. . . and only a highly evolved man is willing to defend the liberty of others.
—LECOMTE DU NOÜY
To forever evolve in awareness, perception, consciousness—every day of our mortal life: that is what we’re here for. However, most of us lack the self-discipline to recognize and make the most of our opportunities to grow. As Albert Wiggam observed, “Evolution is a stern taskmaster that knows no compromise and grants no reprieve.” It’s a case of perpetually striving for what’s right, lest one die on the vine—life’s high purpose abandoned.
Why “evolve for your own sake”? For the reason that such striving is the apogee of enlightened self-interest! Why? Only a highly evolved man is willing to defend the liberty of others. Unless we defend the liberty of others, they won’t have it; and if others are unfree there will be no liberty for you or me. And without liberty we cannot evolve toward life’s high purpose.
As a starter, we must recognize, and try to avoid or overcome, obstacles in the way of our evolving. So I turn for counsel to one of the best—Edmund Burke. Men, he insists, are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition:
to put chains upon their appetites,
as their love of justice is above their rapacity,
as their soundness and sobriety is above their vanity and presumption,
as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.
Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon the will and appetite is placed somewhere; and the less there is within, the more there must be of it without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate habits cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Ponder, “the less there is within, the more there is without.” Unless there be a fair number of people in a society who are evolving exemplars—mastering personal passions—men of the dictatorial breed take control. When Burke wrote, “Society cannot exist . . .unless a controlling power is placed somewhere,” he was reporting what all history reveals. As the control within diminishes, the control without increases.
How are we doing? Merely have a look at the tend in the U.S.A. The acceleration of governmental controls indicates the extent of our loss of self-discipline—control within. As this fateful trend proceeds liberty fades from our vision and grasp. Unless some among us are evolving, liberty is out of the question.
Based on Burke’s realistic method of grading, how many are qualified for civil liberty? One in a thousand, as we say. And even these few, while qualified, risk losing their liberty along with the many who put no chains on their appetites.
The remedy? Let those of us who prize liberty look not only to the best within ourselves but in others—past and present—for hope and counsel. For instance, note how similar are the thoughts of Burke (1727-1797) and Socrates (470-399 B.C.), the following a line in the latter’s prayer:
Grant that I may become beautiful in the inner man, and whatever I possess without be in harmony with that which is within.
Fortunately for us, the salvation of liberty is not a numbers problem. Socrates gave us the only answer for him, for you, for me: “Grant that I may become beautiful in the inner man.” This, I am certain, is the sole formula for “a highly evolved man,” the man capable of defending the liberty of others because he understands his own need for liberty.
Burke expressed precisely the same thought, except in more detail:
How often has public calamity [our present situation] been arrested on the very brink of ruin, by the seasonable energy of a single man? Have we no such man amongst us? I am as sure as I am of my being, that one vigorous mind without office, without situation, without public functions of any kind, (at a time when the want of such a thing is felt as I am sure it is) I say, one such man, confiding in the aid of God, and full of just reliance in his own fortitude, vigor, enterprise, and perseverance, would first draw to him some few like himself, and then that multitudes, hardly thought to be in existence, would appear and troop about him.
The aim in life, as I see it, is to become “one such man.” We are thus confronted with the art of becoming, a goal to be achieved only by overcoming our ineptitudes, flaws, ignorance, errors; that is, by learning, evolving. As Wiggam asserted, “Evolution is a stern taskmaster that knows no compromise and grants no reprieve.” Interestingly, as I am discovering after years of effort, the formula is the same for achieving each of life’s high goals.
Unyielding integrity in word and deed is the first requirement. When anyone compromises what he may believe to be right for something that appears to be an immediate gain, he is selling his birthright for a mess of pottage. Reprieve from such error? Impossible! The already done, be it an outright lie or any deviation from what one believes to be truth, is never undone. It is glued to one’s past. A principle—what’s right—cannot be compromised but only surrendered.1 How take advantage of this error? How reap a good from it? Plutarch gives us an excellent answer:
To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.
Pursuit of so-called “short-run gains” is and has been the bane of mankind. Such practices range from ancient tribes invading their neighbors and taking home the loot to modem “tribes” getting government to do the looting for them—camouflaged thievery, no less! The millions of practitioners are not evolving but, rather, devolving individuals. The evolving individual—Burke’s “one such man”—is aware that there is no such thing as a “short-run gain” unless it be a gain in the long run. His guideline is identical to Immanuel Kant’s: Act only on that maxim [principle] which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. Or, in reverse, never do anything which, were everyone to do, would bring chaos. If it’s right in principle it has to work; if not, it never can! The evolving person looks to his principles.2
Finally, there’s one more upward step if we are to evolve to the point where we can defend the liberty of others, a step consistent with enlightened self-interest. Here it is: Understand our own role and the rule of our opposition.
William Ralph Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s London (1911-1934) deplored a failing exhibited by members of his own profession:
The masses at Rome were not elevated by an unlimited provision of bread and circuses. And therefore I do not like to see the clergy, who were monarchists under a strong monarchy, and oligarchs under the oligarchy, tumbling over each other in their eagerness to become court chaplains to King Demos [the mob]. The black-coated advocates of spoliation are not a nice lot. “I take what I want,” said Frederick the Great; “I can always find pedants to prove my rights.”
Dean Inge was referring to a tendency among clergymen to align themselves with whatever form of spoliation happened to be dominant at the time. Mobocracy of whatever brand rules their passions. With a few notable and laudable exceptions, present-day clergymen of this or that religion are just as eager “to become court chaplains to King Demos.”3 Dictocrats can always find pedants—conformists—to “prove” they are right. And by the millions—clergymen included!
Let us not, however, attribute this “madness of the mob” to any one profession; there is not a single occupational category in which it does not predominate—education, medicine, labor, business, or whatever.
Years ago the day’s mail brought me letters from two men, heads of huge corporations. I knew both men well, but they did not know each other. Their messages were identical. In essence: “I am not interested in helping you with the freedom philosophy. If the U.S.A. becomes like Russia, I’ll still be one of the head men.” Perhaps so. Doubtless they would become Commissars for each of them had the kind of “talent” useful to a totalitarian state.
Has that situation changed as related to business? While writing this, an article by the head of a multi-billion dollar corporation was called to my attention. A revealing line:
I think of national planning as a process for assessing our economic condition and prospects, setting national goals and priorities and then letting market forces work.
Assume my wisdom to be equal to that of the President of the U.S.A. or his most brilliant appointee or the smartest member of Congress. How competent would I be to plan the businesses of America? To grasp the utter absurdity of such a proposal, reflect on my competence to run a single life: yours! Doubtless the business executive just quoted would have made his way in Mussolini’s Italy, for his proposal is economic fascism. While few businessmen go as far, millions of them go part way. Here, and in all the other occupational categories, we have the rule that originates with the opposition. Note the millions who lend support to these social planners—wielders of political power.
Now to the role of Burke’s “one such man.” If one man is graced sufficiently with “fortitude, vigor, enterprise, and perseverance, [he] would first draw to him some few like himself, and then the multitudes, hardly known to exist, would appear and troop about him.” From whence the multitudes? From the crowds that are now trooping about the dictocrats—quite unconsciously.
So what are the rules for our role? Devoted study, thinking, writing—learning to understand and explain the freedom way of life. Become a master thereof! And there’s one master guideline: righteousness—integrity!
True, we must live in the world as it is or drop dead. Preferring life, one has no choice but to participate in all sorts of socialized institutions: government postal “service,” for instance. How, then, be consistently righteous? In one’s proclaimed positions!
Further, be not herded into deviations by heeding others simply because they are celebrated, famous. Seekers after Truth should not be bound by who sponsors any idea—Truth being its own witness.
Evolve, forever evolve, for thus one becomes not only willing but also free and able to defend the liberty of others.