Twenty years ago this week the Berlin Wall collapsed and hundreds of millions of enslaved Eastern Europeans were freed from decades of enslavement.
Freedom! A word only whispered in Eastern Europe since the Iron Curtain fell across Europe was now, at its collapse, trumpeted across the world!
As Richard Ebeling says, “For 28 years, from 1961 to 1989, it stood as a symbol of the tyranny of the totalitarian state under which the individual was viewed as the property of the state.” This slideshow comparing the death strip of the wall then with the prosperity that has replaced it now tells a graphic tale that is the most important story of the last half-century – and the most predictable result of both the birth and the failure of socialism.
In 1922 Ludwig Von MIses explained that socialism would eat itself and the people whom it enslaved – that it couldn’t plan, it couldn’t produce, that it couldn’t calculate -- that it was and always would be both morally depraved and economically unsustainable. Sixty-seven years later he was proven emphatically correct when the illusion that was socialist Eastern Europe collapsed, and the symbol of its totalitarian state was torn down.
The collapse when it came was peaceful, but when the Iron Curtain was finally pulled back after the decades of poverty and bloodshed, what was revealed was economic penury, human misery and an environmental basket-case.
One fact alone tells you the story: Hundreds of millions were enslaved behind the Wall; hundreds of thousands attempted to escape from the East; 171 were shot and killed at the Wall’s Death Strip . . . but nobody was ever killed trying to move from the West to the East*.
Today’s socialists like to forget about or dismiss the results of the twentieth-century’s greatest and most disastrous political experiment -- set up like a laboratory experiment by contrasting ideologies on either side of the Berlin Wall -- but in the collapse of the Wall and the reasons behind its inevitable collapse lie every lesson every student of socialism should have engraved on their soul. If they have one.
The simple lesson is this: "Man's mind is his basic tool of survival,” but "man's mind will not function at the point of a gun.”
“Socialism [identified Ayn Rand] is the doctrine that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that his life and his work do not belong to him, but belong to society, that the only justification of his existence is his service to society, and that society may dispose of him in any way it pleases for the sake of whatever it deems to be its own tribal, collective good…
“The alleged goals of socialism were: the abolition of poverty, the achievement of general prosperity, progress, peace and human brotherhood. The results have been a terrifying failure—terrifying, that is, if one’s motive is men’s welfare.”
Perhaps the single most astonishing result of the collapse is the reaction of the intellectuals. Anyone over twenty then who doesn’t yet get the lesson is confessing quite frankly that no fact can ever persuade them. They are self-admittedly intellectually dead.
In the twenty years since the collapse today’s intellectuals have evaded every fact that decades of socialism revealed, and ignored every “prophet” whose predictions about socialism was proven correct**. They’ve wriggled, they’ve evaded, they’ve turned to environmentalism to damn the production that proved impossible for socialism; to ‘multiculturalism’ to damn the west; and they’ve even embraced post-modernism to damn the facts – anything to avoid the reality that the Wall’s Fall should have made obvious.
And by the way, the post-collapse intellectual embracing of postmodernism is no accident. The old socialists have disappeared, they’ve mostly morphed into something else. The political crisis of socialism made several other revolutions necessary, including a political one – or as philosopher Stephen Hicks sagely observes, the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary; the collapse of philosophy made it possible.
As my colleague Richard McGrath said this morning, the two decades that have passed since the Berlin Wall was torn down should not let die the lessons of socialism, nor the memory of those who died trying to escape the East European slave pens. They should be remembered, not forgotten.
“’Communism relied on watchtowers, snarling dogs, machine guns, and brick edifices topped with barbed wire,’ he said. ‘The Berlin Wall was the embodiment of this determination to rule by force. Today, twenty years since the wall was torn down, we should remember those East Germans who perished attempting to reach freedom in the West.’
‘The first person shot dead at the Berlin Wall was 24 year old Gunter Litfin, as he tried to swim across the Spree River on August 24, 1961. A year later, East German guards shot 17 year old Peter Fechter as he tried to scale the wall, and left him to bleed to death in that barren and desolate area of open land east of the Wall.”
“The last person known to be killed at the Wall was 20 year old bartender Chris Gueffroy, shot ten times for good measure on February 5, 1989.”
“Perhaps those who frequent the Lenin Bar in Auckland or Fidel’s Café in Wellington, or wear a red star cap or a Che Guevara T-shirt, should consider how long the authorities behind the Iron Curtain would have tolerated displays of dissent during the era of the Cold War.”
Oddly enough, it’s the buffoon Boris Johnson who offers the timeliest lesson,
“that it is precisely now, when the public mood is so bitter towards bankers, so hostile to profit, so seemingly brassed off with the very idea of wealth creation that we should remember how ghastly, grim and unworkable was the alternative – state-controlled socialism.”
Remember, remember, the ninth of November!
Remember these lessons and that warning as you regird your loins for the battle that Richard Ebeling outlined last week:
“Unfortunately, the Collectivist mentality did not end with either the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union. It remains alive and well in America and around the world, with its insistence that the individual lives for and is to be sacrificed to ‘interests’ of the state.
“We still have our work cut out for us, to demolish the numerous political "walls" with which the government continues to enslave us through its police power in the growing interventionist-welfare state and the threatening economic fascist order. “
And too the shaky philosophical foundations on which those walls are built.
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** For example: Economist Paul Samuelson for example was still writing in 1989 in his best-selling textbook Economics that “the Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive” (Samuelson and Nordhaus 1989, 837). Samuelson’s textbook (in revised editions) is still a best-seller, and a prescribed texts at many universities. By contrast Ludwig von MIses, who predicted the economic collapse in 1922 in his classic Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth (and who predicted the Great Depression in his 1912 Theory of Money and Credit and elsewhere) is still largely unknown by today’s intellectuals, and his books are untaught at nearly every major university. Unbelievable.
UPDATE 1: An unusually good piece here from Ed Hudgins: The Berlin Wall Then and Now. Here’s an excerpt:
“The wall was a breathtaking moral obscenity, a concrete manifestation in concrete of the philosophy on which it was built. The communists held that the good of society took priority over the interests of selfish individuals. They maintained that individuals must be required to work for society. Of course, the will of “society” was to be divined and carried out by a small ruling elite who would have the exclusive right to force all to serve whether they wanted to or not.
“And no one could be allowed to opt out and leave, to escape their duty to serve. The reality of this philosophy was most starkly on display in East Berlin. Communist countries were giant prison camps holding the slaves in bondage and shooting them if they tried to escape.
“Today there are only a few regimes, like North Korea, that are literal prison camps along the lines of the Soviet bloc. But the philosophy, and its manifestation in culture, that gave rise to the Berlin Wall is still very much alive.
UPDATE 2: Watch this inspiring, thrilling and informative short video around the events of November 9, 1989:
It was posted at the Austrian Economists blog, where they say, “we can still rejoice in this shinning example of the victory of the individual over the collective. Freedom was celebrated that day by people who were oppressed by their government for far too long.”
“Let's remember the sheer joy of that day, and the celebration of life evident in the faces of the young (and old) as the tore down the wall figuratively and literally and reclaimed their basic human freedoms. And let us also remember the intellectual arguments . . . that so thoroughly demonstrated that tyranny fails to deliver the goods, while freedom actually works. Even us cool-headed academics can get passionate about the fact that there is only one economic system that simultaneously delivers individual autonomy, generalized prosperity, and peaceful cooperation among diverse groups. Capitalism is not just ruthlessly efficient, it is civilizing . . . “