Castles and Masterpieces

This summer I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Europe. I visited 8 countries in 20 days traveling by rail. My itinerary included London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Stockholm. It was the trip of a lifetime.

In each city I visited, I made it a point to see the well-known historical sites, art galleries, and seats of government. I visited castles, viewed masterpieces, and saw three different sets of crown jewels from England, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

As I rounded the corner in a museum in Florence and laid eyes on the Statue of David, or as I set foot in the Louvre in Paris or Hapsburg Palace in Vienna, it struck me how fortunate I am to live in the age of prevalent democracy and capitalism.

Castles were built for the rich, the powerful, and the few. Commoners and peasants were never intended to see them from within. Now, nearly every castle in Europe is a museum, with an entry fee affordable to any tourist.

Masterpieces of art were commissioned by and for royal families or wealthy aristocrats. For centuries, art was the pastime of the supremely wealthy. The percentage of those who could afford to enjoy the masterpieces of Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Michelangelo – nonetheless own them – would have put today’s concept of “the 1%” to shame.

And here I am, neither royalty nor powerful nor wealthy, still able to enjoy as many of the treasures of Europe as I had time to see.

The argument that collectivism and centralization leads to equality is so patently disproven by history that it amazes me it can still be made with a straight face. Yet people don’t call for bigger and more extensive government as a joke, it’s the entire platform of a major American political party. Democratic politicians see more government programs, larger bureaucracy, and centralized authority as the means to achieve the ends of their political agenda – and have the audacity to do it in the name of equality.

Centralization by its nature leads to inequality. Today’s castles and palaces have been turned into museums and art galleries because the world has largely embraced democracy and capitalism. Monarchies, royalty, and hereditary privilege have been shed for individual and universal rights to life and liberty through great sacrifice and revolution. Many have rightfully insisted that there is no greater value to one human life over another, and free countries have enshrined this in their governing documents.

Sure, the left can point at capitalism and free trade all they want and find disparities and income gaps. But these are nothing compared to the inequalities of the centuries of humankind’s existence under monarchies, autocrats, and despots. And, beautifully, capitalism and free society have the means of rectifying disparities: private charities, philanthropies, and increasing opportunities for employment and education. What ability did the commoners in medieval France or Hungary have to help their fellow citizens in need? All were equally poor; all were equally ignored by the few with money and power who made the rules and ran the country.

We must ask ourselves, what are we giving up when we dedicate more and more of our money, freedom, and individualism to collectivism and big government? We hurt more than ourselves, we hurt those who may need our help. Our potential charity becomes castles, palaces, vacations, lavish goods and fancy meals for the few (not to mention lost to the black hole of bureaucracy). The left will constantly try to bolster their agenda with faulty statistics that show America as having some of the world’s greatest income inequalities. What this ‘statistic’ fails to consider is that in North Korea, Mao’s China, and autocratic African nations, there is no great income gap because everyone is equally impoverished.

The idea that power and money is best allocated in the hands of the few is one that rightfully belongs on the ash heap of history.

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