Springtime for Liberty

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Sixty years ago, at this time of the year, Isabel Paterson, one of the exceedingly rare libertarians of her time, wrote in her column in the New York Herald Tribune: “Last week I was startled to see the word liberty in a new novel. … And it was spring again.”

There are many times – especially during a gray winter – when being a libertarian can seem like nothing more than a way of noticing how badly the world runs, how grossly stupid and immoral one’s fellow human beings can be. Merely to think of what goes on in countries like Zimbabwe or Saudi Arabia or the Sudan can be enough to make one abandon any optimism whatever about human beings. It can make one wonder whether the comparatively decent civilization of the modern West may actually be what its enemies often want to consider it – just a historical accident, one of fate’s little jokes.

Then one turns to the political conduct of Americans. Here, in a nation dedicated to liberty and filled with its blessings, the very people who crusade for liberty in certain spheres also crusade for its abolition in others- conservatives fighting gun laws, for instance, but also try- ing to outlaw pornography; modern liberals fighting censorship of the Internet, but also trying to censor “hate speech” on college campuses. Often, these people lack even the

You are startled, once again, to see that the spirit of liberty can never die, because it is part of our nature. And suddenly, it is spring again.


incitement of self-interest that keeps the slave trade alive in Africa. They are one of fate’s little jokes, but there isn’t even enough logic to make the joke seem funny.

But just when your meditations reach that point, something unexpected happens. You hear someone on the bus say, “Of course, we’ve got to end these laws on drugs.” Your town votes down the big new tax increase. Some public official “speaks out” in favor of political correctness, and finds that even the liberals are laughing at him. Somebody starts a private school and makes it run, despite the opposition of the unions and the state and local regulations and the competition of massively subsidized public schools. Somebody starts a business and makes it run, with no help from anybody except the willing customers.

Once more you notice, in other words, that people can think and act on their own, that spontaneous human action reasserts itself, and native common sense revives. You are startled, once again, to see that the spirit of liberty can never die, because it is part of our nature; that, like the return of the year, it can never be abolished. And suddenly, it is spring again.

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