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Values: Civilization evolves

Ask yourself: Why did the entire world display such enormous reaction to the death of Nelson Mandela? After all, he was 95, long faded into terminal decline.

We think the answer goes like this: Mandela won a hard-fought triumph for the deepest values of civilization -- human rights, human dignity, human decency -- symbolizing "the better angels of our nature."

Half-subconsciously, people in every corner of the planet realize that Mandela pushed humanity toward more democracy, toward genuine fairness that gives everyone a chance.

He was born into cruel segregation. Minority whites were sole rulers of South Africa. Blacks were denied rights, kept in poverty, relegated to bottom-rung status. Mandela attempted to end this injustice peacefully, but white rulers responded with gunfire. So he turned to sabotage and spent 25 years in prison.

But civilization evolved, and South Africa finally was forced to free him and let blacks vote. Rightly, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He deserved all the accolades that came with his death.

Two strong forces dominate history: Liberalism struggles for social reform, trying to give underdogs a fighting chance and a safety net. Conservatism tries to block reform and protect the ruling class. This yin-and-yang battle crops up in thousands of public disputes. Party labels and various leaders change, but the basic conflict doesn't.

Liberalism keeps winning, step by step, ever since the divine right of kings and slavery were toppled. Civilization keeps progressing toward equality. Mandela was a fighter for this improvement.

Jesse Jackson wrote that Mandela was a "transformational figure" -- more than a historical figure -- because he changed the world. Jackson noted:

"Let us not forget that Britain, the United States, all of the western powers, labeled Mandela a terrorist and steadfastly propped up the apartheid regime. They were on the wrong side of history."

We agree with Jackson's conclusion: "Mandela was a giant of immense and unwavering intellect, courage and moral authority. He chose reconciliation over retaliation. He changed the course of history."


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