The idea of freedom must grow weak in the hearts of men before it can be killed at the hands of tyrants.
—THOMAS H. HOGSHEAD
Remember the last time you turned a somersault, or saw someone else do it? In case you don’t remember, it is an acrobatic stunt performed by turning the body one full revolution forward or backward, heels over head. The word is often used figuratively, as here, to mean a complete reversal of opinion. It appears that many of us are now about half way through the performance and are stuck there—heads down, heels in the air! So why not complete the somersault and bring our heads up where they should be! Otherwise—if you’ll forgive a pun—we make heels of ourselves.
Pursue this analogy: we have for several decades been headed toward the Command Society and away from the Free and Competitive Society—heads down, heels up. To be stuck in that position in ridiculous.
The question is, what should devotees of human liberty do about this ridiculous situation? How are we to get our heads up and feet on the ground? There are at least three requirements:
1. A vast improvement in analytical thinking so that we may uncover the causes of our predicament.
2. A recognition that the Command Society is led by millions of dictocrats, not one of whom regards himself as a despot or tyrant but, to the contrary, as a savior.
3. A realization that the masses, those who do no politico-economic thinking for themselves, also assess the dictocrats as saviors, not tyrants.
Wrote Lecomte du Noüy, “To participate in the Divine Task, man must place his ideals as high as possible, out of reach if necessary.” Human liberty assuredly is a phase of the Divine Task. To place ideals at their appropriate level would seem to require that we first see through the notions that are ridiculous in order that the ideals may come clearly within our vision.
What is the most ridiculous notion of all that lies at the root of the Command Society—the genesis of Serfdom, Feudalism, Mercantilism, Communism, Socialism, the Welfare State, the Planned Economy? The fallacy is ancient—old as a mankind. ’Tis a primitive or barbaric assessment of self, a lamentable unawareness of how infinitesimal is the wisdom of anyone. Here are several observations on this vanity by thoughtful individuals:
Vanity is the foundation of the most ridiculous and contemptible vices—the vices of affectation and common lying.
Over-stuffed egos, waddling about in self-appointed importance.
—E. K. Goldthwaite
Vanity is the quicksand of reason.
. . . vanity keeps us perpetually in motion. What a dust do I raise! says the fly on the coach-wheel! And what a rate do I drive! says the fly upon the horse’s back.
Vanity makes men ridiculous, pride odious, and ambition terrible.
When a man has no longer any conception of excellence above his own, his voyage is done; he is dead; dead in the trespasses and sins of blear-eyed vanity.
—Henry Ward Beecher
If vanity does not entirely overthrow the virtues, at least it makes them all totter.
Now and then throughout history, even before Socrates, there emerge individuals who recognize this fact, who have an awareness of one of life’s most rewarding truths: the more one knows, the greater looms the unknown! The more wisdom, the more is one’s ignorance recognized. A simple demonstration of this truth, one I like to repeat, was made by the noted mathematician, Warren Weaver:
As science learns one answer, it is characteristically true that it learns several new questions. It is as though science were working in a great forest of ignorance within which . . . things are clear. . . . But, as that circle becomes larger and larger, the circumference of contact with ignorance also gets longer and longer. Science learns more and more. But there is a sense in which it does not gain; for the volume of the apprehended but not understood keeps getting larger. We keep, in science, getting a more and more sophisticated view of our ignorance.1
Suppose the millions of politicians and others who are trying to run our lives were to get a more sophisticated view of their ignorance. What a boon to mankind that would be! Is such a change likely? I think not. Why? Falling into vanity is like falling into a deep ditch—once in, rarely out. A sophisticated view of one’s ignorance leads to humility. But such humility, as protection against falling into the vanity ditch, may be attainable before the fall, seldom afterward.
Why seldom afterward? Those drugged by vanity, being know-it-alls, have no yearning for learning. And no one learns who is not an avid seeker of truth. Thus, all the reasoning, arguments, pleas, counsel, or damnations directed at the vain are in vain. Might as well try to put out a fire with gasoline, or enlighten that fly on the horse’s back. Confrontations have the effect of confirming them in their vainglory!
Conceded, there are many among these self-proclaimed lords whose wisdom in a sense is equal or superior to that of the rest of us. For instance, I have had acquaintances with several once devout Communists who abandoned the Command Society and embraced the Free and Competitive Society—heads up, feet on the ground. These, however, are rare exceptions. The millions of dictocrats, having coercive power at their disposal, are unaware of the ignorance which is common to all mankind. So, they go their merry way—“saviors” at our expense!
Have we no way then to put their dictatorial behaviors to naught? Of course! Two achievements are required on our part.
First, never, under any circumstances, call them “fools.” Such a tactic makes fools of ourselves. What then is the first achievement? It is a learning problem on our part, namely, to discover how simply and clearly to explain that all attempts forcibly to control the creative activities of others are foolish. People, by and large, even those who are vanity-stricken, do not like to be thought of as authors of foolish actions. If we do our part well enough, they’ll put themselves in their proper place.
Second, follow Lecomte du Noüy’s counsel: “To participate in the Divine Task, man must place his ideals as high as possible, out of reach if necessary.”
It is impossible to place one’s ideals at the level du Noüy had in mind without participating in the Divine Task. Ideal thoughts are accompanied by ideal actions; if the actions aren’t ideal, the thoughts are somehow warped. As said earlier, a phase of the Divine Task is human liberty, which I define as: No man-concocted restraints against the release of creative human energy. The Free and Competitive Society is precisely the opposite of the Command Society. It includes government under the direction of statesman—invoking a common justice, inhibiting destructive actions, keeping the peace. Period!
The result if we achieve heads up and feet on the ground? The dictocrats will hang their heads, not necessarily in shame but in fear of being shamed. Tyrants cannot kill the idea of freedom if it be strong in the hearts of men. Let’s pray and strive for this strength!