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41. Freedom Has Made a Comeback
One of the characteristic marks of the age that witnessed more bloodshed, war, and destruction than any preceding era of history was the credulous appreciation of quasi-prophetic prognostications about the course of future history and about the final goals of mankind's evolution. In the wake of Hegel's philosophy, Marx had proclaimed that a mysterious, never-defined or clearly described agency called the "material productive forces" was inevitably leading the peoples toward the bliss of everlasting earthly paradise, socialism. Socialism, he contended, would radically transform all human and earthly affairs. In its frame there would no longer be any want or suffering. To work would not cause pain but pleasure and everybody would get all he needed. What a comfort to know that the coming of this perfect state of things was inevitable!
Seen from the point of view of these fables, which paradoxically were called scientific socialism, the foremost duty of every decent fellow was to fight unto death the dissenters who did not believe in the Marxian message and to prepare himself for life in utopia. The task of progressive education, heralded the pundits, is to adjust the rising generation to the conditions of their future socialist environment.
Only a few years ago the harbingers of these dogma could assume that they had succeeded in this educational effort. Their semantic innovations were accepted by almost everybody. Progress meant progress on the road toward socialism, reaction any attempt to preserve freedom. "No enemies on the left" was a battle cry which very soon was followed by the still more shameful slogan: "Better Red than dead."
But then a miracle happened, the awakening of the common sense of sound, decent people. Out of the ranks of the young boys and girls arose an opposition. There were on the campuses once again friends of freedom and they had the courage to speak their minds. Collectivism was challenged by individualism. No longer was liberty condemned as a bourgeois prejudice; no longer were constitutional, representative government and the rule of law smeared as clever makeshifts invented by the privileged few for the oppression of the many. The idea of freedom made a comeback.
There are overcautious skeptics who admonish us not to attach too much importance to these academic affairs. I think these critics are wrong. The fact that, out of the midst of the college youth, a new movement in favor of the great old ideals of individualism and freedom originated, is certainly of paramount importance. The spell of the dreadful conformity that threatened to convert our country into a spiritual desert is broken. There are again young men and women eager to think over the fundamental problems of life and action. This is a genuine moral and intellectual resurrection, a movement that will prevent us from falling prey to the arbitrary tyranny of dictators. As an old man I am greeting the young generation of liberators.
Statement at Young Americans for Freedom rally, Madison Square Garden, March 7, 1962. Reprinted from The New Guard, March 1962.