Liberalism Stands for Freedom
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Liberalism Stands for Freedom
By: Towne Phelan
TOWNE PHELAN is Vice-President of the St. Louis Union Trust Company. Liberalism Stands for Freedom was reprinted from the St. Louis Union Trust Company Letter of October, 1948.
THE story about the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, pictures Christ as appearing in the streets of Seville during the Spanish Inquisition just as a large number of heretics had been burned at the stake. The Grand Inquisitor arrested Christ, visited him in his cell, and said: Thou wouldst go into the world . . . with some promise of freedom which men . . . cannot even understand, which they fear and dread-for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a Bock of sheep, grateful and obedient. . . . But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth, if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone.'
The Grand Inquisitor was a good man, devoted to the public welfare. But he believed in an authoritarian con- cept of life and he regarded Christ as a dangerous agitator. The Grand Inquisitor believed in using authority to regi- *Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927), p. 266.
ment man for the good of society. He told Christ that liberalism would not work; that freedom is something that men 'fear and dread,' but that men will follow, like a flock of sheep, anyone who will give them, or promise them, bread. His views foreshadowed those of today's neo- liberals who want man to surrender his freedom for the politician's promise of security, and to exchange his liber- ties for subsidies from the all-powerful 'Social Welfare' State.
The Soul Of Man
Today we are witnessing a great struggle for the soul and mind of man. We are witnessing a struggle between the authoritarian and the liberal concepts of life. In this strug- gle those who now falsely call themselves liberals are lined up on the totalitarian side. That is not where they intend to stand but it is nevertheless where they do stand. They stand there because they have abandoned the philosophy of traditional liberalism, which placed its main emphasis upon individual freedom. The philosophy of neo-liberalism wants to create an egalitarian society and to use the coer- cive power of the state to equalize possessions and incomes even though in the process the individual is deprived of freedom. There is a sharp distinction between liberalism and the fraudulent substitute that passes for it today. Throughout history two basic philosophies of life have been in deadly conflict. One concept, the liberal concept, is based upon the belief in the importance of the individual soul and
personality. It is based upon the theory that the state was made to serve man, not man to serve the state. The other concept, the authoritarian concept, assumes that man, the individual, is of no importance. It assumes that man, col- lectively, as represented by the state, the church, the labor union or some other collective aggregate, alone is impor- tant. One concept exalts man, the other debases him. The Struggle Of Man
To anyone familiar with the historic meaning of liberal- ism, it is crystal clear that what passes for liberalism today is in fact its direct opposite. The principle of authority, which now masquerades as liberalism and which has en- slaved the human spirit during the greater part of recorded history, has been challenged effectively only by that con- cept of life which historically is known as liberalism. In simpler terms, the history of liberalism is the history of man's struggle for freedom and liberty. Although the roots of liberalism lie deep in history, the philosophy that was later to be known as liberalism began to develop with the long struggle between Parliament and the Crown in Eng- land, and with the rise of the Dutch Republic in Holland. The right of free speech was asserted as early as 1644 by John Milton in Areopagitica, an essay published in defi- ance of law, to protest against censorship. But John Locke, the philosopher of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, was the first to expound the principles of liberalism as a com- prehensive philosophy of government. A century later, the American Revolution established a new type of govern-
ment based upon the doctrines of Locke; and Adam Smith formulated the liberal doctrine in economic terms. Fear Of Authority
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States stem directly from the writings of John Locke. Our Constitution expresses the fear of governmen- tal authority, which is characteristic of liberalism. It does so in the Bill of Rights which, to protect the rights of man, places constitutional limits upon governmental authority. It does so in our system of governmental checks and bal- ances, which was conceived, not by the draftsmen of our Constitution, but by John Locke. Our Constitution was designed primarily to safeguard liberty. It shows distrust of the President, of Congress and of the courts, and makes each a check upon the other two. Nowhere is the fear of authoritarian government ex- pressed more graphically than in John Stuart Mill's essay On Liberty:
The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of historywith which we are earliest familiar. . . . By liberty, was meant protection against the tyranny of the political rulers. The rulers were conceived . . . as in a necessarily antagonistic position to the people whom they ruled. To prevent the weaker members of the community from being preyed upon by innumerable vultures, it was needful that there should be an animal of prey stronger than the rest, commissioned to keep themdown. But as the king of the vul- tures would be no less bent upon preying on the Bock than any of the minor harpies,it was indispensable to be in a perpetual
attitude of defense against his beak and claws. The aim, there- fore, of patriots was to set limitsto the power which the ruler should be suffered to exercise over the community; and this limitation was what they meant by liberty.
All Men Are Created Equal
The statement in the Declaration of Independence that 'all men are created equal' was not intended to mean that they are equal in intelligence, in physical strength, in character or in any other respect in which individuals differ. On the contrary, that statement means that under a just government, all menare equal under the law. This was then a new and revolutionary doctrine in direct con- flict with the principle of authority under which men are not equal under the law. Under the rule of authoritya man's status in the social structure determines what laws apply to him. Two examples will illustrate the point: (1) In France, before the French Revolution, the nobility and clergy were not subject to certain taxes imposed upon other classes of society. (2) In England, under the Statute of Artificers enacted in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, a workman was not permitted to leave his parish without the consent of his last employer. The special privileges of French nobles and clergy and the discriminatory restraints upon the freedom of Englishworkmen were based on their status insociety. This concept of status is in direct conflict with the liberal philosophy of equality under the law. This means the ap- plication to everyonealike of impersonal rules and principles of law. As Lockeexpressed it:
Freedom of man under government is to have a standing rule to live by common to everyone of that society and made by the legislative power vested in it,* As Aristotle expressed it: The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.+ The Liberal Concept
In the last two decades, we have gone a long way from the liberal concepts of individual freedom, limited govern- ment, equality under the law and the rule of law as con- trasted with the rule of men. This trend is the result of neo-liberalism which has changed the popular meaning of the term 'liberalism' so that to most people today it stands for a philosophy diametrically opposed to tradi- tional liberalism. Equality under the law has been undermined by giving special privileges to powerful groups, The special privi- leges now granted members of labor unions in no way differ in principle from the special privileges that the French nobles and clergy once enjoyed. Labor unions are exempt from the anti-trust laws. In many states they can- not be sued although the congregation of a church may be sued. They are immune from injunctions, except to a very limited degree. Before the Taft-Hartley Law, the United States Supreme Court held that they could law- fully engage in racketeering and extortion under the
*John Locke, Treatises on Government,II, 1690. +Aristotle, Politics, V. [55 ]
threats of violence.* Thus the principle of equality under the law has given way to the discredited, reactionary, medieval concept of status under which a person's position in society determines the laws to which he is subject.
The Rule Of Law
If equality under the law is one test of liberalism, another is the concept of the rule of law rather than the rule of men. This basic idea rests on the assumption that the power of the state should be exerted according to the law rather than through the arbitrary action of officials. But today in administrative agencies of the government, the arbitrary judgment of officialsis substituted for the rule of law. We quote Roscoe Pound, former Dean of the Harvard Law School: As a result . . . of the hostility of administrative agencies to all attempts to impose effective legal checks upon them we have been coming in practice to a condition of what may be called administrative absolutism. . . . To them [government officials] . . . law is whatever is done by administrative agencies. What they do is law because they do it. . . . Instead of our funda- mental doctrine that government is to be carried on according to law we are told that what the government does is law.+
Another test of liberalism is the doctrine that freedom can exist only under a government of defined and limited powers. This Lockian principle is written into our Consti-
*U.S. v. Local 807 International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 315 U.S. 521 (1942). +Roscoe Pound, Administrative Agencies andthe Law. [56 I
tution. But our Supreme Court, bowing to popular pres- sure, has for all practical purposes wiped out the consti- tutional limitations upon the power of government.The commerce clause has been stretched so far that the Court has upheld the government's claims to jurisdiction over the terms of employment of elevator operators in city office buildings and of those employed in hosts of other purely local activities on the tenuous ground that, since these local activities are related, however remotely, to interstate commerce, the federal government has juris- diction.
The Decay Of Liberalism
The change from the liberal philosophy of afree society to the neo-liberal philosophy of the Social Welfare State did not develop overnight. In both England and the United States early liberals were interested not only in promoting the extension of individual liberty, in broadening the fran- chise and in obtaining the greatest measure of political equality among men, but they were also strongly imbued with humanitarian ideas. They were shocked by many of the evils that characterized the industrial revolution in England and in the United States, and they sought to re- form them. As time went on, many who designated them- selves as liberals became more and more interested in reform and less and less interested in frcedom. They wished to use the coercive power of the state to limit liberty in orderto protectthe weak against the strong. But the term 'liberal' was identified historically with in-
dividual freedom. Neo-liberals resolved this difficulty by gradually debasing the word 'freedom' and changing its meaning. Thischanged meaning began to evolve in our universities and in intellectual circles based largely upon German idealistic philosophy, which taught that man is subordinate to a higher force or purpose and that it is only as he serves this higher purpose and makes his desires conform to it that he becomes really free. If this higher force is conceived of as the state, then man is only free as he serves the state. This is a collectivist and authori- tarian conception of freedom. Marxian communism teaches that the legal liberty of western democracies is merely 'formal liberty' without substance.
The Communist View
This communist view of liberty is constantly reiterated by our neo-liberal left. We are told again and again by those who claim to speak for liberalism that society must give the average man 'actualas distinct from merely legal liberty'; that political freedom is meaningless without 'industrial democracy' that the old kind of liberty was ' . licensefor the few and economic serfdom for the many'; and that, because of inequalities in wealth, the average manhas no opportunity and therefore no real freedom. The old-fashioned liberal looked up to the man of moder- ate means who skimped and saved to put his children through college. The neo-liberal thinks that he has been victimizedand that the government should perform this duty for him. [58 ]
It is a curious thing that although most of our neo-liberals are bitterly opposed to totalitarianism, they nevertheless adopt the communist definition of freedom. It is necessary for them to do so to provide a moral justification for the 'Social Welfare' State which they advocate. They have adopted the definition of freedom which the Communists share with the Fascists. It is a definition upon which right wing and left wing totalitarians agree. Let us look at the record. Molotov, in an attack upon Bernard M. Baruch at the United Nations General Assembly, expressed the commu- nist view of freedom. He said:
[Baruch's] concept of freedom is far removed from the real aspirations of common people for freedom. . . . He would like to see all people satisfied with freedom under which only the lucky ones can enjoy the benefits of life.*
No amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses.+
Oswald Mosley, the British Fascist, wrote:
Real freedom means good wages, short hours, security in employment, good homes, leisure and recreation with family and friends.*
*Address before the United Nations General Assembly, October 30, 1946.
*Draft of Bolshevik Theses, March 17, 1917.
Juan D. Peron, in a series of newspaper articles, con- trasted the liberal idea of freedom with the totalitarian definition of frcedom which he shares with neo-liberals, Communists andhis fellow Fascists. He wrote: Theequality of the French Revolutionconsisted in equal treatment of all persons, where as present equalityconsists of an unequal treatment to compensate the differences.. . . The liberty of theFrench Revolution was incompatible . . . with the professional syndicates [labor unions], whereas in the present, the syndicates or unions constitute the indispensable require- ment for individual andcollective freedomof the working classes. In the nineteenth century, or at least in its beginnings, it was impossible to understand theinterventionismof thestate in social matters, whereas in the twentiethcentury we cannot understand the relationship betweencapital and labor unless we look at it onthe basis of state intervention. . . . Respect for contractual freedom was an unchangeable pointof this policy of freedom;but in our times,it will be very rare to find a contractin which the state does not intervene. . . . Libertywill bestow fewer rights uponthe individual to do as hesees fit, because liberty will increase the obligation to do whateveris best for the community.* Peron has written a platform on which the whole left wingcould stand. This shouldsurprise no onebecause neo-liberalism, in common withfascism and communism, is basically authoritarian Peron has rationalizedand put in logical form the general philosophy of those whonow call themselves liberals, It will be noted that Peron's con- ceptof freedom,whichthe left wing has adopted, is that of license for the organization at the sacrifice of freedom for the individual to illustrate, the closed shop deprives *St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 8, 1948.
The individual workman of the liberty of choice to go into the union or to stay out of the union as he pleases. But in neo-liberal eyes the closed shop and the union shop increase the freedom of the workman because they in- crease the power of the organizations which claim to rep- resent him. The same is true of permitting labor unions to coerce and intimidate both their own members and unorganized workmen. This is a collectivist concept of freedom on which the Russian Communist, Molotov, the British Fascist, Oswald Mosley, the Fascist dictator of Argentina, Juan Peron, and neo-liberals all agree.
A Necessary Evil
The Grand Inquisitor was intellectually honest and recog- nized that freedom and free bread are alternatives. But Communists, Fascists and our neo-liberal left wing argue that government bounties of free bread and freedom are identical. Traditional liberalism regards government as a neces- sary evil. It fears government and seeks to impose re- straints upon its power. As Woodrow Wilson expressed it, 'The history of liberty is the history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.'* Today's neoliberals believe in increasing the authority of the state at the expense of individual liberty. Communists look upon the centralization of all power in the state as a necessary prelude to the police state which is their goal. But, many neo-liberals abhor the police state. They merely want to *Speech in New York, September 9, 1912. [61 ] do good and improve the lot of mankind. But they want the government to have unlimited power to do good. They look upon the citizen with suspicion and upon the gov- ernment with approval. They seek to build a government of unlimited powers to control and regiment the individual for the good of society, to prevent the strong from taking advantage of the weak, to offset inequalities in incomes and wealth, and to play the historic role of Robin Hood who robbed the rich and distributed some of the proceeds to the poor. Neo-liberals unwittingly are playing the com- munist game. They mean well but they fail to recognize the harsh truth of Lord Acton's dictum: 'All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' If we follow them we shall end as slaves of an authoritarian state. That is not the goal of neo-liberals but it is nevertheless the destination toward which they are headed.
NOTE: This is an article found in Essays On Liberty (Foundation for Economic Education) republished under permission printed in the front of the book.
EDITORS NOTE (from front of book): These essays on liberty were originally published as separate releases by the Foundation for Economic Education. They are still available in pamphlet or single-sheet form. Samples and prices will be furnished on request.
A brief biography of each author may be found on pages 293 to 297. Permission is hereby granted to reprint these essays in whole or in part. Copyright 1952
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