Mandela’s Greatest Legacy Was What He Didn’t Do

As I argue in my book The American Presidents Without The Boring Bits, George Washington’s greatest achievement was that after two terms, he stood down.

The decision to do so baffled (second president) John Adams. Washington had the power of a king. He could have carried on until his death, so why didn’t he?

Any libertarian knows the moral answer to that question. Mandela wasn’t a libertarian in so many ways. But in some of the ways that truly mattered, he stood on our side.

Under the cloud of nearly three decades of incarceration, it would be understandable (but unacceptable) if Nelson Mandela used his newly-given power for revenge. To act more like Robert Mugabe, and less like George Washington.

But leaving prison a changed, and more mature man, he made many of the right choices.

Madiba chose humility over power. He chose truth and reconciliation over force and witch-hunts. He chose freedom for all.

And, like the first American president, he stepped down. That might still baffle some of his supporters. “He could have been like a king. He could have been in power for the rest of his life. Why didn’t he carry on? Why didn’t he grab more power? I don’t get it.” But those of us who call ourselves libertarian get it.

And we know the world is a tiny bit brighter because of him.

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