is an unvarying rule of action which has always been true and which
permits of no exception.
If one conjectures
about the early days of the human race, one is impressed at once
by the early brutality of Homo sapiens.
There are few
now who care to dissent when it is pointed out that man’s origins
were coarse and cruel and that the movement toward civilization
assisted in de-brutalizing and making more human and more tractable
the peculiar entity we call brother.
One is left
to marvel, in view of the nature of early men, that any progress
was made at all. Force was almost the universal rule. And as every
gentle modern knows, when force is directed against you, the easiest
thing in the world is to reply in kind.
It can be suggested
that the use of force and aggression was so common at one time among
our species, that had every act of violence, inflicted by one against
another of the race, been repaid in kind, it is doubtful if a single
specimen would still be alive.
deep within our unknown past, someone got the idea of not retaliating
in kind. Our survival to this date unquestionably rests upon that
Nor is it necessary
to explore human prehistory to establish this. It is only necessary
to explore our history for the past several thousand years to note
that war, murder, torture, beating, cruelties and the like, were
inflicted so generally over so wide an area, that had each act of
this kind been considered a debt to be paid, the blood feud would
have wiped out the human race.
a very long time ago, there were those of our species who, already
partly civilized, set an example by striving to mind their own business
and being unwilling to descend to the brutal level of those who
engaged in aggression as a means to an end.
In the 20th
century it appears that this lesson is going to have to be learned
all over again. It appears that a new wave of brutality is poised,
ready to sweep the globe. And in the main, normal human reaction
is such that we prepare for aggression in an aggressive manner.
We counsel one another that if “the other fellow” becomes
brutal, he may yet learn brutality from us. Our retaliation will
out-brutalize his brutality. And let that give him pause! This is
the logic of the cave-man.
We are not
suggesting that we should become supine and docile and the ready
prey of the aggressor who is prepared to proceed in a cruel and
inhuman manner. But we are suggesting that it is time we made use
of our intellectual facilities rather than relying wholly on our
ability to descend into the gutter to match a degraded opponent
at that level.
In logic we
have long understood that two wrongs do not make a right. And thus,
if one individual inflicts a wrong upon another, the response is
scarcely in keeping with logic if the victim of attack turns about
and victimizes his attacker. What we must be willing to do, it would
appear, is to act in such a way that the first act of aggression
is forestalled. Aggression is always wrong. There can be no justification
for it in any circumstances.
But our problem
is not to control the other fellow so that he does as we wish. The
“other fellow” controls himself and we cannot. We may
not approve of the way he does it, but we cannot substitute our
control for his.
is to control ourselves so that we become masters of the situation.
We must concern ourselves with the moral recognition that we must
not join the ranks of the aggressors, even for what may appear to
by their nature, are invariably agencies of aggression. This is
our excuse for having them; they can be employed against the “other
fellow” to compel him to provide the money for our schemes,
to compel him to do or not to do in accordance with our wishes.
But to the
degree that we rely on government, which is our agency of aggression,
to this degree do we reject civilization. If we can learn to recognize
the merit of non-aggression, and hence of voluntary action, we will
begin to employ the market place to a fuller degree and ultimately
we may be able to abandon government reliance totally.
The dawn of
future ages depends upon man’s ability to rely on moral principles
and to reject aggression.
experience confusion over the differences between moral law and
custom. In many a college classroom and elsewhere there is a tacit
agreement that these are merely two words to express a single idea.
It is conceived that customs and morals are the same thing and that
what a given people do is, in fact, what that people believe is
the correct and moral thing to do.
It will be
argued, for example, that cannibals are every bit as moral as non-cannibals.
The only thing which differentiates cannibals from non-eaters of
human flesh is custom. Cannibals have a morality, we are told, which
permits them to practice dietary habits which are repulsive to us.
But this does not make them immoral, it merely serves to indicate
that there are no moral laws as such. Custom controls all and morality
(a widely shared opinion) sets the pattern for whatever the custom
We are in sharp
disagreement. We believe there are moral laws as absolute and final
as the laws of physics or chemistry. In the latter case, the laws
have always existed but until very recent years men knew little
or nothing about them. Man’s ignorance in these fields did not eliminate
these laws. They existed always. Through science and study, through
experiment, exchange of thought and deep concentration, man has
managed to learn some of the laws in nature’s handbook.
the same is true of moral law. Such law has always existed. It rests
upon the nature of things as they are. Man may not know what moral
laws actually exist. But if he will study and observe and remember,
he can learn that because things are the way they are, certain behavior
patterns are correct and proper and others are not.
merely human beings who have not studied their lessons. Were they
capable of abstract or deductive reasoning they would quickly discover
that the practice of cannibalism is destructive of their own self-interest.
customs are not the same thing. Throughout the world most human
beings have a sense of moral rightness which exists at a higher
level than the customs they have adopted. In fact, one can discern
the progress of the species in an upward direction as one follows
the history of man from earliest times and observes his improved
customs. Rarely, if ever, has any group of men been able to make
their customs and their moral ideals coalesce at all points.
United States today. Morally, we inveigh against theft. We have
laws to punish the thief or the robber. We try to teach our children
the validity of property rights and constantly remind them they
must not take for themselves things which belong to someone else.
Customarily, we will punish the person who steals, either when he
is a child and parental responsibility is invoked, or when he is
an adult, and the state authority is called upon.
In these two
instances we have tried to make morality and custom the same. But
this in no way establishes that custom and morality are identical.
For in the United States, to a very real degree, nearly everyone
practices theft of a different kind. Morally, we don’t approve of
it. Customarily, we practice it.
We are referring
here to legalized theft, committed through the offices of an agency
of plunder and looting called government.
stealing and illegal stealing can be defined in precisely the same
terms, and hence would be contrary to our moral sensibilities, the
fact is that, like the cannibals, we have not studied our lessons.
which subsists on a government dole is subsisting on stolen money.
Yet this family will have no qualms in the matter. The persons receiving
a monthly cut in public loot accept this as their due. Yet, such
a family will possibly have very strong opposition to an act of
illegal theft, even as they share in the immorality of general and
public theft. At this point, custom and morality do not agree. The
former trails behind the latter.
Yet we can
learn, if we do our homework, that like cannibalism, the practice
of public theft works to our undoing. In spite of the arguments
of fear, it is always wrong to steal and legal justification does
not make right that which is morally wrong.
Means are Different
ah, consistency! This is the cornerstone of logic.
rests upon our ability to match things which are alike and to disassociate
things which are not alike.
Here we have
four major elements. Things that are identical; things that are
similar; things that are dissimilar; things that are opposites.
Our ability to analyze things correctly and to match them correctly
or reject the matching is the cornerstone of reason.
Let us take
the philosophy of freedom.
We hold that
the concept of freedom rests upon the means and the methods to be
employed to attain that which we wish to attain. Freedom is not
so much a goal as it is a direction to be taken in an effort to
reach our various and divergent goals.
Thus, any study
of freedom must concern itself primarily with a methodology rather
than an objective.
Here are six
desirable things we would like to see everyone have.
- Good education.
- A large
- The best
- A comfortable
- Ample food
of life and property.
Every one of
these things is good. Surely, no one will dispute that. But if we
believe in freedom it isn’t the ends alone that concern us. We must
also be concerned with the means taken to secure these ends. For
if, in our blindness, we do not count the cost of the things we
want, we will, perhaps, achieve something for ourselves while making
it impossible for someone else to have the same tangible goods that
This is the
folly of turning to the government to provide us with the ends we
if we call upon the government to provide good education for everyone,
we are actually asking that everyone be assessed in some way to
pay for that education.
Let us see
if this is justified. Whereas we have assumed that all six of the
ends named are desirable ends, they are not desired in equal intensity
by everyone. Some persons may not be particularly interested in
education, but may be far more interested in the best possible medical
is legitimate. We do not expect everyone to want everything in precisely
the same way at the same time, do we?
But we are
beginning with education. So we institute a general tax on everyone
so that schools will be provided and everyone will have education.
Or at least everyone will have a tax-paid opportunity to spend a
certain amount of time in school. These are not the same things.
But what have
we done in the process?
We have impaired
the ability of those persons who put medical care first in their
own scale of values, to get the medical care they want and could
otherwise afford. We have substituted our scale of values for theirs.
Not only is
this not justified, we have actually injured everyone to some degree
who doesn’t happen to agree with us about the primacy of education.
This is what
happens when we confuse ends with means. Because we hold that formal
education is good, we have decided that a coercive and corruptive
means of obtaining that end is good.
same rules can be applied with the other five ends we listed. And
after that, we could list the thousands upon thousands of desirable
ends all of us would like to achieve.
we use the wrong means to obtain a good end, we impair the ability
of others to get the things they want out of life. Is this consistency?
Is it wise? Is it even feasible?
end must be reached in the employment of wrong means.
There is always
enough time for truth.
Many men do
not think so. They fancy that they will make greater gains if they
assume there is no time for truth and, therefore, that something
else must be believed. There isn’t time to think things through
to the right answer; we must act and act now.
If one can
dispassionately view the progress of the human race, he can see
men hurrying and scurrying about, down through the ages, muddling
and bungling along and making what progress they make, not so much
by dint of careful individual planning of their own lives, but by
trial and error. Man has advanced from the simple brute to what
largely could be called the political brute because, in spite of
all, he has kept trying.
and human beings persevere.
today are in agreement that one of the reasons we have advanced
no further than we have relates to the dearth of a generally accepted
philosophy of realism which would both properly and ideally orient
man to his environment and his fellow man. But most of us are not
willing to move quietly through our lives in pursuit of truth and
then in alignment to that truth.
We have noticed
recently a number of traffic warnings in various parts of the country
which express this thought: “Slow down and live.” In a
sense, this slogan could be adapted to our national unrest and applied
with some merit to our propensity for action. Perhaps a more accurate
slogan would be: “Slow down for truth.”
A certain degree
of trial and error, in our more primitive days, was doubtless inevitable
and perhaps desirable. With virtually no history to rely on and
little in the way of actual knowledge to guide us, trial and error
is about all we had.
with man’s enormously advanced technology, unless trial and error
can be confined to the laboratory, we may make a shambles out of
society by one unnecessary trial and by one unforgivable error.
And the place
so few are willing to give up massive experimentation is in society,
where the lives of other people are to be tampered with.
It should be
clear by now that in our American civilization, as an example, we
have made great progress and there is yet great progress to be made.
There must be a complete willingness on the part of all of us to
examine this progress, or this lack of it, discover that which is
true and right, and then to discard that which is not true or right
and replace it with something which comes closer to the realism
our times demand.
There is, unfortunately,
both a tendency to discard the whole thing, which would reduce us
to savagery, and an equally noticeable tendency to cling tenaciously
to every facet of it, which would seal us into a living tomb of
We know of
no way out of the dilemma except by the processes of rational thought,
logic, scientific inquiry and individual freedom in which self-discipline
can be practiced. Obviously, these things are not much to the liking
of most of us. But it is becoming more and more apparent that to
the degree we neglect them and instead look to our government to
show us the way, to that degree do we compound our problems and
fail utterly either to solve them or to stop creating them.
If there is
one lesson which the times cry out for us to learn, it is this:
Stop trusting government.
when it is examined, turns out to be nothing more nor less than
a group of fallible men with the political force to act as though
they were infallible. Remove the political force and these same
men would be as ordinary and as reasonable as any of us. And in
order for us to take time for the truth we are going to have to
someway help to create the kind of climate in which government cannot
and will not keep rushing us frantically into the next round of
folly. Reason and political force are deadly enemies.
of years we have relied upon political force. We cannot rely on
it a moment longer. The greater and the more reliable agency of
our time is individual reason.
LeFevre (1911–1986) was a businessman and radio personality,
and the founder of the Freedom School in Colorado Springs, Colorado,
whose purpose was to educate people from all walks of life in the
libertarian intellectual tradition. Before it closed in 1968, it
had featured among its rotating faculty Rose Wilder Lane, Milton
Friedman, F.A. Harper, Frank Chodorov, Leonard Read, Gordon Tullock,
G. Warren Nutter, Bruno Leoni, James J. Martin, and even Ludwig
von Mises. His library and papers are housed at the Mises