviction and understanding that freedom is indeed better for people
than even the slightest measure of oppression, even for the most appealing
of reasons (e.g., various types of security or safety).
In other words, if one only feels good about freedom, has a vague notion
of its value in human community life, one will not very likely be able to
answer those who have umpteen reasons for compromising it. The passion
with which millions of people want to compromise liberty is considerable,
since this passion is directed toward various immediate personal and
vested interests, not the long range or general interest. The general
interest is about basic and purportedly lasting ideas?for example, the
essentially free infrastructure of a country and the resulting long term
public policies sustaining free institutions?while personal and vested
interests have to do with what concerns folks in the here and now. Unless
they have a solid grounding in why their general interest, namely, the
regime of individual liberty, is ultimately to their own personal
benefit?a grounding that can overcome the more emotionally immediate
desire to serve narrow personal and vested interests?they will not be able
to sustain a movement toward a genuine free society.
What was true back in 1964 in the United States of America is far more
true around the globe, including in Europe and the former Soviet bloc.
Following the fall of the USSR, what most of the citizens heard from their
leaders was a call for some kind of compromise between socialism and
capitalism. They were taught, in the main, to place their hopes in and
champion the welfare state (despite being warned by some that this is
ruinous, especially with poor economies).
Germany is still in the grips of this ambivalence that comes from a
failure to understand that a regime of freedom is indeed best suited to
human community life. Most people there, as elsewhere, including even the
United States of America, live by the ?principle? of ?trying to eat one?s
cake and having it, as well.? And this principle can only be unseated, as
it should be, by learning the lesson of why any compromise of liberty is
ultimately hazardous both the personal and public welfare.