It was so obvious it was completely taken for granted.
The Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics was a spectacular celebration of human freedom. A concept that in fact began to take root with a piece of parchment signed in 1215 and known as the Magna Carta, or the Great Charter of the Liberties of England.
Yet there wasn’t a peep about what we were really seeing in London the other night.
All of which shows precisely the very real dangers that freedom faces around the globe — not to mention right here at home in America.
As television and computer screens filled with spectacular images of James Bond, Mary Poppins, Harry Potter villain Lord Voldemort and the ageless Beatle Sir Paul, viewers were enthralled.
And yet… and yet… how did all these people real (the Beatles) and imagined come to be?
They came to be, of course, because a free country provided Ian Fleming, P.L. Travers, J.K. Rowling, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo the complete freedom to conjure and amaze audiences with their respective literary and musical creations.
This decision not to formally recognize the vital importance of freedom — and one must ask whether it was even a conscious decision as much as it was a simple taking for granted of a fact of life for Brits — was mirrored exactly in the decidedly conscious decision by IOC President Jacques Rogge. That decision? Not to have a moment of silence for the Israeli athletes slaughtered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Instead, in what the New York Post called a “watered-down tribute,” there was this generic included in the program: “In a moving moment, those who are absent from us are digitally present.”
Can you imagine this? A group of terrorists — decided enemies of freedom — invaded the Olympics and committed mass murder, which is to say, killing Jews. And not a peep of specific recognition of this by the Olympic Committee whose very existence depends on the freedom of athletes to take their physical abilities to their limits — just as was true of the literary and musical talents of Fleming, Travers, Rowling, and Beatle Paul.
Not to be outdone in the reluctance to say a word on behalf of freedom, out in these vacation-precincts comes news of the plight of Greek Olympian Voula Papachristou. After years of intense training and making the Greek team the 23-year old Papachristou made the mistake of tweeting a tasteless dopey joke about an outbreak of West Nile virus in Athens. The joke? “With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!” For this, the young athlete — profuse apologies to no avail — was expelled from her team days before the Opening Ceremonies. This treatment coming from the country generally credited as the birthplace of democracy.
Not to be too obvious here, but taken together none of this bodes well for freedom.
An inability to recognize freedom in the midst of celebrating some of the most famous achievements in the recent history of artistic freedom, a decided unwillingness to specifically address the most heinous act of opposition to freedom in modern Olympic history — plus a fascist-like political correctness that costs a young woman her Olympic moment — all act as storm warnings. These are caution signals if not flashing red lights.
Freedom is, of course, tied inextricably to the success of capitalism. It is capitalism that made welfare mother Rowling richer than the Queen. It is capitalism that made the four lads from Liverpool rich beyond their dreams. And it is capitalism that, in the recent words of Charles Murray in the Wall Street Journal:
… is the best thing that has ever happened to the material condition of the human race. From the dawn of history until the 18th century, every society in the world was impoverished, with only the thinnest film of wealth on top. Then came capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere that capitalism subsequently took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fail. Everywhere that capitalism didn’t take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased.
Capitalism has lifted the world out of poverty because it gives people a chance to get rich by creating value and reaping the rewards.
Which is to say, using freedom to pursue their dreams and talents.
There’s nothing new in all of this. And one does not have to be the author of the Harry Potter series or a Beatle to have benefitted.
Freedom has been directly under assault down through the ages.
Certainly it is safe to say, speaking of Brits, that the small interlude in history that we know as the American Revolution — launched in part by those original tea partiers in Boston — was nothing if not a war for freedom. So too was the Civil War and the divide over slavery a continuation of that American war for freedom. In the 20th century alone freedom had to fight off wars hot and Cold against German Nazis, Italian Fascists, the Japanese Empire, and the Communist Soviet Union as well as Communist North Korea and its Chinese ally — all designed to exterminate freedom. Let’s not forget Vietnam. Today Islamic Supremacists reject freedom because they want the world to bow down to the totalitarian strictures of sharia.
Towards the end of 2009, the first in the Age of Obama, National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg wrote a wonderfully perceptive piece on the influence of Richard Ely, the late 19th-century American academic who served, in Goldberg’s words, “as a mentor to or major influence on many of the most important progressive thinkers and activists” of the early 20th century. That group including, among others, Woodrow Wilson, Robert La Follette and Theodore Roosevelt. Goldberg pointed out the obvious: that while Ely is mostly unknown today, his influence on what Americans know as the “progressive movement” is still palpable today.
The irony here is that the supposedly more authentically American tradition of reform also has a heavily European lineage. Indeed, American progressives saw themselves as the U.S. franchisees of an international effort. “We were parts, one of another, in the United States and Europe,” proclaimed William Allen White. “Something was welding us into one social and economic whole with local political variations.”
By “local variations” of progressives White meant local as in places as near as his native Kansas and as far afield as the Socialists of France, Germany, Belgium, and Holland. Which is to say, Europe — precisely the place where freedom had already had a tough go of it with such small moments as the French Revolution and Napoleon, not to mention what loomed with two world wars and Communism.
And as was true of their philosophical ancestors in the days of the French Revolution, Nazis, Fascists, and Communists — anti-freedom movements one and all — progressives and Leftists today, whether in Europe or America, reject the American concept of freedom. Why? Because they believe in a world that is run somewhere along the yard stick of leftism from Richard Ely’s top down “coercive philanthropy” to Marx’s world of hardline class warfare.
Or, as Goldberg put it succinctly, these are people who believe that “if experts can glean which way social betterment lies, who is the individual to object?”
A better description of, say, Obamacare could not be found.
Which brings us back to the Olympics and what we actually saw with our own eyes in that Opening Ceremony:
The vivid contradiction of freedom stunningly on display, the consequences of an enemy that will boldly murder Olympians to extinguish freedom, and the creepy — and creeping- anti-freedom censorship of the Greek Olympic Committee callously snuffing out an athlete’s chance at Olympic medals in the name of political correctness.
Decades ago, Whittaker Chambers wrote of an epiphany had during one of his darker moments in his struggle to confront Communism. Chambers wrote:
In those days, I often moved about or performed tasks more or less blindly from habit, while my mind was occupied with its mortal debate. One day as I came down the stairs in the Mount Royal Terrace house [the Baltimore home where he lived with his family], the question of the impossible return struck me with sudden sharpness. I thought: “You cannot do it. No one can go back.” [To freedom from Communism.] As I stepped down into the dark hall, I found myself stopped, not by a constraint, but by a hush of my whole being. In this organic hush, a voice said with perfect distinctness: “If you will fight for freedom, all will be well with you.” The words are nothing. Perhaps there were no words, only an uttered meaning to which my mind supplied the words. What was there was the sense that, like me, time and the world stood still, an awareness of God as an envelopment, holding me in silent assurance and untroubled peace. There was a sense that in that moment I gave my promise, not with the mind, but with my whole being, and that this was a covenant that I might not break.
… Henceforth, in the depth of my being there was peace and a strength that nothing could shake. It was the strength that carried me out of the Communist Party, that carried me back into the life of men.
If you will fight for freedom, all will be well with you.
The hard-earned wisdom of Chambers speaks to us all today. It reminds one and all to be on guard for both the casual disregard of freedom and its fruits — the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics. It reminds that it is a dangerous folly to ignore the facts of those who would and have snuffed out innocent lives in the name of totalitarian murder (ignoring the massacre of those Israeli Olympians). And it reminds that the spotlight should always shine on those who, in the name of a quasi-totalitarian political correctness will ban the simplest expression of freedom — free speech.
Freedom is perpetually targeted for war. And one doesn’t have to sally forth to any foreign countries as the challenges within U.S. borders are multiplying daily.
The Mayor of New York wants the Big Gulp of soda banned because he is determined to control what you voluntarily put into your body by way of soft drinks.
In the wake of the Colorado shootings, the cry goes up yet again for controlling the freedom to bear arms.
In some automotive quarters the idea is to install a gadget in your car that measures your road mileage — so you can be taxed accordingly.
And, of course, Obamacare is in the process of restricting the right of a patient to choose their own doctor, keep their own insurance and, thanks to the rationing of the Independent Advisory Board — aka the “Death Panel” — have a say in your freedom to literally draw your next breath.
The other day, the Wall Street Journal‘s Robert Pollock sat down with Yale Professor Charles Hill — a rare conservative in academia. Hill has seen more of the world than the university campus, having served as a foreign service officer and adviser to two Secretaries of State — Nixon’s Henry Kissinger and Reagan’s George Shultz.
What concerns Mr. Hill these days is “the conduct of the Obama administration” that is, in Hill’s view, effectively turning back the “democracy wave” that began in the wake of the end of the Cold War. Yet another way of noting that freedom is struggling in the 21st century. With the power of the Chinese on the rise, a Putin-run Russia essentially trying to restore as best as possible the empire of influence that once was the Soviet Union — and a craven (and broke) Europe wallowing in the guilt of responsibility for “Napoleon and colonialism and imperialism and Stalin and Marx and Lenin and Hitler and the Holocaust” — only more trouble for freedom lies ahead. If the United States is unwilling to do battle for the freedom that is at the core of liberal (in the old-fashioned sense) democracy — who will do this?
Once upon a time America was a beacon of freedom. And for a considerable while, all of Western civilization.
The failure to point out the role of freedom at the Olympics, the failure to take a specific moment of silence for those Israeli athletes murdered at the hands of freedom’s enemies, and the assault on the free speech rights of an Olympic athlete collectively bode nothing but ill.
They are signs that freedom is not only being taken for granted amidst even a vast celebration of the fruits of that freedom. They are one more in a series of signs that freedom itself is in one form, fashion or another directly under assault.
President Reagan used to speak of the importance of standing up for freedom. Marl Levin notes a specific Reagan quote on freedom at the close of his bestseller Liberty and Tyranny:
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Now is the time — now is always the time — to stand up for freedom.
Especially at the Olympics.