The Safety of the People
SEPTEMBER 01, 1966 by BEN MOREELL
Admiral Moreell, Civil Engineer Corps, United States Navy (retired), was organizer of the famed Seabees of World War II, and served as Chairman of the Board of Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation from 1947 to 1958.
This is a slight condensation of his June 4, 1966, address to the graduating class at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, of which he is a Trustee.
In light of the turmoil and chaos which now enmesh our nation, at home and abroad, and the consequent bewilderment of our people, it is important to review our policies and practices over the past half century to determine, if we can, the causes of the current confusion.
Starting practically "from scratch," we became, in little over a century, the greatest nation in recorded history in terms of spiritual stature, individual freedom, material productivity, cultural progress, biblical charity, and the security of our citizens and their property.
But, as we prospered, we lost sight of the fact that the blessings we enjoyed are not self-perpetuating, that they are premised on certain spiritual and cultural conditions which this generation did not create, which we inherited, and which we are losing! We are consuming our capital! That is the surest road to bankruptcy in business. And I am just as sure that our national well-being cannot outlast the current exhaustion of our spiritual and cultural capital!
In his classic work, De Legibus, Cicero, greatest of Rome’s jurists and philosophers in the law, set forth this proposition:
"The safety of the people shall be the Highest Law."
That dictum stemmed from the concept that there is a Higher or Natural Law which transcends all man-made law. The idea originated with the ancient Greeks, was elaborated by Aristotle, and later adopted by the Stoics from whom it was taken over by Cicero and incorporated into the Roman law.
It was accepted by our Founding Fathers for inclusion in the Declaration of Independence, as evidenced by their avowed reliance on "the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God" as sanction for their claim to that "separate and equal station — among the powers of the earth" to which a people is entitled when it becomes necessary — "to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another."
Professor Edward S. Corwin, noted scholar and teacher of jurisprudence, in his essay, "The ‘Higher Law’ Background of American Constitutional Law," wrote:
There are… certain principles of right and justice which are entitled to prevail of their own intrinsic excellence, altogether regardless of the attitude of those who wield the physical resources of the community. Such principles were made by no human hands…. They are external to all will as such and interpenetrate all reason as such. They are eternal and immutable. In relation to such principles, human laws are… merely a record or transcript, and their enactment an act not of will or power but one of discovery and declaration.
Later, with respect to the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution, which validates those rights of the people which are not specifically enumerated, he wrote:
Such rights… owe nothing to their recognition in the Constitution. Such recognition was necessary if the Constitution was to be regarded as complete.
Thus the legality of the Constitution, its supremacy, and its claim to be worshipped, alike find common standing ground on the belief in a law superior to human governors.
That concept was endorsed by the late President Hoover in his address to the 1956 Republican National Convention. He said:
Those great documents of 180 years ago from our Founding Fathers must still be the foundation of our American way of life..
I have faith that there are principles which neither communism, nor socialism, nor neutralism, nor other evil ideas, nor even the march of time, can defeat. Those truths came into the world along with the shooting stars of which worlds are made. They are as inevitable as the existence of the Supreme Being, the forces of gravity, and the ceaseless struggle of mankind to be free.
Limits for Man-Made Law
Those "principles of right and justice" fix the limits within which man-made law must function if we are to avoid doing violence to the higher law of Nature.
The Declaration defined those limits as follows:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure those rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to institute new government….
The preliminary drafts of the Declaration and contemporary documents make clear that the phrase "all men are created equal" was intended to denote equality before God and before the law, not an impossible equality of natural talents and consequent equality of material possessions. Similarly, it was intended that all men should be free to pursue happiness, the responsibility for catching up with it remaining with the pursuer. Happiness, per se, is not a natural right but something to be earned by individual effort, a concept which differs materially from that of "The Great Society" zealots who now steer our Ship of State.
Those basic principles were to establish the framework for a "government of laws and not of men." Our Central Government was to be one of strictly limited powers, specified in a written constitution. Furthermore, those powers were to be augmented, extended, eliminated, reduced, or redistributed only by the procedures prescribed in the Constitution itself, not by judicial interpretation, legislative mandate, executive decree, nor by arbitrary seizure which has no legislative sanction but is based on the theory that certain undefined powers inhere naturally in the presidency. All of these devices have been used in recent years by power-hungry and impatient government officials to rationalize their violations of constitutional prohibitions and limitation on their authority.
The texts of the Declaration and the Constitution, the debates in the Constitutional Convention, in the Congress and in the state legislatures, as well as contemporary records, notably the sermons of the colonial clergy, indicate general agreement that, broadly speaking, the functions of the Central Government should be limited to the following:
1. Protection of the citizens’ lives, limbs, liberties, and livelihoods, that is, their honestly acquired property, against aggression from without and internal disorder;
2. Dispensation of equal justice under law; and
3. Keeping the records incident thereto.
Other than these, the people were to be free to pursue their own interests, provided this did not lead them to trespass on the rights of others.
It was held that such limitations on government powers could be effective only in a social order where there is a generally prevailing concept of the nature of the universe and how it is ordered, and the nature of man and his place in that universe; that concept being defined as follows:
1. Man has inherent and inalienable rights, bestowed on him by God, which are in conformity with universally valid and eternal moral laws;
2. All just government powers are derived from the citizens by voluntary delegation;
3. To avoid trespassing on the individual’s rights, there must be
4. a free market for goods, services, and ideas, into which government must not intrude except to protect those rights; and
5. For every natural right there are collateral responsibilities and moral duties, imposed on the individual, to make his conduct conform to the code set forth in such stern admonitions as The Ten Commandments, The Sermon on the Mount, and The Golden Rule.
On this foundation, our people erected the structure of a great social order which, until recent decades, stood as a beacon of hope for the future of all mankind.
Squandering Our Legacy
How well have we managed this heritage? I believe my generation has squandered its legacy. We have permitted the superstructure of this citadel of freedom to be ravaged and its foundations eroded to the point where there is danger of total collapse.
Our intense pursuit of profit and pleasure left little time or inclination to reflect on the dismal records of some great civilizations of the past, best exemplified by the tragic decline and fall of the Roman Empire. This debacle resulted when "the safety of the people" was no longer vested in obedience to "the Highest Law" but had given way to ruthless competition for political or economic power, an essential feature of which was corruption of the people by ever-increasing government largesse in the form of food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, "bread and circuses." These were the prototypes of our present-day multifaceted "war on poverty," publicly-financed stadiums, playgrounds, recreation areas, theaters, cultural centers, and a myriad of other "Great Society" subventions.
All of us must share the blame for this betrayal of our trust. Several years ago in a public address I reproached our national legislators for their seduction of the people by government "handouts." I received a letter from a prominent Senator, a friend of long standing, in which he said, "Don’t be too hard on us. We give you the kind of government you demand — or will tolerate."
Over the past fifty years we have propagated a child-like faith in the competence of government to achieve any kind of material, economic, social, or moral purpose. Implementing this faith we have stood by, meekly, while government seized authority at an ever-increasing pace, centralizing it in Washington, where it would be shielded from the scrutiny of those from whom it had been taken; and this is always done under the pretext that it is solely for the good of the people!
But even more destructive is the fact that, as government functions today, decisions on matters of vital import to the security and wellbeing of our nation are most frequently taken in light of their probable political effects, rather than being based on purely economic, social, or national security considerations.
It has been said that the people never give up their liberties except under some delusion. In this case the delusion is that government which, after all, is operated by ordinary mortals like you and me, not by gods or supermen, has some superior competence in the realm of economics, some mysterious magic multiplier of wealth, some power to open the doors to a vast store of economic goods which can be had without working for them, merely by voting for them!
Few of us are completely immune to such delusions, or to the human passions which they arouse: apathy, fear, greed, and violence. But those who see the terminus of this "devil’s highway" are duty bound to sound the alarm.
Let us look briefly at some areas where we have departed from our time-tested principles, and thus jeopardized "the safety of the people."
The Evils of Inflation
Perhaps most obvious is the debauchery of our currency. Largely as the result of profligate spending and shiftless fiscal and monetary policies, at home and abroad, our gold reserve, intended to insure national solvency and to promote dynamic economic equilibrium, has been depleted to the point where our government resorts to frantic maneuvers in the international money marts to avoid devaluation of the dollar.
Our maudlin foreign aid programs have served principally to buttress unstable authoritarian and socialist governments, to line the pockets of dictators and their henchmen, and to subsidize cutthroat foreign competition with our own industries.
Our public debt is at an all-time high and increases each year. In addition, there are hidden obligations accumulated under the social security and government retirement systems, and as guarantees of mortgages and other indebtedness, which amount to hundreds of billions, the total of Central Government liabilities alone having been estimated recently at 11/2 trillion dollars, that is, $1,500 billions, or $7,500.00 for every man, woman, and child in the nation!
The debts of states, subordinate units of government, and public "authorities," as well as private indebtedness have kept pace with that of the Central Government. Our nation is mortgaged to the hilt! And the process continues. Unbalanced national budgets have become a way of life. During the past five years the National Budget has averaged an annual deficit of $6.3 billions. Since 1939 inflation has reduced the purchasing power of our dollar to about 43 cents, with commensurate decreases in purchasing power of the peoples’ savings accounts, pensions, insurance policies, annuities, and other fixed income investments.
Increases in the costs of replacing obsolete industrial equipment and for new equipment to expand production reflect the current inflation. These, together with our subsidization of foreign industries, have impaired our ability to compete in the world’s markets, including even those of our own country, and thus to provide decent jobs for a rapidly growing working population.
The culprit that creates dollars out of thin air and pumps them into our economic blood-stream is our own out-of-bounds government. During the past five years our purchasing media (currency and checking accounts) have increased at an annual rate of more than 6 per cent, the highest for any such period since World War II. And the rate is increasing, the rate during the past year being 8.9 per cent.
But the harsh realities of politics will not permit government to admit its guilt. So government looks for a scapegoat, preferably one who will be a politically profitable whipping boy. In this case it is private industry, whose managers have tried earnestly to protect their owners’ properties against inflationary erosions by proposing modest increases in the prices of their products.
The government propaganda machine is then turned on full-force in an effort to delude our people into believing that private industry is not the unfortunate victim of inflation but is the greedy villain who caused it!
Initially inflation weighs most heavily on the thrifty citizens who, largely through fixed income investments, have tried to provide a competence for their old age or security for their loved ones. But, eventually, it involves the entire nation. The resultant chaos can be ended only by dictatorship and ruthless suppression of the rights of the people. A dictator has been defined as the receiver for a nation gone bankrupt!
I have dwelt at some length on this subject because debauchery of the currency is so pervasive that, ultimately, no one can entirely escape its destructive effects. Our government, whose fiscal and monetary policies and practices induce inflation, stands guilty of flagrant violation of the Highest Law — thus jeopardizing the safety of the people!
The Crisis of Morals
Not unrelated to the debauchery of our currency is the national crisis of morals and moral courage.
Our national crime rates, notably crimes of violence, are skyrocketing, as are the rates of divorce, juvenile delinquency, illegitimate births, and family desertions. There are all-too-frequent evidences of corruption in high places in public and private life. We are demoralized by an apathetic acceptance of low standards of conduct of prominent persons and of the general public; an increasing tolerance of openly flaunted pornography in the theater, books, periodicals, recordings, movies, and television; the deterioration of family life; derision of religion and spiritual values; and downgrading of the individual as a responsible creature of God, sovereign in his natural rights, having personal worth and dignity, deserving of respect because he is self-respecting and respectable.
Our situation is more precarious because we do not receive support from those to whom we look for help. We urge people to go back to church; but there they frequently find that the forces which have undermined our traditional beliefs have infected the very source of those beliefs, the church itself!
Many of our prominent and articulate churchmen and some of our most influential church bodies favor socialization of our national life and urge that more power be placed in the hands of government. Others have sought to make the churches over into a political force to put pressure on legislators. Many to whom we look for guidance out of the morass of materialism and state-imposed humanism appear to have "made a deal" for a partnership between God and Caesar, with God cast in the role of a very junior partner.
Others assert with the assurance born of ignorance that "God is dead, and man has inherited his throne"…. weak, witless, sinful man, frequently unable to resolve the problems of his own small household, but supremely confident of his competence to plan and direct the orderly functioning of the Cosmos!
Effective Leadership Stems from the Power of Example
I have long believed that personal example is the most powerful element of effective leadership, for good or for evil. A fair reading of the record leads to the conclusion that, in its role of Robin Hood, our giant government has provided the worst kind of moral leadership for our people. Robin Hood may have been impelled by the most altruistic of motives —but he was still a thief! Today the "powers that be" neatly gloss over the fact that when people vote for legislators who promise them "goodies" at the expense of those who worked to produce them, they become partners with government in thievery! More’s the pity that such legalized larceny has the sanction of many high government officials who urge the voters to "come and get it!"
Many politicians now run for office on the platform, "I can get more from the government for you." But they do not mention what government must first take from you and others who produced the wealth. President Johnson had at least the virtue of frankness when he stated, "We are going to take from those who have and give it to the have-nots."
In a recent detailed study of socialist Sweden, commenting on public housing, the author wrote: "Here, as well as in other spheres, personal corruption and indifference to laws are the results of state intervention in the functioning of the free market economy."
Civil Rights and Moral Wrongs
Our social order is subjected to massive stress as government seeks to impose legal curbs on freedom to use or dispose of one’s property and the right to choose one’s associates. Justifying the means they propose by the ends they seek, public officials and prominent private citizens, including many of our clergy, encourage violation of those laws which one does not like, as well as civil disobedience merely for its nuisance value, and illegal seizures of private property. All such acts constitute trespass on the rights of others and are "civil wrongs"! They point the way to anarchy and, ultimately, to dictatorship!
Our judiciary frequently shows excessive concern for the civil liberties of hardened criminals at the expense of the moral and legal rights of their innocent victims. Similar tolerance is displayed toward union officials who order or condone acts of violence on persons and property by their subordinates.
We appear to have reached the point where the only license we need for the perpetration of civil wrongs on a law-abiding and peaceful citizenry or for the obstruction of lawful commerce is willingness to join a picket line and carry a placard with a legend which heaps abuse on those who have incurred our displeasure!
Giant Government in Washington grows at the expense of state sovereignty and individual rights. The Central Government now owns more than 34 per cent of the land area within the boundaries of the fifty states, it owns and operates more than 3,000 tax-free commercial activities in competition with its own citizens, it dispenses more than 25 per cent of the national income, and it grows apace! Such massive intrusions into the affairs of the once sovereign states and of the people, many clearly in violation of the Constitution, impair economic freedom, discourage prudent venture capital, impede development of private enterprise, and compromise the safety of the people.
We appear to be suffering a paralysis of will which saps our courage, moral and physical. We are being transmuted from a God-fearing, energetic, self-reliant, confident, and venturesome people, free and independent, into a nation of timid dependents, insecure, apprehensive, fearful of incurring the displeasure and reprisals of our political masters to whom we are told to look for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, entertainment, and security from the cradle to the grave. And to receive those bounties, we need only surrender control of our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor!
Our Foreign Policy
The emotions which paralyze our wills in domestic affairs have infected our courage and integrity when dealing with other nations. On the international scene, compromise of principle, appeasement of blustering bullies, support of cruel oppressors, intervention in the internal affairs of friendly nations, and surrender to blackmail, mark our conduct. Moral principle is sacrificed on the altar of expediency to achieve the promise of a dubious security. Any dictator who wishes to rub our nose in the dirt for political profit or personal pleasure does so with impunity, secure in the knowledge that when he is ready to trade we will buy him off with generous allocations of foreign aid.
Little wonder, then, that Khrushchev was quoted as having remarked on his return from his trip to America, "You spit in their faces and they smilingly wipe it away and say, ‘The dew is very heavy today.’"
In the Vietnam war it appears that we are exerting every effort to avoid achieving a clear-cut victory in order to induce the communists to come to the bargaining table where the first installment of a generous payoff, budgeted atone billion dollars, awaits them! While the arrogant aggressor is leisurely making up his mind, we continue pouring men and material into the venture! Here one must ask, "What’s wrong with victory, since victory is the only sure way to end both the aggression and the drain on our human and material resources? And if victory is politically inexpedient why not withdraw and end the blood-letting and the waste?"
We are not respected by our enemies, by the so-called neutrals, nor by our professed friends. In spite of generous concessions in all areas, "Yankee Go Home" has become an international slogan. Unruly mobs, unrestricted by police or other public authorities, attack our embassies, legations, consulates, libraries, and other installations and menace the safety of our representatives.
To show our complete confidence in the honor of dictators who have repeatedly repudiated their treaty obligations, our government has proposed a long-range program for total disarmament of all nations, in which we are now taking the lead, unilaterally.
I am under no illusion. I know that a Jeremiah is without honor, especially in his own country, when the people become servile and insensitive to moral wrongs under the narcotic effects of a false prosperity, buttressed by massive government seductions and propaganda. But those who feel, as I do, that the safety of the people is in jeopardy are morally bound to say so.
The Way Ahead
Is there a way ahead which will take us out of this morass? Is there a way to recover the sanity and balance which once marked our life? I am sure there is, if we are willing to pay the price. But it is not by resort to political legerdemain. It is by beating our way upstream, against the swift-running current, to those moral and spiritual values upon which this nation was built. We must be born again of the spirit!
I do not mean to imply that there are no problems peculiar to the economic and political levels of our national life. But if men are not right at the deeper level, in their understanding of the nature of the universe and man’s position therein, they can tinker with economic and political problems from now until doomsday and still come up with the wrong answers.
It is a case of putting first things first and the very first thing is a rehabilitation of our basic moral principles. Such an effort on our part will call forth the support of cosmic sanction, for God intended men to be free. "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time," Jefferson observed. But we will need conviction, courage, tenacity, understanding, humility, compassion and, above all, faith, to set in motion what William James called "those tiny invisible, molecular moral forces which work from individual to individual, creeping in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, but which, if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride."
That is the way! May our Father in Heaven endow us with wisdom, strength, and courage to follow it! Our forebears did so under more oppressive conditions than those we face. We can do it, too, provided only that we have the will! That is your challenge and your opportunity! I pray you will make this your post-graduate mission and, if this be your resolve, that you will translate it into action that counts. St. James said: "Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed."