The Corner


The Freedom Song

I have heard, and reviewed, many performances at Alice Tully Hall (a venue of Lincoln Center in New York). But none quite like yesterday’s — by Wuilly Arteaga, the young violinist who was arrested while playing on the streets of Caracas and then bludgeoned in a chavista prison. (They left him deaf in one ear.)

This week, the Oslo Freedom Forum came to New York. I have written about it in my Impromptus, here.

One of the guests was Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Russian democracy leader, who made a favorite point: Some people say that Russians are unready for, or unsuited to, democracy. What they need is an iron hand, bearing a whip. This is an excuse, a lie — in any case, wrong.

I thought of a famous remark about music. It comes from Charles Rosen, the late pianist-scholar: “The death of classical music is perhaps the oldest tradition of classical music.” Hear me out.

In every generation, there are people who say that classical music has come to an end. They die confident of this belief. They may even be smug about it. Then people in the next generation believe the same thing. They too die, and then …

On and on it goes.

Once, there were people who thought that southern Europeans could never democratize and liberalize — because Spaniards et al. believed in Throne and Altar. Not for them the Anglo-American fetish we call liberal democracy. Later, there were people who thought that democracy was not for East Asians. They had their own values, different values. But look at Taiwan, Japan, South Korea.

You hear it about Russia. You hear it about Arabs. You hear it about Africans. “Sure, sure, the Portuguese and the South Koreans could do it, but this time it’s different!” Yeah, yeah. People making this claim will die off, and on and on it will go.

(Conversely, there are democracies that slide into authoritarianism and worse — see Venezuela. That will go on, too.)

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