Most Americans are wrong to believe freedom is the most important goal of all humans. In actuality, according to historian and professor J. Rufus Fears in his Great Courses book “The Wisdom of History,” power is what has shaped the human story.
“Power means the desire to dominate others and the desire to create an empire,” he wrote.
American foreign policy in the 20th and 21st centuries has been, in the words of President T. Woodrow Wilson, to “Make the world safe for democracy.” According to Fears, that goal was/is naïve.
The unwillingness of the victors of World War I to learn the lessons of history guaranteed World War II and the deaths of between 60 million and 80 million people. Those leaders of Britain, France and the United States unjustly and severely punished the Germans for starting World War I, causing the Germans to follow Hitler to restore them to a sense of self worth and power through conquest.
The Allies had forced a weak democracy upon the Germans and then dictated enormous reparations payments, meaning the fledgling democracy could not function properly. The Germans rejected the freedom of democracy and sought instead security and power through domination of their neighbors.
Fears says, “The simple empirical lesson of history is that freedom is not a universal value. Throughout history, nations, like many individuals, have chosen the perceived security of autocratic rule over the awesome responsibilities of self-government.”
Examine your own life experiences to judge whether Fears’ statement is true or not. What has been more important in your lives, security or freedom? Have you sought to work for yourself as an entrepreneur, or have you chosen the certainty of a steady paycheck by working for someone else? Since human nature doesn’t change over history, according to Fears, this truism can be extrapolated to national and international levels.
On another level, how many of you have had bosses who are entirely democratic, allowing a great deal of freedom to their employees? How many, on the other hand, have bosses who use power to “dominate others and (have) the desire to create an empire”?
How much freedom did you give to your children as they were growing up? How much did they need the security of being loved and cared for more than the freedom to do whatever they wanted?
Another tendency of human nature, according to Fears, is that we don’t often learn the lessons of history. We tend to repeat mistakes over and over. We also do not understand that for our individual lives as well for the nations, the use of power should be based upon virtue and character: honesty, integrity, perseverance, and concern for the common good rather than domination of others and creation of empires.
Think of recent events in our nation and state: police shooting of blacks, protesters rioting and destroying businesses and stealing goods in retaliation, public officials being indicted for misuse of funds both public and private and allowing corruption and bribery to rule.
Consider the church shootings in Charleston recently. Why did it occur? The desire to use power from the barrel of a gun and the ability to kill nine black innocents is an example of one person trying to dominate others for the promotion of his own race.
Part of the reason our American representative democracy has worked as well as it has is because the founders of the U.S. Constitution studied the Greeks, the Romans, and the empires that preceded the birth of the United States. Not many nations have had leaders with the character, virtue, and wisdom to combine both freedom and security together into a new form of government.
Not many nations are yet capable of the complexities of democratic government. Most people prefer security over freedom. This is a lesson we Americans on both the national and individual levels need to remember. Finding the balance and maturity to choose between freedom and security come only through the exercise of character, integrity, and concern for the common good.
Few of us have enough of either.