Foreign Affairs

The Empty Nobel Seat

The Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2010 is Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese professor of literature.  He won’t be attending the ceremony.  He’s in prison, charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” according to CNN.  The Chinese government also refuses to allow his wife to travel to Norway for the ceremony.  This is the second time the Peace Prize has been awarded to an empty chair.  The previous occasion was in 1936, when German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky spent the award ceremony in a Nazi concentration camp.

China is not happy about the empty chair ceremony, and has apparently persuaded Russia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Iraq, and Cuba to boycott the event.  (Sad and disturbing to see Iraq in there, isn’t it?)  The Chinese government went so far as to hastily whip up its own “Confucius Peace Prize,” which it intends to bestow upon the former vice-president of Taiwan. 

Amnesty International says “China’s actions will help to focus the world’s attention on its abysmal record on human rights,” and proclaims Xiaobo’s empty chair will hold “thousands of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience currently languishing in Chinese jails or under house arrest, victims of prosecution and persecution simply for having the courage to voice their views.”

The Nobel Committee shamed itself by awarding the Peace Prize to an empty suit last year.  Can it redeem its dignity by awarding one to an empty chair?  Unlike the 2009 winner, Barack Obama, Liu Xiaobo has actually done something, and suffered the repercussions.  His fate is a warning about the inevitable future of every statist society.  They always end up producing empty seats.

Liu has been involved with Charter 08, a petition calling for freedom and democratic reform, which has gathered over 10,000 signatures despite energetic government attempts to suppress it.  The Chinese Politburo has good reason to worry, since a similar petition helped get the Velvet Revolution under way in Czechoslovakia, as CBS News reminds us in a piece on the Nobel Committee’s “unwelcome news for China.”  Totalitarian states end in “preference cascades,” when the State can no longer convince those who yearn for freedom that they are alone.  Liu is not alone, and neither is anyone who signed Charter 08.

The official verdict against Liu, delivered last year, charged him with writing documents to “slander, and urge other people to overthrow, our country’s democratic dictatorship and our socialist system.”  You can see a world of pain, and cultural devolution, in the phrase “democratic dictatorship.”  It is a concept ultimately inseparable from “socialist systems.”

China lunged into totalitarian communism all at once, in a Great Leap Forward that crushed forty million people beneath its jackboots.  Now it has loosened up a bit, generating prosperity through limited market reforms, even as the rest of the West moves leftward to meet it.  Western writers, most notably Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, write dreamy love notes to the system Liu Xiaobo rots in prison for criticizing.

Socialist systems always become “democratic dictatorships” at best, because the only resource of the State is control.  Writers and thinkers like Liu are “stealing” the only currency in the treasury of the total State.  The designs of central planners can only be realized if the population complies with their commands, and the only way to ensure compliance is with compulsion.  Anything that weakens the power of the State reduces its supply of compulsion. 

The remorseless logic that leads to this conclusion is not much different in any quarter of the globe.  It’s just a matter of time until it boils down to an equation that can only be solved with an empty seat.  Eventually, statists can no longer seize resources from a population that retains the freedom to refuse their demands. 

Remember when the Obama Administration was threatening dire consequences for businesses that criticized ObamaCare?  How about the Left’s thirst for crushing free speech by shutting down Fox News, or imposing the Fairness Doctrine, or Al Sharpton’s recent call to force Rush Limbaugh off the air?

The buffoons at the Cancun conference on “climate change” are pushing the United Nations to declare “ecocide” a crime against humanity, on par with genocide, and begin prosecuting “climate change deniers,” over a year after their cause was indisputably revealed to be an utter fraud.  The future of the “climate change” movement is entirely dependent on the suppression of dissent.  The free people of developed countries will not willingly comply with their demands, unless all other voices are silenced.

As soon as a society begins down the road of appointing a Ministry of Truth to determine what criticism will be “allowed,” it embarks on a journey that ends in Liu Xiaobo’s prison cell.  The only question is how long it takes to get there.  The Chinese government is right to be afraid of Liu.  We would be foolish not to fear anyone who resembles his jailors. 


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