A Toast to the Holidays
DECEMBER 01, 1991 by DONALD SMITH
Mr. Smith is a writer living in Santa Maria, California. He has been a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal.
The holiday season means many things to the divergent complex of human beings who constitute our Western civilization. For some it is a deeply moving religious experience, for some it is a round of parties, and for others it is some time off from work. It is family time, travel time, and often the loneliness of being away from home.
For everyone, however, it has a significance that is inescapable. The Christmas-Hanukkah-New Year season represents a summing up, a reflection, and maybe an equal sprinkling of introspective applause and regrets.
As a writer on political and economic issues and one tied unabashedly to the capitalistic system, I cannot help but reflect upon what it must be like to do one’s summing up in a socialistic economy. Like most Americans, I am accustomed to analyzing my accomplishments, trying to understand and correct my failures, and getting things set up for a new time frame in my personal and professional life. How discomfiting it must be to find oneself robbed of all this; how depressing to have it all placed in the hands of a planning committee, a group of strangers reading charts and printout sheets to determine if everyone was marching in cadence and how many showed up for roll call.
Socialism has always seemed to be a nonproductive and wasteful employment of human talent, but at holiday time there is another reality, which is the cheerless existence it offers to those Unfortunate enough to be caught up in it. While ostensibly offering all things to all people, it really is nothing more than mediocrity spread across the board and a dollop of cold gruel for all hands.
The holiday season would be quite meaningless without hope, and there is no hope for anyone unless there is freedom. A stagnant, half-alive, over-planned bureaucracy can authorize a yule log, a menorah, a Christmas tree, and even a New Year’s toast, but the meaning is lost on people who can only be part of a mass and are not allowed to be individuals. Hope is a pitiful thing indeed when it is only a synonym for escape.
There are socialists who claim that their system allows freedom, but it is only an authorized and “correct” form of independent existence—the right to graze with the herd but not to run off and explore the forest. It is notable too that the people who live in a socialistic system, whatever manner of worker’s paradise has been selected for them, are willing to take the risks that are necessary to get out. It might mean climbing a wall, stealing a train, digging a tunnel, or crossing an ocean in an overcrowded and leaking boat, but the human spirit is drawn to freedom like a moth to a lamp.
In North Vietnam, 900,000 people moved south until Ho Chi Minh closed the border, and in China we saw a similar scene in the great Hong Kong embarrassment. During the Clement Attlee years in Great Britain, the brain drain was nearly catastrophic. The brightest and the best simply packed up and left, and they were still going when Winston Churchill returned to 10 Downing Street and gave them a reason to stay.
Although quite unplanned, the people of the world have voted in the greatest election ever seen, and the free society has won in a landslide. People everywhere want the rewards from their own efforts and are willing to suffer the losses from their mistakes. It is as simple as that.
No committee can strike hope from the human soul, and no government can keep people from seeking freedom. It is the message of the holiday season and the reason that we can reflect on the past and plan for the future as free men and women with someplace to go and a reason for going there.
And so, a holiday toast: To freedom and the right to manage our own destinies. As long as people will risk their lives to get it, we have cause to revel in it. Happy holidays to everyone!