- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2000

I have just returned from a voyage through the Greek and Turkish Isles in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas where I traced the footsteps of St. Paul from Athens and Corinth to Jerusalem and Ephesus, and I am reminded of Georg Hegel's words that, "The only thing one learns from history is that no one learns from history." Aside from the fact we can't afford to ignore these lessons, I believe we are learning from the mistakes of the past and can build a new Golden Age of democracy, freedom and peace.
No, I'm not a utopian or a "one-world government" type who believes we can create a perfect world here on Earth. But I am optimistic that the golden ages of Pericles' Athens and David's Jerusalem can be a guide to and provide a basis for a 21st century of freedom and liberal democracy for the whole world.
As my wife Joanne and I sailed the Mediterranean and Aegean with the friends and supporters of Prison Fellowship, a faith-based ministry to prisons and prisoners around the world founded by Chuck Colson in 1976, we marveled at holy and historic sites preserved for the ages from which we can learn so much. I was in awe of the contrasts and in many cases the conflicts between biblical history and our contemporary culture. While there is ample room both for interpretation and disagreement, I remain the unrepentant and unreconstructed optimist who believes mankind is both learning from history and progressing toward a freer and more democratic world.
Despite wars and rumors of war, poverty of unimaginable depth and world problems yet to be addressed, I contend freedom and free enterprise under rule of law are beginning to take hold in the hearts and minds of people all over the globe. Yes, I know, I'm looking more at the profound possibilities than just the immediate realities, but freedom works and it is expanding not contracting in this less-than-perfect world of ours.
Of course, problems abound. On the very day we arrived in Jerusalem, the Syrian-backed Hezbollah moved into the areas of South Lebanon recently vacated by the Israeli Defense Forces. The newspapers of Europe and the Middle East were full of the news of chaos in Sierra Leone, Africa, as well as the abuse of human rights in Asia, crime in Russia and the "clash of civilizations" recently chronicled by Samuel Huntington. But at the same time, the waters below the surface lend evidence of a surge toward something better, more practical and more powerful than armies: the ideas of freedom and justice whose time has come.
Emile Zola in "J'accuse" wrote on the eve of the 20th century that, "truth is on the march and nothing in history can stop it." The skeptic would say he was only writing on behalf of the French army captain, Alfred Dreyfuss, the victim of virulent anti-Semitism, but I believe he was also speaking of the universal impulse toward the truth that "makes men free."
Thomas Jefferson wrote that, "The God who gave us life gave us freedom at the same time." Wasn't our Civil War fought to prove in Abraham Lincoln's words that freedom is the birthright of all people, everywhere? Isn't that the message of a Nelson Mandela emerging from prison to lead a new South Africa to democracy or an Eastern Europe emerging from a 70-year experiment in communism to practice democracy with private property and human rights?
Some of my friends on the right will protest this line of reasoning, believing mankind has not progressed much beyond where it was 2,000 or even 6,000 years ago. Over on the left are those who argue from basically the same premise but emphasize that given the recurring problems of inequality and poor choices by free markets and free people, government must massively intervene to iron out our mistakes and redistribute our income and wealth. But notwithstanding their good intentions, in most cases these elitists only exacerbate the problems they seek to solve. And what is worse, they end up hurting the poor even more.
I'm not talking here of going back to social or economic Darwinism. I'm arguing that mankind is progressing toward democracy and entrepreneurial capitalism, which history demonstrates to be the only system of political-economic organization that can provide the leadership to create wealth and opportunity. Karl Marx is both dead and wrong, and isn't it interesting that the final synthesis of his dialectical clash of history is that which leads to liberal democracy and freedom of enterprise, not the so-called "withering away of the state" and the "dictatorship of the proletariat" that he envisioned?
As we cruised from Crete to Santorini, arguably the most beautiful of the Greek Isles, I finished reading Thomas Cahill's, "The Gift of the Jews," "Chronicles of the Crusades" by Evans Connell and Professor Allen Guelzo's "Lincoln the Redeemer President." I'm more than ever convinced that attaining freedom is the oldest and most persistent struggle and goal of mankind. And in the end, albeit haltingly and in cumbersome fashion, mankind will achieve freedom.
While the alchemists of old tried to transform base metals into gold and failed, we're in an age made golden by the discovery of those base elements of the Earth that when fashioned into fiber optics, tiny silicon chips and microprocessors are giving us an "information age" of infinite possibilities.
Of course, mankind can misuse and abuse these fabulous opportunities. But if we get it right, this century truly can and ought to be a century not of America alone, but one in which those values and ideals bequeathed to us by our Founders give meaning to life and also bring progress and prosperity to the world.


Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America and Distinguished Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide