The Last Candle
JULY 01, 1967 by JACK SCHREIBER
This article is condensed from lecture notes prepared and used by Dr. Schreiber, a physician in Canfield, Ohio.
How much is it worth? How much is your personal freedom worth to you? How much would you be willing to sacrifice today, just to keep your freedom to worship God as you see fit? What price would you pay just to maintain your right to work at the business or profession of your choice; or your right to speak freely without fear of imprisonment? Have you ever stopped to think that men haven’t always been this free? Since the beginning of time, most men through the centuries have been slaves or serfs. Personal freedom was granted as a gift by kings, or tyrants, only to a chosen few. Occasionally, history records, there were brief periods of personal freedom, but it finally took America for the world to realize the dream of all men — the inherent right of a man to be free.
We aren’t free to do what we want to do, but rather, Jefferson said, we are free to do what we ought to do. In other words, the price of freedom is individual responsibility. So freedom isn’t all free, you see, nor is it perpetual. Part of the American dream is that to each generation there falls a new responsibility to preserve that freedom which was established here by those early patriots. But it took more than just a philosophy of government. Those early Americans, wise beyond their years, also realized that government of, by, and for the people had to flourish in an economic system of free enterprise, with competition as the catalyst. So they established a structure of limited central government, permitting this newly won freedom to have unlimited possibilities.
One could assume, then, that we have it made. Never have any people, at any time, anywhere, had it so good. But in our present abundance and luxury something is wrong. People aren’t happy. They don’t walk down the streets of our cities smiling, or whistling a happy tune. There is discontent, and one can sense fear of the unknown. Overabundant Americans are jittery. There seems to be a tarnish on our golden Mecca. Our welfare lists are growing. We’ve created a new breed of men who won’t work. And instead of the slogan, "God bless America," we now hear, "What have you done for me lately?" The signs aren’t too hard to read. They are the signs of internal decay — the dry rot of apathy and indifference.
The symptoms of our disease of welfarism began some years ago when we began to penalize success by taxation. By using our tax dollars, government has relieved us of many of our own personal responsibilities, in exchange for our personal freedom. We have come to think of our early history and the men who made it as a kind of fairy tale instead of the greatest success story of all time. We have been flirting with a dangerous and clever seductive mistress called socialism. And for a time, since the depression days of the thirties, we have been toying with ideas which have proven a failure in most of those countries where they’ve been tried. It seems to me we are in the mess we’re in for several reasons.
From Freedom to Barbarism
The first is the natural evolution of civilization. Lord Byron, in tracing the rise and fall of great nations, said that "people go from freedom to glory, from glory to wealth, from wealth to vice, from vice to corruption, and from corruption to barbarism."
The second reason for the beginning of the welfare state is temptation. We are being tempted as we have never been tempted before — tempted to let the government do it. From all sides of the Great Society comes the siren song. The government should provide free housing; the government should pay for college education; the government should take care of the aged; the government should provide beauty and culture; the government should guarantee jobs; and so it goes. It’s not an easy thing being a free American, when all around us the misguided and the misinformed tell us the government owes us all these things which up to now we have been providing for ourselves.
There is a third reason why we are losing our freedom. Most of us accept the beginning of the welfare state, not because of our weakness, but rather because of one of our finest virtues — human compassion. Through our misguided love for humanity we have bought the idea that the mere spending of enormous sums of our own money, plus the creation of vast new bureaucracy to process and administer the complexities of the new social laws will, in themselves, solve the ills of the people. By passing the buck and surrendering our personal responsibilities into the hands of government, we solve our guilty consciences as a nation and as individuals.
And finally, we have begun our journey into the welfare state for another reason. For too long now, too many of us have been too willing to let someone else call the shots. We have been busy with things, which in the end don’t count for much, and in our madness for materialism we have forgotten how to lead. We have been letting "George do it," and "George" has messed it up. For one shining, glorious moment of history we had the key and the open door and the way was there before us. Men threw off the yoke of centuries and thrust forward along that way with such hope and such brilliance that for a little while we were the light and the inspiration of the world. Now the key has been thrown carelessly aside — the door is closing —we are losing the way.
In summary then, we Americans have inherited the greatest nation in the world, but we’re finding out it’s not easy being a free American. We need to remind ourselves of the magic formula of free enterprise, operating in an environment of competition with limited central government. We must constantly remind ourselves, and each other, that our freedom is threatened by those who promise us security instead of opportunity. We do not have to go down the drain of the welfare state just because of a silly historic cycle. We can pass on the heritage of personal freedom to our children with the three keys of leadership, personal involvement in public affairs, and a recrudescence of the home and church. This we can do if enough of us will care enough to do enough.
Freedom, Self-Control, Human Dignity, and Limited Government
Once upon a time there was a young nation struggling in the community of nations to find her place in the sun. For this young country of brave people discovered that freedom is a God-given right. So impressed were they with this belief that they lit a candle to symbolize their freedom. But in their wisdom they knew that the flame could not burn alone, so they lit a second candle to symbolize man’s right to govern himself. The third candle was lighted to signify that the rights of the individual were more important than the rights of the state. And finally they lit a fourth candle to show that government should not do for the people those things which people should do for themselves.
As the four candles of freedom burned brightly, the young nation prospered; and as they prospered, they grew fat; and as they grew fat, they got lazy. When they got lazy, they asked the government to do things for them which they had been doing for themselves, and one of the candles went out. As government became bigger, the people became littler and the government became all important and the rights of the individual were sacrificed to the all important rights of the state. Then the second candle went out. In their apathy and indifference they asked someone else to govern them, and someone else did, and the third candle went out.
In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security, a comfortable life, and they lost all, comfort and security and freedom. For you see when the freedom they wanted most was freedom from responsibility —then Athens ceased to be free, and the Athenians of nearly two thousand years ago were never free again. The last candle was extinguished.
They [parliaments] possess no power beyond the limits of the trust for the execution of which they were formed. If they contradict this trust, they betray their constituents, and dissolve themselves. All delegated power must be subordinate and limited. If omnipotence can, with any sense, be ascribed to a legislature, it must be lodged where all legislative authority originates, that is, in the PEOPLE. For their sakes government is instituted, and theirs is the only real omnipotence.
RICHARD PRICE, Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, 1776