I recently had the opportunity to spend time in Vietnam. For veterans who served “in country” Vietnam is a different place today. It is teeming with free enterprise, the entrepreneurial spirit. New business start-ups are everywhere and there is a sense that the nothing is impossible. It is the Jeffersonian dream at work – a powerful experience of the human spirit overcoming adversity to accomplish something better for society.
We won… if not on the battlefield, at the bank.
The very freedoms at the center of that decade’s long war – a way of life, a chance for people to choose their work – are alive and well even under a one party system of government. It seems effective from an economic standpoint, as it is in China. However I am a university professor looking around, not an expert, just seeing what there is to see.
My eyes got tired.
The economy is vigorous, after China the most vigorous in the world. The skies in Hanoi and Saigon are filled with tower cranes. The streets seething with Honda motor scooters carrying pigs, steel reinforcing for concrete, wedding cakes, eggs, live and cooked chickens, and families of four in a sway of enterprise, to and fro.
The commerce of freedom on wheels.
I had a stiff neck from bending and twisting to see the raw materials and energy of an economy building in a fashion hard to imagine and impossible to describe.
The strength of the will of an individual at work is very close to the goal of the university and powers the interests of our best students and faculty.
We want to build a middle class.
The courts of public opinion, and the scholarship of the day to day, have rendered their decision, the middle class is not just a good idea, but the very essence of a free society. Not royalty, not peasantry, not serfs and lords, but those in the middle. People who have skills, and ideas, and a determination and ability to make something better, always for themselves first, not in opposition to human nature, but in a concert with it, not fighting an incoming tide like a jetty, but riding the power of it, like a surfer. It looked like opportunity, and its was exercised in a ballet of trade and advancement, one Honda at a time, like cowboys on horseback, with cell phones rather than six shooters.
“What does all this have to do with a university?”
The purpose of the university is to heighten the intellectual aptitude and ability of people to make themselves, and by extension their society, better. To improve the greater good by improving the lot of one person at a time. By engaging the power to do something well.
Entitlements won’t do this because entitlement will not load up a Honda with more than it should ever carry and send it on its’ way. Raw opportunity does that. Nothing else will. It defies logic and it is unsafe, it is not completely thoughtful, but it is the exercise of a kind of freedom that no one person can give to another. It has to be grasped when it is there, risk and all.
What I saw in Vietnam moved me deeply and I thought how fortunate to be part of a nation whose strength is dependent on the extent to which this happens every day. It is my good fortune to be a professor in a university, where my charge is to provide the underpinning for this kind of social energy daily.
Our university should sense the power and burden of this responsibility, nurture it, and turn it loose.