A Free Society
JULY 01, 1959 by SYLVESTER PETRO, LAWRENCE NOONAN
Dear Professor Petro:
Your book, The Labor Policy of the Free Society,’ has helped me make up my mind on the matter of compulsory unionism. This battle was recently fought in the State of
The decline in the importance of the individual seems to be in full swing. A minority of men and women in the union movement realize that their interests are not served by compulsory membership; but the will of the majority prevails. In discussions with friends, I have tried to show that the free society does not enslave anyone—that it serves all our interests best in the long pull. But their position is that compulsory unionism is necessary to prevent exploitation and to assure bargaining power in other respects. They point out what they regard as the hopeless position of the wheat farmer if he were exposed to the free market.
In the light of what happened in five of the six states which voted on voluntary unionism, do you now have misgivings in regard to your definition of the free society? Do you now feel that you and von Mises are out of date in your economic views? Do you feel that these are perhaps beautiful principles but that the world does not want them?
Very truly yours,
Dear Mr. Noonan:
I am more than ever convinced that the free society is the only society proper to mankind and the goals of men. The collectivist trend can lead only to death and destruction, to a primitive and brutalizing end, not only of the finest and most elevated human aims, but also of humble peace and goodness. Dictation of the affairs of men by a ruling elite, no matter how selected, can bring about only such results. Realization of the best there is in men is possible only within a social structure built around the principles of full personal freedom: private property, freedom of contract, free markets, and law and order.
Whether or not these insights will ever prevail, presents a doubtful question. No mortal man is in a position to answer it, or ever will be. Preoccupation with it is therefore either foolish, as a waste of time and spiritual energy, or arrogantly presumptuous. The real problem for every man is whether or not he feels that personal freedom is the only possible or acceptable basis of life in society. If he feels that it is, he then faces the further problem: what shall I do about it? The answer depends upon one’s own character, will, and inclination. One may choose any of the courses lying between total inaction and total commitment. One thing seems clear to me: Prevailing trends toward collectivism, a current defeat or even a series of defeats for the freedom principle, popular unenlightenment, or lack of interest—none of these has any bearing on whether or not one does or should favor freedom. He who loves life does not voluntarily relinquish it; he may not be able successfully to resist murder and destruction, but he should never confuse it with life, and will, in fact, not love life less because it looks as though he must lose it.
Sincerely yours, Sylvester Petro