Now, what did Mr. Bush say that authorized the "sulfur-sensitive" Mr. Chavez to call him "the devil"? Here is what he said about me and my people:
"To the people of Iran: The United States respects you; we respect your country. We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to civilization. You deserve an opportunity to determine your own future, an economy that rewards your intelligence and your talents, and a society that allows you to fulfill your tremendous potential. The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons. The United Nations has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Tehran meet its international obligations. Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program. We're working toward a diplomatic solution to this crisis. And as we do, we look to the day when you can live in freedom -- and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace."
These words reflect the sentiments shared by many of my compatriats, though they may not express them as clearly as Bush does. The pursuit of liberty, prosperity, and peace has been the theme of my generation's lives. Many have been forced to take this pursuit abroad, where they have a realistic chance, in their lifetimes, of achieving these objectives: Every year 180,000 university-educated Iranians leave Iran in search of a better life in the free world. This is more than half the number entering universities annually.
If a Venezuelan military showman labels these remarks as those of the devil, at the same time aligning himself with those who oppress the millions of people whose lives and aspirations the same remarks describe, he must know that he is not only their and my enemy, but the enemy of humanity at large and freedom itself.
The Venzuelan President Hugo Chavez called the American President Bush "the devil" no fewer than eight times in his address to the UN General Assembly yesterday. He even smelled the "sulfur" one day after Bush's address. A showman of the first rank, Chavez seems to have taken his show to new heights. If he were not speaking in the capacity of a state leader, it would make no practical difference to take him simply as a madman. He is, alas, a leader of our world. Consistently with his fiery rhetoric, he has been forming an alliance with the rogue regimes of the world, from Iran to Belarus, which have little in common but their antagonism to the US and their illiberal social, political, and economic agenda.
This showy, populist agenda will never bring the world any good, as has been proven time and again by previous incarnations of the same ideas by the likes of Castro and Khomeini. One would be tempted to think that this new wave would also be doomed to defeat in the same way as the old wave. But something has changed in the mean time: we live in a new era of global terrorism, which imposes a new, dangerous dynamic on the world. As a result, countering the unholy alliance between these populist governments needs all the resources that the free, individual people of the world can afford. The stakes are very high: if a critical mass of people convert to these populists' ideas, we will all be living in a new dark age of fear and tyranny.
So, we must find a way to stop these ideas from propagating, and to convince our fellow citizens not to give in to their hypnotic hold on their brains.
It is common, especially in leftist literature, to confuse the meaning of freedom and power. If the words freedom and power are to have a separate meaning of their own at all, at most only one of the following two statements can be correct:
1. Not being free implies not having power; 2. Not having power implies not being free.
This is just a matter of logic; otherwise, freedom and power would be identical concepts. The confusion is caused by assuming that the second statement is correct where it is not. The first statement, however, is correct by any reasonable definition of power: to have the power to do something, one first needs to be free to do it.
Consider a case where one is in principle free to do something but does not have the physical, mental, or economic power to do it. This situation does not violate the existence of the original freedom. In fact, so far as the basic freedoms of doing things are not violated, one can, over time, acquire the necessary power. This is the manifestation of the accumulative nature of power, whether in the life of one individual or the history of the generations in a society.
Now consider the converse situation where one has the power to do something, but is prohibited by law or other people from doing it. This could mean that one has only the physical, mental or economic power, but not the power in its full sense. Power is a compound quality because tasks to which power applies are compound entities. If I am able to talk, but not able to listen, I am not able to converse. If I am able to lift, but not able to walk, I do not have the power to move objects. And so on. In this regard, the most basic ability to do anything is, not to be prohibited; that is, to be free.
In short, freedom is the necessary condition for power, not vice versa: it is not sufficient.
This discussion rejects at once the notion, put forward frequently and vocally, that "a person who does not have enough money, has already lost his freedom of choice."
Learning the labels of the political spectrum is one of the first steps of political awareness. The primary function of these labels is to distinguish between alternative and/or opposing factions and their ideas. But, politics is also an emotional affair and, unfortunately, more often than not such labels become code words for expressing these emotions, ranging from sympathy to anger and outrage. Devoid of their informative content, they take a separate life of their own, even ending up representing groups and ideas that are diametrically opposed to their literal and historical meaning.
One example is provided by what is today known in the US as "Liberal." Historically, the Liberal Party of England grew out of the British Whig Party. They stood for constitutinal power, the rule of law and limited governmental powers, free market, free trade, etc. The consistent framework for these ideas is a system of minimum government based on "third-party effects" and "externalities". The main theme of such a program is individual liberty. However, the debate over freedom was muddled by Marxist ideas of economic freedom (mistaken for economic power), and consequently the label "Liberal" was in effect hijacked by leftists and government-action advocates in the US. Today, the American Liberals often stand for the sort of politics that is the opposite of what the label should mean.
As a result of this situation the true liberals have become homeless. Some of them try to go by the name, Libertarian. Others have been content to give and receive support from the other political parties who happen to include their concerns in their agenda. Depending on the subject (social, economic, etc.) both Democrats (US Liberals) or Republicans (US Conservatives) have played that role. (I have myself decided to stay the course and see how far I can go with the old label.)
Another example of this semantic detachment is the common mistaken perception of "Conservativism." In its proper meaning, conservatism must be the label for a political program based on conserving the past or current state of the society and/or system of government. As such, the practice of conservatism is without firm principles of an independent system of thought. Also, one would expect that its ideas and policies must be a function of locality and history. But, in today's politics, Conservativism seems to stand for simply the opposite of Liberalism. So the above confusion about the latter is projected to a similar confusion about the former.
Such misconceptions have also led to a paradoxical mapping between the political spectra of different countries. For instance, a commonplace mistake is to identify the labels of political groups in the US, a free society with a democratic government, with those of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a repressive and theocratic establishment. I have myself been guilty of thinking in terms of this mapping for a short time. As a result, we hear casual commentors as well as serious analysts talk about the "similarities" of Conservatives in the US and in Iran. Ahmadinejad is labeled a neo-con, and Khatami a Liberal.
Without reference to the political systems of these countries such statements are hardly different from gibberish. Conservatives in Iran aim at maintaining the traditional, pre-modern, and religious structure of the society and the government, whereas the Conservatives of the US strive to conserve a system which has been conceived as a democracy from day one. As such, they could not be any more different than tyranny and freedom. Such mappings and analogies stretch the meanings of the names so thin there remains barely any meaningful concepts in terms of which a coherent and rational thought could be formed or expressed.