All Commentary
Thursday, August 1, 1996

A New Beginning for Freedom

We've Challenged the Fiction That Our Rights and Income Originate with Government

In a time when so much rancor and rhetoric fill the air, I would like to bring a contrarian’s message—a message about exciting possibilities, a message that is hopeful, optimistic, and yet, I believe, realistic.

I am writing about a new beginning for freedom—not just for America, which is thrilling in itself, but also for the whole world. Because, for the first time in human history, the Free World encompasses more than half of all nations. The map is turning from dark to light. We have it within our grasp to bring alive a shining vision of freedom and prosperity for the whole human family. And, we are strengthening the principles of religion, property rights, and a society of laws and free markets to raise living standards dramatically for millions who have known only poverty and pain. Freedom’s economic possibilities are staggering—and it will be very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

The recent liberation of Eastern Europe represents the greatest business marketing opportunity since the rebuilding of western Europe after World War II. Industrious and inventive people in the Far East are building a new economic superpower among the nations of the Pacific Rim. Even Latin America, despite the collapse of the Mexican peso, is struggling to move in a new direction. Indeed Latin America is struggling to throw off decades of corrupt statism in favor of less government, freer markets, and new incentives for their people.

In a word, freedom is busting out all over. It’s springtime for worldwide liberty.

Perhaps the best proof is right next door. Communist diehard Fidel Castro just trimmed his beard and donned a business suit on his trip to France, as part of his P.R. campaign to persuade the free world to bail out Cuba. Castro said, yes, Cuba will permit some economic freedom because the Cuban system must, in his words, adapt to the realities of today’s world.

Marxist academicians and dictators like Castro used to predict with brash conceit that freedom would be tossed into the dustbin of history. Well, guess whose principles ended up in the trash heap?

Many of our so-called intellectual leaders also predicted that advancing technology would give the State enormous power over its citizens. Television, cameras, and computers would create a “big brother,” said George Orwell, watching every move we make, punishing any disobedience to the State. Well, it hasn’t quite turned out that way.

Advances in new technologies and instant communications are creating an Information Age that is shrinking the planet with startling speed, and hurtling the world toward a new future—with more freedom, not less. Technology has become the great democratizer—turning the tables on the dictators, giving people information they want to know, without fear of censorship.

Look what’s been happening. In Poland, the leaders of Solidarity credited the fax and copy machine as key instruments of their liberation. Once upon a time, you needed a tank to blast through walls. Today, with a computer, modem, or fax, you can pass right through them. You cannot only cross borders, you can dissolve them.

Who would have dreamed that something as small as a computer chip could contribute to knocking down something as big as the Berlin Wall? And, since governments can’t jam a VCR like a radio signal, its pictures can expose the world to a new “home shopping network” of possibilities.

But, none of that would have happened without freedom. Freedom to invent and produce new technologies. Freedom to survive, to succeed, to fail—and move on to the next idea, dream, or venture.

So, yes, freedom is my passion. Because, if I may paraphrase a famous sports legend, Vince Lombardi, freedom isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Freedom is the one idea that speaks to the unlimited possibility of the human spirit—and the only idea that has delivered on the promise of human progress. It is the idea that created America, and enabled America to create and defend freedom throughout the world.

I’d like to believe something within us has profoundly changed, and hopefully forever—that we’ve rid ourselves of our infatuation with so-called charismatic politicians who beguile us with clever promises and beautiful words. We’ve challenged, directly and defiantly, the fiction that our rights and income originate with Washington, and that government can only expand, never contract. We’re learning a hard, bitter truth. Government, by trying to do too much, has undercut the ability of individual people in their communities, businesses, and churches to meet the real needs of America as we have in the past.


—William E. Simon, President

The John M. Olin Foundation

(Excerpted from Mr. Simon’s remarks at a dinner at St. Leo College, Tampa, Florida, April 6, 1995.)