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Ukraine Wants Liberalism

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

Putin’s army has bombed to rubble the usual political spectrum of left and right.

We usually put every policy or person somewhere along a horizontal line from rightwing fascism through a comfortable middle to leftwing communism. It’s nice to have such a simple system, derived from the seating in the French Assembly two centuries ago. It makes it easy to choose friends. "You’re a conservative. I can’t date you."

But Putin War has shown the real issue. It’s not left and right. Nor is it Queers versus Catholics, as much as some would like to make the culture war a big issue. Nor is it young or old. Nor Northeast versus South.

It’s s liberty versus tyranny.

What’s liberty? Collectively, it’s not being a slave to another country. Your country and mine never had much of an issue with keeping collective liberty. We’re too far away, and too big. Our neighbors Mexico and Paraguay have not been not so lucky. The Mexicans say, "So far from God, so close to the United States of America."

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia - Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters

Individually, it’s not being a slave to another human. Brazil and the USA did indeed have a big problem with that one, to put it mildly, which did not end in 1888 or 1865.

But try being Ukraine with such a neighbor as Putin’s Russia. Or try being a Russian inside Putin’s Russia, as the Ukrainians decidedly do not want to be. You would be a slave to a kleptocratic state, as under the tsars and the communists everyone was. The joke was that "under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism it’s the other way around."

Putin’s War makes clear even to people who just want to get on with their lives that the big issue of our times is not horizontal but vertical. Up is liberty. Down is slavery.

And here’s the thing. We all want liberty. Unlike the other spectrums, though, the extreme is the best. It’s best for progress, for sure. And the order arises from the liberty, the way the Portuguese language or Brazilian music or your circle of friends arises without enslavement to the state.

There’s a name for it, which has never fit along the old left-right spectrum. Liberalism.

That, dears, is what you really want.