World

The Corner

Concerning Liu Xiaobo, a Reminder from Lincoln

On the homepage, we have an editorial about Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese democracy leader and political prisoner who has died at 61. As the editorial points out, he was like Havel — but Havel lived to emerge from prison and be elected president of his (free) country. Liu was snuffed out before that could happen.

The Chinese democrats seem few and embattled; the grip of the Chinese Communist Party seems strong. But life is long — of the world, if not of individual men. At what proved to be his final prison sentencing in December 2008, Liu Xiaobo said, “I believe that my work has been just, and that someday China will be a free and democratic society.”

Rick Brookhiser sent me a heartening note, on this disheartening day. He quoted Abraham Lincoln, who in 1858 said,

I have not allowed myself to forget that the abolition of the slave trade by Great Britain was agitated a hundred years before it was a final success; that the measure had its open fire-eating opponents; its stealthy “don’t care” opponents; its dollar and cent opponents; its inferior race opponents; …

But I have also remembered that, though they blazed like tallow-candles for a century, at last they flickered in the socket, died out, stank in the dark for a brief season, and were remembered no more, even by the smell. School-boys know that Wilberforce, and Granville Sharp, helped that cause forward; but who can now name a single man who labored to retard it?

Remembering these things I cannot but regard it as possible that the higher object of this contest may not be completely attained within the term of my natural life.

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