Thursday, July 26, 2007

Shadows of Stalin

Tibor R. Machan

Although the Republic of Georgia is more inclined, as a country and even as a government, toward a system of free market capitalism, it is far from having implemented it. When it comes to neighboring Armenia and its unfortunate adversary, Azerbaijan, they are very far from having made progress toward the free society.

I am not someone who likes looking at disasters—rubbernecking has never been my habit and I recall find it very difficult to read books by Alexander Solzhenitsyn about the labor camps in the old Soviet Union. Even tales of heroic resistance to totalitarianism through history failed to appeal to me because while the heroism was admirable, there was too much of the misery in the stories being told.

Nonetheless, I have been doing a lot of lecturing lately in former Soviet bloc countries such as Bulgaria, Poland, Armenia, and so forth. Every time I land in one of these countries I go through some unwelcome emotional upheavals because I can easily imagine not having managed to escape what happened in them, even though I did, in fact, escape it all when I was smuggled out of Hungary in 1953 as a young kid. The experience of hiding from the well armed, murderous border guards was enough to encourage in me a life-long interest in the study of the difference between free and oppressed countries, between those that have been seriously influenced by individualism and classical liberalism and those that have followed the path of collectivism and the planned system of political economy. And this, in turn, has lead to my writing on the topic and to being invited conferences, seminars and such to engage in debates and make presentations in the discipline of political economy, including in some of these countries. Seeing the interest shown in the ideas and ideals of the free society by many people in these societies has also lessened my reluctance to think about the Soviet era.

One observations I have come away with this time, as I travel and lecture in the Republic of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan is that if you find people there who defend the old system, they do so much more forthrightly than those who champion them in the West. Those who favor collectivism in the West tend to soften its tenets considerably. They don’t talk so much about ruling others but of how they need help. They don’t speak of how most others are stupid but how the system deceives them and leadership is needed to protect them from such deception.

The few defenders of the old regime in the former Soviet bloc countries where I have visited are more direct. Most people are stupid and need the smart ones among us to tell them what to do, how to live, what goes to pursue, and so forth. It is not equality or community that is important but being made to do what is right and that is something only the bright people know. So they should rule, period, whatever the results. We know, they figure, that when these bright people rule, no one can really control them, and no one can guide how they will implement their rule. So, full confidence is necessary in their role as leaders of the mob. All those nice sounding substitutes for forthright authoritarianism can be dispensed with. What is important is to make sure that those in the know get to run the show.

I have to say that it was refreshing to argue with folks who didn’t mince their words, didn’t use all the euphemisms as they defended a top down fully planned society. There was no mention of the need for democratic participation—after all, why consult all those stupid people who needed to be ruled when the reason they need to be ruled is that they are clueless about how to live?

Sometimes it would be so nice to have colleagues of mine at Western universities who champion statism come right out and defend the idea without mincing words, without prettying up what they are advocating, namely, a society ruled by the elite of which they would surely be members.

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