Let Freedom Day Shine

BEN WATTENBERG

July 08, 1992|By BEN WATTENBERG

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- We are at the midpoint between the Fourth of July and Bastille Day. It is the right moment to announce the winner of the world's most important contest, which was proclaimed in this column some months ago. The name of the game was to come up with a new holiday to celebrate the End of the Cold War. (I am the sole judge.)

This is no trivial pursuit. Holidays are guideposts; they are important because they tell us what is important.

There have been three great revolutions in modern times. The first two heralded democracy: the American (July 4, 1776), and the French, which is dated from the storming of The Bastille (July 14, 1789). Much later (1917) in Russia, the Bolshevik revolution began.

The three revolutions offered competing visions. The end of the Cold War informed us which revolution lost, but not which revolution won. The communist idea -- the people in slavish service of the state -- stank to high heaven, and that one is now out of the global competition.

Freedom untrammeled -- that's the big news, and that's what the new holiday ought to commemorate. My readers agree. Holidays with the words ''Freedom,'' ''Liberty,'' ''Democracy'' and ''World'' predominated. (I include a suggestion from A. A. Gentile of Baltimore, for a holiday called ''Da Day'' -- ''da,'' to say ''yes'' to democracy in Russia.)

More than 50 entries had ''free'' or ''freedom'' in them, with ''Freedom Day'' way ahead. That was the choice of Professor G. Robina Quale of Albion College (Mich.) who notes that it would fit in nicely with ''Law Day,'' Memorial Day,'' ''Flag Day,'' ''Independence Day,'' ''Bastille Day,'' ''Freedom Day'' and ''Labor Day.''

(I have some creative readers. Charles Muller recommends building a tunnel from Russia to America, across the Bering Strait! Doug Broadbent of Ridgewood, N.J., had the longest holiday name: ''Never Thought I'd See It in My Lifetime Day.'' And I salute Capt. Don Phillips, of San Antonio, Texas, who wants to toast the moment with ''Pour-Us-A-Boris Day.'')

This contest should be decided democratically. So ''Freedom Day'' it is. Write the president, your congressman, and the secretary-general of the United Nations.

But if the end of the Cold War told us who lost -- who wins? The American and French revolutions both proclaimed freedom, but they were not the same. The French revolution was ''top-down'' and the American revolution was ''bottom-up.''

France was a class-conscious, centralized state, with a monarchy, an aristocracy and a history of feudalism. People knew their place. The revolution ended the monarchy, the aristocracy and feudalism, but much of the class consciousness and centralized government remained. European democracies today are still centralized and class-oriented. They are nice places, but they aren't America.

The American Revolution also perpetuated something, but it wasn't class-conscious centralism. It was ''the American way of life.'' That has been described as individualistic, ruggedly individualistic, capitalist, universal, pluralist, violent, vulgar, voluntaristic, populist, religious, nationalist, patriotic, libertarian, republican, open, modern, upwardly mobile or just plain mobile -- and mostly, free, or more precisely, more free than elsewhere.

The idea was to leave folks alone and keep the government in its place.

So, with the end of the Cold War, we resume an earlier, healthier, competition: Old World vs. New World. That rivalry, I believe, will validate the American idea, not the French one. You don't hear much these days about how people are aspiring to the French way of life, or about how the world is Europeanizing.

One respondent, Blaise Piazza of Atlantic Highlands, N.J., wants to call the new holiday ''Pax Americana Day.'' You'll never know how close I came to making that the top-down choice.

That wouldn't even require an extra day off. It could be celebrated on July Fourth, which is what Diana Heller of Baltimore recommends: ''extend Independence Day to other nations.''

Too chauvinist. Too nationalist. Too soon. But don't rule it out forever.

Ben Wattenberg, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is author of ''The First Universal Nation,'' published by The Free Press.

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