By most accounts there is little good news about any progress toward a freer society; quite the contrary. Around the globe, of course, there are some regions that are making small moves away from tyranny but even in those few, human freedom doesn't appear to be a priority. Instead, tribal and religious conflicts are the rule, even as the more vicious rulers are losing their grip on their populations. In Syria the tyrant is hanging on by a very thin thread yet elsewhere it's mob rule that has replaced dictatorships.
In the USA, which at one time had the justified distinction of aspiring toward a fully free society – "leader of the free world" – the system and those who administer it pay hardly any heed to human liberty; the leadership is either wallowing in calls for economic equality (as if George Orwell had never written Animal Farm) or embarking wrangles about social and religious issues. (These Republicans certainly know how to drop the ball and miss opportunities!) Every problem that gains serious attention seems to call forth simply more statism from the elite; the possibility of turning toward more freedom is routinely denounced by prominent commentators. (I cannot get over Paul Krugman's widely respected yet totally preposterous complaints about "market fundamentalism," something he keeps alleging has gripped the country even though no evidence of it exists anywhere.)
Despite all this, there is reason to be hopeful. First, there is that proverbial long run to keep in mind; anyone who takes a close look at the sweep of human political history has to grant that there exists at least a "two steps forward, one back" phenomenon when it comes to the progress of freedom. Then there is the recent emergence of substantial respectability for libertarianism, with the likes of Ron Paul and his son Rand championing it openly among mainstream politicians and with the likes of Fox TV's Judge Andrew Napolitano (now sadly no longer hosting at Fox), John Stossel and others making a libertarian pitch on a very successful cable network, with regular appearances by and interviews with consistent, uncompromising champions of the fully free society. All those Reason Magazine and Reason.com folks certainly are a very welcome presence "on the air," repeatedly making their points very cogently. Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, is going to give it a shot as the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate, lending his sharp message – one I consider more coherent and on point than those of Ron Paul whose message is marred by both certain domestic conservative themes and somewhat over the top ideas on international affairs – to the growing demands for freedom coming from America's main street (as against the insistent statism we get from too many prominent academics).
And there is the growing acknowledgement from many corners that the profligacy of government just cannot be sustained, not without the serious threat of a police state that would be needed to coerce us all into compliance with the resulting grotesque economic policies such as increasing taxes on productive citizens and clamping down on all efforts to resist confiscatory tax policies around the country and abroad. (It bears remembering that John Maynard Keynes considered the Third Reich as a very promising place for his policies of economic meddling by the state – see the Introduction he wrote for the German translation of The General Theory!) Also, the general population seems to be tiring of rich-bashing, although there are those, like the Occupy Wall Street bunch, who continue to be ignorantly deluded about the desirability and feasibility of economic leveling.
It is wise also, I think, to keep in mind that massive semi-democratic systems are very unlikely to ever settle into a sensible political regime, given all the conflicting and often bizarre influences that guide public policies and produce truly awful elected officials – think Barney Frank here. Nonetheless, over the long haul freedom is making progress. Not in all places, for sure, and with major gaps not just at the national level but in our backyards. When a totally corrupt and counterproductive war on drugs can continue in force, it does appear to be hopeless to expect increasing sanity in the country.
Yet, all in all, the trend, albeit a slow one with many detours and interruptions, does seem to be pointing toward a freer world than before.