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I once had a college history professor who taught that human history could be summed up in the following axiom: mankind’s search for stability.  To be sure, this has often been the primary objective of diplomacy and realpolitik in the modern era.  Nevertheless, if the bloody chaos of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries has revealed anything, it’s that this Westphalian aspiration was itself transient.

Over the past decades, undemocratic systems that decreed the superiority of stability have one by one been replaced in the search for individual freedom.  Some of these systems sought social stability and the soothing panacea of equality preached by the communists.  Other systems sought economic stability brought, they insisted, only through fascist control.  Some dictatorships were imposed for the stated goal of assuring tribal, racial or clan stability.  In all these situations, the results were the same:  the arbitrary control of majorities by an empowered few.

Time and again, courageous people have thrown off the chains of this so-called stability to embark upon the chaotic, uncertain and often dangerous search for individual freedom.  In doing so, those leading the charge have quickly discovered the most frustrating aspect of this journey:  a lifetime will not be enough.  Unlike the false stability of dictators past and present, imposed quickly through the use of violence, the advance of freedom is not rapid and cannot be imposed.

True freedom is instead a daily awakening that infiltrates the minds of the oppressed over time.  As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”

Because of this fact, too often there are reverses.  Those who have fought for freedom in places like Caracas, Managua, and Harare know this all too well.  Frustrating though it may be, until a culture of freedom takes root in society people will all too often choose stability over true freedom.  Those who have begun the process should not lose heart.  As Samuel Adams, an American founding father, was quoted as saying, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.”  The true freedom fighters – some of whose stories are told here in the Freedom Collection – are that minority.  In their tirelessness and often difficult struggles come the small advances which, when added together, continue to change the face of the world for liberty.

This post was written by Joel D. Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.  Find him on Twitter: @joelhirst