. . . the genius of man is a continuation of the power that made him and that has not done making him.
Ralph Waldo Emerson—religious, spiritual, humble, and wise relative to the great and near great—added his own comment to the above observation:
I dare not deal with this element in its pure essence. It is too rare for the wings of words.
Genius is a superior power of seeing and Emerson was, assuredly, a continuation of the power that made him. He referred to this power—Creation—as “Immense Intelligence.” Rare? Man with his finite mind never has found nor will he ever find words to describe this Immense Intelligence or Infinite Consciousness. There are no wings of words to portray “this element in its pure essence”!
This poses a question relating to human freedom. Freedom is, indeed, a rare social experience, being approximated only a few times in the history of man. Several questions: Is freedom in its pure essence limited to intuitions and insights? Is it too ethereal, in the sense of being “spiritlike; characterized by extreme delicacy,” for this workaday world? Is it too personal to be communicated from the few who partially perceive and believe to the many who do neither? Perhaps these questions have no precise answers but the pros and cons deserve our best thought in order to avoid frustration and head us toward useful effort.
The discouraging aspects of our problems are easily discernible and frightening. To find encouragement, we must look beneath the surface. So, let’s dispose of the negative elements in order that we may better reflect on the positive.
The difficulty, doubtless, begins with a tendency to attempt explanations of the unfathomable in familiar symbols, although there are in fact no wings of words for anything we do not clearly fathom. For instance, after more than four decades of concentrated thinking and study, I cannot make the case for freedom in terms that really communicate to more than a few people. Nor do I know of anyone who can. But even more distressing is our inability to forestall the contradictions, misunderstandings, antagonisms evoked when we stand foursquare for freedom—freedom with no “buts,” no “leaks,” no exceptions whatsoever. Seemingly, the continuity is lost in our own limited understanding of cause and effect.
It’s a safe guess that less than one per cent of the citizenry are aware of the idea of limited government as set forth by our Founding Fathers, the idea whose practice has accounted for the American miracle. Simple as it is—keeping the peace, restraining destructive actions, invoking a common justice, leaving peaceful persons free to act creatively as they please—this politico-economic doctrine merely amuses, often infuriates, the millions. Arguing that government should be thus limited gets a nearly unanimous adverse reaction. It would be easier to erase the myth of Santa Claus!
Of all the subtle ideas which confront us, which is the most unfathomable? For which concept have we—so far—no wings of words? There is one key idea beyond the imagination of nearly everyone; and of the few who grasp it, the idea is beyond our power of explanation. It is a truth I here repeat for the umpteenth time: To claim that the wisdom in the market is a million or trillion times greater than exists in any individual now or ever is a gross understatement. This is an earthly phase of a heavenly truth: Infinite Consciousness—Immense Intelligence—is infinitely greater than any finite consciousness. These parallel truths are obvious only to the few who are in search of wisdom. Neither truth is in the realm of the salable. If in doubt, try peddling either one!
Why cannot more people grasp the fact that there’s no one person—nor even a committee—whose wisdom remotely approaches the wisdom to be found in the free and unfettered market? What is the obstacle to an understanding of this truth, the mental roadblock that the best explanations fail to penetrate? Thomas Alva Edison, an all-time great, revealed what is close to a secret: “No one knows more than one-millionth of one per cent of anything.” Wiser than most, he knew this of himself, of you, me, and all others. To know this is the first step in such individual wisdom as graces mankind. But not more than one in thousands has taken this infantile step.
Whoever is unaware of how infinitesimal his wisdom may assess himself as wise, but he is utterly blind to a significant social truth: all of us—no exceptions—are intellectual fledglings! Can we identify those unaware of how little they know? Easily! They’re the ones who “think” they can rule our lives better than we can. “Be like me!” they exclaim; “Do as I say!” And they’ll seek political office in order to acquire coercive power to sway others their way. It is this blindness that explains our country’s plunge into socialism. Worse than “Blind leaders of the blind”? Yes, it’s little “Alexander the Greats” herding everyone! And there are many millions of them. The catastrophic consequences? John W. Burgess, for years the brilliant Professor of Political Science and Constitutional Law at Columbia University, bequeathed to us this sage observation:
The claim [of the Planners] rests upon the very serious error that world intercourse and world interchange of the elements of civilization require political interference and intermeddling. This is not only false, but it is so false as to be highly mischievous and harmful. Outside of this lies the whole free realm of trade, commerce, science, literature, art and social relations, things which bring all parts of the world together in friendly and helpful interchange, while political intermeddling almost always provokes hatred, enmity and war.
Enough of the negative; so let’s have a look at the positive—the bright side. Again, here’s the key point to these issues: The wisdom in the free and unfettered market is trillions of times greater than that of any individual, be he a Socrates, Edison, or whoever. Is this truth too ethereal, too far into the realm of the unknown for comprehension, too rare for the wings of words? To the masses, yes; to the very few, no. Encouragingly, it’s only the few, from one to a dozen or so who have led every good movement in the world’s history. And it will ever be thus!
Neither the heavenly truth of Infinite Wisdom nor the earthly truth concerning the wisdom of the market is readily demonstrable, or subject to immediate and certain proof. Each is assimilated primarily as an act of faith. But there are ways of acting in economic affairs which are in harmony with our faith. What behavior should we feature to assure an improved understanding of the enormous wisdom that graces the market?
For the answer, reflect on that feature which largely accounts for the wisdom in the free and unfettered market: Competition! Here we have everyone—those who so wish—each with his tiny bit of expertise, trying to out-compete the others. ’Tis a perpetual game of leapfrog, competitors trying to advance their own interests. The result? Regardless of who’s ahead in the millions of competitions, it’s the consumers whose welfare is advanced day in and day out. William Graham Sumner found wings of words for this miracle of the market:
Every man and woman in society has one big duty. That is, to take care of his or her own self This is a social duty. For, fortunately, the matter stands so that the duty of making the best of one’s self is not a separate thing from the duty of filling one’s place in society, but the two are one, and the latter is accomplished when the former is done.
Now to the final question. How are we to discover ever-improving wings of words to advance an understanding of our earthly truth? The answer seems more or less obvious: Employ the identical behavior that lies at the root of this truth: Competition! The few of us ardently competing in thinking and exposition!
As in the realm of goods and services, there will always be one out front, another later on. As James Russell Lowell observed, “That cause is strong which has, not a multitude, but one strong mind, behind it.” The strongest mind, rarely known, is in first place right now but will shortly lose the number one position to another. ’Tis the game of leapfrog—as in the market!
As to leapfrogging, a good percentage of the few who truly believe in the freedom way of life under-assess themselves. “What possibly can I contribute?” is the baneful thought that besets them. Overlooked is the fact that the wings of words are composed of tiny contributions—words and phrasings—one word here another there. Why, better words by you, even one, could change the course of history.
Come, if you please, and join the competition. It’s not only fun but the dividends are unbelievably large!