"He is free who knows how to keep in his own hands the power to decide at each step, the course of his life, and who lives in a society which does not block the exercise of that power." ~ Salvador De Madariaga
Saddam's Lesson for Us
Exclusive to STR
January 1, 2007
It is very difficult for people to believe the simple fact that every persecutor was once a victim. Yet it should be very obvious that someone who was allowed to feel free and strong from childhood does not have the need to humiliate another person. ~ Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence
When introducing a news item on Saddam Hussein's execution, STR's editor mused: "I wonder how his life might have been different if (a) he hadn't been abused as a child and (b) there had been no State."
This is the most insightful comment on the dictator I have yet seen. Of all the discussion on the subject, how often have you seen anyone point out that Saddam's life was ruined, that he became an evil adult because of abuse in his childhood, and that he was able to inflict horrors on millions of victims throughout an entire nation because of the tool of coercive government?
All of that is implicit in the editor's comment. Wider understanding of these points, and of the general principles behind them, would greatly improve our chances for ending evil in this world.
This is the first in a series of columns on the human condition, and the single most important point I want to convey is that love and freedom require each other. Indeed, when levels of love and freedom are low, disaster is certain. Often it happens that a group emphasizes one side of the duality at expense of the other. For instance, early America focused on freedom at the expense of love; Marxism focuses on love at the expense of freedom. As a result, neither is a good example of either love or freedom.
Without love, there is no freedom. Without freedom, there is no love. Consider the example of the early United States:
First, slavery was allowed in some of the states. Second, American Indians were sometimes mass-murdered, their land was stolen, and the survivors were forced onto reservations.
In both cases, the target groups were not being treated with love or compassion.
It is equally clear that in both cases, freedom was being denied to the target group.
One cannot enslave or murder someone while treating them with compassion. Loving someone requires and includes allowing them the rights of life, liberty, and property. The Marxist focus on love-without-freedom created even more horrific results than did the reverse focus in America.
The amount of love and freedom children are given determines how loving and respectful of other's freedom they are in adulthood. For help seeing this, consider the essays, articles, and books of Alice Miller. Among other things, she provides a heart-rending look at how children – including Hitler himself – were treated in Germany during the 19th and early 20th Century. It is not difficult to understand how the horrors of the Hitler years could have happened, considering the horrors inflicted upon so many Germans during childhood.
When I say that "freedom requires love," I am not just being poetic. Without a reasonable level of emotional health in society, freedom fails and real horrors become all too possible; Hitler and Saddam are only two examples of many.
Love, compassion and respect during infancy and childhood are basic requirements for a healthy adulthood. Too many unhealthy adults in a nation make for a dangerous situation, no matter what type of government is in place.
The market provides another lesson in why freedom requires love. As human beings, we are more than brothers and sisters: We depend upon each other to create the human world we live in; we depend upon others for our very survival. Both charity and market activity show love at work, because the participants are treating others with respect and without coercion.
A look at the real world shows how critically important voluntary cooperation in the market actually is. See, for instance, the well-known essay "I, Pencil" by Leonard E. Read. If you've not read the essay, I highly recommend it: you will be surprised at the depth of what is needed, in terms of worldwide, voluntary cooperation, to create even a simple pencil.
The vast, complex, finely coordinated and voluntary web of interaction that continually creates our world is staggering, and only functions because it is a voluntary and emergent system. Trying to turn this miracle into something that is centrally-planned, centrally-controlled, and coercively-run is a mistake of the greatest magnitude.
Consider a single broad area of the marketplace; reflect for a moment on all that has gone into creating the hardware, the standards, and the content of the Internet, of television, of motion pictures – such as the 910 people and 70,441 man-hours it took to create a 49-second sequence in Star Wars Episode III * – and of books, magazines, newspapers, and games.
The market brings all this together peacefully and voluntarily. Coercive government, in contrast, simply wrecks this natural and effective social machinery, as we see in those areas increasingly controlled by government, such as pharmaceuticals and medical care.
Saddam Hussein would have grown into a decent, loving, peaceful adult had he been treated with compassion, respect, and freedom in his childhood. Every new human being has the potential and the right to become a loving, emotionally healthy, and peaceful adult. It only requires the proper treatment early on for our later life to be positive rather than miserable or worse. Furthermore, without the tool of coercive government, even the worst sociopath has a very limited ability to wreak havoc; only coercive government allows for the epic level of mass-murder, torture, and other evil that men like Hussein, Hitler, Stalin, and so many others have been guilty of during thousands of years of history.
In sum: Neurosis (emotional damage) and coercive power (mostly, the state) are the two great evils of this world. Love and freedom, together, are the only antidote.
* See "Within a Minute: The Making of Episode III", a lengthy and educational extra on the DVD – perhaps more entertaining than the movie itself.