The Hungarian Revolt — Then and Today

Fifty years ago, the Hungarian Revolt of 1956 started as a peaceful student demonstration in central Budapest on October 23. The violent reaction of the government soon turned the protests into a nationwide uprising against Soviet control of Hungary. The Hungarian workers and the Hungarian youth were fighting against the power which was supposedly governing in their interest. Despite the revolution’s failure, its spirit is of as much relevance today as it has ever been.

By denying everyone the essential liberty to control one’s life independently, by controlling everything and everybody, the Soviet Union did not emancipate the poor from the prevailing oppressive economic structures; it instead turned its whole population into one of proletarians.

The same was true in Hungary. The government of the People’s Republic of Hungary imposed the paternalist Soviet principles upon its people; it terrorized them and drowned them in state propaganda, day and night. The Hungarian economy suffered greatly from state socialist mismanagement. All of this incited bad sentiments toward the government and finally led to the revolt.

Today, we face similar situations all over the world. Countries are invaded for “humanitarian” reasons and people are oppressed “for their own good.” The result is always the same: death and destruction; mental and material poverty.

The civil war in Iraq, the trials of Turkish dissidents, the famines in North Korea, the oppression of the Tibetans, the Chechen Wars — the list seems to be endless. These are all examples of the eternal war between power and liberty. Increases in power and decreases in liberty are too often justified by “the common good”; the results are always devastating.

It does not stop here. Every one of us experiences it every day: more and more laws are forced upon us; more and more aspects of our private lives are regulated and under observation; more and more money is taken from us. All of this is supposed to be “in our own interest”, “for the economy”, or “for our own security.” Yet, such actions never accomplish what they are supposed to, whatever good intentions might have motivated them. Wars breed more wars; laws increase crime; central planning provokes poverty; control creates chaos.

Thus, we have to ask ourselves: if a great decrease in freedom was not what the Hungarians needed and wanted, how can anything that goes against our will be in our interest? How can any decrease in freedom be for our own good? Everyone’s interest is made up by the individual’s values and passions. But how can values be forced upon us; how can our passions be controlled?

It is time to wake up. It is time to realize that anything less than pure liberty is not to be tolerated, that everyone knows best what is good for him- or herself. Everything the State does is not only a danger to our liberty, but also to our prosperity and to peace and security. Liberty is nothing to be exchanged for peace, prosperity and security, it is their precondition. This was true for the Hungarians in 1956 and it is still true today.

Thus, only a truly voluntary society and a completely free market could solve the problems humanity faces today: poverty, war, oppression, and exploitation. It is time to take up the spirit of the Hungarian demonstrators. But not only are foreign powers unworthy of ruling us, nobody should rule anyone. Man is an end in himself and should not be subject to anyone’s decisions.

Such a demand, of course, is not utopian. Liberty is not utopian; it is an attitude, a commitment. It is an expansion of the principle most of us hold dear in our private lives, respecting the other’s right to life and property. We must apply this principle to “our” politicians and the military. The rules that govern our lives should govern theirs as well.

So, everyone who is committed to liberty, who realizes that “liberty is the mother, not the daughter of order”, should join the fight against any expansion of the government and demand the absolute and final abolition of the State and the disempowerment of its “private” allies. Everyone should fight the disastrous idea of aggression through the proxy of government as a legitimate and effective means to achieve ends.

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