Editor’s Note: David Horowitz had a debate with Oliver Stone several years ago in National Scholastic Magazine. Here’s his piece of the debate.
One of the principal sources of human misery is a tendency that exists in all of us to take for granted what we are given, and fail to appreciate what we have. There is even a folk wisdom that makes us aware of this, telling us to be wary of those who see the half empty glass when it is also half full. From the most intimate relations that take place within families to the political battles that determine the fate of nations, this simple error in perspective has been the cause of incalculable human suffering from the beginning of time.
In our century alone, visionaries of the left, rejecting the social order they inherited, murdered a hundred million human beings in pursuit of their impossible dreams. In the name of “social justice” and to “make a better world,” social utopians destroyed the political and economic structures of whole societies that had evolved organically in the course of centuries. What their revolutions produced was not – as they promised — something better than had been, but infinitely worse: a suffering greater than the world had ever seen.
When the revolutionaries seized power in 1917, Russia possessed a democratic parliament and an agricultural economy that produced a surplus for export to countries abroad. But Lenin’s social dreamers viewed Russia as a half-empty cup compared to what they imagined their socialist plans would create. As a result, they didn’t think twice about eviscerating Russia’s economy and decapitating its democracy. They were so confident that on the ruins a future would rise that was better than both. Freed of the restraints of custom and law, the liberators went on to slaughter 40 million “enemies of the people,” who were mostly peasants, and to put tens of millions of those who dissented in concentration camps for the greater good. All this was necessary, they said, to build a “people’s democracy” and a “worker’s state.” But they were able to build no socialist paradise. Instead they produced a world of famine, poverty and human suffering.
The most harrowing deficit of the new millennium may well be the fact that the lessons of these “experiments” have not been learned by many of the most creative minds in societies that have triumphed and survived. Few people describe themselves as “Communists” any longer, but the intellectual traditions and assumptions of the Left live on among “progressives” and “populists” and even “socialists” in the West. In a message to high school students at the beginning of the new era, for example, the film director Oliver Stone reprised these destructive passions of the past, disparaging the freedom America had given him and millions of others in favor of a familiar utopian aspiration.
“Essentially our freedom, our democracy, is a consumer freedom,” Stone admonished them. “What refrigerator do you want, what television do you want, what car do you want, is it Fab or Ajax?”
His contempt for this freedom was the typical reflex of those who regard the enormous privileges bestowed by democracy and the market as a corrupting manna fallen from heaven.
The reality is different. From the beginning of recorded history, almost all inhabitants of all societies with the exception of a few very privileged among them, were forced to spend their entire waking hours working at hard physical labor just to keep from starving or to be warm enough to stay alive. For millennia the pursuit of the arts, literature and the sciences, the ability to spend a great portion of one’s life pursuing what one pleased – civilization itself — were treasures available only to aristocratic elites. The capitalist revolution ushered in economic possibilities and democratic freedoms that changed all that. Today, as a result, even the poor among us have amenities – running water, flush toilets, refrigeration, modern medicine, central heating, motorized transport, telephones, radio, television – that were unavailable to the richest people alive just 100 years ago. Today, the power available to virtually every American citizen in the form of an ordinary personal computer is greater than the power wielded by a factory owner in the 19th Century. Thanks to the power of the market, one can produce on an ordinary PC – available to virtually every man, woman and child — a newspaper or film, reach millions of individuals across the globe and access uncensored information that was unavailable even to kings in previous ages.
To the social utopians this is nothing. It is less than nothing. And therefore it is more. It is an inspiration for moral outrage. To utopians, the cornucopia of “consumer” wealth is a threat to the soul. It means that democracy itself is a sham. Dismissing nearly a millennium of struggle (since the signing of the Magna Carta) waged in behalf of popular sovereignty, Oliver Stone admonishes his high school audience thus:
“Instead of wasting a lot of time reading about Tweedledum and Tweedledee for President, ask yourself…: Who owns America?…Who owns the media? Where does the money go?”
To Stone “these are the key questions” that confront us on the threshold of the millennium:
“This is what is controlling your 21st Century future.”
Nonsense. The answer to these questions is readily available, and the opposite of what Stone means to insinuate. You own America. We do. Literally. Today, half the population owns shares in American companies and within decades virtually every American citizen will be also be an owner of capital. Stone himself is a self-made multi-millionaire. He is paid handsomely by the very capitalists he abuses and slanders, the very corporate oligarchs he pretends to fear. But Stone will not accept the freedom and privilege and power that America gives him. It is not enough. He wants more, even if our bitter historical experience tells him that wanting too much more may result in less, far less.
In any case, if others among us have more, what of it? Does it matter that Bill Gates has $100 billion and the rest of us don’t? Gates’ billions are invested in companies that create jobs and provide services and put power in the hands of millions of customers all over the world. Does this make him a tyrant? Is Gates free to lord it over the rest of us as Stone’s fantasy suggests? Not in this lifetime. The rule of the market is as strict as it is liberating. For if the corporations in which Bill Gates invests do not serve and satisfy their customers, others will, and will drive their competitors out of business. Even with $100 billion Bill Gates is no Sun King but must serve the people. And not only in business. He must obey the government they elect and over whom they are sovereign — the government that can punish his company if he abuses his power – and already has.
Like hormonal adolescents, the social critics of the left roil with inarticulate resentment and rage. They are mad because the world does not bend to their desires. They are mad because aren’t smart or lucky enough to make $100 billion. And they want others to be mad too. They want to make the creative and successful avatars of business pay for the individual frustrations they feel. They blame “corporate capitalists” — the very creators of this incredible universe of products, services, and human opportunities – for everything they imagine they do not have. And they don’t want anybody to disagree with their righteous indignation. They will ferociously attack those who oppose them. Anyone who defends capitalism and its remarkable bounties available to all is a defender of inequality and “social injustice.” They attack those succeed in a free society, and infuse their attacks with historical romance:
So you have a choice … — it’s a tough choice because those of you who are students may not know the world very well yet, but the more you know it the more you find yoursaelf hostage to these forces, corporate and state forces that seek to control your mind and your inalienable right to the pursuit of your own conscience. You have that decision to make in your lifetime,…that decision is whether you’re going to live like a slave or whether you’re going to live like Spartacus, the famous Roman gladiator slave who led a revolt against his masters – and fight for your freedom and deny the bastards their victory over your soul.
This is the “progressive” message to high school students, in America, on the threshold of the millennium! You are slaves! You must condemn the system that gives you “consumer freedom” and rise up against it!
The appeal of the self-appointed social redeemers among us is an appeal to human weakness, to the inarticulate resentments, the irresponsible angers and the feelings of powerlessness that are lodged in each of us. Guide yourself by “what [you are] really feeling as opposed to what [you] think [you] should be feeling…” is Stone’s wisdom for his high school audience.
My advice is the opposite: Feelings, whether authentic or false, are often the worst guide to what is real. The feeling that one is persecuted by Jews or threatened by blacks is what drives the haters among us. The feeling that capitalists and corporate rulers exploit and control the people, and stifle their freedom, is the force that inspired idealistic Communists to kill millions and leave wastelands behind.
Instead of feelings, let knowledge be your guide, particularly awareness of what has gone before. History is the record of our human experience and, more importantly, our human limits. This experience teaches a powerful lesson: Better to work with the world we have and improve it step by measured step, than to seek a revolution to wipe out the past and everything we have so painfully learned.