Have you ever wondered how human beings can be so cruel? And how cruelty crosses all the boundaries — national, racial, and ethnic? I have. Rereading an autobiography published in 1941 by a communist agent reminded me of the dark side of human nature.
The book, Out of the Night, was written — under the pseudonym "Jan Valtin" — by a German who lived through the chaos of the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism. Broken by Gestapo torture, he ended up being pursued by both the Nazi and the communist manhunters and killers.
Murders by these two forms of socialism are measured in the millions during the 20th century. That alone should warn all people off any form of collectivism, because all of those millions, in the minds of their killers, were sacrificed "for the greater good."
They — flesh-and-blood individual human beings — were all murdered in the name of an abstraction, a stupid theory of how society should be organized. I doubt if the head thugs on both sides actually believed the theories. What they really believed in was power over their fellow man.
If you look at the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution, the message is clear: Intellectuals and the common people together can produce a blood bath. Latching on to some "ism" for justification, their greed for power and desire for revenge can run amok. Butchering women and children because they were born into the "wrong" class is surely insane.
In our time, when people are saying we must sacrifice liberty for security, that scrapping the Constitution is necessary to win the "war" against terrorism, I would suggest that you take your choice of genocides in the past 100 years and remind yourself what happens when people buy into the false proposition that the end justifies the means. People who preach that are always more interested in the means than in any end.
The only safe environment for a human being is under a weak government with very restricted powers. Normal people don't need much to be happy: food, shelter, dignity, and freedom from marauders. They need a rule of law that applies to everyone equally and at all times and in all circumstances. In established societies, legislators should meet rarely — perhaps once every two or three years — because a continuing cascade of new laws will eventually drown freedom.
The Founding Fathers, whether through luck, wisdom, or divine guidance, gave us an almost perfect form of government, and we've been busy ever since trying to take it apart. Human beings are dangerous predators and cannot be trusted with power over their fellows. Many Americans have forgotten that the power of government comes out of the barrel of a gun. Governments coerce; they don't persuade.
There are people living among us at this very moment capable of the cruelty so evident in the Holocaust. All they are waiting for is the opportunity. No greater opportunity exists than when a government enlists such people and says whatever you do is now justified for the sake of the "greater good."
Who would have guessed that George W. Bush, who seemed to be a genial good old boy, would turn out to be a tyrant, launching wars of aggression, arresting and confining people without charges or access to a lawyer, condoning torture, and lying to the American people?
A government that can without trial destroy you by simply putting on a list your name or the name of an organization with which you are associated is a tyranny. A government that invades other countries and that feels free to murder people in any country it chooses is a tyranny.
Americans are on the edge of a long night. We had better wake up and step back before it's too late.
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 50 years.