A Reviewer's Notebook - 1976/6
JUNE 01, 1976 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
W. H. Hutt is a paradox. He is a man of extremely clear vision, but he is a most difficult writer. His Individual Freedom, which consists of selected essays edited by Svetozar Pejovich and David Klingaman (Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, $15.95), presents the case for classical liberalism in an unchallengeable way: the parts all fall into place to make for a most consistent whole. But it is a struggle to deal with such observations as "the entrenchment of the non-discriminatory principle would undoubtedly precipitate an enormous disinvestment of the capital invested in what the authors call ‘organization aimed at securing differential gains by political means’." What he is saying is that if governments were to stop favoring special interests, money would flow into areas that would be the most productive for society as a whole. It is all clear enough, but you have to work at translating technical language, sometimes for pages on end.
The reader’s reward for persistence, however, is great. What one gets in these essays is a view of political economy that shows how we have gone wrong by departing from the old Adam Smith idea that government should limit itself to the defense of the realm (a military force to guard borders, a police force to handle internal lawbreakers), a court system to provide justice, and the making of non-discriminatory rules under which private entrepreneurs can coordinate the economy. Add a concern for public health (the individual has a right to protection against disease spread by the unconcern of others) and you just about have the case for a free society dominated by consumer sovereignty.
As the editors of these essays point out, Hutt is skeptical of the idea that the government is a group of people who can be entirely disciplined by the ballot box. People are selfish and short-sighted, and they will vote themselves special discriminatory privileges if they can find a way to do it. So it is axiomatic that there must be constitutional checks on special interest groups and their log-rolling political representatives. Hutt would outlaw any form of special interest legislation except for aid to the poor and disabled. But he would not extend the vote to anybody who gets special aid from government. The poor and disabled, if they have the right to legislate on their own behalf, can become a pressure group as fearsome as any.
On Being Realistic
Such an uncompromising devotion to pure classical liberalism is not considered "realistic" in this day and age. It was Hutt’s lack of "realism" that caused him to become persona non grata in the "apartheid" society of South Africa. But when Hutt says that South Africa’s problems cannot be surmounted peacefully by anything other than a return to theclassic liberalism of Locke, Hume, Tocqueville and Hayek, he is so obviously right that the "realists" should stand ashamed.
Hutt realizes that history is a ragged process, and that State-protected miscarriages of justice cannot be corrected overnight. Analyzing what went wrong in South Africa, Hutt says the perpetuation of race discrimination has been due to the use of State power and trade union collusion to preserve the status quo in the interests of an enfranchised white proletariat. The trade union leaders have insisted on a double standard of wages, with the color bar being invoked to keep blacks, "Cape Coloureds" (i.e., mestizos) and Indians from entering closed shop trade unions that have maintained their right to the better-paying occupations.
Obviously, a big majority of the South African whites believe that if there were a greater equality of social and economic status in the "beloved country," it would lead to a demand for the political equality of "one man, one vote." The immediate granting of universal suffrage would, so Hutt concedes, be a disaster. It would quickly degenerate to a condition of "one man, one vote, once." The black party, dominated by the strongest tribes, would quickly dispossess the whites, send the Indians packing to Asia or to England, and put the Cape Coloureds on a most uncomfortable sort of probation.
A Weighted Franchise
What Hutt suggests is that the repeal of economic and social apartheid should be coupled with the transitional requirement of a "weighted franchise" to reassure minorities that their property rights would be respected. There would be "an equal right to qualify for the vote" by passing educational tests and by acquiring enough property to become responsible taxpayers. An Upper House would be entrusted with the veto and power. The eventual membership of the Upper House would be designed to bring about gradual equality of representation for each of the four South African racial groups as such.
As an added reassurance, Hutt would have the President of his classically liberal Republic chosen from the judiciary, preferably by the judiciary. A Constitution would, in Jefferson’s phrase, bind both the President and the legislature by the "chains" of its classical liberal provisions. The police force and the army would be responsible to the President.
The Case of Rhodesia
In Rhodesia there has been an actual attempt to apply Hutt’s ideas of the "weighted franchise" and orderly progress toward a nondiscriminatory society that would guarantee the continuing right of a rancher to his acres, and the right of mine owners to sell their chrome ore or whatever at uncoerced market prices. But the sanctions imposed on Rhodesia, says Hutt, have crushed the "pure nonracial democracy there." On paper, the so-called Whitehead Constitution for Rhodesia "had created the nearest example to a pure ‘J. S. Mill democracy’ that has existed anywhere since the 1870s." But with Cubans now acting as Marxist Hessians along the borders of Rhodesia, the chances for a "weighted franchise" orderly transition in that country are extremely dubious. In all probability it will end in a "one man, one vote, once" Idi Amin type of horror, and then it will be South Africa’s turn to face the Marxist wolves as people in the "civilized" nations of western Europe and America sanctimoniously avert their gaze.
The more purely economic essays in this Hutt collection all stress the virtue of price flexibility affecting the various factors of production, including labor. Hutt concedes that it has been a political impossibility to restore wage flexibility as long as Keynesian governments were dominated by trade union labor parties. The Webbs in England were privately convinced that the British trade union hierarchy was manipulated by "pigs," but they never dared say so in public. Well, "pigs" can’t run things forever when an economy is drying up. Hutt, who has never had the influence he deserves, may be looking forward to a better tomorrow when the "pigs" wake up to the reality that the feed in the trough is entirely dependent on the willingness of enterprisers to renew it.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMAN LIBERTIES by Tibor R. Machan (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1975) 279 pp.
Reviewed by Anne Wortham
Entailed in man’s very nature are his rights, argues Dr. Machan, and the nature of these rights requires liberty for their exercise. But although he possesses rights and requires freedom, man has not always known how to justify these rights and defend freedom.
Machan points out that most people, even in the "free" world, do not know what freedom is. This is certainly true in the semi-free United States where we, "the People," have a long history of voluntarily voting for restrictions on our freedom. We have seen alleged defenders of human liberty advocate every manner of political solution, from structuring society to effect the greater good for the greatest number, to manipulating the differences among people to effect "the good of the least fortunate."
With so many suggestions before us on how to organize the human community according to what is morally good for people, we need to know what our rights are and why they are so crucial to us as individuals and to the community we have established. However, it is not enough to know what we mean by human rights; we must put them into practice in the course of our daily lives. They must assume the utmost importance to us — personally. It is important not only to be a morally virtuous person but also to find political solutions that make moral life possible for everyone.
Machan’s basic maxim runs as follows: "Each and every person ought to have the maximum freedom of choice and action in the pursuit of his own aspirations, in the conduct of his life."
But even after accepting the principle that everyone ought to live in maximum liberty, Machan tells us, "We are far from being able to identify what this would amount to in concrete circumstances." His next level of defense is to show "that each person could be free to choose and act in the conduct of his own life without obviating the same freedom for others." At this stage of his argument Machan introduces a corollary principle, which is that "each person ought to be free to acquire things in nature" — the right to property. Thence, he provides a moral defense of property and the free economic system, capitalism, while answering the critics in the process.
Finally, in support of property rights, he concludes with a statement that is truly radical in these days of the ever-expanding welfare state and the spreading cancer of the anticapitalistic mentality: "Acquiring valuables is good." This is a simple observation but few people understand it, contemporary political theorists deny it, and many hard-working, tax-paying Americans continue to apologize for it.
While Dr. Machan criticizes the existing state of affairs, he does not demand — nor does his theory require — a basic change in human nature; a change in thinking is required to provide moral guidelines for our private affairs and community life. The fault of the human community is not the human condition — i.e., human nature — it is a lack of understanding of what the human condition is, what the human community can be and ought to be.
Machan’s doctrine of rights is no utopian exercise. He addresses his inquiry and his criticism to "the potential excellence of individual human beings" — as they exist, without omniscience, with fallibility, capable of virtues as well as vices. "A community of fully rational, absolutely just, honest, productive human beings — all of whom could not falter from constant virtue — is not one for which our legal system should be designed! That cannot even serve as a model, since the laws of such a system could not adequately deal with the plain fact of evil."
Machan, addressing this work to the "educated layman," chose not to write it in the parlance of his profession. As a professor of philosophy, he continually delivers technical papers on the most complex philosophical questions before professional thinkers in the U.S. and abroad. Indeed, it is to his credit that he is able to expound the most crucial principles of man’s existence in the simple and straightforward eloquence of un‑
ambiguous language laced with common sense and objectivity. Nevertheless, this material cannot be casually absorbed; one must think about what he is reading. And in so doing, he will find Human Rights and Human Liberties a challenging experience, sometimes difficult, but always rewarding.
THE CONDITIONS OF FREEDOM by Harry Jaffa. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975) 280 pp.
Reviewed by Haven Bradford Gow
"What is equality?" is a question of enduring interest and importance. Professor Jaffa attempts to formulate an answer in his latest work, The Conditions of Freedom, a collection of probing essays.
Any inquiry into the meaning of equality must include an examination of the Declaration of Independence, Professor Jaffa believes. The Declaration begins with an appeal to "the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God," and maintains that the proposition "All men are created equal" is a self-evident truth. Furthermore, all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
In seeking to understand and explain what the Declaration means by equality, Jaffa employs the method advocated by his mentor, the late Leo Strauss: no one should criticize a work until he has come to appreciate and understand the author’s intention and perspective, and exactly what he is trying to communicate. If one wants to understand what the Founders of our nation meant by equality, one must scrutinize the Declaration of Independence until its key concepts, terms and phrases stand clear.
Throughout his discussion of the Declaration Professor Jaffa displays erudition, razor-like logic, and linguistic precision. Let us consider, for example, how he deals with the troublesome expressions, "self-evident truth" and "all men are created equal." A logical truth is a proposition in conformity with reality; it is a verbal statement that corresponds to something that exists outside the mind. A truth that is self-evident, writes Jaffa, is "one which is evident to anyone who grasps the terms of a proposition in which the truth is expressed." The truth "things equal to the same thing are equal to each other" is self-evident to any person who comprehends the meaning of "same" and "other." No one, comprehending these terms, can fail simultaneously to understand the meaning of "equal."
What the Founding Fathers meant by equality, observes Professor Jaffa, is this: All men share a common human nature, an assertion that depends upon the prior recognition of nature in general, of which human nature forms an important part. The assertion that all men are created equal means that all persons are the same in some respect; it does not mean that all men are identical, or equally talented, wise, prudent, intelligent or virtuous; rather, it means that all persons possess the inherent capacity to reason, to engage in propositional speech, to comprehend symbols, and to make free choices. Being created equal implies the inalienable rights stressed in the Declaration and from these rights corresponding obligations may be deduced.
According to Professor Jaffa, we seek to understand man and his rights, not merely by comprehending what he is, but also by understanding what he is not. Man is neither a beast nor the God referred to by the Signers of the Declaration. The God referred to by the Signers is a Being Who carries to absolute perfection the partially existing perfections observable in human beings — such as reason, justice, mercy and charity — without the corresponding imperfections. Persons formulate the idea of such a perfect being, not merely to comprehend this Supreme Being, but also to understand the limits of their own humanity.
Since men are neither beasts nor gods, they should not play God with other men, nor should they treat other men as beasts. This proposition is, as Professor Jaffa points out, "the elementary ground, not only of political, but of moral obligation." In short, "the source of the just powers of government lies in the proposition that all men are created equal."
CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY, by Murray N. Rothbard (Arlington House, 165 Huguenot Street, New Rochelle, New York 10801, 1975) Vol. 1, 518 pp.; Vol. 2, 277 pp.
Reviewed by Brian Summers
These are the first two volumes of a projected five-volume history of the American people from the first English settlements to the Constitution. The first covers to 1710. The second covers 1710-1760.
There are several features that distinguish these volumes and recommend them to the reader. First, Murray Rothbard is one of the few historians who understand economic theory. Throughout his narrative he uses economics to explain the antisocial nature of statist interventions such as wage and price controls, mercantilism, monopoly privileges, and inflation. Although Rothbard does a fine job in furnishing the reader with economic theory, it is best to approach these volumes — or any other history — with an understanding on at least the level of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. Without an understanding of economics, no one has the tools to analyze history.
Another feature distinguishing these volumes is the unabashed radical libertarianism of Dr. Rothbard. Focusing on the age-old conflict between human liberty and governmental coercion, he has no sympathy for imperialism, feudalism, slavery, conscription, censorship, or religious persecution. Although the narration is at times flavored with emotion, the analyses of episodes such as the Salem witchhunt, Bacon’s Rebellion, the Zenger trial, and the Georgia experiment are never dull and often enlightening.
Of the two volumes, this reviewer preferred the second. At times, the first volume bogged down in intricate details of colonial politics. Also, the index to the first volume is inadequate. Happily, these flaws do not appear in the second volume.
In net balance, the first two volumes of Conceived in Liberty are exciting, enlightening works. This reviewer eagerly awaits the third volume, covering the period 1760-1775, scheduled for publication in June 1976.