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  • The Culture of Liberty
  • Mario Vargas Llosa (bio)

It is said that the fashionable curse during the Chinese Cultural Revolution was, "May you live in interesting times." Our times would doubtless qualify-we cannot complain on that score. Over the last few years almost every day has brought fresh surprises, leaving us to gape at each new breakthrough for freedom: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of Germany; the overthrow of Nicolae Ceauşescu in Romania; Václav Havel's stunning rise from the depths of prison to the presidency of Czechoslovakia; Violeta Chamorro's upset victory in the Nicaraguan elections; and the democratization of Haiti.

We are still rubbing our eyes at some of the things we see on our television screens. There is, for example, the sight of Red Square teeming with demonstrators calling for an end to Soviet repression in the Baltics and demanding free elections throughout the USSR. Everywhere, it seems, communist parties are expiring or seeking to survive (as in Italy) by changing their names and disowning such essential features of Marxism-Leninism as class struggle, centralized planning, and social ownership of the means of production. We are witnessing the abandonment of all the myths, stereotypes, arguments, and methods that gave birth to communism, made it grow, put a third of the human race under its yoke of servitude and terror, and finally led to its self-destruction. [End Page 25]

Under the circumstances, great pronouncements are difficult to avoid. Are we not launching a new era in human history? The term "history" is one of many concepts that has been prostituted by ideology. Appeals to history have served as alibis for the grand intellectual deceptions of our times; history has been invoked in our century to justify genocide and the basest political crimes ever recorded.

Should we, then, join Francis Fukuyama in claiming that communism's last gasp marks the true "end of history" in the Hegelian sense? I think we should not. On the contrary, events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have unexpectedly revitalized the very notion of "history." Humanity is now free of the blinders and fictions that Marxism-orthodox or heterodox-imposed upon it for so long. Humankind's taste for healthy risk-taking has been restored, as has its instinct for free improvisation undertaken in defiance of all reductionist conceptual schemes.

Today, we can confirm the position that Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek, and Raymond Aron always held in opposition to thinkers like Machiavelli, Vico, Marx, Spengler, and Toynbee. The former insisted, rightly, that history is never "written" before it happens; it does not proceed according to some script determined by God, nature, reason, or the class struggle and the means of production. History is rather a continuous and variable creation that can move through the most unexpected turns, evolutions, involutions, and contradictions. Its complexity always threatens to sweep away those who attempt to predict and explain it.

We are right to be thrilled by current trends such as the resurgence of the individual vis-à-vis the state; of economic freedom versus central planning; of private property and enterprise versus collectivism and statism; of liberal democracy versus dictatorship and mercantilism. But let us not fool ourselves. None of this was "written." No hidden force, waiting in the catacombs of obscurantism and terror that impoverished and humiliated entire peoples, led to the fall of Ceauşescu, the triumph of Solidarity, or the demolition of the wall that divided Berlin. These victories-and all the others like them that have recently inspired totalitarianism's foes-were hard-won by the stubborn resistance of victims, sometimes aided by the desperation of communist oligarchs. These latter, brought face-to-face with the need for drastic change by communism's inability to solve pressing economic and social problems, found themselves haunted by the unmitigated national catastrophes that failure to reform would surely bring about.

The victory of freedom over totalitarianism has been overwhelming, but it is far from fully secured. Indeed, the toughest part of the struggle lies ahead. The dismantling of statism and the dispersal of the economic and political power expropriated by a despotic bureaucracy are exceedingly complex...


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pp. 25-33
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