Bill Murchison

What the obituaries pretty much agree on is the greatness of the late Milton Friedman. Wouldn't one hope so? A man, an economist, viewed as the leading apostle of human freedom in our time -- not to be grateful for such a man would be irrational.

The Iraqis, considered as a unit, may not lust for the blessings and challenges of liberty, nor the North Koreans, yet Friedman's mark -- deep and comprehensive -- is on many a nation in Asia and eastern Europe and Latin America. He changed the world. In part.

What about the part he didn't and couldn't change? I step back a few paces for inspection of the premises. It is not necessary to disparage liberty -- as do centralists, socialists and big government types in all political parties -- to acknowledge that liberty is not all. We are right to celebrate it. We are right, as well, when we point to some of the more unlovely characteristics shared by liberty's friends, as well as its foes.

The lover of liberty admits -- as did Milton Friedman, at least by inference -- the limitations, the imperfections of those whose liberty we would protect. He admits, in other words, that liberty alone doesn't get the job done. Not when stupidity and cupidity, ignorance and malice, decorate the human family, guaranteeing that not every free decision is automatically a virtuous or even a sensible decision.

The lover of liberty and the teacher of morality walk hand in hand, or, where they don't, trouble brews.

The lessons of Iraq are plentiful. Here's the most troubling of them: Offer some people liberty, and they don't want it. They'd rather kidnap or behead somebody, with the ultimate objective of cramming their own ideas, their own doctrines and dogmas, down others' throats.

Human nature, humans tend to learn, can get fairly sordid, and its practitioners, fairly bloodthirsty. Even in an acknowledged democracy. Taking power a dozen years ago didn't qualify various Republicans for inclusion in the calendar of sainthood. Whatever uses they might originally have envisioned for the power they gained in 1994, they came to enjoy and expand, rather than fear and contract, the power of government itself. We're like that. Whatever the run of folk, Republican or Democratic, say about Opportunity for All, only the saintliest resist the temptation to penalize and stigmatize those who achieve the most through exercise of that opportunity. We're like that, too.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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