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Schindler’s List

Up to this point, my series of posts on “How this evangelical became a fan of the free market” has focused on specific theological doctrines or passages of scripture.

While it is critically important that any discussion of how my faith led me to endorse free enterprise anchors itself in God’s word, it’s not as if one day I opened up my Bible, read all of the verses I’ve already touched upon, and suddenly realized that de-centralization of power and property rights were concepts appropriate for a Christian’s worldview. Many contributing factors and experiences got me to this point.

As I’m sure many of you could attest to, the things that stick with us the longest, that shape our thinking the most, tend not to be what we hear from a pulpit or observe in a PowerPoint presentation. Information communicated through emotionally based mediums cleaves to our heart and soul much closer than the academically absorbed kind.

The lyrics of a song coming through the earbuds of an iPod while riding on a train headed downtown. The climax of a rousing monologue delivered by a charismatic character in our favorite novel. A tearful story our grandpa told about fighting in World War II.

Truth has a funny way of popping up in the most unexpected places and in the least expected guises.

I am a consumer—some would term it “indulger”—of popular culture, literature, and especially movies. Film is a form of entertainment that speaks to all of us, but not everyone takes the time to analyze and learn from what they watch. Then there are some who take the time to learn from the films they see (or make), and come away with the wrong lessons. Or, and just as potentially detrimental to the development of their own worldview, they miss obvious lessons they should (and could) have learned.

Such is the case, I believe, with millions of Americans and the gut-wrenching Steven Spielberg masterpiece Schindler’s List.

If you’ve never seen the Academy Award-winning 1993 epic, a quick blurb from Wikipedia will get you where you need to be for the purposes of the rest of this piece:

“Schindler’s List is a 1993 American film about Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.”

Now, I don’t think any morally sane person who has seen Schindler’s List, or for that matter, learned anything about those brave souls who risked their lives to help European Jews before and during the Second World War, has failed to recognize the evil, wicked nature of the Nazi regime and ideology. We appropriately applaud anyone who was willing to help rescue those Hitler deemed “inferior” from the gas chambers and firing squads.

But there’s a lesson many of us have missed. It is a subtle one, but only because the horror of the Holocaust in general, and the story of Schindler’s List in particular, suck the intellectual air out of any room the film is viewed in.

The lesson is this: It was “economics” (and, of course, courage) that enabled Oskar Schindler to save those thousand-plus souls in 1940s Poland. It was a sliver, however small, of economic autonomy that served as the miraculous buffer between the Nazi federal government and a private citizen’s “self-interest.” Although initially he was a reluctant hero, eventually Schindler realized what was at stake and became “selfish” regarding the saving of Jewish lives.

Because of how powerful the Nazi government had become in Germany (and much of Eastern Europe), Schindler was forced to create a “black market” to do the right thing. This is what happens in a nation that has willingly ceded its creator-endowed rights to those who rule over them (see: I Samuel 8). You won’t always get a Hitler, but you’ll always get less liberty and, as history teaches us, it won’t be long before—like farmers under Soviet rule—you find yourself secretly growing and trading turnips and potatoes to survive because when your government insisted they “needed control of agriculture to help the ‘little guy,’” they really just craved control in general.

But whether we’re talking Jew-saving in Poland at a munitions factory, or illegal rutabaga-bartering in the Russian steppes to feed a starving nation enslaved under the secular-collectivist whims of Karl Marx and Charles Darwin devotees, any economic freedom is good freedom.

Especially in the face of totalitarianism.

And if economic freedom is good in the face of tyranny, if it is the thing —in some cases the last and only thing—that has prevented a dictatorial regime from engulfing every corner of its empire in darkness, one ought to be able to grasp that it is probably a pretty great thing in a freer system of government and economy (like, oh, I don’t know, ours).

One might even venture to say that economic freedom is a direct cause, or at the very least a prerequisite, for the political freedoms we in the West claim to cherish so dearly.

It’s what sparked a political revolution in and among thirteen colonies some 235 years ago.

Make no mistake about it: The extraordinary story of Schindler’s List does not happen if a man in Poland, against incredible odds, had not etched out for himself a haven of economic independence.

It was one of the only things able to successfully defy the depravity of the Nazis behind their own lines.

“Free enterprise” and “decentralization of powers” aren’t just talking points for the Tea Party. They are precious gifts from a loving God. They save lives in desperate times, and can generate unprecedented prosperity and human freedom in favorable times.

Can we abuse them? Certainly. Have we abused them? Most definitely.

But the answer is not a turn to collectivism (or worse). The answer is to re-claim and consecrate them.

Steven Spielberg spent nearly three years of his life researching for and making Schindler’s List, and if his public political views are any indicator, the guy completely missed the point I’m making today.

But you don’t have to.