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Universal Desire for Freedom


I’m going to put in one copper penny on the “is the desire for freedom universal?” discussion. I understood Andy to be saying that security trumps freedom every time, with which I agree. But I also believe that if people are free and secure enough to be able to choose between freedom and tyranny, they will usually choose freedom. I’m an historian of fascism, and I know–in enormous detail–that people have freely chosen monstrous tyrants to lead them. To which we can add the great popularity of “benevolent dictators” in places like Singapore. But my Russian grandmother taught me the basic rules of good government:

1. Best government = good Tsar
2. Worst government = bad Tsar
3. Good Tsars are very rare. So it’s best not to have Tsars at all.
Most people get that, I think. They may (freely) make mistakes, to be sure (that’s truly a universal human attribute), but I think it’s quite wrong to dismiss as nonsense the notion that people generally want to be free. It’s relatively rare for them to have the choice, after all, and all those people risking their lives to vote, from Salvador to Iraq, are pretty impressive.

On the Adenauer thing, the notion that “it worked” strikes me as pure tunnel history. Adenauer was a great leader, and Truman was a great president, and the Germans were duly defeated and had lost their zeal for a greater Reich. But I think it was terrible to be generous to the Nazis, most of which was driven by something neither Buruma nor Andrew chose to mention, namely the desire to enlist Nazi military, scientific and intelligence people in the Cold War. That gave decades of life to monsters like Eichmann and his ilk. That is part of the moral corruption about which people find it possible to happily conclude “it worked.” Germany could have been democratic even if the Eichmanns had been hung when they should have been.


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