Compulsory Voluntarism

Washington Times  4.22.97
Balint Vazsonyi

The fall of the Berlin Wall has yielded all manner of unexpected fringe benefits. The Cold War over, we can take unashamed advantage of the gamut of Soviet accomplishments. Item: Thanks to the joint space program, our astronauts now have the opportunity to travel around with practically no oxygen inside the vehicle. Item: No longer subject to nuclear threat, students from K through Ph.D. can be fully immersed in the blessings of Marxism-Leninism. Best yet, we are rapidly learning that voluntarism is what our leaders tell us it is.

Back in Hungary, we used to make up various definitions of Socialism. The one relevant here is "Socialism is a form of government in which nothing is allowed, but that which is allowed is compulsory." Admittedly, Americans have a long way to go before they achieve anything comparable to Soviet standards, but I am delighted to report significant progress on several fronts.

Take, for example, control of the vocabulary. An example worthy of the Soviet model is the replacement of "Indian." True, its centuries-old use was based on a misunderstanding, but "native American" is deliberate nonsense. Why do it? The objective is two-fold. First, new labels obliterate the old and, with that, The Hated Past. Second, every time a new term is enforced, control over people's minds has taken another step forward. Even something as seemingly innocuous as "human resources," which has replaced "personnel," is carefully calculated. As well as accomplishing the two objectives already listed, it demotes people to the status of objects.

Then we have acquired all these Soviet-type celebrations. In Hungary, we got used to the annual "Month of Soviet-Hungarian Friendship," "Women's Day," or the "Week of Socialist Unity." We were treated to recurring programs of great boredom or marched all over Budapest carrying placards. Crossing the Iron Curtain, I thought I was done with compulsory celebrations. Apparently not.

Occasionally, there is a trade-off. Although we can no longer refer to fellow humans using simple descriptive words such as "old" or "deaf", we can employ the filthiest language with complete abandon everywhere, including television. Those words are not merely permitted - they are on the way to become obligatory. HBO, for example, is developing entire series in which comedians speak almost exclusively in obscene terms.

But there is nothing funny about teachers and many others having to choose between compulsory union membership and being unemployed. There is nothing funny about the concrete walls placed in the paths of college faculty if they do not tow the line set by organizations of intellectual terrorism such as the Modern Languages Association.

The spirit of voluntarism used to be as American as apple pie. Even before Alexis de Tocqueville, a Hungarian publisher from Transylvania by the name of Sándor Bölöni Farkas traveled the length and breadth of this country in 1829-30. In his book "A Journey in North-America," he writes page upon page about the wondrous experience of watching communities in this young nation take care of everything and everyone.

The willingness to give is a beautiful human trait. Americans have always given freely to their neighbors, their friends - even their enemies, an historic first. But apparently the time has come to do away with all that. Giving, that most private of decisions, is going compulsory. This weekend, we are about to witness the grand announcement to the nation, from Philadelphia no less, at "The President's Summit for America's Future."

American corporations seem destined to go the way of Russians, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians in the 1950s. In these countries, workers and students were "encouraged" to purchase "Peace Bonds" to the tune of 10% of their salary or scholarship (!). Those who did not sign up at their place of work or study were visited by pairs of agitators who intimated that continued resistance would be severely detrimental to one's record.

The story went around that, one Sunday, the agitators came upon this old man who declined the honors. "I have nothing to give away," he told his visitors. "But you are not giving it away!" they assured the mature male citizen. "You own this country and everything in it. Don't you want all the wonderful things the government will do with your money?"

The old man thought for a moment. "The first year, I paid for a dam on the Danube," he said. "Next, I bought into the urban renewal movement. Last year, I financed the pioneer railway. This year, I will buy myself a new pair of socks."

American corporations have a lot more than the old man in the story. Or do they? Corporations, like the government, have no money at all. Their shareholders do. Citizens do. It should be for every individual to decide whether to spend their money on "new socks" for themselves, or give it away to the needy. In America, those who gave less to themselves, so they could give to others, have always been accorded special respect.

But their inspiration came from the Scriptures, not from an Executive Branch with computers to monitor compliance.