It always happens that just when I start to think that I'm pretty smart, I read a book by somebody who is (or was) a whole lot smarter than I am. It happened again today, as it has nearly every day in which I've picked up The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek. I started reading it in my quest to learn all of the stuff that neither high school nor college even pretended to teach me. I'm compiling a list that I'll get to another time. Anyway, this book is amazing. Just about everything a libertarian-leaning conservative might think about the relationship of economics, citizens, and government is in this book. He predicts behavior that we're seeing today, and it does so with astounding accuracy because he saw exactly the same things in his lifetime. At the risk of violating Godwin's Law, a great majority of his writing was based on being raised in Germany as it worked its way down the path to socialism. In the forward to the definitive edition (edited by Bruce Caldwell) Hayek states that he would have loved to have make more direct comparissons to the Soviet Union as well, but they were a putative ally at the time the book was written, and hammering them too hard would have been impolitic.
In the end, however, I believe that this post will be innocent of violating Godwin's law, because I am not actually comparing anybody to Hitler or the Nazis. There are actions they took that led to certain results. Not everything that they did was related to the evil part of their existence. If that was the case, then Liberals could never push gun control, and conservatives could never support hard work. But I digress...
Reading a book as thorough and clearly thought out as this is tough, because I want to copy every page to this blog and add, "What he said!" Of course that would be pretty inefficient. But I've got to include at least a few excerpts that seem more than appropriate in today's world, if only to convince you to buy the book for yourself. Here's the first, which discusses how totalitarian regimes convince people to follow them (I've edited for brevity):
The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before... ...And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning. Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed.
The worst sufferer in this respect is, of course, the word "Liberty". It is a word used as freely in totalitarian states as elsewhere. Indeed, it could almost be said... ...that wherever liberty as we understand it has been destroyed, this has almost always been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people. [such as -ed] ...the "collective freedom" [...] is not the freedom of members of the society, but the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society what he pleases. It is the confusion of freedom with power carried to the extreme.
...But "Freedom" or "Liberty" are by no means the only words whose meaning has been changed into their opposites to make them serve as instruments of totalitarian propaganda. We have already seen how the same happens to "justice" and "law," "right" and "equality." The list could be extended until it includes almost all moral and political terms in general use.
Like I said, he was a genius. Obviously not for this one observation, but because the entire book is filled with things like this that describe the difficulty of teaching and preserving true political freedom. Try explaining to somebody why they are less free today than they were six months ago, and only about a fifth of the population will actually understand you. The people who vote for government bailouts, government control of private companies, government supply of healthcare and confiscatory taxes to pay for it all think that they are every bit (or more) in favor of freedom, justice, and equality as you are, because they no longer - or never have - understood what those words really mean.
Hope and Change are harkening back to an era they'd probably rather we not associate them with. Let's make the association obvious.
"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."