The freedom way of life is threatened today more than at any time since the U.S.A.’s founding. It is frowned upon, denigrated, caricatured, opposed. The anti-freedom movement is devolutionary, and it is so powerful and cleverly phrased—popularized—that many good citizens give ground, concede this or that point, unwittingly lending support to a way of life they openly decry. As a consequence, they become infected with a plethora of “buts” and thus bend and give the case away. No longer ramrod straight!
Our problem is serious, but it is one with which man long has struggled. And for help in our time, we well may look to the wisdom and goodness of the ages. I refer to those individuals, past and present, near and far, whose wisdom is ours for the seeking—partners in principles and insights.
For, as Archbishop Whately wrote, “It makes all the difference in the world whether we put Truth in the first place or in the second place!” What light can these wise men bring to bear on some of our urgent questions?
Our concern is for life and liberty. And one of the first questions has to do with the source of our rights to these things. If we will listen to the sages, we may hear Jefferson and his colleagues of 1776 declare:
. . . that all men are . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
So, man was created to be free, and Montesquieu tells us:
Countries are well cultivated, not as they are fertile but as they are free.
Yes, we are created free and need to be free, but to what purpose? Why are we here?
Man is on earth as in an egg.
Now, you cannot go on being a good egg forever; you must either hatch or rot.
—C. S. Lewis
Let him who would save the world first move himself.
So our purpose then is to grow, to advance through self-improvement. But can we act well if we have not thought wisely?
Everyman should use his intellect. . . as the lighthouse uses its lamps, that those afar off on the sea may see the shining and learn their way.
To make no mistake is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.
If it be right in principle, it has to work.
—Benjamin A. Rogge
Perfect liberty is an ideal, a castle in the air. What are we to do with this vision?
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; there is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.
Should we spend much time trying to find the right words to expose fallacies and throw light on the truth of liberty?
No man has a prosperity so high or firm, but that two or three words can dishearten it; and there is no calamity which right words will not begin to redress.
How may one become the good thinker which the revival of liberty requires?
A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. He who would learn to think should learn to write. Good ideas are elusive and must be captured in flight; . . . jot down a good thought the moment after it lights up the mind.
What, then, is the first step toward wisdom?
That man thinks he knows everything, whereas he knows nothing. I, on the other hand, know nothing, but I know I know nothing.
The spirit of God delights to dwell in the hearts of the humble.
Humility, like darkness, reveals the heavenly lights.
We live in deeds, not years, in thoughts, not breaths; . . . He most lives who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.
Yes, humility is a prelude to learning. What are some of the other virtues that may help us to find and to practice freedom?
Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.
This above all: To thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
It is easier to find a score of men wise enough to discover the truth, than to find one intrepid enough, in the face of opposition, to stand for it.
—A. A. Hodge
We need to practice humility and integrity. And what more?
If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it.
In belief lies the secret of all valuable exertion.
Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never come.
All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work. Work is not a curse; it is the prerogative of intelligence, the only means to manhood, and the measure of civilization.
We seek to improve ourselves, true, but how is the best in others brought more fully into play?
I have believed the best of every man,
And find that to believe it is enough
To make a bad man show him at his best,
Or even a good man swing his lantern higher.
Does not despotism in the nation emerge only after it has begun in the minds of people?
Reform must come from within, not from without. You cannot legislate virtue.
The idea of liberty must grow weak in the hearts of men before it can be killed at the hands of tyrants.
—Thomas H. Hogshead
Is not a man’s right to his property the cornerstone of liberty?
The man who is not permitted to own is owned.
What are some of the deterrents to the recovery of freedom?
Half our fears are baseless, and the other half discreditable.
Nothing is so rash as fear; its counsels very rarely put off, whilst they are always sure to aggravate the evils from which it would fly.
All infractions of love and equity in our social relations are speedily punished. They are punished by fear.
What happens when fear causes us to abandon a principle?
It is by compromise that human rights have been abandoned. The country . . . deserves repose. And repose can only be found in everlasting principles.
Wouldn’t it be nice were evil and error always obvious?
Oh, were evil always ugly,
What a boon to virtue that would be!
But oft it wears a pretty face,
And lets us cheat unknowingly.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath, a goodly apple rotten at the heart.
And if man partakes of that apple, what are the results?
Man, proud man! dressed in a little brief authority, plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep.
What’s wrong with the idea of everyone being forced to conform to type?
A system of fixed concepts is contrary to natural law. It prevents life from flowing. It blocks the passage of the universal law.
Were all alike, instead of free,
T’would mean the end of me and thee.
When men turn to coercive measures, what are the dangers of abuse of such governmental powers?
The essential nature of government is organized force. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
What are some of the basic reasons why government spending is on the rampage?
It is easy to be generous with other people’s money.
When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken.
And of all mistakes, what are the two destructive extremes in political economy?
Socialism is planned chaos. Anarchy is unplanned chaos.
—Ludwig von Mises
Is anything worse than a good thing turned from its true purpose?
The law . . . has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder.
I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.
In the light of all the error, the darkness, is there no hope?
Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.
When will the socialistic trend reverse?
In the history of man it has been very generally the case, that when evils have grown insufferable, they have touched the point of cure.
—E. H. Chapin
Does social harmony stem from coercion or does it reflect moral values?
Morality once shattered destroys the people and the ruler. Outside of prison and this side of hell men are not bound together by the club but by the consciousness of moral obligations.
—Walter A. Lunden
The above are no more than samplings of how sages—past and present, near and far—have answered life’s most important questions. Bear in mind, however, that there are answers galore—tens of thousands—unknown to you and me, some of which may be ours for the seeking. And what’s higher in the realm of endeavor than seeking enlightenment!
Conceded, not every answer is “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” All men are fallible; thus, those of us who seek must make our own evaluations, conscious of the fact that we also err in our judgments.
But of one judgment I feel fairly certain: The best guideline is “Seek ye first truth and righteousness.” And what then are “these things that shall be added unto you” and me? Liberty and the fantastic wisdom of the free and unfettered market, the fountainhead of miracles by the millions.