I recently had the privilege of interviewing a gentleman, Winston Liu, who escaped from Communist China, lives in the U.S. and now fervently fights for liberty here. I’ve run into him at different events and wanted to hear his story and he wanted to tell it. I will be publishing a piece detailing the full interview soon, but it’s important to set the stage with today’s article.
One of the things that struck me about Mr. Liu was his fervency and his love for America. He’s been blessed with much here in America and he knows it. Even more important though was his deep insight into what it means to be a slave to government. He understands tyranny in a way that I cannot, because he’s lived it. Because of his experience, he has a different sense for tyranny than many of us in America have. He knows the signs.
So, before I write up his interview for y’all to read, I want to first set the stage for what Communism and more specifically, tyranny, actually means.
Over the past year, I’ve begun to change my language. I used to use the word Communist frequently. I began to realize though that the word Communist elicits reactions from people that, in some cases, shut them down to what I’m about to say. Today, communism still holds a place of respect and even desire in many individuals and, unless they’re willing to sit down and read the whole Gulag Archipelago with me, I’m not going to convince them otherwise in a brief conversation. So, why would I alienate some people from hearing good education by saying things like: “I’m fighting against communism. Or, I hate communism.”?
And the same is true for people who bring up fascism or any other ism. These words evoke different images and emotions for everyone, walls are put up and no one is openly listening anymore.
My goal is to educate. And so, I’ve begun using a different word to describe what I’m fighting to avoid here in America, and why I’m fighting for the Constitution.
For some reason, I’ve found few people who just love the idea of tyranny.
So, let’s pause a moment to understand what tyranny, the word, means.
According to Webster, 1828, it means: “
1. Arbitrary or despotic exercise of power; the exercise of power over subjects and others with a rigor not authorized by law or justice, or not requisite for the purposes of government. Hence tyranny is often synonymous with cruelty and oppression.
2. Cruel government or discipline; as the tyranny of a master.
3. Unresisted and cruel power.
4. Absolute monarchy cruelly administered.
5. Severity; rigor; inclemency.
Ah, arbitrary or limitless power over a citizenry. That’s it. It can be called anything but if it allows for arbitrary, unfettered and thus potentially cruel power over the citizenry, it is tyranny.
Good. So with this as the backdrop, let’s dig a little deeper into what I’m trying to get at here.
Communism, Fascism, Republicanism, Democracy, Monarchy…It Doesn’t Matter
I’m going to harp more on Communism in this article since it seems to be the form of government both sides of the political spectrum discuss the most, and since the subject of my upcoming interview escaped communism. But, please understand, you can replace the word Communism with any form of government. If that government possesses arbitrary power, it’s tyrannical.
I’ve been reading the Gulag Archipelago, something I’d recommend that every American read, and Scholztenizyn keeps making a fascinating point. He compares certain Communist torture methods to the methods used in the Middle Ages, specifically, during the height of the Spanish Inquisition when the wrack or other nefarious methods of torture were used to force a confession from people. He uses this comparison to show that today’s tyrants have only gotten better at oppressing. They’ve honed their skills. They’ve become more efficient, more tactical and more nefarious. They’ve gotten much better at forcing compliance, through torture and control, while cloaking it with lies and a smile.
His assessment caused me to think. We know that Communism is a form of tyranny, history has made that pretty clear (for anyone who likes Communism, I’m not talking about the theory, I’m talking about what history has shown us so far). Communism allows for government to have arbitrary power. And yet, we live in a day and age where ideas like “human rights”, “equality”, “liberty” and “compassion” are universally applauded and publicly discussed. The world is enlightened to these ideas (of course, there are exceptions to this, but on a whole) in a way that people in the 1500s or 1600s couldn’t even fathom. So, somehow a love for these classically ideas and for ideas like communism somehow coexist in today’s global political conversations.
No one can ever say ideas don’t have power.
These classically liberal ideas have so much power in fact, that the the United Nations, consisting of 193 sovereign states (officially there are 195 sovereign states in the whole world, so almost the entire world), have a Universal Declaration of Human Rights or in a sense, a Bill of Rights for the world. It is a “common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations”. In other words, it sets a “standard” for all countries and their governments–a standard of governmental behavior towards its citizenry. Presumably, if this standard is not met or is violated, other countries, who are apparently operating within the standard, can condemn, sanction or otherwise pressure the violator for its human rights violations.
The point being, human rights and liberty are ideas that hold power in the world today while the ideas of control, tyranny, torture, war, conquest, and power (ideas that were very powerful for much of history) have lost much of their appeal and power. Just look at who the world is framing at the “good guys” and “bad guys” in the Ukraine situation.
Few citizens in any country would say they want a tyrant to rule over them. Few citizens of any country would say they want a King with absolute power to rule over them. In fact, I would bet that few citizens in the world today would happily live under any form of government that used to exist prior to the age of enlightenment and the introduction of liberal philosophical concepts like human rights, social contracts, liberty, limited government and the like.
So, this is where things get interesting.
Now that we have a world mostly full of people who are at least aware of ideas like liberty, equality, rights and the like does this also mean that all the governments and people of power in the world are also embracing these ideas? Are the days of governments wielding power to oppress, use and abuse gone forever with the advent of documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights written by the governments of the world?
Are government’s trustworthy now? Have they changed with the times too and now simply want to do what’s best for their citizens and their human rights?
I mean, few governments today would be brazen enough to publicly own being a tyranny or an oppressive dictatorship. There are a few, yes, but being a cruel dictatorship isn’t really in vogue globally anymore.
And yet, the thing about human nature is this: everyone wants power and, as the U.S. founders accurately predicted and understood, power corrupts. Ambition and a thirst for control never stops festering in government, no matter how “pretty” and “noble” governments’ start painting themselves to be. It would be naive for us to think otherwise.
So, new political theories like communism, fascism and socialism enter the picture in the 1900s. Tyranny comes in so many shapes and sizes and for years, tyranny and unadulterated government oppression was the norm, the accepted norm. Of course government does whatever it wants, that’s government.
Government’s can’t do that anymore. Their citizens know better now and so they have to use new tactics and new techniques to try and regain the same control they had before the global zeitgeist changed. They can’t tip off their citizenry before they take control.
Communism, socialism and fascism are just that. They’re tyrannical and old fashion government oppression cloaked beautifully in the theories of equality and the betterment of mankind. And the sad part about these theories is this: they too have been tried before, and like the oppressive Kings and Emperors of old, they’ve failed miserably to protect and preserve the precious liberty of their citizenry. It’s government, unleashed and unlimited, pretending to care for its citizens while desperately clawing, killing and maiming these same citizens in their quest for power. It took centuries of oppressive and abusive monarchies, emperors, czars and dynasties for humankind to finally figure out that there should be a better way to live and that government’s shouldn’t be given so much power or allowed to have unfettered arbitrary power. It took centuries for us to realize this.
Does this mean that it will take centuries for humans to figure out that these new political theories are just tyranny in a disguise? We’ve already seen governments successfully take control of their citizenries by using these theories as their justification, but apparently that’s not enough since there are cries around the world for communism and socialism to be re-implemented in various countries.
(For instance, the hit show Stranger Things, on Netflix, features a major character stuck in a Soviet Gulag. I saw a post on Twitter in response to a tweet about the show, nothing political, saying “Please stop the anti-communist stupidity for season 5”. The theory of communism still stirs up emotions. How many people would say, “Please stop the anti-tyrannical stupidity for season 5.”?)
Tyranny is Tyranny
Mr. Liu lived under a Communist regime. He knew its power and its suffocating control. And no, China can’t boast a powerful Monarch or tyrannical Emperor, but that doesn’t mean life under the Communist flag is any less oppressive.
How easily we’re distracted and bamboozled by the new titles, names, frames and ideas surrounding or justifying government with arbitrary power while missing the core issue: it doesn’t matter what a form of government is called, communist, socialist, Republic, democratic, oligarchic, or Imperialist, if that form of government does not have limitations on its power, if that form of government possesses arbitrary power, it is a tyranny.
And tyranny is as old an issue as it gets. We still have not outrun it, even with our fancy UN Bill of Rights and Human Rights campaigns. Those in power always want more power.
The only thing that’s changed is that those in power now realized they can’t flaunt their desire for power publicly anymore. Or at least if they do, they must claim they want to use the arbitrary power for good. They must grope for power while telling us that they’re trying to protect our rights and fight for liberty. Tyranny is too obvious now. Tyranny disguised by other names, that’s government’s best chance.
Someone who’s experienced tyranny knows tyranny when he sees it coming, no matter the disguise. In the end, it’s always the same. Government can do to you whatever it wants and you have no recourse.
That’s tyranny. Call it a dictatorship, call it communism, call it a Republic. It doesn’t really matter if it results in the same end: unfettered control of the citizen’s lives.
This is why a story like Mr. Liu’s is so critical for Americans because we can hardly fathom living under a government with arbitrary power and so we miss the signs or get distracted by fancy names and theories, all the while, bleeding liberty from a wound that only grows bigger by the day.
Don’t get caught up in the names and terms. People love to throw around terms to label and discount those who disagree with them. “Oh, we’re not being overtaken by Communism, that’s a silly conspiracy theory.” “You’re a communist.” or “You’re a fascist”. “You don’t know what socialism is…”
Who cares about any of this. I don’t care what government wants to call itself if its goal is unlimited arbitrary power. Call government with arbitrary power the worst or most wonderful thing, but that doesn’t change what kind of power it is: arbitrary. And any government with arbitrary power, no matter the name, is a tyranny.
Avoiding tyranny is something most people can agree on… so let’s just stay there rather than getting caught up in debates and arguments about semantics and theories.
Otherwise, we’ll end up in the Middle Ages again, all the while claiming that we were just trying to promote and progress human rights and equality.
The Liberty Belle