SOMEONE ONCE SAID: It isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it has been tried and found difficult—and abandoned. Perhaps the same running away from righteousness is responsible for freedom’s plight for, plainly, the American people are becoming more and more afraid of and are running away from—abandoning—their very own freedom revolution.
Freedom, it seems to me, is of two broad types, psychological and sociological. The psychological—perhaps the more important of the two, but not the major concern of this book—has to do with man freeing himself from his own superstitions, myths, fears, imperfections, ignorance. This, of course, is a never-ending task to which we should give a high priority.
The sociological aspect of freedom, on the other hand, has to do with man imposing his will by force on other men. It is unfortunate that we need to spend any time on this part of the problem, for it calls for combating a situation that should not be. For instance, it is absurd for me forcibly to impose my will upon you: dictate what you are to discover, invent, create, where you shall work, the hours of your labor, the wage you shall receive, what and with whom you shall exchange. And it is just as absurd for any two or even millions or any agency that the millions may contrive—government or otherwise—to try to forcibly direct and control your creative or productive or peaceful actions.
Light can be shed on this thought by reflecting on the manner in which human energy manifests itself. Broadly speaking, it shows forth as either peaceful or unpeaceful, which is to say, as creative or destructive. If my hand is used to paint a picture, write this book, build a home, strew seed, my energy is manifestly peaceful, creative, productive. But if I make a clenched fist of the same hand and strike you with it, my energy is manifestly unpeaceful, destructive.
My theme is that any one of us has a moral right to inhibit the destructive actions of another or others, and, by the same token, we have a right to organize (government) to accomplish this universal right to life, livelihood, liberty. But no living person or any combination of persons, regardless of how organized, has a moral right forcibly to direct and control the peaceful, creative, productive actions of another or others. To repeat, we should not find it necessary to devote time and thought to this sociological aspect of the freedom problem, but a brief sketch of the American setting, past and present, will demonstrate that an awakening is now “a must” of the first order.
Let us pick up the thread of the historical setting beginning with the year 1620 when our Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock. That little colony began by practicing communism; all that was produced by each member, regardless of how much or how little, was forced (unpeaceful) into a common warehouse and the proceeds of the warehouse were doled out in accord with the governing body’s idea of the need. In short, our Pilgrim Fathers began the practice of a principle that was advanced by Karl Marx—more than two centuries later—as the ideal of the Communist Party: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
There was a persuasive reason why the Pilgrims threw overboard this communalistic or communistic practice: the members were starving and dying because, when people are organized in this manner, the warehouse always runs out of provender. The stark reality of the situation suggested to them that their theory was wrong and, bless them, they paused for reflection. In the third winter when they met with Governor Bradford, he said to them, in effect: Come spring, we’ll try a new idea. We’ll cast aside this communistic notion of to each according to need and try the idea of to each according to merit. Come spring, and each of you shall have what each produces.
As the record has it, springtime witnessed not only father in the field but mother and the children as well. Governor Bradford reported much later, “Any generall wante or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”1
It was by reason of the practice of this private property principle that there began in this land of ours an era of growth and development which sooner or later had to lead to revolutionary political ideas. And it did lead to what I refer to as the real American revolution, the revolution from which more and more Americans are now running away, as if in fear.
A Revolutionary Concept
The real American revolution, however, was not the armed conflict we had with King George III. That was a reasonably minor fracas as such fracases go! The real revolution was a novel concept or idea which was a break with all political history. It was something politically new on earth!
Until 1776 men had been contesting with each other—killing each other by the millions—over the age-old question of which of the numerous forms of authoritarianism —that is, man-made authorities—should preside as sovereign over man. The argument was not which was better, freedom or authoritarianism, but which of the several forms of authoritarianism was the least bad. And then, in 1776, in the fraction of one sentence written into the Declaration of Independence, was stated the real American revolution, the new idea, and it was this: “that all men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There you have it! This is the essence of the original American setting and the rock on which the “American miracle” was founded.
The revolutionary idea was at once a spiritual, a political, and an economic concept. It was spiritual in that the writers of the Declaration recognized and publicly proclaimed that the Creator was the endower of man’s rights; and, thus, it follows, that the Creator is sovereign.
It was political in that it implicitly denied that the state is the endower of man’s rights, thus holding to the tenet that the state is not sovereign.
Our revolutionary concept was economic in this sense: that if an individual has a right to his life, it follows that he has a right to sustain his life—the sustenance of life being nothing more nor less than the fruits of one’s labor.
It is one thing intellectually to embrace such a revolutionary concept as this; it is quite another matter to implement it—to put it into practice. The implementation came in the form of two political instruments—the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These were essentially a series of prohibitions—prohibitions not against the people but against the political arrangement the people, from their Old World experience, had learned to fear, namely, over-extended government.2
The Constitution and the Bill of Rights more severely limited government than government had ever before been limited. There were benefits that flowed from this limitation of the state.
The first benefit, once this new concept became effective, was that individuals did not turn to government for security, welfare, or prosperity because government was so. limited that it had little on hand to dispense; nor did its limited power permit taking from some citizens and giving to others. To what or to whom do people turn for security, welfare, and prosperity when government is not available to them? They turn to where they should turn—to themselves.
As a result of this discipline founded on the revolutionary concept that the Creator, not the state, is the endower of man’s rights, along with these instruments of limitation, there was developed, on an unprecedented scale, a quality of character that Emerson referred to as “self-reliance.” The American people gained a world-wide reputation for being self-reliant.
A second benefit that flowed from this severe limitation of government: When government is limited to inhibiting the destructive actions of men, when it sticks to its sole competency of keeping the peace and invoking a common justice, which is to say, when it minimizes such unpeaceful actions as fraud, violence, predation, misrepresentation —when it is thus limited—then there is no organized force standing against the peaceful, productive, creative actions of citizens. As a consequence of this limitation, there was a freeing, a releasing of creative energy, on a scale unheard of before.
I repeat, it was this combination which was chiefly responsible for the veritable outburst of creative human energy and that accounted for the “American miracle.” We must everlastingly keep in mind that its roots were in the revolutionary concept that the Creator, not the state, is the endower of man’s rights.
This keeping-the-peace design manifested itself in individual freedom of choice as related to all peaceful, productive, creative efforts. Citizens had freedom of choice as to how they employed themselves; they had freedom of choice as to how they priced their own labor or steel or whatever; they had freedom of choice as to what they did with their own income.
This is the American setting—as it was.