“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.” That celebrated quote by long gone philosopher George Santayana is familiar to most people because it is so true. Sadly, people and nations choose to forget.
The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. is a stark reminder of a not-so-distant history, a grim and disturbing past that many believe cannot happen again. Those people are wrong. Extreme concentration of power, contempt of the governors for the rights of the governed and worship of a powerful leader as savior lends itself to the conditions that have always ended in disaster for a nation and its people. Museum visitors who are aware of contemporary politics likely come away from it with a disturbing sense that something is eerily familiar in that history.
The rise of the Nazis in Germany didn’t just happen overnight in the 1930’s. The people were conditioned over a long period. Many actually cheered the rise of the Fuehrer as a powerful and charismatic leader, someone to regain their proud heritage after the humiliation of World War I. While Hitler was not academically accomplished, he was a genius with a goal that prodded him for many years. He had a plan and came to power within the existing system. He was named Chancellor by the President, with significant support from powerful parties.
The ultimate political accomplishment which allowed Hitler to elevate himself to dictator was the passing of the “Enabling Act.” As described by William L. Shirer in his classic book, “The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich”, “Parliament had turned over its constitutional authority to Hitler and thereby committed suicide.” They abdicated their role as a check against power and allowed a domineering politician to take his stand among the coldest and most brutal totalitarian rulers the world has known.
The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 capped a series of events over many years. The people of Russia suffered oppression at the hands of the Czar and revolutionaries used unrest and chaos to seize power. What they didn’t comprehend is that a government ostensibly of “the people” could multiply the oppression and terror on the people. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and so many others who legitimized themselves as saviors of the masses put their ideologies above the people. Countless millions suffered brutal deaths at the hands of cold ideology.
On the other side of the coin, the American Revolution did not happen overnight either. England’s war with France over colonies to the north meant that the British colonies benefited from benign neglect for an extended period of time. Independence and a mentality of freedom grew up over dozens of years. The revolution was merely the natural culmination of a long train of events. The embedded tradition of individual liberty set the stage for an America that quickly blossomed into a nation of prosperity for the common man.
For decades America has been on a different course. It is not to the point where a dictator can take over without a fight. America is, however, definitely heading down that path, like most other Western countries infatuated with socialism. Progressivism started in Germany in the late 1800’s. The conscious objective of the welfare state was not charity, but rather to make the German people dependent on the government. Dependent people can more easily be bent to the will of the state. Contemporary American government is consciously, actively and progressively making Americans dependent.
The harsh reality is that dependence and freedom are opposites. Slaves are totally dependent on their masters. They have no rights, no powers, no property and no dignity. They will, however, likely have some level of security and some food for their bellies. Freedom, on the other hand, is difficult. It may entail periods of failure, hunger, struggle and rebuilding. But free individuals are the most likely to rise from the hunger, the failure and the struggle to become more, to have more and to live more.
If Americans, including the poor, want to prosper and improve their own lot, we need to un-elect all those politicians who would make us dependent. We are at a turning point in our history. We can continue over the cliff to our demise or we can turn back and begin again to honor those characteristics that made America great: freedom and personal responsibility.
Benjamin Franklin gave us another profound thought, which cannot be denied – anyone who trades liberty for security deserves, and will soon have, neither.