In March 1946, Winston Churchill told a Missouri audience, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia.”
Today a new iron curtain is descending. It encloses the small Missouri town where Churchill gave his speech and all the great capitals of a great nation. Behind the iron curtain lie New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and countless others.
It covers a million streets and hundreds of millions of people. Its shadow passes over stores and factories, homes and schools. It is not a physical wall. There are, as of yet, no border guards with rifles waiting to shoot those wanting to leave, there are no watchtowers or leashed dogs keeping an eye on the inner frontier.
It is a wall of words. A wall of laws, regulations and mandates. The 2012 Federal Register had 78,961 pages. There are 11 million words of ObamaCare regulations alone. With so many regulations, everyone violates a few of them without even knowing it. Assemble all the millions of them together and you have a great wall that would dwarf anything in China
The American iron curtain is still made out of paper, but in time it will be made out of cement and iron. Tyrannies begin with paper, but end with metal. The state begins by imposing bureaucracy on a free people and ends by imposing tyranny on them. When they will not obey the paper, it resorts to steel, iron and lead.
Four decades after Churchill invoked the Iron Curtain, in his Evil Empire speech Reagan named the Soviet enemy as those who “preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, predict its eventual domination of all peoples of the Earth.”
“They are the focus of evil in the modern world,” he said.
Quoting C.S. Lewis, he warned that the greatest evil “is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”
That is the struggle now before us.
We do not fight men with nuclear missiles or red armies of freezing conscripts waiting to march through Europe. Instead we fight against an evil empire that has arisen in our cities and its red army of front groups that insinuate their ideas into every institution they take control of.
Conservatives have lost the ability to lay out the stakes in the clear and simple language of a Churchill or a Reagan, to let the people know that they are not choosing between politicians, but choosing whether they will be able to have the car of their choice, the doctor of their choice, the meal of their choice and the book of their choice.
Choice, the word that once used to define the American experience, has been relegated to a debate over whether mothers have the right to kill their children. That choice is still the focus of a national debate. But the billion other choices that millions of people make have been taken off the table.
The conflict is simple and straightforward. It is the struggle over whether America will be an open system or a closed system.
In an open system, you choose the life you live. In a closed system, your life is mandated for you. An open system believes in the genius of the individual while the closed system believes in the genius of the visionaries of the ideology and the moral purity of the bureaucrats who implement it.
The open system is a door that you can choose to lock or leave open. The closed system is a cell door with wardens and guards who will let you out when they choose to.
In the open system you are in control. In the closed system you are being controlled for your own good, for the greater good, for the good of the state and the five-year-plan and the policy paper and the sub-paragraph of the regulation of page 50,261 as reinterpreted by a Federal judge in a court ruling that you never even heard of.
In the open system, you are a free man or woman standing at an open door. In the closed system, you are one of countless numbers in a book and a database. A number has been given to you at birth and your life is an interaction with other numbers that rate your behavior and your potential until your death when you are given your final number– the sum total of your property that will be claimed by the state.
Even in an age where the internet has proven the supremacy of open systems, liberals insist on pursuing the iron dream of the 19th century of stewardship and slavery, of a state that runs like a factory with managers to oversee the cradle to grave lives of its dumb and unwilling workers.
The iron dream has failed everywhere. Its ruins dot the Russian landscape. Its corpses fill the tundra from Asia to Europe. Its victims cry out across thousands of miles. The statues of its visionaries fill the scrap heaps of the east and its empty fields and abandoned factories can be found on every continent.
But everywhere there are men who need to believe in the supremacy of the state, in the closed system, the iron dream and the iron curtain, in 78,000 pages of regulations and all their millions and millions of words, in the nudge, the mandate, the law, the bill and the billy club.
These are the dreamers of the iron dream; the professors who tell their students to change the world by enslaving others to their iron dream, the newsreaders and entertainers who vividly paint the joys of living in the iron dream and the horrors of life outside it, the activists who crowd around shouting for the iron dream in the name of the “People” and the politicians of the iron dream whose faith is in the good of the many and the power of the few.
The American iron curtain is not substantively different than the iron curtain anywhere else, its descent is only slower and the men and women lowering it are more familiar.
The politicians are not guttural foreigners with harsh voices, they speak of American values and invoke American history even as they dismantle both, they stand in front of flags and speak of social justice at state fairs.
They claim that the old system is broken, that it’s unfair and inhumane, that progress is inevitable and that the march of progress and the progress of science have revealed that their way is best. The Mohamedans had their revelation from an angel and the politicians have their muse who shows them that a better world is possible when all men are slaves and the right men rule over them.
They speak of the power of the people, but they only mean certain people will have power and other people will have the power to support them. Like a Soviet election, the power of the people will be limited to voting “Yes” or “No” with the negative vote punishable as subversion and treason.
They don’t call for shooting their opponents, though occasionally the liberal thinkers at the think-tanks that come up with the ideas and talking points that are incorporated into their laws and speeches are indelicate enough to broach the subject. That sort of thing usually comes later.
For now they are concentrating on building their paper walls higher and higher. There are more laws than anyone can read, let alone know or follow.
The laws, like the marching Chinese, are effectively infinite. Even if a curious fellow were to sit down and try to read through them, going without food or sleep around the clock, it would be a hopeless task because no sooner will he have finished 100 pages, than a fresh delivery of another 200 pages will have already been added.
There is too much law being made to count.
Laws are being passed to find out what’s in them and even reading them is useless because the added regulations define what the law does and judges decide how they should be implemented. Nearly 100 million Americans will have their health plans taken away because of how the regulations were written.
That is the power of the paper wall.
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech that began, “The great fundamental issue now before the Republican party and before our people can be stated briefly. It is: Are the American people fit to govern themselves, to rule themselves, to control themselves? I believe they are. My opponents do not.”
“I believe in the right of the people to rule,” he continued. “I believe the majority of the plain people of the United States will, day in and day out, make fewer mistakes in governing themselves than any smaller class or body of men, no matter what their training, will make in trying to govern them.”
A hundred years later, that is still the issue before us. Will we have an open system in which the American people govern themselves or a closed system in which they are governed by bureaucracies and judges, by the activists and mediacrats of the iron dream and their politicians who promise to protect them from their own choices?
We cannot have a hybrid system of both functioning together for very long. Freedom and tyranny do not naturally co-exist. A system does not hang in equilibrium between open and closed. Or as Lincoln put it, “This government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.” And it isn’t enduring.
America has been moving back toward the closed system for some time now. The movement is incremental, its bureaucratic chains come wrapped in populist rhetoric, its power plays take the moral high ground for the oppressed, for progress and for efficient government, and its worst abuses are kept out of the headlines.
Each generation has less freedom than the last. Each generation lives under a more powerful system that is relentless in its determination to control and command. And each generation fails to make the connection between its incremental poverty, its incremental loss of freedom and its growing government.
The iron curtain, like the Berlin Wall, is vulnerable. It can be torn down when enough men inspired to be free converge on it and begin destroying it with sledgehammers and even their bare hands. Its greatest strength is that men do not even know that it is there.
When Churchill named the iron curtain, he expressed a reality that people were familiar with, but lacked the words to describe.
The Communists had seized control of Eastern Europe through deception and double-dealing, they had promised freedom and delivered tyranny, and did it with the collaboration of politicians and media abroad who defended their crimes and spoke of them as humanitarians and defenders of equality. And there lay their greatest strength; until they were named for what they were, it was impossible to see the iron curtain and the evil empire that Churchill and Reagan made real.
That is true of the American iron curtain, which goes by a thousand names like liberal, progressive, humanitarian, social justice, equality, opportunity, reform… and 993 others like it. To destroy it, it has to be named.
People do not try to tear down a wall that they do not even know is there. It is only when they see the wall, when they feel its chill in their bones, when they sense its shadow over their lives, when they strive to climb over it and are shot down, when they chant against it and are beaten; will they be ready to tear it down.
Until the men and women of the open system come with a clear message warning of the wall that is being built around a free people, then they will go on losing elections and the cause of freedom will be lost, drowned in iron and paper, put in chains and filed in a trillion crowded databases.
Only when Americans see the wall, when they sense its shadow over Missouri and Florida, over New York and California, from ocean to ocean and border to border, will they be ready to tear it down.
Only then will they be ready to be free.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century. He blogs at Sultan Knish