Freeman

ARTICLE

False Gods

MAY 01, 1958 by REGINALD JEBB

Mr. Jebb is a British educator, editor, and journalist.

Communism is like the hydrogen bomb, which, when it explodes and falls to pieces (as communism will undoubtedly one day), leaves behind it a lethal radioactivity that affects future generations.

It is the firm purpose of the Atlantic Alliance eventually to free the nations that are at present un­der the yoke of the USSR. But what sort of form will that free­dom be apt to take? How much communist radioactivity will per­sist after the explosion is over?

It might seem that a com­munist dominated country, once it has won its freedom, would dis­card every vestige of the chains that bound it, and, in its loath­ing of the persecution it has suf­fered from totalitarian state prac­tices, revert to the kind of society in which personal liberty and initi­ative flourish.

Such a hope does not sufficiently take into account the radioactive poison that communism has spread abroad.

From answers to questions put to Hungarian refugees and to Poles, now able to express their opinions under the milder regime of Gomulka, it is not unusual to learn that, while they repudiate communism they look forward to a socialist State after their libera­tion has been effected. The reasons for this are pretty clear. The reli­gious faith of some of them has been dulled by years of atheist indoctrination; they have almost lost sight of what a really free so­ciety means; and they see socialist regimes or at least socialistic prac­tices at work in many western countries that have never felt the heel of Moscow. There is a tend­ency to think, not so much in terms of natural law and human responsi­bility, as those of a choice between false gods. It is a case of the fable of King Log and King Stork in reverse. King Stork who de­voured the frogs has been killed. The new frogs welcome King Log, unaware that he will provide a place for a second King Stork to perch upon. That mentality is due to the radioactive poison that com­munism leaves behind it.

Does this adaption of the fable appear extravagant, topsy-turvy? But that is exactly what a rever­sion to socialism from communism would be. To adopt voluntarily a system that has in it the seeds of one’s present persecution is indeed so extravagant as to denote a kind of madness. It is like seeking a cure for rabies in the hair of the dog that bit you. It seems prob­able, however, that that is what may happen.

 

They Once Knew Freedom

If we look back to the years be­tween the two wars when Poland had been freed from her long parti­tion and had become independent, and when the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been dismembered and Hungary was a separate independ­ent state, we see little socialism in the government of either country (save for the few months of com­munist rule under Bela Kun in Hungary in 1919) . On the contrary, the composition of the government in both countries — though some­what authoritarian, with a power­ful president elected every seven years in Poland, and a regent in Hungary pending a return to the monarchy — was by no means cen­tralized in practice. Much local administration was entrusted to regional authorities And — an im­portant factor — private property was safeguarded. Poor and rich alike were left largely undisturbed by state interference.

If, then, these two countries are now contemplating a collectivist regime when liberation gives them the choice, it is not through prior active experience of socialism, but rather on account of the postwar wave of proletarian propaganda which purports to show that social­ism benefits the poorer members of society.

For all those who believe in a free society, this is an alarming outlook. It is no use pretending that, because socialism is less tyrannous than Soviet communism, a movement from the latter to the former may mean a gradual re­turn to freedom. It is no more a way back to freedom than would be a leap back from the fire into the frying pan, there to await a slow death.

 

The Philosophy of Christendom

Can anything be done to avoid such a calamity? Since the cause of it is a choice between two false and closely allied gods, the first and fundamental remedy is a return to the philosophy of Chris­tendom from which all the western nations have sprung. The second is a practical exposure of the grow­ing perils of statism.

The essence of socialism is warfare against private property. That is contrary to Christian philosophy. If we refer to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, per­haps the greatest theologian and philosopher who has ever lived, we find that his arguments run somewhat as follows:

The earth was given by God to mankind for all to use. But if all land is held in common, so that no one possesses any part of it as his own, two things are likely to hap­pen: there will be strife between two or more persons seeking to derive wealth from the same piece of land; and if no one is personally responsible for the working of any particular piece of land, there will be little incentive for individual effort, each man being inclined to leave to another the production of wealth. St. Thomas therefore de­cides, after laying down the essen­tials of just ownership and the duties incumbent on the owner, that personal possession is in ac­cordance with the Divine order of things.

That is a generally accepted tenet of Christian philosophy. Its truth is in no way affected by such an argument as that the Religious Orders and some other voluntary bodies relinquish personal owner­ship and hold their goods in com­mon. Such exceptions are both voluntary and ordered. The com­munity agrees to act as a single person. Nor is the fact that some­times an owner of property is rapacious and rides roughshod over the needs of those less fortu­nate than himself any argument against the principle of private ownership. Whatever the social system adopted, there will always be people of this kind, and, as has been said, St. Thomas insists on the duties as well as the rights of ownership.

The roots of private property thus lie deep in the soil of Christendom.

 

Baiting the Trap

The socialist attack on this Christian principle is insidious —an ambush for the unwary. In the assumption of control of the means of production by the State the socialist argues that justice will be done to all and that inequalities will be leveled out. The State, he af­firms, is impartial, whereas the private owner thinks only of him­self. Under socialism, therefore, exploitation of one man by another will end.

That is the bait laid in the trap. If we are to prevent ourselves and others from being caught, we must make perfectly clear what this means in practice.

It means first of all burden­some and ever-increasing taxa­tion, for if a great part of the normal expenditure of a nation is to be undertaken by the State, the money must be found by taxa­tion. This creates two major evils for the individual. His opportuni­ties for exercising personal choice are reduced to the vanishing point, so that initiative dies; and, sec­ondly, he loses all incentive to save, relying upon the government to amass the capital without which all production comes to a stand­still. But unlike the private in­dividual or the firm whose liveli­hood depends upon saving for the provision of capital, the State does not save. On the contrary, it carries an ever rising debt, which demands further taxation to cover the interest due on it. The explana­tion is simple. Centralized direc­tion on this scale requires a vast unproductive bureaucracy to ad­minister its planning, a bureauc­racy whose only incentive is to hold its job and to receive the pay squandered upon it.

As to the argument that the State deals impartially with every­one, whatever the motives of those in power may be (and who can deny that they are usually influenced by pressure groups and vote catching?) impartiality in this connection means reducing to a dull level all the varied ingenuity of human beings. It is a colossal attempt to fit square pegs into round holes. If socialism had been the system intended to govern human affairs, men would have been mass-produced from a single blueprint, and they would have been denied the faculty of free will.

If we turn to relations with foreign countries, we see similar evils arising from controls by the State. There is no resilience when trade depends upon state bargaining. Every transaction takes on a political flavor which spells death to economic give and take. What private firms can thresh out to­gether in a boardroom to their mutual satisfaction becomes a mat­ter of high policy affecting the prestige of governments. What­ever bargaining takes place runs the risk of estranging the two countries concerned and possibly even leading to war. For wars are almost always the result of fear or jealousy of a state govern­ment that has so tightened its con­trol over the people of its country that it is able to implement any decision it may come to, however unpopular. It thus becomes a po­tential danger to the world — a power unit divorced from the aims and desires of its people.

 

Socialism Breeds Apathy

It is this last characteristic of a socialist government that makes any relapse into socialism by coun­tries freed from the tyranny of communism a matter of serious moment to all those nations that believe in a free society. If, for example, Poland were to adopt a socialist regime, all the vigor of that courageous and talented na­tion would bit by bit give place to subservient indolence. And if it be asked why then the Poles, who have suffered communism for so many years, have still maintained so much of their fighting spirit, the answer is that communism ac­tively persecutes a people and by its very tyranny keeps alive in brave hearts the determination to resist; whereas socialism, by its milder methods and subtle prop­aganda, gives the impression that it is working for the betterment of the nation and so lulls it into a somnolent lethargy, until the gov­ernment has consolidated its con­trol and all power of resistance is dead. After that, a return to com­munism is the only logical sequel.

If the satellite nations are in­tending, after their liberation, to replace the false god they hate by another false god that they have not experienced, it is more im­portant than ever that free men strongly resist encroachments in their own countries on the liberty and initiative of the individual.

Freedom is contagious, and it breeds creativity just as surely as control breeds apathy.

 

***

 

 

WHAT’S THE SCORE?

REPORTED: That the Soviet government is spending more than the United States government on respective exhibits at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.

RUMOR: That some persons are concerned, lest visitors to the Fair conclude from these exhibits that the Russian way of life is superior to the American way of life.

SUGGESTION: That for such persons, there be erected a large scoreboard with a running tally of visitors to the Fair:

From Russia ____

From The United States ____

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May 1958

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