- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

The human species has been on the earth for one million years or so, and change came slowly in that almost unimaginable duration of historic time. “Civilization” is only about 10,000 years old, and “history” is only about 5,000 years old. Everything, however, is in an increasing hurry now, as humanity goes from age to age in fewer and fewer years. After a time of slow change, a new kind of “technology” appeared in the 19th century, and we were, as it is said, off to the modern races. An amazingly complex set of human societies had been created in various parts of the planet, each with distinct customs, values, institutions and standards. At the end of the 18th century, a new form of government appeared in one of these feudal, totalitarian and aristocratic societies. This innovation combined an egalitarian “representative democracy” with “capitalism,” and the combination began to spread slowly in the so-called civilized world.

The 20th century was a battleground in which democratic capitalism confronted both old feudalisms and new totalitarianisms. Two “world wars” and a “Cold War” were necessary for the new form to emerge fully, which it did in a bath of violence and blood. By the end of this savage century, the world was at the edge of a new transformation, but at least half the human population remained under lingering feudal and totalitarian regimes and in chronic economic distress.

Nonetheless, the little republic that had been declared in 1776 was now the third-largest nation on Earth, and its economic superpower. The mood in the United States seemed boundless and optimistic. European fascism and communism had stood in freedom’s way in the 20th century, and suddenly, early in the 21st century, a Middle Eastern Islamofascism appeared with the intention of destroying democratic capitalism, and both Eastern and Western civilizations.

In the 20th century, the two largest nations on Earth, China and India, both of them older than most other countries, began their own transformations. The former finally adopted capitalism, but not representative democracy; and the latter adopted representative democracy, but eschewed capitalism for socialism. As the 21st century opened, a quickly expanding India had embraced both, and China was going ahead with its capitalism minus representative democracy.

Optimism turned sour after September 11. Quick military successes in Afghanistan and Iraq to punish the attackers and halt the spread of their international terrorism were followed by a period of violence, stalemate and doubt. In earlier history, wars had often lasted decades. In the 20th century, the world wars had lasted five and six years each, and the Cold War 40-plus years. The war in Iraq is now more than three years old.

After World War I, the League of Nations was created to coordinate the emergence of a new world community. Lacking the will to prevent World War II, it was abandoned and re-created as the United Nations. For a brief period, the United Nations seemed to be working, but as undeveloped nations, most of them under totalitarian regimes, came to dominate the international body, it too became ineffective. Attempts now to reform the United Nations are clearly failing, and it is only a matter of time before it will be abandoned (and then re-created). This has also contributed to the growing pessimism in the United States.

We now find ourselves in a dark mood. We have amazing tools at our daily disposal, including computers, the Internet, rapid transportation and multiple choices of modern products and services distributed through seemingly endless varieties of institutions. We also have great numbers of educational facilities, lifesaving and life-prolonging medicines and techniques, plentiful food supplies and a wide choice of cultural and sporting activities with which to fill our days. Nevertheless, we are filled with doubts and fears. Our political life and discourse have become dominated by hysterical rhetoric, anxieties and venom.

To answer the question of why this has happened, I think we have to ask how we came to the bounties we now have, and why we have succeeded as much as we have. It would be parochial to say that the U.S. Constitution, ideal as it has been for us, is the only reason. Bernard Lewis is closer to the truth when he argues that the essential ingredients of human hope, progress and prosperity are the phenomena of human freedom. He suggests that a particular form of government and society is not necessary, but that a government and its society must provide and nourish freedom. Enterprise and free markets are prerequisites for freedom.

Those who have freedom and do not wish it for those who do not have it are not truly free men and women.Contrary to conventional wisdom, our dark mood arises from the fact that we are not doing enough to enable freedom in the world, not from a sense that we are doing too much.

The challenge for the century ahead will be to enable freedom wherever human beings live, and in a manner they decide works best for them. Truly free peoples do not make war on each other. Truly free governments do not choose weaponry over the nourishment, health and education of their peoples.

The century ahead will become and be remembered as the century of freedom. Or it might be the last century.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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