How to Advance Liberty

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

 

 
 

This article
is a transcript of a lecture recorded on March 10, 1965, as Album
No. 12 in the Foundation for Economic Education’s Long Playing
Seminar Library.

There would
be no need to work for liberty were liberties not being lost. Most
Americans are unaware of a decline in individual liberty, and the
reason is obvious: the decline rarely takes the form of sudden personal
deprivations but, instead, takes the form of unnoticed erosion,
and thus we come, as do the Russians, to regard whatever state we
are in as a normal condition.

No one can
possibly be expected to give a top priority to the advancement of
liberty unless he is keenly aware that liberty is important, and
that it is in jeopardy. Each individual must make his own assessment
but here is my appraisal of how precarious our situation is: While
the returns of our own socialistic revolution – devolution
is a more accurate word – toward political omnipotence are
incomplete and the full extent of the blight far from evident, the
devolution itself is a fait accompli, water over the dam. It is
no longer an event of the future to be feared; it is a catastrophe
of the past to be remedied – and remembered.

In short, the
devolution was; that is, the socialistic objective has been
achieved. Few people seem to appreciate the terrible fact that,
already, we are subject to a centralized government of unlimited
power. There now hangs over our economy a political apparatus with
the authority to exercise control over the life and livelihood of
every citizen; it can confiscate every dollar of our income. The
principle of statism is accepted national policy; short of a successful
intellectual and moral counterrevolution, all that remains is to
await the filling in of the authoritarian details and to suffer
the consequences.

It is one thing
to affirm the decline; it is quite another matter, however, to suggest
the tactics or methods that will free our society from socialism.
The removal of socialism from our midst would restore free-market
and private-property practices, these being fundamental to any meaningful
concept of individual liberty. This is to say that liberty is not
something we design and construct but, instead, is a felicitous
situation in which people find themselves once authoritarianism
is abandoned. No more is required for clean water or clear air or
peaceful human relationships than to remove the pollutions.

To get the
subject of this lecture in proper perspective, it is necessary for
students of liberty to realize that our problem is twofold. The
first task is to master the free-market, private-property, limited-government
philosophy itself, this being a necessary preface to socialism’s
disappearance. Secondly, we must decide how best to spread the acquired
knowledge. The first has to do with our own ideology, and this is
a matter of self-education. The second has to do with tactics, that
is, the methods to be employed in advancing liberty.

While there
has to be a philosophy or ideology before there is any need for
a method to spread it, I am convinced that the mastery of good method
– once one arrives at the point where it is needed – becomes
the more important of the two. For correct methodology is itself
the practice of liberty, and practice is the best of all possible
instruction. Indeed, were everyone to employ proper educational
techniques, there wouldn’t be an ideological problem in the first
place, a point that I hope will become apparent in the course of
my remarks.

Unfortunately,
liberty may suffer more from her friends than from her enemies;
for a philosophy, like a person, is often known by the company it
keeps. A philosophy will likely be held in contempt if its supporters
are bad-mannered, pestiferous, holier-than-thou, know-it-all, reformatory,
eager beavers – in a word, if they radiate that characteristic
I call be-like-me-ness.

What I wish
critically to scrutinize here is an attitude of mind that finds
expression in the all-too-common questions, "How can I insinuate
my ideas into so-and-so’s thinking?" or "How can I reach
the masses?" Liberty will never prosper at the hands of such
supporters, for their method is at fault; it is the opposite of
what is required. Perhaps I can put it another way: their eye is
cast in the wrong direction. The very first question in exploring
sound methodology is, in which direction or at what should the eye
be cast? The answer is to be found in one’s major premise or basic
datum line or fundamental point of reference – and nowhere
else.

Find the answer
to such questions as these: At what am I aiming? What is my life’s
objective? My earthly purpose? Is it to see how long I can live?
Or how affluent I can become in worldly goods? Or how much fame
I can gain before men? Or how much power I can exert over other
human beings? I do not condemn others for cherishing aims no higher
than these, but such aims hardly inspire me to any dedicated effort
on their behalf. And if liberty were the sole means for the attainment
of these mundane ends, not many would stand shoulder to shoulder
for liberty; no one would give his life for liberty.

However, this
need give us little concern, for when questions as to life’s purpose
are posed in such naked form, most people shy away from affirmative
answers – even though they may never have given any thought
as to a major premise. The first step in sound methodology is to
find a satisfactory major premise. Frankly, it is folly to discuss
ideological or philosophical questions or educational methods unless
all parties are aware of each other’s assumptions. For example,
suppose you, with your life’s objective unannounced, were discussing
social security with one whose concealed life’s aim is to see how
many human heads he can collect. The more you argue, the greater
will be the misunderstanding. The discussion cannot rise above utter
nonsense, as is the case with so many of today’s windy and meaningless
debates.

We must, as
a starter, know the importance of a premise, and then find one –
that is, if we would work effectively in liberty’s vineyard. The
first rule, when searching for a premise, is to find one that can
be adhered to – come hell or high water. The second rule is
to go as deep into idealism as possible, for any shallow premise
will serve only when discussing peripheral or shallow subjects.
Get one that will do service on any matter that may pass through
an inquiring mind, one so deeply embedded in a concept of rightness
that, once embraced, you would never forsake.

Let me share
my own premise with you, not with the idea that you take it as yours,
but, rather, that you may better follow my reasoning on methodology.
Then, knowing my premise will make clear why I think the eye should
be cast in a direction opposite to that generally urged on us.

I reflected
on the most difficult of all questions: What is man’s earthly purpose?
I could find no answer without bumping head-on into three of my
fundamental assumptions. The first is founded on the observation
that man did not create himself, for it is easily demonstrable that
man knows practically nothing about himself. Thus, my first assumption
is the primacy and supremacy of an Infinite Consciousness. The second
assumption is also demonstrable: the expansibility of the individual
consciousness. It is possible for the individual to gain in consciousness,
awareness, perception. The third assumption I only know but cannot
demonstrate: the immortality of the individual spirit or consciousness
– this earthly moment not being all there is to existence.

With these
assumptions in mind, the answer to man’s earthly purpose comes clear.
It is to expand one’s own consciousness, as nearly as possible,
into a harmony with Infinite Consciousness. Or, in lay terms, it
is to see how nearly one can come, during his earthly moment, to
realizing those creative potentialities peculiar to self, each of
us being unique as regards potentialities. In a word, my major premise
is individual growth, emergence, evolution in consciousness, perception,
awareness. Hatching might be even a better word than growth. The
Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, put it amusingly when he said we
are on earth as in an egg, that one can’t be a good egg forever,
that one must either hatch or rot.

In any event,
with this highly personal objective as a major premise, I can now
listen to anyone’s proposal or examine one of my own ideas and analyze
the proposal or idea in the light of the premise. Should either
one turn out to be antagonistic to this adopted life purpose, I
must, perforce, conclude it is wrong. If, on the other hand, the
proposal or idea is found to promote and harmonize with my objective,
I must conclude it is sound, moral, proper; I stand in its favor.

This is not
to demand that anyone else adopt the premise I have chosen and found
satisfactory. But I do urge the adoption of a major premise by each
serious student of liberty, for it is a necessary foundation for
clear and consistent thinking. Unless one is anchored to a fundamental
objective, one’s position on important questions cannot help being
determined by the winds of fickle opinion, by the vogues of the
moment, by popular chit-chat. And try to find a premise to which
universality can rationally be conceded, that is, a premise you
would be happy to have all human beings adopt and live by. Unless
it can meet this test, it is not in tune with human growth, emergence,
evolution.

We need not
labor the point that individual growth presupposes individual liberty,
for this is self-evident. Therefore, any premise not requiring liberty
as a condition of attainment can be cast aside as too shallow. Reverting
to my premise, the casual observer is likely to think it too egocentric,
that in its emphasis on self-improvement it centers attention on
self to the exclusion of others. On the contrary, it is only in
self-improvement that one can have any influence whatsoever on the
improvement of others. This point may never come clear unless we
know why so few of us feel any need for self-improvement while so
many of us possess an overpowering itch to improve others. Why do
we spend so much more time looking down than up?

The answer,
I believe, lies in a failure to recognize our abysmal ignorance.
In his remarkable book Human
Destiny
, the French scientist du Noy points out that the
image man has built up of the universe rests on reactions determined
in him by less than one trillionth of the vibrations surrounding
him – that less than one vibration in a trillion leaves any
trace in his consciousness.

Now, what do
we do? Instead of acknowledging the immensity of the unknown and
comparing ourselves with it, we compare ourselves with our ignorant
fellows, which, of course, makes you and me look pretty good, at
least to ourselves. No one – not even those we call geniuses,
or on whom we confer PhDs and medals of honor, or elect to high
office – has accomplished more than an infinitesimal escape
from ignorance.

We can bring
the human situation into the perspective I wish to portray by thinking
of the human race to which we belong as virtual know-nothings, as
two-legged organisms barely breaking out of the shell into a potential
state of self-consciousness, and with some brand new faculties:
the power of choice, the possibility of perceiving abstract ideas,
and, now and then, the emergence of one who begins to show signs
of conceiving ideas. This appraisal, I concede, is an affront to
the traditional way of looking at mankind, but let him who contends
otherwise convincingly demonstrate his exaltedness.

Anyway, with
this picture in mind of man just beginning an escape from ignorance,
reflect on a world of imperfect individuals, all with the eye cast
down on the imperfection of others, that is, with each devoting
his time and thought to bringing others into his own imperfect state.
Improvement of either self or others is out of the question. This
process is utterly absurd. A bit of doggerel comes to mind:

And so I
hold it is not treason
To advance a simple reason
For the sorry lack of progress we decry.
It is this: Instead of working
On himself, each man is shirking
And trying to reform some other guy.

Let us now
assume a major premise of individual growth, emergence, hatching.
Self-improvement becomes the lodestar. No eyes are cast downward
on those thought to know less, but all eyes turn upward toward those
thought to know more. Each person is seeking those fragments of
truth that he does not presently possess. Each individual is always
reaching higher than self; he looks "over his head," as
the saying goes, for facts, ideas, knowledge, wisdom. Instead of
trying to make others into reflections of himself, he tries to gain
an understanding helpful to others should they choose to seek that
which he possesses.

He gives no
thought to insinuating his ideas into the consciousness of any person
but, rather, seeks to garner ideas others may desire to draw on.
He divests himself of any desire to "tell others off,"
in order that he may devote himself to a program of asking. Instead
of associating with people to "set them straight," he
gravitates toward those who can give him light. He no longer engages
in the utterly futile project of fighting the ignorance in others
but tries as best he can to escape from the ignorance he finds in
himself.

This, I submit,
is to place man in a role quite the opposite of what we observe
on every hand. There are numerous reasons why ears are deaf to counsel
such as this. One is that man’s instincts, born of an ill-founded
and false sense of omniscience, revolt at this concentration on
self, for they think of this as beneath their earthly role. They
have been given mankind to repair; fie on the minor and unnecessary
project of personal growth.

And, at the
very least, most men fail to see how one who concentrates on self-perfection
could possibly have a hand in elevating the human situation. The
Count of Oropesa, more than four centuries ago, had a passion to
reform the world. A Spanish saint, San Pedro of Alcantara, gave
him the kind of counsel I am urging on everyone who would advance
liberty.

May your
Lordship not torment yourself: there is a remedy for this deluge
of crimes. Let us be, you and me, that which we should be. There
will be two less souls to convert. Let each person behave thus:
it is the most efficacious of reforms. The trouble is, that no
one wants to correct himself and everyone meddles at correcting
others: thus everything stays as is.

There is more
on the side of self-perfection, however, than simply the saving
of self. Anyone who studies the art of individual emergence learns
that the sharing of ideas with others develops ideas in self. The
ancients were aware of this fact. "It is more blessed to give
than to receive" means only that giving is a precondition to
reception.

This relates
to the nature of energy. Reflect, for instance, on hydraulic energy.
Conceive of a body of water impounded by a dam. Now protrude a pipe
through the dam so as to tap the water. If the pipe be capped on
the dry side, no water will flow out, nor will any flow into the
pipe. Now remove the cap. Immediately the pipe will give off water
and at the other end will receive water in an equal amount. The
potential energy of the impounded water will change to moving, power-giving,
kinetic energy. But note that the giving off is a precondition to
reception. This is the nature of energy, be it hydraulic, intellectual,
or spiritual.

Here we can
paraphrase the golden rule: give unto others as you would have others
give unto you. When self-interest is identified with self-perfection,
self-interest dictates that one make available to others as one
would have others make available to him. With all eyes cast upward
in the spirit of inquiry and the search for truth, truth itself
is advanced. Only ingathering processes bring forth the truth; thrusting-at
devices send truth scurrying.

But regardless
of all the foregoing reasons to the contrary, many who dislike state
socialism still insist on selling or propagandizing or proselytizing
on behalf of liberty. "How can I reach the masses? or "How
can I correct the thinking of those millions who cannot see what
I so clearly understand?" runs the refrain. If we magnify this
reformatory attitude, so as to read its fine print, the fallacy
is apparent.

Assume that
I have a magic ring; I need only put it on my finger to make every
citizen’s position a carbon copy of my free-market, private-property,
limited-government views. No cost in time or money. All of my ideas
greeted by everyone with "You are absolutely right!" No
deviation but only agreement! Would I put on this ring with its
power automatically to cast all others in my ideological image?
Most emphatically, I would not! To do so would put an end to all
growth in others, and in me – an affront to my premise as well
as to Creation’s scheme of perpetual hatching.

Were reforming
the masses a possibility – which it is not – success would
spell disaster. No individual can ever be secure in his libertarian
beliefs except as the philosophy of liberty and the imperatives
of liberty are an outgrowth of his own developing intellectual and
spiritual faculties. What cannot be done to inspire, attract, and
draw out that growth should be discarded as not only useless, but
downright harmful.

Once an individual
who would advance liberty has settled on self-perfection as correct
method, the first fact to bear in mind is that ours is not a numbers
problem. Were it necessary to bring a majority into a comprehension
of the libertarian philosophy, the cause of liberty would be utterly
hopeless. Every significant movement in history has been led by
one or just a few individuals with a small minority of energetic
supporters. The leaders have come from strange and odd places; they
could not have been predicted ahead of time. One, I recall, was
born in a manger. Another, the leader of a bad movement, was an
Austrian paperhanger.

Who, more than
any other, will advance liberty in America? I do not know; you do
not know; that very individual does not know, for each person is
possessed of aptitudes and potentialities about which he or she
is unaware. To present the problem as I see it a chart is needed.
Look at the ace of diamonds with the card held lengthwise. This
diamond chart is to represent all adult Americans. Let the tip at
the left symbolize the very few articulate protagonists of authoritarianism
and the tip at the right the very few articulate protagonists of
the free-market economy and its related legal, ethical, and spiritual
institutions. Between these two opposed types of intellectuals are
the many millions more or less indifferent to this particular problem,
as uninterested in understanding the nature of society and its economic
and political institutions as are most people in understanding the
composition of a symphony.

These millions,
at best, are only listeners or followers of one intellectual camp
or the other. Professor Ludwig von Mises poses the problem precisely
as I see it. I quote from his great work, Human
Action
:

The masses,
the hosts of common men, do not conceive any ideas, sound or unsound.
They only choose between the ideologies developed by the intellectual
leaders of mankind. But their choice is final and determines the
course of events. If they prefer bad doctrines, nothing can prevent
disaster.[1]

As much as
Professor Mises and Lord John Maynard Keynes may have differed,
they saw eye to eye on this matter. Keynes wrote,

The ideas
of economists and political philosophers both when they are right
and when they are wrong are more powerful than is generally understood.
Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who
believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences,
are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority,
who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some
academic scribbler of a few years back.[2]

But, first,
who are these millions, these "hosts of common men"? Rarely
does an individual think of himself as included – only others
belong to the masses! A great deal of mischief springs from such
an inaccurate self-appraisal. As related to the problem here in
question, any person – be he wealthy or poor, a PhD or unschooled,
a political bigwig or voter, a captain of industry or an unskilled
worker – qualifies as a member of the masses if he does not
conceive ideas, sound or unsound. Conversely, financial or educational
or occupational status is not a controlling factor in determining
"the intellectual leaders of mankind." These leaders are
the ones who conceive ideas, be they right or be they wrong, and
they come from all stations of life. These definitions are important
to what follows.

Today, the
masses are listening to and following the intellectual leaders at
the left. The reason is that the intellectuals at the right have
not done and are not doing their homework; indeed, most of them
have little inkling of either the need for or the nature of such
homework. I wish to repeat that the strategy of achieving a free-market
economy – or, the same thing, advancing liberty – does
not require "selling the masses," that is, bringing the
"hosts of common men," or what Keynes called "practical
men," into a state of comprehension. Were that the problem,
I would have given up the ghost long ago.

In any event,
we – you and I – are concerned exclusively with the excellence
of the few – the very few – at the right, whoever they
may turn out to be. While true leadership is exercised by ideas
and not persons, ideas do manifest themselves through persons and,
therefore, I must personalize leadership. No doubt there are as
many levels of leadership as there are individuals who can be identified
among the intellectuals at the right, but, for illustrative purposes,
I shall confine my remarks to three ascending categories of leadership.

The first level
of leadership requires that the individual achieve that degree of
understanding which makes it impossible for him to join in or lend
advocacy in any manner whatsoever to any socialistic proposal; in
short, he refrains from all ideological wrongdoing. I can only make
guesstimates as to numbers, but I suspect that there are not more
than 1 in every 400 who can move from the millions to the few, even
at this initial level. This level of attainment requires no "original"
thinking, writing, or talking, but it is more than an incidental
step. It takes a lot of doing.

For instance,
to avoid supporting any socialism requires an intimate understanding
of what socialism is, the misleading labels and nicknames under
which it appears, and the subtle ways it insinuates itself into
social action and behavior. Few people in the United States are
able to recognize the nature of a socialistic practice once it has
been Americanized. They think of a policy as socialistic only as
and if it is practiced by such avowed socialists as the Russians.

In order not
to impair liberty and the free market, one must be able to identify
and understand local socialism. Every one of our practices has to
be brought under rigorous inspection and scrutiny and examined in
the light of socialism’s double-barreled definition, which is: Government
ownership and control of the means and/or the results of production.

Once the definition
is thoroughly comprehended, then the initiate must test all practices
and policies in the light of the definition and make accurate judgments
as to whether or not the practices and policies are socialistic,
that is, antifree market. If they turn out to be antagonistic to
liberty and the free market, then he does nothing to encourage them.
The initiate has only to do no ideological wrong.

But we must
not underestimate the enormous influences set in motion by the individual
who refuses to sanction or promote unsound actions. Pronounced exemplary
qualities have unbelievable radiating powers. The person who gives
no offense to free market ideals – even if he be utterly silent
– attracts emulators, sets high standards for those others
who do no more than follow.

The second
level of leadership requires that the individual achieve that degree
of understanding and exposition which makes it natural and easy
for him (first) to point out the fallacies of socialism and (second)
to explain the principles of liberty and the free market to those
who come within his own orbit. The persons who arrive at this level
are the very few who emerge from the first level, perhaps fewer
than 1 in 10,000. Not only can these individuals perceive ideas
conceived by others but they can themselves conceive ideas; in short,
they are creative thinkers, writers, talkers of the free-market
philosophy; this quality is now in their makeup.

At this level
the individual knows our free-market subject. He can spin off the
fallacies of socialism and the principles of freedom with the same
ease and facility that he can answer "49" to the question,
"What’s 7 times 7?" He is, in fact, the true student of
liberty and has emerged beyond the point where, in order to answer
a question, he has to "think it through." On many matters,
the "thinking through" has been done.

It is at this
level that stance – one’s attitude toward others – becomes
of great importance. There is the inevitable temptation, once a
person comes into possession of ideas new to him, to inflict his
new "wisdom" on others, to reform them. So far as the
advancement of our ideas and ideals is concerned, the effects of
this tactic are the opposite of those intended. It will send scurrying
not only strangers but friends as well. Little more is accomplished
than to earn the reputation of a pest.

If one will
wait patiently for others to recognize his newly acquired competence
– relax until others are ready to listen and share his views
– closed minds will open and become receptive, at least those
minds that are susceptible to opening. Indeed, no person can gain
access to the mind of another until the other lets him in. It is
the other who carries the keys and who unlocks the doors to his
own perception. Prior to his decision to let us in, we are helpless.
The "eager beaver" shows bad stance, and is rarely if
ever admitted.

The third level
of leadership requires that the individual achieve that degree of
excellence in understanding and exposition which will inspire others
to seek him out as a tutor. At this level there is no limit as to
how far one may go. An early bishop of the church wrote his Confessions.
It is the most widely purchased autobiography in the world today;
countless thousands seek the tutorship of a man who passed away
more than 15 centuries ago. Probably not 1 in 10 million reach such
a pinnacle as this, although there are quite a few who emerge from
the second level whose counsel is sought, whose tutorship is pursued,
now and then.

I hasten to
add that I am not at this level but I am aware of it and know some
of its imperatives. One imperative is the awareness that the higher
grade the objective is, the higher grade must the method be. Suppose,
for example, that I have a low-grade objective in mind: your demise.
Reflect on the low-grade methods I could use to achieve it. Move
to a higher grade objective: making a poet of you. The method would
have to be higher grade; the very first requirement would be making
a poet of myself.

If we move
on to a still-higher objective – spreading an understanding
of individual liberty and the free market – we can resort to
no lesser method than the power of attraction, the absolute opposite
of the reforming, propagandizing, thrusting-at technique. To illustrate
the power of attraction, let us consider some minor subjects: When
I go to the golf club, the members do not seek my tutorship; they
are aware of my incompetency. But wave a magic wand and make of
me an Arnold Palmer or Sam Snead and every member will sit at my
feet or drink at my fountain, as the sayings go.

Or take cookery.
Assume that I do not know how to scramble eggs. No one will ask
me for recipes. However, were I as competent as the great Escoffier,
most aspiring chefs would hang on my every word.

The same principle
of attraction holds good for any subject. As related to liberty
and the free market, the tutorship of any real master will be sought
without any advertising on his part. A good way to test how well
one is doing on the objective we have in mind is to observe how
many are seeking one’s counsel. If none, then one can draw his own
conclusions!

The power of
attraction, I suggest, flows from those who develop what Hanford
Henderson called "the aristocratic spirit." In whom is
this to be found? Here is Henderson’s answer:

He may be
a day laborer, an artisan, a shopkeeper, a professional man, a
writer, a statesman. It is not a matter of birth, or occupation,
or education. It is an attitude of mind carried into daily action,
that is to say, a religion. The aristocratic spirit is the disinterested,
passionate love of excellence, everywhere and in everything; the
aristocrat, to deserve the name, must love it in himself, in his
own alert mind, in his own illuminated spirit, and he must love
it in others; must love it in all human relations and occupations
and activities; in all things in earth or sea or sky.[3]

Let us return
now to the aforementioned diamond-shaped grouping of the population
and contemplate the task of the few at the right. Only through the
unprecedented excellence of these few can "the hosts of common
men" be turned around and drawn toward them. It will take an
enormous power of attraction to bring this about and, thus, avert
disaster. But nothing less will accomplish our task.

Perhaps a better
way to express the power of attraction thesis is: go only where
called, but do everything within one’s power to qualify to be called.
I refer to more than calls for lectures or seminars. Wait for the
call from friend or foe, even from one’s husband or wife or business
associate. If you are a source of light, which is your responsibility,
and if another is seeking light, which is his responsibility, count
on it, you will be called.

After many
years of trial and error, I have learned how to begin a conversation
with a stranger so that he or she cannot help but ask, "What,
pray tell, do you do?" There’s the first call – not much
but it’s a start. The response to a brief explanation of my vocation
will quickly reveal whether or not the stranger is interested in
advancing liberty. If not, I return to my reading or writing or
pondering; if affirmative, I give as best I can of what is sought.
This method of uncovering the rare potential workers in liberty’s
vineyard is simple enough: refrain from telling everything one knows;
leave room for curiosity; generate questions; stimulate the spirit
of inquiry. A little practice and this method becomes second nature.

I think I have
proof that these theories work in practice, but first let me post
a few warning signs that may help avoid discouragement. Many concede
that self-improvement is good theory but that it is too slow; "we’re
running out of time," they say. Actually, time is elastic;
there’s more time than any one of us knows how to use profitably.
Further, this time objection reveals that the objector is more concerned
about saving the world than himself.

If the attention
is focused on individual growth and emergence, there is only one
appropriate question: Am I working as diligently and as intelligently
on advancing my own understanding as possible? If the answer is
affirmative, then draw the obvious conclusion: managing the shape
of humanity is God’s, not my, problem.

Second, whom
the gods would destroy they first make angry, said the Greeks. Avoid
at all costs any anger, depression, discouragement, frustration,
name-calling. Always maintain an unruffled disposition. Any work
that is not joyous has flaws that ought to be identified and done
away with.

Third, do not
be led astray by the fact that intellectuals of the authoritarian
school succeed in advancing authoritarianism by propagandizing and
selling-the-masses techniques. Merely keep in mind that the methods
found useful in destroying liberty are not at all appropriate for
creating a free society. Destruction is opposed to creation and
these objectives are achieved by different rather than by identical
forces.

Fourth, were
all of us, including those who are now authoritarians, to adopt
the self- improvement methodology, our ideological controversy would
disappear. For it is self-evident that those who stick to improving
selves are not meddlers in the affairs of others, and if there were
no meddlers there would be no state socialism. Correct methodology
is all important.

Fifth, assuming
competent discussion leaders and moderators, study groups and seminars
are excellent training devices for those whose common interests
are the advancement of liberty. These are of voluntary makeup, each
participant drawing on what the others have to give. Such study
groupings have upgrading possibilities; that is, they tend to prepare
each participant to go on his own power. No one can be very helpful
if he needs to be led by the hand.

Sixth, the
fact that only one in hundreds of individuals encountered shows
any interest in or aptitude for the free-market or libertarian philosophy
should be no cause for discouragement. This is simply a common blindness;
there is yet no eye to see the subject; the blindness is the problem.
Keep in mind self-improvement and the related fact that the art
of becoming is composed of acts of overcoming. The blindness, be
it recognized, is an obstacle to overcome – a stimulus to self-improvement.

Reflect, for
instance, on subterranean animals and those committed to the depths
of the ocean – living in utter darkness. They have no eye to
see. What brings forth the eye? Why, light itself brings forth the
eye! The kind of light that can be measured in candlepower works
on the same principle as that inner light: enlightenment. Enough
enlightenment will develop eyes to see the freedom philosophy. In
a word, our task is to increase our own candlepower. Is this not
what our earthly existence is for?

Seventh, many
of my friends think of themselves as not smart or bright or educated
enough to generate that enlightenment which will bring forth the
eye in others. Perish the thought! The biggest generator ever built
gives no light when it is shut down; a tiny firefly gives light
when its apparatus is turned on. The individual who gives light
– regardless of his intellectual level – is the person
who is in an improving state. Anyone should be able to figure out
why this is so.

Now for a demonstration
of how these recommended methods work in practice. I had written
in our monthly journal, the Freeman, a critique of recent
airline strikes. I contended that there was no moral right to strike,
that is, to forcibly prevent willing workers from occupying the
vacated jobs. This evoked a three-page letter from a labor-union
organizer – a vicious diatribe. Using the turn-the-other-cheek
approach, my reply took no cognizance of his ill temper, none whatsoever.
It was as high-grade as I would write the Lord. His response was
the most abject apology I have ever read. The man was "crushed"
to think he had written in such a vein to one who reacted as I did.

There followed
a thank-you note along with two small books, my Why
Not Try Freedom?
and Harper’s Why
Wages Rise
. His reply, "This is the best stuff I have
ever read. Send me more." I sent five volumes. Some weeks later,
he wrote, "I authorize you to become my director of reading.
Send me anything which in your judgment will help my thinking, and
with invoice." I might add that by this time he had changed
his occupation. After months of an interesting and friendly correspondence,
I had occasion to visit his city. We spent the forenoon together,
and following a luncheon at which I lectured, he asked if he might
drive me to the airport. Our dialogue went something like this:
"Bill, do you remember that first letter of yours?"

"Yes,"
he replied with a blush.

"Suppose
I had replied in kind. Would you and I be riding together?"

"I’ll
say we wouldn’t."

"Bill,
let me explain what I did to you." Holding my plane ticket
against the windshield, I asked, "What holds it there?"

He replied,
"The tension of your finger."

"You are
right, Bill. It is known as the law of polarity or the tension of
the opposites. Now, observe what happens when the tension is removed."
Of course the ticket fell to the floor. "Bill, that’s precisely
what I did to you. I removed the tension; I gave you nothing to
scratch against." I then quoted an old Arab proverb, "He
who strikes the second blow starts the fight." "Bill,
I found no need to strike back against you, and there has been no
fight; you and I are friends.

This true story
has a punch line. Perhaps two years later there came a period of
three months and no word from Bill – most unusual. Finally,
a letter explaining that he had been in a head-on auto collision,
that he was still in the hospital after 90 days, and then this:
"… but, Mr. Read, you should see the interest my three doctors
are showing in our philosophy."

A final word:
Ideas, be they right or wrong, are indestructible. The only possible
change is people’s attitude toward them. There is indifference or
acceptance or rejection. Ideas on liberty are greeted more by indifference
than by rejection, an attitude that tends to harden if left undisturbed.
But when we try to turn indifference into acceptance by obtrusive
and officious methods we get only rejection for our pains and, for
good reason: these are not the methods of liberty.

The sole force
that will turn indifference into acceptance is the power of attraction.
And this can be achieved only if the eye is cast away from the remaking
of others and toward the improvement of self. This, as an aim, is
in harmony with personal and human evolution; the effort demanded
of each individual is not a sacrifice, but the best investment one
can make in life’s highest purpose.

Notes

[1]
Human
Action
, 1963 edition, by Ludwig von Mises. New Haven:
Yale University Press, p. 864.

[2]
The
General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money
, by John
Maynard Keynes. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., p. 383.

[3]
Excerpted from an article by Hanford Henderson entitled "The
Aristocratic Spirit," which appeared as a reprint in The
North American Review, March 1920.

Reprinted
from Mises.org.

The
Best of Murray Rothbard

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare