The Impregnable Freedom
JANUARY 01, 1967 by LOIS H. SARGENT
Mrs. Sargent, active for many years in the field of personal counseling, is a free-lance author from Springfield, Missouri.
Every fresh economic restriction or control of an expanding bureaucratic government encroaches another degree upon individual freedom. But, no matter how much freedom of enterprise and action men mat loose, there is one freedom that is absolutely impregnable: a man’s freedom to think for himself.
This freedom assumes a singular importance today because of two opposing viewpoints contending for public acceptance. On the one hand, there is political humanitarianism which could have us believe that a benign government should solve the problems of its citizens and create for them the ideal environment and society. On the other hand are the conservatives, or the libertarians, who believe the people produce and achieve more if placed upon their own responsibility and left free to carve out their destinies, each in his own way.
The controversy raises another question: Do individuals really determine their own destinies, or are they inevitably the product of environment and sociological conditions?
Now, no modern, well read-person will discount the influence of environment of friendships, educational background, community, working environment – upon the development of personality. As most psychologists explain it, they are interrelated and interacting. But logic and reason, when the subject is reduced to its basic principle, accord dominant influence to individual thinking and effort.
In support of this contention, I offer the following pertinent facts.
Everything that has been discovered, designed, or invented for the improvement or comfort of man has originated in some man’s mind. Aside from its physical (nature) components, the environment of man has been created by man himself. And, as men have learned more and more about nature, they have learned how to adapt, adjust, and to a great extent, control it. And this, too, was initiated by mental effort.
Everything that has contributed to the advancement of civilization, and likewise, everything that has brought about its decay, has first been a thought in some man’s mind.
Some persons may accept this generality, yet fail to apply the principle to themselves, thus failing to realize the extent to which their thinking determines the conditions of life.
If a man wishes to believe, as the proponents of the social gospel or socialists imply, that environment and circumstances direct his path in life, he is mentally free to accept this idea. If he thinks that way, the idea takes on reality and the environment looms as something that acts upon him, as a mold shapes metal.
The opposite viewpoint holds that environment and circumstances are something a man reacts to; he can decide for himself if he wants to accept it as it is, resist it, or change it, as his urges and aims may dictate.
Suppose Abraham Lincoln, contemplating in his childhood the utter poverty and limitation of his surroundings, had believed that his future would be shaped by his environment. His desire for learning and determination to get it, which paved the road he was to travel, might never have been awakened.
Suppose George Washington Carver had thought as a young boy: "I am just a poor black boy, child of slaves. How can I hope to rise out of such circumstances and make something of myself?"
Without the vision which impelled ambition and effort to overcome obstacles and alertness to make the most of help that circumstances did occasionally provide, the world would never have heard of either of them.
The records of business, industry, and the professions abound with biographies of self-made men and women who used their God-given freedom to think for themselves, and with will, faith, and labor, rose from humble beginnings to make their dreams come true.
They had to think in that direction before they could travel it.
Fortunately for them, their national environment then presented no insurmountable obstacles, but allowed them maximum freedom to pursue the goals they envisioned. This can still be done today, if the initiative and will are strong enough, but the odds are greater than they once were.
The fact that this nation has enjoyed the fastest progress, and has had the highest standard of living in the world, seems proof enough that individuals are quite capable of working out their own destinies, and will have better opportunity if they live in an atmosphere of political and economic freedom.
Further, it seems logical, as a corollary, that sociological problems will be solved easier and with less expense within that framework, where the conditions of each community can be accurately studied and appraised.
Many and varied are the causes of the present blight upon our freedom, and so complex and interwoven are they that it would be impossible to single out the leading one.
But we can keep before us this one truth: a city or civilization is but the outward projection of the ideas of men. What men visualize, they will eventually produce, for better or worse. Free enterprise, republicanism, democracy, socialism, social-welfare, subsidies, price controls, deficit spending, and all the rest were once just ideas.
If we are dissatisfied with what ideas produce, we can re-examine the ideas. Not all ideas that sound good in theory prove worthy in practice, and unfortunately, the originators of inefficacious ideas are ever loath to revise their viewpoints. But this need not bind the minds of their critics.
If we find that economic and other freedoms are slipping away from us, we should regard this as a challenge to discover why and where ideas went astray. Ideas can bring about the decay of a civilization; ideas can save or rebuild it.
Freedom of thought is impregnable; the one freedom that does not have to be legally protected nor fought for — it has but to be cherished and used.
Alexis de Tocqueville
Men think they manifest their greatness by simplifying the means they use; but it is the purpose of God which is simple — his means are infinitely varied.