Let Us Tear Down the Berlin Walls of Today

The fall of the Berlin Wall will forever serve as reminder that a new beginning is always possible. (Flickr)
The fall of the Berlin Wall will forever serve as reminder that a new beginning is always possible. (Flickr)

EspañolOn several occasions I have written about walls and their increasing prominence in our lives. On November 9, however, we will bear witness to a special occasion: the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall — the “iconic emblem of fear and division,” in the words of the author Sonia Hirt.

As Chilean newspaper El Mercurio recently recounted, thousands of residents of East Germany arrived at the wall, and demanded passage into West Germany. Guards chose to turn a blind eye as sections of the wall were torn down in the celebration.

What a transcendent and exciting moment! Human determination and the realization of one of the most fundamental tenants of human existence all conspired in this momentous triumph of liberty: the opportunity to begin anew without walls, and the divisions and exclusions that come with them.

According to Hannah Arendt, one of the most celebrated thinkers of the 20th century, liberty is more than just a political end; it is also a “means.” Referring to liberty in this way means it is and should be a necessary condition for any political action, and a starting point for other healthy political objectives.

This is especially true when discussing liberty in the conventional sense — the type of liberty that Isaiah Berlin calls “negative liberty.” This is the freedom to express oneself, to move freely, to act without being impeded or restricted by external forces. This is why walls — which separate us from one another, making one side invisible to the other — must be viewed as inherently violent.

For Arendt, every new beginning, every act in recognition of the equal freedoms of others — including the expression of differences and inequalities that are a part of plurality — carries with it the possibility of a miracle.

At the heart of the concept of a miracle is our human and earthly precedence. This is why the angels in Wim Wenders’ masterpiece, Wings of Desire, fly over a divided Berlin and the “wall of shame” — compassionate, but helpless in their desperation to change the course of history. These heavenly beings, which only children in all of their innocence are able to see, understand that the key to all of history — and all of our individual histories — can only be found in imperfect and fragile human action.

When we choose to act together, embrace liberty, and share the world in which we live, we can be the authors of human miracles.

So, on the 25th anniversary of the miraculous fall of the Berlin Wall, I choose not to speak of material walls, but of the invisible and metaphorical walls that divide us along political, economic, cultural, and personal lines.

Despite the fact that this date coincides with the British Home Office’s decision to end the search-and-rescue mission for the migrants lost in the Mediterranean Sea, I have decided to not complain, but to write of the eternal possibility and opportunity to begin anew — to be the creators of human miracles, even when faced with world events that may make us doubt it.

This is my stance against nihilism, cynicism, and passivity. I propose the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall be more than just a solemn reminder, but something that inspires us to act in the pursuit of freedom, plurality, and a world we can all share.

Liberty is cultivated, renewed, and reaffirmed through our own commitment. Only through liberty can we rise to achieve the goals that await us on the horizon.

Translated by Peter Sacco and Alex Clark-Youngblood. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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