As is too often the case, May 19 of last year saw its
share of sad news. Deadly bombings in
and, of all places,
A fatal construction mishap in
Even two people killed in a rally car accident in
Not everything that day was grim, though. Long-suffering Chelsea fans
remember it as when their club
the Champions League. There was a small victory for human dignity when a
for his claim that homosexuality was curable. And then something else
happened, something much subtler – something that went largely unnoticed
at the time.
That evening, in the Spanish town of Sabadell, a
young girl in Plaça de Sant Roc approached a tuxedoed man holding a
double bass and placed a coin in the top hat at his feet. As he started
to play, a lady wielding a cello came and sat near him. As the crowd
around them began to swell, still more musicians emerged seemingly from
nowhere: a bassoon and then some violins – eventually, everything from a
French horn, a drum and even a conductor joined in. If you are not among
the more than 10 million people who have seen it, take six short minutes
to take in the most
of the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that you may ever
enjoy. Everything about it is literally awesome, from the slow buildup
to the frenzied finale, but above all the look of wonder and joy on the
faces of the assembled crowd as they soak in every rapturous note.
Okay, fine, but why am I talking about a year-old
musical flash mob in the (web) pages of the Québécois Libre?
Believe it or not, that short video is among the single most perfect
expressions of freedom that I’ve ever come across. Everything about it
reflects the beauty and splendour that human beings are capable of when
they are free to live their lives as they please. That’s rather a
grandiose claim for a musical performance, so let me explain.
First and most obviously, I’m thinking of the freedom
to create. Art, perhaps more than any other field of human endeavour,
flourishes when people are at liberty to think and dream and express
themselves. Without the right to let his imagination soar, Beethoven
could never have composed “one of the supreme masterpieces of the
Such works are not crafted by fiat or on instructions from a bureaucrat,
but by those whose creative impulses are free to operate unconstrained
by political, ideological or economic diktats that take precedence over
the artistic imperative.
But Beethoven’s work could never have found an
audience without freedom of commerce. To create music takes only a
writing block, but to perform it takes terrific amounts of wealth:
instruments must be bought, musicians must be trained, a hall must be
rented and, of course, an audience willing and able to pay must be
found. It is freedom of commerce that makes all this possible.
Mutually-beneficial commercial exchange allows for
whereby some can make a living designing, perfecting, building and
selling instruments, just as others earn their way by learning to wield
those instruments to produce melodies, harmonies, rhythms. No small
amount of resources is needed to pay for the construction of the hall,
which requires not only labourers but also architects and engineers who
understand how to fine-tune the room’s acoustics. And, finally, each
audience member has not only the means to purchase the luxury of costly
entertainment but also the leisure time to both acquire and indulge a
taste for such music. All this is possible thanks only to the greatest
engines of wealth yet discovered: free markets in which people are able
to work and to trade without hindrance.
heavily statist world in which we live, libertarians are
often left opposing and objecting; instead of communicating
what we want and what we support, we explain – loudly and
vehemently – what it is that we dislike. And since no one
likes a downer, our message can easily get drowned out in
what’s perceived to be a sea of negativity.”
Speaking of audiences, what would such an experience
be if it could not be shared? Laws against “illegal gathering”
are sadly more common than we might think, even in so-called “free”
countries. There is no shortage of places where crowds, especially
spontaneous ones, are seen as something sinister, to be dispersed
quickly before anything menacing can develop. But watch that video and
you’ll see all kinds of people wander by, stop in their tracks and
decide to spend a few minutes taking in something unexpected and
wonderful, without anyone threatening them if they fail to move on.
While it may seem like nothing, many people can only dream of such
And, finally, not so long ago those crowding around
the performers would have been the lucky few. Scarcely 15 years ago, the
chances of such an occasion being captured on tape were slim indeed. And
even had it been filmed, an amateur movie would go no further than the
small circle of acquaintances of whoever was wielding the video camera.
Today, however, anyone can capture a moment like this for posterity –
indeed, just try to count how many audience members are doing just that.
Nowadays, all it takes for anyone on Earth to be part of such a
performance is an ordinary Internet connection. For as long as human
beings have communicated with each other, governments of one kind or
another have sought to monitor and even stop us from interacting
altogether. But, in this case at least, we’re reminded of how marvellous
it is to be free to connect with one another so that we can experience
an event even if we were half a world away when it happened.
While this didn’t all jump out at me the first time I
saw this video – I was too busy simply basking in the moment – it
certainly did after repeated viewings. But beyond rattling off different
kinds of freedom that came to mind, there’s a more important point I
want to make. Given the heavily statist world in which we live,
libertarians are often left opposing and objecting; instead of
communicating what we want and what we support, we explain – loudly and
vehemently – what it is that we dislike. And since no one likes a
downer, our message can easily get drowned out in what’s perceived to be
a sea of negativity.
The real reason that those few minutes speak to me
isn’t because they illustrate one or another specific kind of freedom,
but rather because they illustrate the only real freedom that matters:
the freedom to be happy, or at least to pursue that feeling. Watching
the flash mob and the sheer delight that it inspires in all present is a
reminder that freedom is a positive message. Indeed, it is the
most positive message.
If libertarians want to be heard, we have to remember
that people listen far more closely to those who speak in uplifting
terms than those who preach hostility and resistance. And we have to
convey that what we ultimately seek isn’t to terminate some government
program or to put an end to state intervention. Instead, it is to remove
the coercive restraints that we believe hinder the general spread of
happiness in the world. And that is a positive message worth spreading
with as much elation and optimism as appears on the faces of those lucky
enough to have found themselves in Plaça de Sant Roc on that spring
evening one year ago.
From the same author
The Folly of Rent Control (or, Bad Ideas Never Die)
311 – May 15, 2013)
Ten Years On: A Look Back at the Iraq War
310 – April 15, 2013)
The Education of Quebec: The Perils of Public Funding
309 – March 15, 2013)
I Can See Clearly Now: A Tale of Two Clinics
308 – February 15, 2013)
Defending the Undefendable? Canada's Ban on Polygamy
295 – December 15, 2011)
First written appearance of the
word 'liberty,' circa 2300 B.C.
Le Québécois Libre
Promoting individual liberty, free markets and voluntary
cooperation since 1998.