Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memorial Day

Look, I respect fallen American soldiers--just as I respect those killed in action from other countries (every country?).

But, as a sometimes libertarian, it disturbs me a little how Memorial Day has expanded from an activity simply remembering fallen soldiers into one which equates their sacrifice with American freedom. This is the old "liberty comes from the blood of patriots" line. Something like this did happen in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and the American military did a lot to preserve the liberty of other countries in World War II.

But these actions, strictly speaking, only established the independence and unification of America. Plenty of countries are independent and whole--acts often achieved from the blood of patriots--but not free. Liberty in America came from something else: The desire of the property-holding class to limit the powers of government, and then from the continual actions of civil society to hold government accountable.

You have a similar situation in other countries. You could say that Britain "fought" to establish its parliamentary system, but really, liberty came when groups within society asserted their rights against Leviathan. Or look at the democratic transitions in East Asia, which generally happened without much bloodshed in response to political activism from the middle class. In India, democracy is boosted by an engaged and energetic professional elite, and sustained by enthusiastic participation by all sections of society. Soldiers weren't even necessary to liberate the country, while in neighboring Bangladesh and Pakistan, the Army constitutes the biggest threat to democracy.

Liberty doesn't, fundamentally, come from soldiers--who fight for a state which may or may not promote freedom. It comes from within, from the selfless actions of activists, journalists, and protestors, as well as from the selfish acts of the bourgeois class.

1 comment:

TGGP said...

You remind me of Robin Hanson. That's a compliment!