A Journal for Western Man

 

Spreading Freedom:

What Works and What Fails

G. Stolyarov II

Issue CXXVI - November 23, 2007

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This article was originally published on GrasstopsUSA.com.

           A claim encountered all too often these days is that the United States cannot possibly spread individual freedom and limited government to another country that does not have a culture conducive to these principles. Opponents of the current occupation of Iraq use this argument in an attempt to persuade the public that American endeavors there are futile; as soon as American troops leave, the critics contend, Iraq will degenerate into chaos, bloodshed, and civil war. It is a sad state of affairs, they admit, but there is nothing we can do to prevent it.

            But those who doubt the United States’ ability to bring about freedom abroad are simply wrong – factually, empirically wrong. After all, the United States has an extensive historical record of instituting free or at least freer forms of government in countries that have formerly been under totalitarian or authoritarian control – countries that have hitherto had “warrior cultures” that resisted commerce and intellectual liberty while embracing subordination to rigid hierarchies of authority.

            Most famously, the United States turned around the political and cultural institutions in both Germany and Japan after World War II. Germany used to be the most aggressive, authoritarian country on the European continent long before Hitler. Germany was united in 1871 by the efforts of the ruthless Otto von Bismarck – who through a series of deceptive political maneuverings and successive wars with Denmark, Austria, and France, brought the Prussian king Wilhelm I the necessary political clout and power to become the first Kaiser. Wilhelm II’s tremendous military buildups and aggressive posture toward the rest of Europe made possible World War I – and after the war, the Weimar Republic was closer to a thinly veiled socialism than anything resembling a constitutionally limited government. It was long held that European intellectual history was a centuries-long struggle between two mutually incompatible sets of values: the “merchant ethic” of the English – who tended to favor peace, commerce, individual liberty, free trade, cosmopolitanism and an orientation toward material comfort – and the “warrior ethic” of the Germans – who were inclined toward strict external discipline, collective action, centralized control, trade restrictions, aggressive conquest, asceticism, and national rivalries.       

            But less than a decade after the end of World War II, West Germany became one of the freest countries in Europe – and also one of the most peaceful, tolerant, and economically prosperous. The United States and its allies decisively overturned all vestiges of the former Nazi and Prussian authoritarian political structures and instituted a federal republic with strong protections for individual personal and economic freedoms.  Under Chancellor Ludwig Erhard, a host of economic controls was lifted, and Germany achieved astounding material prosperity with amazing rapidity. During the 1950s and the early 1960s, Germany more closely exhibited the workings of free-market capitalism than at any other time in its history.

            A similar story can be told of Japan – with its centuries-long prior dominance by an elite warrior class of samurai, guided by the bushido ethic – which elevated a warrior’s honor above all while disdaining trade, comfort, and upward social mobility. Indeed, the merchants were the lowest social class in Tokugawa Japan – given fewer rights and treated with greater contempt by the ruling elites than the poorest of peasants. During the Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century, Japan began to adopt Western technologies, but bushido continued to dominate its ethical and political culture. Indeed, a strong new military elite emerged to transform bushido into a fanatical nationalistic loyalty to the Japanese empire. This loyalty ran so deeply that millions of Japanese were literally prepared to fight with bamboo sticks if American forces were ever to land on Japan’s home islands.

            And yet over six brief years – from 1945 to 1951 – Japanese culture and politics became the diametrical opposites of what they had once been. During that time, General Douglas MacArthur served as the de facto ruler of Japan. Under his direction, a new constitution was established, relegating the old authoritarian, militaristic political order to the dustbin of history. Women were permitted to exercise all the economic and personal freedoms that existed in the West, a constitutional republic was established, and the groundwork for a free-market economy was laid. Because of these structural reforms, Japan quickly transitioned from a warrior culture into a culture of trade, business, and invention. Today, Japanese firms continue to produce some of the best automobiles and electronic products in the world while remaining on the cutting edge in fields such as robotics and Internet infrastructure. The aggression of the samurai has vanished; Japan’s government has explicitly renounced the policy of military aggression and uses the army for defensive purposes only.

            Of course, not all efforts to spread freedom succeed – but they depend not on the culture of the country to be liberated, but on the nature of the liberation effort itself. Rapid, determined efforts to discard all vestiges of statism, authoritarianism, and cultural aversions to liberty have been demonstrated to work, whereas half-hearted, slow, middle-of-the-road approaches have failed miserably.

Consider, for instance, countries in the former Soviet Union such as Belarus – ruled by Alexander Lukashenko, also known as Europe’s last dictator – and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Both are less free – economically and politically – than Gorbachev’s Soviet Union had been in the mid-1980s.

The collapse of the Soviet Union gave Western governments the perfect opportunity to strongly influence formerly Communist countries to quickly implement protections for both economic and personal liberties. But instead of striving to bring about free markets even to the extent that existed in the West, most Western advisors insisted on a “Third Way” approach – a kind of muddled welfare-state socialism where the majority of industries remained under government control and the legal institutions necessary for truly free markets to emerge failed to be put in place. As a result, both Russia and Belarus now have socialism in all but name, and Putin and Lukashenko are now actively extending government control over whatever vestiges of a private economy remain.

            To institute and keep freedom in Iraq, the United States occupation must be handled in a far more decisive manner than it has been to date. U.S. policymakers must cease to insist on “democracy” above liberty; they must abandon statements like President Bush’s to the effect that if the Iraqi people “choose” by majority vote to have Sharia law, then Sharia law ought to be imposed in Iraq. Rather, the United States ought to unconditionally implement a Western-style constitution in Iraq, strictly limiting the powers of government, guaranteeing individual rights of free speech, freedom of religion, and private property, actively privatizing and deregulating hitherto state-controlled industries – especially oil and utilities,  and opening Iraq to fully free international trade in oil and other commodities.

            The problem with the Iraq occupation to date has not been that United States has been asking too much. Quite the contrary, the United States has not insisted on enough movement away from the “warrior cultures” of both the Islamic fundamentalists and the Baathists that have hitherto influenced Iraq’s political institutions. Over the course of a few years, it will be possible to turn Iraq into a trader society with a prospering economy and considerable individual freedoms – if only the American occupations of Germany and Japan are followed as examples of approaches that work.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre,  Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, weekly columnist for GrasstopsUSA.com, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on Helium.com and Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. His most recent play is Implied Consent. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

 

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This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here..

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.