Freeman

ARTICLE

Socialism and Beyond

JULY 01, 1969 by EDMUND OPITZ

The Reverend Mr. Optiz of the Foundation staff is active as a lecturer and seminar leader.

Suppose you were asked to nominate the most influential figure in American politics during the first half of the twentieth century. Whose name would come to your mind? Would it be a president like F.D.R.? A senator like Henry Cabot Lodge? A Supreme Court Justice like Oliver Wendell Holmes? Or would it be a machine boss like Tom Pendergast?

Before we go on with this ques­tion, let’s pause over the word "in­fluential." Is political influence measured by the power of the office; by a man’s standing in a popularity contest? Or is influence primarily an intellectual and moral force, measurable, there­fore, only by assessing the extent to which a man’s political and so­cial ideals are actually translated into government policies and pro­grams. The most influential figure must be an idea-man who insinu­ates his ideas into the ideological mainstream so that people there­after play the political game with his deck. Viewing the matter in this light, my nominee for the most influential person in Ameri­can public life since World War I is a man who never held public office. I refer, of course, to the late Norman Thomas. I fervently wish that this were not the case, for my own position is diametrically op­posed to that of Mr. Thomas; but I think I know a winner when I see one.

Norman Thomas was the So­cialist Party’s candidate for the Presidency in 1928 and every four years thereafter for the next two decades, six national campaigns in all. He never got many votes. His greatest success was achieved in 1932 when all of 190,000 people put their X alongside his name.

These electoral contests were not very important for Norman Thomas; they did little or nothing to further socialism. A political party, in the American experience, is a private organization aimed at the capture of public office for its candidates. The American Social­ist Party barely qualifies, for it has hardly ever engaged in seri­ous politicking. Instead, it is or­ganized and drilled for education and propaganda primarily; and this roundabout approach proved to be, in the end, immensely suc­cessful practical politics. The so­cialists in the course of a genera­tion changed the American politi­cal climate so subtly yet so com­pletely that by mid-century no matter which candidate won, so­cialism (small "s") could not lose! Socialism with a small "s" has be­come the new consensus, but capi­tal "S" Socialism has virtually ex­pired giving birth to it! We will tell, briefly, the story of the rise and fall of Socialism, following this with an analysis of the auspices under which the drive toward collectivism proceeds to­day.

Principles, Yes; Party, No!

Norman Thomas and his friends, from the 1920′s on, advanced the socialist cause by their devoted labor, day in and day out, year after year. They wrote books, pam­phlets, and articles; they lectured before all kinds of audiences and made inroads among professors, clergymen, and millionaires. An incident recorded by Upton Sin­clair is pertinent. Sinclair lived in Pasadena before World War I, and writes of a visiting European so­cialist who expressed unbelief when Sinclair told him that his circle of friends included social­ists who were also millionaires. To prove his point, Sinclair said he would have a dinner party the next evening and invite some of his millionaire friends. The Euro­pean was astounded to meet a dozen millionaire socialists, all rounded up on short notice from Pasadena and environs. Further­more, because Socialism enor­mously strengthens the hand of government, it naturally appeals to politicians, Republicans as well as Democrats—and to the bureauc­racy. These efforts by Thomas and associates paid off, and long before mid-century something like Socialism had become the Ameri­can thing.

Thomas wrote a pamphlet in 1953 entitled "Democratic Social­ism," in which he observed that "here in America more measures once praised or denounced as so­cialist have been adopted than once I should have thought pos­sible short of socialist victory at the polls." But, as we have seen, the American voter decisively rejected socialism when it was of­fered to him under that label. A 1954 editorial in the Socialist Call noted that "an examination of the Socialist Party platform of 1928 and the Republican Party platform of 1952 shows how much of socialist ideas succeeded in per­meating the mind of America, in­cluding business circles. In the 1930′s," the editorial continued, "the United States accepted the basic principles of the welfare state. The final seal of acceptance appeared in the State of the Union message delivered by President Eisenhower to Congress in Janu­ary of this year."

But, as we have seen, the American voter has rejected socialism when it was of­fered to him under that label. A 1954 editorial in the Socialist Call noted that "an examination of the Socialist Party platform of 1928 and the Republican Party platform of 1952 shows how much of socialist ideas succeeded in per­meating the mind of America, in­cluding business circles. In the 1930′s," the editorial continued, "the United States accepted the basic principles of the welfare state. The final seal of acceptance appeared in the State of the Union message delivered by President Eisenhower to Congress in Janu­ary of this year."

Norman Thomas was puzzled by the paradox of the comfortable ac­ceptance of socialistic practices by the government while "socialism itself," he said, "is under much sharper attack, and the organized socialist movement is much weak­er." In 1956, the Socialist Party candidate got 2,044 votes, and the party has not run candidates in ’60, ’64, or ’68. It might seem the Socialist Party has been a Typhoid Mary, of sorts; it has been the carrier of an infectious set of ideas, innoculating others with the virus while remaining itself out­side the pale. But this analogy does not walk on all fours; for while Norman Thomas has been transforming the Republican and Democratic Parties, the Socialist Party itself has been transformed. To take the measure of this trans­formation, let’s look at the forma­tion of this party at the turn of the century.

Born in Indianapolis, 1901

Perhaps the American Socialist Party has lived out its life span, for it was born nearly three-score­and-ten years ago. In the year 1901, on the twenty-ninth of July, 124 delegates representing vari­ous factions of socialism met in Indianapolis. The meeting is de­scribed by Morris Hillquit, the old-time socialist, in these words: "The convention has assembled as a gathering of several independent and somewhat antagonistic bodies; it adjourned as a solid and har­monious party. The name assumed by the party thus created was the SOCIALIST PARTY."’

How many people were there in the United States in all the little socialist factions which sent dele­gates to Indianapolis? "No less than 10,000," says Hillquit.² The active membership was undoubt­edly much less than this, which is to say that the merest handful of earnest, dedicated people—who thought they knew what they wanted and worked to achieve it— succeeded in getting the most powerful nation in history to turn away from the methods of liberty and plunge into collectivism. The Socialist Party had succeeded so well by mid-century as to render itself unnecessary!

A party platform came out of this meeting in Indianapolis, full of rhetoric, as are all political documents, but containing also an unambiguous statement of social­ist procedure: "… the organiza­tion of the working class and those in sympathy with it into a political party, with the object of conquering the powers of govern­ment and using them for the pur­pose of transforming the present system of private ownership of the means of production and dis­tribution into collective ownership by the entire people."3

Ends and Means

If we are to understand the na­ture and meaning of socialism, we must make a rigorous distinction between, on the one hand, the pro­claimed socialist goal of a coop­erative commonwealth which has no more war and no more poverty and no more injustice—and, on the other, the means which social­ists would employ, or the tech­niques they would use, to achieve their goal. Ends versus means.

Up to a certain point, the ends and goals proclaimed by socialists of all denominations are the aims of all generous and fair-minded men. All men of good will seek to hasten the end of injustice and op­pression; they want a more pro­ductive society in which each man enjoys the fruits of his own labor and where there is more material abundance for everyone. And be­cause the economic order operates at peak efficiency only in a peace­ful world open to trade and travel, economic considerations reinforce all the moral and religious impera­tives favoring peace and opposing war. Immanuel Kant, writing at the dawn of the capitalist era, foresaw an era of peace in the nineteenth century and beyond as reliance on economic production and exchange to obtain goods sup­planted the political struggle to get other people’s goods by privi­lege and subsidy. "It is the spirit of commerce which cannot exist side by side with war," he main­tained. This was a fundamental idea of Classical Liberalism whose spirit was expressed by Jefferson in his Second Inaugural, when he spoke of "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all na­tions."

Armed with Power

The socialists appear to believe that they have a monopoly on the virtues, but in this—as in most everything else—they are quite mistaken. The unique thing about Socialism is not its professed aims; the unique thing about Socialism is the means it embraces for achieving its ends—means which include the authoritative direction and control of the lives of the masses of men by the few armed with political power. The original platform from which I have quot­ed announced the means Social­ists would employ: They would form a political party and cam­paign until they were voted into power; and when they controlled the government, they would na­tionalize productive property.

True, the document does not speak of nationalization; it refers to "collective ownership by the en­tire people." Now, an entire peo­ple, all two hundred million of us comprising American society, can­not own anything collectively or in common; ownership is the right to the exclusive enjoyment and disposal of a good against all corn­ers. If there is no one against whom such a claim might be pressed, the claim itself would not arise. Now, if everybody "owns" a thing, against whom will the en­tire people press their claim? "Col­lective ownership by the whole people" is a mere combination of words; it is not an intelligible idea. The absurdity of the notion of social ownership is humorous­ly emphasized by the story of a sign in a public park in a midwest­ern city: "No baby carriages; no bicycles; no ball playing; this is your park." Obviously, the park does not belong to the one ad­dressed but to the sign writer who lays down the rules for its use.

Nationalization of Property

Ownership can, however, be vested in society’s enforcement agency—government. And the ex­tension of government ownership is what mainly distinguishes So­cialism from other schemes for the improvement of man’s lot in society: Socialists would national­ize productive property. Into the hands of politicians and bureau­crats would come all titles to prop­erty; government would be the sole employer, and as the only em­ployer, government would assign a task to each citizen and lay down the terms on which men would hold their jobs. If this sounds like the army, it is because Socialism is in fact a militaristic organiza­tion of society. Socialism involves a command type of operation and, because "whosoever controls a man’s subsistence controls the man," a socialist society becomes a minutely regulated bureaucratic tyranny. When men lose the right to accept the best available job and to quit for whatever reason, they have lost a large and significant chunk of that free choice on which many other freedoms de­pend.

A New Kind of Tyranny

In 1884, Herbert Spencer fore­saw the emergence of a new kind of tyranny in Western nations and wrote his prophetic essay, "The Coming Slavery." In 1912, Hilaire Belloc wrote The Servile State, predicting that when the Socialists got their way, the result would not be socialism, but a totalitarian or­der in which the masses would toil for those who possessed political power. Hayek wrote his stunning Road to Serfdom in 1944, by which time the appalling extent of slave labor in the Soviet Union was known to all men. But that evil thing, communism, was not Hay­ek’s culprit; he put the finger of blame on planning, even planning of a most benign intent. If a soci­ety has an over-all plan, enforced by government, this will come into collision with the millions of pri­vate plans of individual citizens. Citizens, pursuing their personal goals as free men are in the habit of doing, resist bureaucratic stu­pidity, and the more stubborn citi­zens have to be made to see the error of their ways. The planned society needs enforcers, and in the nature of the case these are not gentle visionaries and scholars; they are the worst types of men,and it must be so, as Hayek dem­onstrates in a famous chapter en­titled "Why the Worst Get on Top." Gentle American socialists used to lament that Stalin be­trayed the Revolution; not so! Stalin was an authentic product of the Revolution.

The British accepted wartime planning under Churchill; and when a socialist government came to power after the war, the planned economy was extended to the edges of society. The catastrophic con­sequences for England were de­scribed by the Oxford economist, John Jewkes, in his book, Ordeal by Planning, published in 1948. The American, Hoffman Nicker­son, examined The New Slavery in his book of that title, published a year earlier; and finally even the American Socialist Party had to concede that it no longer believed in socialism—in the old sense.

The Socialist Party platform for 1956 contains the familiar windy rhetoric about eliminating war, hunger, and oppression; the so­cialist ends are about the same as they were half a century earlier. But the means are radically differ­ent. "Socialism," reads the plat­form, "is the social ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Social ownership, which includes cooperatives, is not usually government ownership." (It was simple government ownership, you will recall, to which the early Socialists pinned their faith.) "Social ownership would be ap­plied to large-scale business not to family farms or other individual­ly owned and operated businesses of similar size. Democratic con­trol is not administration by the central government but control by the people most directly af­fected…."

The earlier socialist blueprint contained no private sector, but present-day socialists put the fam­ily farm in the private sector as well as businesses of comparable size. Now a family farm can cover four hundred acres and represent a capital investment of a quarter of a million dollars. The majority of commercial enterprises are much smaller, by comparison, than this, so this leaves several million businesses in the private sector. The present thrust of the Ameri­can Socialist Party, therefore, is control of "BIG business," and this emphasis has so little sex ap­peal for Socialists that they’ve gone out of politics. The rationale for the planned society has been taken over by others. The trend toward collectivism still continues, but it is more deceptively camou­flaged.

A Fanatic Faith

There’s more to Socialism than its belief that productive property should be nationalized. Socialism is one of several ideologies which pin their faith to the notion that political reorganization will bring about a perfect human society: secularized versions of the King­dom of God. Socialists do not mod­estly believe they have a remedy for some social ills; they think they have the cure for all! In this sense, Socialism is a modern, this-worldly religion. Listen to H. G. Wells, for example: "Socialism is to me a very great thing indeed, the form and substance of my ideal life and all the religion I possess." As a religion, Socialism promised a terrestrial paradise, a heaven on earth.

There is an unrealistic, utopian streak running through the social­ist mentality, generating a kind of fanticism which makes it impos­sible to assess the realities and possibilities of human life on this planet. You’ve heard the brief prayer which runs: "Give me cour­age, 0 Lord, to change the things which need to be changed; the strength to endure those things which cannot be changed; and the wisdom to know the difference." The Socialists don’t know the dif­ference! They imagine an impos­sible state of perfection and then condemn the hard realities for not conforming to their dream. Every­one who has his feet on the ground recognizes the workings of sin, ignorance, and evil in human life. "History," said Edward Gib­bon contemplating the decline and fall of Rome, is "a record of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind." But none of these things need be, cries the Socialist, and the revolution will eliminate them; in the classless society of the future every man will radiate kindness and intelligence and the world itself will be transformed into a new Garden of Eden.

I’m not exaggerating. Here is Karl Marx himself, in an early work entitled The German Ideol­ogy, writing on the theme which is so popular these days—the theme of alienation. In what Marx calls "a natural-grown society" (as contrasted with a society con­sciously planned), there arises the thing we call division of labor. Men are gifted in different ways and come naturally to specialize in various occupations. And there the trouble begins! "As labor comes to be divided," Marx says, "everyone has a definite, circumscribed, sphere of activity which is put upon him and from which he can­not escape. He is hunter, fisher­man, or shepherd, or ‘critical crit­ic,’ and must remain so if he does not want to lose the means of sub­sistence—whereas in the Com­munist society, where each one does not have a circumscribed sphere of activity but can train himself in any branch he chooses, society by regulating the common production makes it possible for me to do this today and that to­morrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, to carry on cattle breeding in the evening, also to criticize the food—just as I please—without becoming either hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic."

Utopian Strains

Now it is obvious to everyone that the material abundance we enjoy in modern America is due to specialized occupations and ex­change. If every man were a jack of all trades, living only on what he himself produced, most of the earth’s population would shortly starve and the lives of those who remained would be "nasty, brut­ish, and short." Marx never did accommodate himself to the idea of the division of labor, but com­munist regimes, of course, have had to bow to reality. Neverthe­less, the utopian streak is still there. Leon Trotsky ventured into never-never land when he wrote his Literature and Revolution in 1925. Consulting his crystal ball, Trotsky predicted a proletarian paradise in which "the average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge, new peaks will arise."

Marx and Trotsky are bad enough, but theirs is a sober vision compared to that of Charles Four­ier who inspired several utopian colonies in nineteenth century America and converted Horace Greeley and other Americans to his views. Fourier would group so­ciety into phalanxes comprising 1,620 people each and when the world was thus organized man, beast, and nature would be wholly redeemed. "Men will live to the age of 144," wrote Fourier, "the sea will become lemonade; a new aurora borealis will heat the poles… Wars will be replaced by great cake-eating contests between gas­tronomic armies." Whatever Four­ier’s mood when he wrote this, the man was obviously insane and thus comparatively harmless; but a kind of madness afflicts even the sober­est Socialist. The proletarian para­dise is out of this world; heaven cannot possibly be achieved on this earth. To improve the conditions of earthly life is every man’s job; to perfect them is God’s. Those who try to establish perfection on earth usurp God’s role, and in the name of Man they subjugate men.

Some former Socialists acknowl­edge the validity of these criti­cisms, so they crusade for collec­tivism using a different tack. Thus the new consensus, shaped by the Socialist mold, but completely pragmatic rather than idealistic.

Reinhold Niebuhr, the eminent theologian, was a Socialist most of his life. He left the Socialist Party some twenty years ago saying that its creed "contained even more miscalculations than the liberal creed which it challenged." Does this mean that Niebuhr came over into the conservative or libertarian camp? Not at all. Niebuhr now fa­vors a mixture of freedom and planning, as he would put it, in order that no one of the three major foci of power shall come to predominate. It is the power of Big Business that is the primary object of Niebuhr’s concern, and he thinks we need both big govern­ment and big unions to cope with Big Business. The position is that power in society assumes three forms—as business, government, and labor, and that each of these must be played off against the other. Let’s submit this position to critical analysis, beginning with government.

Two Kinds of Power

Nearly every political theorist until the present day has identi­fied government with the police power. The government of a given society was regarded as the power structure. The head of the govern­ment was the commander-in-chief of its armed forces, which were charged with the task of defend­ing the society against foreign foes. The police protected citizens against criminals, and the legal system offered redress when colli­sions of interest occurred within society. The government has the power to tax, and various other re­sponsibilities as set forth in the country’s constitution. That which distinguishes a government from any other organization within so­ciety is that government alone is granted a legal monopoly of co­ercion.

Anyone not blinded by ideologi­cal prejudice knows that the pow­er wielded by government is un­like every other species of power in society. Should you run afoul of the law you will quickly realize that the police, the courts, and the jails are not a branch of General Motors. The army fighting in Viet Nam is not under the control of A.T.&.T.; and if some young man you know is drafted, he will be drafted by the government and not by Du Pont or Alcoa. You’ll be paying your income tax when due, and you’ll pay it to the govern­ment. If you fail to pay, you’ll be visited by an agent of the I.R.S., not by a Fuller Brush man.

How, then, can a bright theolo­gian like Niebuhr fail to sense the power with which government is endowed? Only because he is blind to the nature of business. Niebuhr has said that the "prestige and power [of] the giant corporation[with its] right to hire and fire… certainly makes big business a part of government." (New Leader, August 26, 1951) This is a beautiful example of logic turned inside out. The right to hire and fire is nothing more than an exercise of the right of an owner to say who shall be allowed to use his tools and under what circumstances. There’s an auto­mobile registered in your name; but if you are not permitted to use it yourself, nor to decide who shall be allowed to use it and when, then the car cannot rightly be called your property. (Either that, or you have teen-age chil­dren!)

Attack on Business

Now, hiring and firing is not a unique function of government, even though government employs millions of civil servants. But if you cannot make your own de­cision as to who shall work for you in your own factory or store or restaurant or bank or what­ever, then you are prevented from exercising the natural responsi­bility of ownership. Niebuhr’s curious observation boils down to the nonsensical assertation that big business, by behaving in a busi­ness-like fashion—by hiring and firing—thus demonstrates that it’s part of government!

The attack is leveled against BIG business, and thus it slips under the guard of some people. The size of things is a factor in our judgment of them; we don’t like things to depart too far from the norm. In fairy tales and folk­lore both giants and dwarfs carry overtones of the sinister. Bigness carries the suggestion of inordin­ate strength, and that is always a threat; so we like to have things the right size. But how do we de­cide what size is proper for a business? And who should decide? Should the government decide how big X industry should be? Or should the consumers of X indus­try’s products decide? I have no hesitancy in saying that the size of a given business should be de­cided by consumers. If consumers like a given product, they tele­graph their fondness to the manu­facturer who tools up to produce more of it, increasing his output until diminishing sales give him the clue to cut down.

The theory of the free market, or laissez faire, or Classical Lib­eralism, never contemplated an un­regulated economy. Laissez faire opposed government regulation in order that the economy might be regulated by those most directly affected—the consumers. Accord­ing to the theory of laissez faire, government was to act as an um­pire to interpret and enforce the previously agreed upon rules of the game; government was intend­ed to keep the game of competition going by punishing breaches of the rules. Within the rules, a given business or industry had complete latitude to expand or contract or fail.

"Bigness" Decried

So what is a big business? The world’s biggest business engaged in the exclusive manufacture of French horns is the Sansone Com­pany which employs about fifteen craftsmen in a loft just north of Times Square. This is technologi­cally feasible. Now, an automobile might be handcrafted in a shop with only a few employees, and such a machine might win the "Indianapolis 500"; but the Amer­ican consumer favors the kind of car that can be mass-produced by the millions, and so Ford, Chrys­ler, and G.M. employ hundreds of thousands of men. The appropri­ate size of an industry varies greatly according to the nature of the enterprise, but the final deci­sion as to the right size of X in­dustry properly rests with con­sumers. Unless, of course, the pro­prietor decides he wants to do custom work at his own pace and prefers to stay small.

If you recall your textbook in economics, you’ll remember the equation: Land + Labor + Capi­tal ± Wealth. Human energy aided by tools and operating on nat­ural resources produces wealth. Business and industry is somebody making, growing, or transporting things which consumers demand, or performing a service. Human laziness is a factor in economics, and it is a safe bet that men would not work as they do nor as hard as they do if they didn’t have to. Men have to work, not because anyone forces them to work, but because the human race would perish if people gave up working. This is simply a fact of life; this is not coercion in the sense in which those unfortunate millions who have perished in Soviet slave labor camps have been coerced. Coercion is not part of the private sector. (Acts of coercion may oc­cur in the private sector but only as criminality.) A unique and nec­essary feature of government, however, is that society has grant­ed it a legal monopoly of coercion. Government is the power structure in a society. But a business can­not exercise power without break­ing the law—or else it secures the connivance of government and op­erates as a cartel.

Given a framework of law which preserves competition and peaceful trade, a business should be as big as consumers want it to be—as evidenced by their buying habits. And business, as such, has no power—not the coercive kind of power which is the type govern­ment must have. The position that we need big government and big labor to contain the threat of big business has the props knocked from under it if "big business" is seen to be a vague term, and when we realize that business as such is not a threat but rather an essen­tial for maintaining the general prosperity.

Unions Are Special

What about "big labor"? The mythology surrounding this ques­tion is hard to penetrate, for it is a modern article of faith that to labor organizations is due the ma­jor credit for the fact that wages are higher today than they were fifty years ago, and hours of work less. But mere organization does not produce goods; only the appli­cation of human effort to raw ma­terials, augmented by tools and machines (capital) produces goods. And our increasing efficiency in production is due to inventions, good management, and above all, to the machinery the average worker has at his disposal. On an average, there is a twenty-one-thousand-dollar investment of cap­ital per worker in American in­dustry. This is why Americans are more productive than workers in other parts of the world, such as Great Britain, where trade union organization has been much tighter than here and has been going on since the nineteenth century. Un­ions do not contribute to our pros­perity; they detract from it; they institutionalize unemployment.

Furthermore, national legisla­tion such as the Norris-La Guardia Act and the Wagner Act have granted special privileges and im­munities to unions to engage in acts of intimidation and violence which would jail nonunion perpe­trators. This is a serious breach of the Rule of Law. And in bar­gaining with employers within the terms laid down by the N.L.R.B., the discussions proceed with one party’s hands tied by partisan leg­islation.

Let me offer a striking analogy of this situation from the pen of the Harvard economist, Prof. E. H. Chamberlin. He’s writing about what is called "bargaining," and says: "Some perspective may be had on what is involved (in labor-management "bargaining") by imagining an application of The techniques.. in some other field. If A is bargaining with B over the sale of B’s house, and if A were given the privileges of a mod­ern labor union, he would be able (1) to conspire with all other own­ers of houses not to make any al­ternative offer to B, using violence or the threat of violence if neces­sary to prevent them, (2) to de­prive B himself of access to any alternative offers, (3) to surround the house of B and cut off all de­liveries, including food, (4) to stop all movement from B’s house, so that if he were for instance a doctor he could not sell his services and make a living, and (5) to in­stitute a boycott of B’s business. All of these privileges, if he were capable of carrying them out, would no doubt strengthen A’s po­sition. But they would not be re­garded by anyone as a part of `bargaining’—unless A were a la­bor union."

Intellectual Error

The intellectuals of our time are bemused by power. Irving Kristol is an intellectual and also a liberal of sorts, but he’s nevertheless able to maintain his objectivity. "The liberal," he writes, "is pleased with the increasing concentration of power in the national govern­ment, because he sees in it an op­portunity to translate his ideals into reality…. He is convinced—not always by evidence, often by self-righteousness—that he knows how to plan our economy, design our cities, defeat our enemies, as­suage our allies, uplift our poor, and all in all, insure the greatest happiness of the greatest number. And for this knowledge to be ef­fectual, he needs more power over the citizen than Americans have traditionally thought it desirable for a government to have." (New Leader, September 14, 1964)

The liberal is saying, in effect: "We’re a lot smarter than the rest of you folks, and possess a keener sense of moral responsibility as well. Why, therefore, should we sit idly by while mankind mind­lessly repeats the same damn fool mistakes over and over again?" Well, the worst mistake mankind continues to make is to turn its destinies over to some demagogue who in turn whips people up into mass movements. "People go mad in herds; they recover their sanity one by one." The mob intoxication wears off and then each person can locate for himself those loopholes in logic through which a tiny bit of his liberty trickles away, and he can plug the leaks with sound ideas.

Some conservatives and liber­tarians spend a lot of time attack­ing big government. The mythol­ogy surrounding big business and big labor can be stripped away; and when we’ve finished that job, big government remains, towering over us and watching us like Big Brother in Orwell’s novel. But the excessive size of government is a secondary effect. A government must be large enough to accom­plish its task, and during wartime or to cope with a crime wave it will naturally expand. Our criti­cism should be directed at govern­ment doing the wrong things and not at mere size, because whenever government starts doing the wrong things, it will overflow its bound­aries and become too big. Govern­ment should be large and virile enough to keep the peace, to pre­serve individual rights, and pun­ish anyone who injures his fellows—as injury is defined at law. But when a government attempts to run the economy and dictate the actions of peaceful people, it usurps improper authority, and thus grows to inordinate size.

Back to Fundamentals

Liberty in human affairs will never be wholly lost, nor ever wholly won. We’ve been on the los­ing end for some time now, but it is our great good fortune that whatever runs contrary to the nat­ural grain of things will eventu­ally bring about its own demise. Socialism as a consistent intellec­tual system has committed suicide, although its practical consequences are still with us. Now we are con­fronted with the shallow notion that big business is a power struc­ture, as is big government and big labor; and we must somehow pre­vent the ascendancy of any one of these three powers. Upon analysis, this position is seen to be error piled upon error. A business is as big as consumers want it to be; and if they want it to fail, it fails.

The power displayed by modern unions is a chunk of raw political power bestowed by national legis­lation on some people over other people. The bestowal of this kind of power is a violation of the prin­ciples of the free society and a breach of the Rule of Law. Fi­nally, government has certain in­dispensable functions to perform and it should perform these tasks with vigor and integrity— and no others.

Once we have the ideas sorted out and rearranged in order, then what shall we do? How shall we act? Well, that’s up to you, for in the nature of the case each man must answer for himself when it comes to deciding where he shall exert his influence. Bonaro Over­street has set the idea to verse:

You say the little efforts that I make
Will do no good.
They will never prevail,
To tip the hovering scale
Where justice hangs in the balance.
I don’t think
I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
In favor of my right to choose which side
Shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

 

—FOOTNOTES—

1 Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1903, third edition), p. 339.

2 Ibid., p. 338.

3 Ibid., p. 343.

 

***

John Stuart Mill

The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the in­dividuals composing it; and a State which postpones the inter­ests of their mental expansion and elevation, to a little more administrative skill, or of that semblance of it which practice gives, in the details of business; a State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes—will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery to which it has sacrificed everything, will in the end avail it nothing, for want of the vital power which, in order that the machine might work more smoothly, it has preferred to banish.

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July 1969

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September 2014

For centuries, hierarchical models dominated human organizations. Kings, warlords, and emperors could rally groups--but also oppress them. Non-hierarchical forms of organization, though, are increasingly defining our lives. It's no secret how this shift has benefited our social lives, including dating, and it's becoming more commonplace even in the corporate world. But it has also now come even to organizations bent on domination rather than human flourishing, as the Islamic State shows. If even destructive groups rely on this form of entrepreneurial organization, then hierarchy's time could truly be coming to an end.
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