The Lessons of Liberty: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 9, 2014

I wrote this article on the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today is the 25th anniversary and it’s worth remembering how and why the wall came down.

Just as important as celebration of the overthrow of entrenched evil is the attempt to understand how and why that system of evil fell. I spent most of 1989 and 1990 in Eastern Europe spreading the ideas of the free society — smuggling books, photocopiers and the like and holding seminars, lectures and meetings with dissidents, students and others who were beginning to confront socialism openly. I observed the fall of communism up close. This is what I learned.

The collapse of the communist ideal came about quickly; it surprised the leaders of the socialist states, not to mention almost all American observers. But the rot had set in many years before. I remember the Polish workers who complained, “Forty years of Socialism, and still no toilet paper!” But the ruling classes were in some ways even more demoralized, for it was they who traveled to the West and could compare our societies with theirs. Rich and powerful people who traveled to America or West Germany realized that their standard of living was lower than that of the average industrial worker in a Western country.

The whole rotten structure came tumbling down when people realized that the “real” communists among them were but a small minority. As they learned that, it became possible to express opposition to the system and not be singled out as the lonely dissident who could expect to be manacled and thrown down the memory hole.

Communism and state socialism have not gone away in the years since this was written. But we can still derive important lessons for liberty from the fall of the Berlin Wall. The hows and whys of the fall of the Berlin Wall are extremely important for libertarians and lovers of liberty and peace to examine closely, so that we might replicate that success elsewhere.

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