Action that is wholly against must lead to inaction as soon as it is successful.
It was 33 years ago, long before I had met and read the works of the brilliant Jacques Barzun, that I discovered how wholly ineffective it is just to be against politico-economic nonsense. In view of the fact that ever so many antisocialists are presently using this negative tactic, a sharing of my experiences seems appropriate.
My first book, The Romance of Reality, was published in 1937 when I was Manager, Western Division, U. S. Chamber of Commerce. Its thesis was that the growing socialism—locally and nationwide—should be dealt with by educational methods rather than by political action. The book was surprisingly well received by those disposed toward the freedom way of life.
It was my emphasis in that book on the educational approach that resulted in an invitation to become General Manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest. My assignment was not so much to manage customary chamber of commerce projects as to take the leadership in California against numerous socialistic programs rapidly gaining in popularity.
Among these schemes was a renowned socialist’s EPIC plan—End Poverty in California. Another was the Governor’s “Production for Use”—so-called. A third, known as “Ham and Eggs,” had been devised and promoted by two brothers recently out of prison. And so serious was the situation that it failed of passage in the state by a bare 5 per cent of the vote.
It is often hard to identify the chicken that lays such a socialistic egg. As a case in point, we had prepared a pamphlet entitled “Production for Use,” proving it was wrong. It was sent to 10,000 people in the State: legislators, leaders in business, labor, education, and so on. One recipient was a professor of economics at a leading university. After reading the pamphlet he remarked to a friend, “I cannot successfully refute any one of the points made by the Los Angeles Chamber.” That’s the last we ever heard of “Production for Use.” This professor had been the power behind the movement; the Governor a mere front man, not caring about either production or use!
There were other campaigns, and I’d like to emphasize that we succeeded in defeating each scheme we tackled. A 100 per cent batting average! The method? Merely proving that each was wrong! We were successful with our negative tactic, or so it seemed. Thus, these successes should, as Barzun suggests, lead to inaction—the tactic sufficient, the job done.
After six years of these “successes,” it became evident that if the intellectual soil from which these fallacies sprung were rancid, new ones would spring up in their places. Only the labels would be different. What I had been doing was comparable to proving only that the earth isn’t flat. Succeed in that and there remains the task of proving it isn’t a cube, a cone, a cylinder, or any of countless shapes. And then the light: Someone discovered that the earth is a spheroid. The positive knowledge of what’s right rid us of the whole caboodle of fallacies about the earth’s shape.
While it is necessary to understand and explain fallacies, that’s less than half the problem. Finding the right is the key to salvation, for the wrong can be displaced only by the right. “It is,” as Burke wrote, “not only our duty to make the right known, but to make it prevalent.”
So, early in 1945 I began a search for the sources from which the right, as related to the freedom philosophy, might be emanating. Here were my findings just 32 years ago:
There was an enormous outpouring of what’s wrong in magazines, newspapers and books, such as The New Deal in Old Rome—an approach similar to the one I had been using.
At that time there were a few but not many lectures or pieces of literature emphasizing the positive, that is, few explanations of the freedom philosophy and why its miraculous results.
There were such remarkable works in preparation as Human Action, but it was not published until 1949. Another example I recall was an English translation of Bastiat’s The Law but it was not available in modern American idiom.
Doubtless, there were numerous reasons for this lack of emphasizing the positive. Both the depression and the war lessened the demand for ideas on liberty and, thus, the supply was minimal.
These discoveries had a profound effect on my methods in advancing an understanding of the freedom way of life. Instead of dwelling only on the negative—proving this and that to be wrong—my associates and I, since the beginning of FEE in 1946, have emphasized the positive, bringing what’s right to light to the best of our abilities.
Indeed, there was a genuine need for FEE. The best indication that our task has been rather well performed is the fact that we have helped and encouraged ever so many others to start similar endeavors and to compete with us. Some of these others are real good, and at least in several aspects of the philosophy—publishing and teaching—are now further advanced than we at FEE. This is the way it should be: the more competition, the better! But freedom waxes and wanes, so the job is never done. It is one of continuing search and self-education.
As to how FEE is doing in this competition we so highly favor, there is our monthly journal, The Freeman. Many readers insist that it improves with each issue. FEE’s catalogue, “A Literature of Freedom,” lists some 120 volumes ranging all the way from such easy-to-read books as The Mainspring of Human Progress, Economics in One Lesson, The Law, to such profound tomes as Human Action. New books are being added annually. In any event, it is a freedom library well worthy of study and respect.
Not all ideas on liberty are new. But of first importance is to relate some of the earlier formulations to the conditions of our time. I first heard about and read Bastiat’s The Law in the mid-forties—nearly a century after he’d presented the ideas to his fellow Frenchmen. Excited with its brilliance and simplicity, I had it printed and sent copies to some 1,500 friends around the nation expecting orders galore. But there was no such response! Why? That edition was translated by an Englishman, a contemporary of Bastiat, into nineteenth-century British English. Several years later, Dean Russell, then a FEE associate, translated it into modern American idiom. Result? We have now sold at least 600,000 volumes. The lesson? We must learn to improve now and forever in communicable language.
To repeat my beliefs, ours is not a numbers problem—thank heaven! All good movements in history have been led by an infinitesimal minority. And, further, ours is not a selling but, rather, a learning problem—aiming toward excellence in understanding and clear exposition. Let our ambition be this: the persistent and diligent search for lessons along life’s pathway.
From whom seek? From those who are known and unknown, and from individuals who are wrong as well as right. Often truth is revealed as error is discovered. Bear in mind that many sources of both right and wrong are hidden from view. As we seldom know the individuals who lay the socialistic eggs—the university professor, for instance—so are we unaware of many thinkers who add gems of thought to the freedom philosophy and your and my enlightenment. Keep an open ear and eye—now and always!
Let each among us emphasize the positive, that is, be an exemplar of what’s right. We can then be positive that freedom will again prevail.