The Meaning of Freedom

On the thirty-eighth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, Mr. Lazar M. Kagonovich, spokesman for the Soviet regime, declared that "the twentieth century is the century of triumph of socialism and communism." The gentleman implied, as a true Marxist should, that by the year 2000 A.D. the star of Moscow will direct the pattern of life all over the world. That prediction we can discount offhand. It is historically and politically untenable; even Rome could not contain the ambitions of its satraps on the perimeter of the empire, and one can hardly imagine a marionette dictator in Washington; the proud Americans would want one of their own, completely constitutional.

However, if you consider the ethos of our time, the wave of the present, you are inclined to say that Mr. K. was not talking entirely through his hat. The way things are going, and assuming that they will continue along the same lines, it is possible that the pall of "communism and socialism" will embrace human existence within the next 45 years. In fact, it looks very much as if the mass of men want it, and what the mass of men want they usually get.

The gist of Mr. K's prediction was that socialism (we can omit the "communism" as a rhetorical tautology) need not be imported into a country, that it can be endemic, and that it cannot be kept out by means of "visas and fingerprints." (He was referring to our efforts to protect ourselves against socialism by scrutinizing foreign visitors.) To see how near right he was in his forecast one must dig out of the verbiage of socialism its essential characteristic, and assess the trend of events by this characteristic.

Socialism is the denial of private property – nothing else. It is not the repression of religion, nor the regulation of the economy, nor the suppression of thought through control of media of expression, nor the management of life by political means. All such things may follow, and in the end must follow, from the violation of the right of the individual to keep and enjoy the fruits of his labors. To be more exact, socialism is the forcible transference of control of property from the producer to the political establishment. (Force is necessary because the individual is so constituted that he will not voluntarily give up his property.)

The means employed by a sagacious political establishment to acquire control of property is taxation. The more taxation, the more socialism. The excuse for taxation is the use of property for "social purposes" – which, in reality, means anything the appropriators of the property may decide to do with it, including the making of war. It is the transference of control over property that is the essence of socialism, for with this control goes the freedom of the individual to pattern his own life.

In this country, more than a third of all the people produce is now confiscated by the State. To that extent, then, this is a socialistic country. This accumulation of property in the hands of the State makes it the biggest single buyer of goods, the biggest employer, the biggest dispenser of alms, the biggest factor in the economic life of the community. Either through direct employment by the State, or indirect employment by its contractors, or by virtue of its dispensation of subsidies or doles, we are all dependent on the State for all or part of our sustenance. Even what it permits us to keep out of our earnings is a matter of benevolence, not a right.

Inurement to this condition of existence induces its enlargement into an ideal. We learn to worship the State. It becomes our Baal, and Baalism is our religion. And that is what gives the prediction of the Soviet speaker such force. There is no question about the growing ardor of Americans for State regulation, control and management of the economy, and an equal apathy toward the consequent State intervention in our personal affairs. Within 45 years, by a mere increase in the amount of taxation, the concepts of freedom upon which this republic was founded, even though the words remain in our language, can be obliterated from our consciousness. And then Americanism will consist of the rites and practices of socialism, perhaps not exactly like those obtaining in the USSR, but not different in kind. It will be native grown, not imported.

That is the prospect for the year 2000 A.D., as Mr. K. predicted. The phenomenon is strange indeed, when one puts the twentieth century against the background of human history. In all the centuries that preceded it, the power of the State was looked upon as a curse and a scourge, as something to get rid of. Always when men sought freedom, and they always did, they thought of limiting and shackling political power; freedom never meant anything else. The miracle of the twentieth century is the complete reversal of this historic pattern, and the identifying of freedom with subservience to the State. The explanation of this miracle will engage the best brains of the future.

This article, originally entitled "As Frank Chodorov Sees It," is reprinted with permission from the January 1956 issue of The Freeman.

Frank Chodorov (1887–1966), one of the great libertarians of the Old Right, was the founder of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists and author of such books as The Income Tax: Root of All Evil. Here he is on “Taxation Is Robbery.” And here is Rothbard’s obituary of Chodorov.

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