Not obtrusive, in order not to be slighted. Better too niggardly than too free with yourself. Arrive desired in order to arrive welcomed.
Plymouth Colony operated initially along communalistic lines; the fields were held by the colony, tasks were assigned, and the rewards were parceled out without much regard for the quality and quantity of work performed. The Pilgrims were not ideologues, but their practice did exemplify the Marxian dictum, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” When the disastrous consequences of this policy became evident to all, Governor Bradford announced a new tactic, “that they should set corn every man to his own particular . . . and so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number. . . .”
Governor Bradford’s colony made a wonderful about-face: from now on, it would be “to each according to his merit or productivity,” that is, each would have a right to the fruits of his own labor. Private ownership—the foundation of a free society—on a scale previously unknown, that led later not only to prosperity but to a revolutionary concept: that men are endowed by their Creator—not by government—with certain unalienable rights. Results? The American miracle!
Governor Bradford laid the groundwork for a sound politico-economic ideology—which today, to our peril, is all but forgotten.
The 17th-century Spanish philosopher, quoted above, emphasized the groundwork for a sound methodology which we should heed no less scrupulously than Bradford’s ideology. Right method is an absolute requirement if good ideas are to be welcomed and practiced. This philosopher’s counsel, if heeded and practiced, can pull America out of the mire into which we have fallen.
There are good ideas in countless departments of life. My comments, however, will be confined to good ideas as related to freedom. When good ideas are setting the pace, freedom prevails. The two go hand-in-hand; they are inseparable. So, if we are to resurrect freedom from her present decline, we—some of us—are challenged by the need to undertake a great deal of learning. A set of ideas—of the quality here at issue—must “arrive desired in order to arrive welcomed.”
Let us assume that you are entertaining invited guests. A stranger barges in. Would he be welcome? Probably not, especially if his presence might interfere with the purpose of the gathering.
When freedom ideas—strangers to a vast majority—are not invited, wanted, desired, they are unwelcome. They are looked upon unfavorably, even scornfully, by the millions.
The havoc wrought by the invading stranger is self-evident to nearly everyone, but the damage done when good ideas “crash the party” is not so obvious. My concern, however, is not with the millions who aren’t freedom oriented; rather, it is with those who “shudder with horror” at our present slump into socialism, who believe in freedom, but insist on massive reformation by proclaiming good ideas where they are not desired.
So, let us further distinguish between what I believe to be the wrong and the right approaches to freedom.
WRONG: A notion entertained by millions that any idea is good which results in freeing them from the responsibility of looking out for themselves. Rightly feeling that they have a right to life and livelihood, they wrongly refuse to extend the same right to others equally.
They sense no wrong in preying on others. It is this upside-down appraisal of good ideas that accounts for the Command Society, be it called serfdom, feudalism, mercantilism, communism, the planned economy, or the welfare state.
RIGHT: A truth perceived by a comparative few, namely, that any idea is good if it results in freeing them to act creatively as they please. No restraint—none whatsoever—against the release of creative human energy! The truly good idea has freedom and selfresponsibility as two parts of the same personal and social equation. Neither one is possible without the other. A bit of reflection makes this self-evident.
There are countless thousands in the U.S.A. today who are graced with good ideas—the right ones. Their ideology passes muster. But their methodology is upside-down, as wrong as it can be. They observe the countless millions whose ideology is upside-down and engage in a methodology to turn them right side up. This is an impossible intellectual gymnastic, however appealing it may seem at first.
Gracián’s perceptiveness sheds a helpful light: Good ideas must “arrive desired in order to arrive welcomed.”
Assume that some reformer wishes me to become a computer designer, electrician, airline pilot, music composer, or any one of other occupations, no matter how laudable, but that I have no desire to become any one of them. Would his insistence, regardless of how clever, be welcomed? It would not! On the contrary, I would avoid not only him—because of an action that is none of his business—but his notions as well. Drawn to him and his views? Hardly!
Forty-five years of trial and error in the freedom cause convinces me that Gracián’s counsel is right. Conceded, it is unorthodox to the point of bewildering most freedom devotees. Unless deeply reflected upon, it appears to recommend a do-nothing way of aiding the cause of freedom; it seems to advise: “Hide your light under a bushel.” Not so! It is precisely the opposite—life’s difficult and rare occupation: emerging or coming to one’s self, as Woodrow Wilson once put it.
The idea here at issue was not original with Gracián—far from it! The ancients, at least 2,400 years earlier, received the same warning. Read the book Isaiah in the Old Testament for proof of this insight that graced them. Or read a simple and enlightening paraphrasing of it by Albert Jay Nock entitled “Isaiah’s Job.” The message? The very, very few who really matter in the advancement of good ideas—the Remnant—are put off, will pay no heed to, those who attempt to set them straight. What, then? Let him who would move humanity to a higher level concentrate on the perfection of self. To the extent that he succeeds, The Remnant who desire enlightenment will find him out and welcome his good ideas.
As Albert Schweitzer wrote, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing.”
Freedom devotees—those who would become exemplars—are well advised never to be obtrusive. Shoving, pushing, trying to force ideas into the minds of others is a tactic that contradicts the very ideology we espouse. All aggressive or selling-the-masses methods belong to the aggressive opposition; such methods are consistent with that ideology, not with ours.
Obtrusiveness repels rather than attracts. It does not enliven desire but stifles or deadens it and, thus, determines what ideas will and will not be welcomed. Freedom requires that we leave the interventionists free to use the hard sell. If we refuse to behave likewise, they’ll fall by the ideological wayside. Our role is the exact opposite:
Quietly to go about improving our understanding of the freedom philosophy, and phrasing more clearly such knowledge as we may gain.
Quietly to share with those who have found us out and desire an understanding of freedom—the only alternative to the present decline.
Quietly to acknowledge that learning, contrary to the hard sell, is an intellectual and moral progression. It is rooted in humility, not arrogance. In essence, “I wish to learn,” instead of “I know it all.”
Those who do not desire to know will not learn. Those who desire to know will seek and find sources; and the sources are always seekers! For freedom’s sake let us be seekers! It is the only way to make good ideas more welcome.