Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Rejoicing at Liberty's Delights

Tibor R. Machan

When I was a kid living in Budapest, Hungary, massive censorship was just beginning to descend on the country, in the wake of the takeover by the Soviet communists in 1948. Afterwards virtually all interesting books, especially those from the West, were banned and could only be obtained via the black market. That is where I picked up my copies of Zane Grey, Earl Stanley Gardner, Mark Twain, Max Brand, and other novels that I so much enjoyed reading in my youth.

One great benefit of living in a partially free society is that those aspects of it that are free produce immense benefits for those who enjoy its fruits. So, for example, if one is an avid reader of literature and non-fiction works, in a country like the U.S.A., with a pretty strict prohibition against government getting involved in meddling in what people write and read, there is an abundance of material for everyone to delve into. No one tells you what you may or may not write or read and even works that the mainstream publishers refuse to touch manages to get to a sizable readership these days, what with the Internet and all kinds of non-traditional publishing venues at hand.

And, of course, this is true not just of writing and reading but most of the arts. Virtually all of the visual arts are out there for people to pick and choose from. Even if one lacks the big bucks to purchase the fine arts--or to attend concerts featuring great orchestras, bands, and so forth--there are innumerable ways to encounter works one yearns to view and hear.

For example, I regularly canvass the net for what various museums and art galleries display and while this may not quite compare with having great works hang on one's own walls, it is still a plentiful source of aesthetic satisfaction. Those of us who aren't well enough off to purchase original paintings can at least obtain prints or, at least, view small renditions of nearly any work on one's computer screen. And there is such an abundance of sources of nearly any form of music now--via cable TV, radio, the Internet once again, and, of course, CDs and such--that no one can complain about a shortage of offerings by which to be delighted, amused, thrilled, enchanted via whichever medium of art one finds most appealing.

I am really very lucky because much of what I wish from life is produced in what amounts to a largely free market place. No government bureaucracy stands between me, the consumer of art works, and the creators and merchants. If I really want some expensive work badly enough, all I need to do is save up a while and then get it. As to novels, I can hardly keep up with what my favorite contemporary authors produce. And of course there is a great deal available from past masters, major or minor.

This is not what it is like in countries that lack the legal equivalent of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Even in Western Europe there is nothing like what the U. S. enjoys in the way of literary freedom. And, of course, in many places around the globe governments, often in cahoots with some religious leadership, have full "legal authority" to dictate what people may write and read, paint and view, listen to, and so forth.

Of course, there is an unfairness about this because if one is interested in productive and creative undertakings which aren't unregulated by the various levels of government in a country, one is not going to enjoy the fruits of liberty as I and those who seek satisfaction from the arts, literary and otherwise, manage. But this unfairness isn't the fault of those who are the beneficiaries of the selective protection of human liberty involved. Just like people who can escape the oppression of military conscription or some form of taxation--folks referred to as draft or tax dodgers--those who are the beneficiaries of the "loopholes" provided by the First Amendment ought to take full advantage of their better lot. But they ought to join with all those who strive to set markets free in all areas of human endeavor, not just the arts, the press and all other forms of expression that are fortunate to be free of the bureaucracy's heavy hand.