The Soviet Union was a peaceful place. The rate of violent crime was relatively low. Though the Union encompassed 11 time zones and vastly different cultural backgrounds, the people did not engage in civil wars. It was directly engaged in few "hot" wars over decades. They often declared that they were a nation of peace. That fits the definition of peace as the absence of war and violent crime. Anyone who knows the history of the Soviet Union, however, recognizes that this definition twists the truth beyond recognition. The Soviet Union was an extremely violent, often-terrifying place where people were seized in the middle of the night by government agents, never to be seen again. The Gulag system became the permanent, though usually short-lived, home for millions of miserable individuals who had become enemies of "the people", which really meant they did something that someone didn't like or that wasn't politically acceptable.
The Soviet state apparatus was all about keeping peace. The means that it used was violence. Any activity that had even a remote possibility of undermining State power was outlawed. So many things were made illegal that it was always possible to charge any person with a crime. Nobody knew who was working for the Secret Police. Human beings were not individuals, but merely tiny atoms in the organism called "the people," expendable resources to be used by the leadership in furthering what they considered the common good. Thus, individuals had no rights against the state, which was their keeper and master. The people were, in essence, slaves of the state.
There are other meanings of peace, however. Peace of mind is an inner peace, which is an individual choice, a peace which can exist even in the face of external violence. It is an acceptance or one's self and conditions, keeping one's mind unburdened and free to think without worry or stress, even in war or prison camps.
Peace can also be understood as the true absence of aggressive violence and coercion. It encompasses the avoidance of war and state violence but goes much further. It is the respect of the rights of all other people. It is the understanding that people are born free, free to do anything that doesn't violate the same rights of other individuals. Thus the rights to life, liberty and property, described by philosopher John Locke 350 years ago and integrated into the fundamental principles of freedom in American society, are a framework for peaceful existence. If every individual respected the rights of every other individual to his or her life, liberty, and property, there would be no violence. Voluntary cooperation and trade enhances the lives and well-being of everyone in society. The historical evidence strongly supports that contention. Those viewed as poor in more-free countries are very much better off than the poor and even the middle class of countries lacking in the protection of life, liberty and property.
Our nation has become one which holds neither peace nor individual rights in high regard. Almost every law coming from the halls of the federal or the state governments is a restriction on the freedom of at least some Americans, a violation of the life, liberty, or property of one person or group in favor of another person or group. There is continual war-making and a consolidation of power in the hands of the elite, the members of which think their job is to manage the economy and society, much like the Soviet leadership did. In both cases, the rights and well-being of the individuals suffer, to the benefit of the influence and bank accounts of those who deign themselves master.
Americans do not need masters. They need the elimination of government protection for those who violate their rights, be they large corporations, abusive unions, or self-important bureaucrats. Voluntary society is a peaceful society. Failure is an inherent part of voluntary society and no organization is too big to fail. It is the discovery process for things which work and the elimination of the things which don't work. It is the source of progress in every society.
Coercive society introduces violence or threats of violence to get something at the expense of someone else. It is using government coercive power to keep failure in place. It is the destruction of progress.
A peace based on violence is not peace. Any peace worth keeping is where people are their own masters. That is the vision of a nation of freedom.
Dan McLaughlin is a columnist for The Post-Journal. Contact him at email@example.com.