All Commentary
Tuesday, March 1, 1983

Democratic Freedoms vs. Collectivist Newspeak

Jack Douglas is Professor of Sociology at the University of California in San Diego. He has written and edited twenty-five books and numerous articles on various aspects of the social sciences.

This article is excerpted by permission from a longer essay to be published by The Reason Foundation as part of a collection, Defending a Free Society.

“The System of Liberty” which formed the fundamental ideas of the American constitution and government was built on one idea above all others: Freedom works! Individual freedom does more than anything else can ever do to advance the interests and happiness of all individuals, including producing as much equality and security as is possible for human beings. Any abridgment of individual liberty intended to produce greater collective welfare (the “common welfare”) inevitably winds up producing less. That is the one great message American libertarians and others in Britain and Europe created and announced to the world.

Individual liberty and constitutional democracy, the institutional expression and guarantee of individual liberty, are the most sacred social values and institution of the vast majority of people throughout the world today, both where they exist and where they are only dreams of the repressed peoples of the collectivist societies. Individual liberty and democracy are the sacred founts of all political legitimacy today. The voice of the individual and of the people have now replaced the word of God and the sacred rights he supposedly granted as the foundations for all rulers. So powerful is the appeal of liberty and constitutional democracy everywhere that no government leader anywhere dares to oppose them.

In our free Western societies in which these hallowed and ancient ideals were given rebirth they have now been so completely dominant for so long that they are taken for granted by almost everyone and, thus, only rarely do we consciously consider what a treasure they are. Just as a healthy young person takes the delights of life for granted, and focuses his attention on its inevitable minor pains, so do we too easily take the delights of liberty and democracy for granted and focus our attention on our inevitable failures to live up to their ideals completely. And in this way we blind ourselves both to the threats to our sacred ideals and to our greatest potential source of strength in defeating those threats.

Sons of Liberty

The Revolution of Liberty and Democracy was launched by the American sons of liberty in 1776. The success of the great American experiment in liberty inspired vast hope everywhere and ignited The Age of the Democratic Revolution, as R. R. Palmer has called it. In the succeeding twenty-five years democratic revolutions erupted across Europe. Some succeeded; more were put down by aristocratic reactions. A few, most notably the vast explosion against the corrupt, repressive collectivism of the French monarchy, were quickly seduced by even more repressive forms of collectivism. After his defeat, Napoleon revealed his own total cynicism about liberty and the Revolution when he said, “Vanity made the revolution, liberty was merely a pretext.” But during his reign he used the powerful rhetoric of liberty to inspire democrats throughout Europe to embrace what they only later discovered to be a new tyranny complete with a new and generally more repressive monarchy and aristocracy.

But the seeds of hope for a new and better world of individual liberty had been loosed upon the world. These hopes have since been increasingly inflamed by the vast and totally unprecedented growth of science, technology and wealth created by the individual enterprise and creativity unleashed by individual liberty. These values of liberty and democracy and the hopes they inspire have now spread to the entire world and become more powerful—more sacred—than ever. The Age of the Democratic Revolution sweeps on, overturning one collectivist tyranny after another in the sacred name of liberty.

It is a terrible tragedy of our age that almost all of these revolutions inspired by the hope for liberty and its fruits are now either launched by cynical Bonapartists manipulating these sacred symbols to win totalitarian power or soon fall victims to totalitarians out of self-deception. All of the most terrible totalitarian collectivists of our age are completely aware of the power of the sacred symbols of liberty and constitutional democracy. Today, the more totalitarian a regime is, or intends to become, the more its leaders brandish the sacred symbols of liberty and democracy. The totalitarians use these sacred symbols as myths to mystify the people and thereby try to hide the brutal realities of their regimes. As Friedrich Hayek noted forty years ago, “. . . wherever liberty as we understand it has been destroyed, this has almost always been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people.”

Totalitarian Tactics

In the nations where the mass of people are ignorant of the ancient meanings of our Western ideas of liberty and democracy the totalitarians merely superimpose the sacred symbols on their brand of collectivism and then use massive censorship and propaganda to try to prevent the people from ever learning the difference. But the more knowledgeable the people are about our ancient ideals, the more mythical deceit the totalitarians must use in their desperate efforts to maintain some shreds of legitimacy to cover their use of police terror to build their power. They do this by using all the forms of Hitler’s Big Lie and all the powers of statist mass education and the mass media. Above all, they must fabricate plausible rationalizations to present the foundations of their totalitarian collectivism—government planning, regulation, and control of everything from money to literature and science—as the one and only true “new freedom.”

As Peter Drucker has said, “. . . the less freedom there is, the more there is talk of the ‘new freedom.’ Yet this new freedom is a mere word which covers the exact contradiction of all that Europe ever understood by freedom . . .” This New Think and New Talk about liberty and democ racy have obviously been most necessary in the West itself, especially among our intellectuals, to seduce people into abandoning the very foundations of all they have held sacred. But everywhere that educated people have been important these new forms of double-talk have been vital in legitimizing the new and ancient forms of totalitarianism.

Since most totalitarians today have come to power where most of the people were largely ignorant of Western civilization, but where the educated people have known the rudiments of our liberty and democracy and have been too important to neglect, the traditional names and outer forms of liberty and democracy have been retained for the masses and have been combined with “new freedoms” rhetoric aimed especially at intellectuals.

While our Western leaders today rarely even mention liberty or democracy, and almost as rarely name the new forms of totalitarian slavery what they are, all totalitarians freely brandish these sacred symbols as the shibboleths of their regimes and never name themselves what they are. Every dictator is a self-proclaimed “President” or “Premier” of “The People’s Republic”; every modern Genghis Khan flies the bright banners of “wars of liberation” and denounces true liberators as “Imperialists”; every imperialistic Russian totalitarian who has murdered soviets and other socialists proudly declares himself the humble servant of “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”

The Deceit of Tyrants

The deceit of tyrants and totalitarians has always had great seductive powers. That is a basic reason why liberty and democracy have been so rare. But rarely have they been as successful as our modern totalitarians in carrying out their counterrevolutions in the very name of liberty and democracy. It is absolutely vital that all free people—and aspirants of freedom—today understand how they have deceived people, why they have so often succeeded, what their moral weaknesses are and how this tide of reactionary rhetoric can be turned back on its propagators.

The first crucial thing that must be done about this drift into the absurdities of collectivist Newspeak is for people everywhere to speak the truth in truthful language. The Russian rulers, the Chinese rulers, the Castros, and all totalitarian collectivists are the tyrants of Terrorist Slave States. This is a precise, technical historical usage of the terms.

The slaves of Russia, Cuba, China and many other nations have far fewer freedoms than the slaves of Ancient Rome or the ante-bellum South. Earlier slaves could generally be freed within the state and by law. Only desperately dangerous flight can free the slaves of Russia, China, Cuba and so on. Earlier slaves were normally encouraged to mate, but in China today the Party decides who can marry and who can have a child (rarely more than one). The Romans crucified thousands of slaves who revolted, but Russian communists have murdered tens of millions, routinely brutalize many thousands in the living-crucifixion of the Gulags, and systematically terrorize the entire nation for merely saying—or potentially saying—things against the regime.

Our leaders must speak the obvious about these Terrorist Slave States. Even more importantly, intellectuals, especially journalists, must end their Great Betrayal and proclaim the truth. Out of blindness and their own envious lust for power, the intellectuals of Russia, China, Eastern Europe, Cuba and all the other tortured lands led their deceived people into the death camps and torture chambers of the Terrorist Slave States.

Afraid to Speak Out

The intellectuals and journalists are the Judases leading the people into slavery. Some do so knowingly. Far more do so because they refuse to look into the bright glare of truth streaming from every nation that has followed this Marxist path. many more “go along” with, or merely re main silent when their colleagues preach the Marxist faith from our campus pulpits, our church pulpits and our media pulpits. They know the lies, misinformation and agitprop when they see it, but prefer ease and repose rather than face the wrath of the activists. They are terrorized by the mere thought of being branded “Right Wing Extremists”—or even “Conservative.” It is almost unseen by those outside, but there is a continuing Marxist revolution going on in our humanities, social sciences, churches and journalism throughout the Western world. The intellectuals are building the “Road to Serfdom.”

No freedom-loving person can ever invoke official controls or censorship against these lies and this far more ominous silence. We can only assert our own freedom of speech. But that is all we need. Freedom and truth work. They need only to be exercised-strenuously, consistently, courageously.

But this truth and freedom of speech against the Terrorist Slave States is needed even more in entertainment and the daily news media than in our college classrooms and intellectual forums. One gripping movie like “Missing” can insinuate more doubts about American businessmen and political leaders than dozens of intellectual journals or hundreds of lectures can undo by the most meticulous analysis of facts. Our news media are awash with the best of intentions, but the most extreme ignorance and prejudice about simple economic matters. This ignorant and prejudicial economic moralism of the journalists is a powerful wedge which opens the way for the more openly Marxist phalanx.

The Need for Privately Financed Educational Institutions

We do not need—and must sternly oppose—any forms of censorship or agitprop. Nor do we need any form of government interference in behalf of truth and freedom. Our government’ obviously has enough problems trying to be truthful about itself and to get that truth across. What is needed is that these threats be recognized by our intellectuals and other influential people. Here I believe William Simon’s proposals in A Time For Truth are the most effective.

What we need is privately financed organizations for ferreting out and spreading the truth. CIA- type clandestine purveyors of the supposed truth will always be suspect—or worse—of political self-seeking even by us. Even openly government financed institutions are not very effective or needed.

American businesses, foundations and individuals committed to the system of liberty give billions every year to colleges and groups which gladly, if generally unknowingly, disburse much of that money to collectivist sympathizers. They would do much better for their own cause by financing gripping movies about the decent and loving heroes who fight against slavery in Siberian Gulags, broadcasts to Cuba from Miami’s Cuban exiles, free market newspapers that compete effectively against The Washington Post and The New York Times, and magazines that expose the effects of massive government powers.

Detailed tactics are not my concern here, but just consider what an impact war films from the peasants of Afghanistan could have in exposing the Russian pose as the Land of the “New Freedom.” Since our journalists find the task too daunting (and it certainly would not be like living at the Saigon Hilton and sallying forth for a few rice paddy shots before cocktails), why not finance the training of a few dozen bright Afghan correspondents and arm them with super-8 cameras? That is precisely the sort of thing the real practitioners of freedom can do far more effectively than any government. Self-reliance—individual initiative—in truth seeking and truth broadcasting is the most effective weapon in all strategies for exposing and counterattacking Collectivist Newspeak.