Another year. And another occasion to clear away the accumulated encumbrances and march resolutely into the future. Along with the inability to rid our minds of such clichés comes the inevitable insistence that we mark our place in history according to human “progress.” In a city whose political class calls itself “progressive,” that is a perplexing challenge.
We consider it progressive, properly understood, when individual creativity is emancipated, when people come together voluntarily in commerce, when citizens can control their own property undeterred by petty tyrants and keep as much of their own rightfully made wealth as possible, when those who feel anointed to control our lives are kept at bay.
We deem it progressive when human beings, acting individually or concertedly, can pursue truth — whether they find it in art, science or religion — without the threat of political interference or coercion. We hold that it is democracy perfected when sovereign individuals can vote in a marketplace of goods, services and ideas to serve their own best interests, thereby reducing the need for majoritarian might.
We think it progressive when free peoples act in self-defense — again, individually and concertedly — against enemies sworn to overturn their order with violence. And we consider it a progressive virtue when the people of a comparatively free nation act on a carefully weighed chance to help another, more desperate people throw off the bonds of tyranny. If such an effort falls short, the praiseworthy people behind it should not wallow in guilt or fuel sinister and self-destructive theories about their leaders’ motives.
“Freedom is the one thing you cannot have,” the great Kansas newspaper editor William Allen White wrote early in the 20th century, “unless you are willing to give it to everyone else.” It was a profound insight, demolishing the false dichotomy between self-interest and selflessness. On that observed dynamic was built a great civilization, of which San Francisco remains one of the most spectacular urban monuments.
Freedom and the idea of progress, handed down from antiquity, are forever linked, mutually sustaining. It simply cannot be the case that true human progress can survive when the spark of individual initiative is choked by an expansionist state, however laudable the aims of the political class.
San Francisco and the Bay Area, as in any year, can look to 2007 with their share of challenges, some held over and some new. The perpetual issues of jobs, traffic, schools, health care, the ever-reaching skyline and, not least, crime may be more critical than ever — and will be addressed in what promises to be a rowdy mayoral campaign.
The ancient (and progressive) wisdom holds: All these emerging crises present special opportunities. And opportunities yield the greatest accomplishments when nurtured in an atmosphere of freedom.