Freeman

ARTICLE

Business, Social Progress, and Religion

JULY 01, 1967 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 article is from an address before the Industrial Information Institute, Youngstown, Ohio, October 27, 1966.

It is a disturbing phenomenon of our times that those intellectuals who decry the accumulated wis­dom of past ages and urge that we discard the time-tested tradi­tions and behavior standards of Western civilization are much sought after for places of distinc­tion in many of our governmental operations, universities, founda­tions, and similar institutions. Those critics concede, somewhat re­luctantly, that although our once-respected traditions and stand­ards may have been relevant, per­haps even useful, in the days of the horse and buggy, they are outmoded and have no place in this jet-propelled era. In like man­ner, our "social engineers" assure us that our new-found knowledge of science, technology, civics, eco­nomics, and human nature has left the ancient wisdom far behind.

But there are some who dissent. As one who, over the years, has tried humbly to apply the lessons of history to modern problems, I am convinced that unless and until we are able to change the basic characteristics of human nature, the old virtues and values are still pertinent, perhaps even vital for our survival, in this modern age. There is persuasive scientific evi­dence that the basic nature of man has not changed for at least 4,000 years.

The late Edith Hamilton, world authority on Greek and Roman civilization, pinpointed the issue several years ago in these words:

"Is it rational that now, when the young people may have to face problems harder than we faced… we are giving up the study of how the Greeks and Romans prevailed magnificently in a barbaric world; the study, too, of how that tri­umph ended, how a slackness and softness finally came over them to their ruin? In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security, a comfortable life, and they lost all — security and comfort and freedom….

"Are we not growing slack and soft in our political life? When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to the State, but the State to give to them, when the freedom they wished most for was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again. Is that not a chal­lenge?"

Change, for Its Own Sake!

In face of such questions, fre­quently raised, it seems fashion­able now to discard the old in fa­vor of the new, presumably on the theory that change is inevitable, with its accompanying non sequi­tur, that since all progress results from change, all change makes for progress.

Many of us believe that the im­position of untried theories and untested procedures on a dynamic society is perilous and that changes in such an organism should be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, on the premise that running a jet aircraft into a stone wall is not the best way to stop it!

It is significant that, in recent decades, the areas selected for at­tack by those who would bring about drastic and immediate changes in the structure of Ameri­can society have been, first, our basic religious beliefs, and second, the private industry sector of our economy.

The first is highlighted by the noisy and widely-publicized asser­tions of some theologians that God is no longer pertinent in this scientific age; in fact, 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 Universe!

The attack on the second area, private industry, is evidenced by the rapidly increasing pace of the socialization of all sectors of our economy.

The entire country has careened toward socialism during the past half century. The Federal govern­ment now engages in several thou­sand businesses in competition with its own citizens, while pri­vate business operates in an at­mosphere of governmental criti­cism, hostile suspicion, restrictive controls, onerous taxation, and costly snooping by government agents.

For several generations collec­tivism has been edging over our landscape like a gigantic icecap. Its progress has been uneven, so some of us have been encouraged to think that we might escape per­sonal disaster by securing a polit­ically privileged sanctuary, that is, by "playing ball" with those momentarily in control of the polit­ical apparatus of government. But it is now clear that not one of us will save his skin unless there is a rebirth of freedom for all.

Those two sectors of our social structure, religion and business, which have come under such heavy attack, are closely interwoven and interdependent. Together they have made great contributions to our social progress, and they hold enormous potential for the future.

The Record of American Progress

There are some who belittle American achievements. But a fair reading of the record reveals that our spiritual, cultural, and material progress in the relatively short historical period of our ex­istence has been outstanding. I say this without boasting, aware that Americans cannot claim full cred­it, as we are heirs to the great traditions, accumulated wisdom and skills of Western civilization. The Founding Fathers learned important lessons from Europe’s mistakes, lessons which, unfortun­ately, we now seem bent on un­learning.

Spiritual and cultural progress are revealed by changes in individ­uals. Thus they are not suscepti­ble of statistical appraisal. But history has demonstrated that where the people are individually free, morally responsible, and self-disciplined, there is a climate con­ducive to spiritual and cultural growth. There is every reason to believe that America follows this historic pattern.

However, there are valid yard­sticks for measuring economic progress. Here is a nation with barely 6 per cent of the world’s people which produces almost 40 per cent of the world’s goods. Our people have no more innate intelli­gence than the peoples of the coun­tries whence they came. Our natu­ral resources are no more abundant than those of many less prosper­ous nations. Furthermore, they lay for centuries relatively unused, supporting fewer than a million inhabitants. Now they support more than 195 million of our peo­ple, who, in turn, contribute im­portantly to the support of the rest of the world.

A Conditional Response

The progress achieved in America did not "just happen." It came about as the result of certain conditions established here many years ago by the Founders of our Republic.

The governmental system they initiated was founded on the be­lief that there is a Supreme Be­ing, whom we call God, who rules the Universe and from whom all power and all authority flow. Since all men are creatures of God, each of us is sovereign in his rela­tions with all other men. Further­more, each is endowed by Him with certain inherent rights which no one, not even a government which acts under authority of an overwhelming majority, can take from him without violating the moral law. These are the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to accumulate, utilize, and dispose of one’s honestly acquired property which, in effect, is the right to sustain his life. To as­sure those rights our Founding Fathers established a government of strictly limited powers, which were to be defined by a written constitution, and which would safeguard certain basic freedoms, such as freedom of speech, of wor­ship, of assembly, and others, in­cluding freedom of economic en­terprise.

Our political forebears held that in the exercise of his God-given rights, each person is individually and morally responsible, his re­sponsibilities being defined by such stern admonitions as the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Golden Rule.

There is much historical evi­dence to indicate that our Found­ers were committed to the concept that there is a place for God in every area of American life. Most conclusive, perhaps, is the state­ment by a neutral observer, the gifted French scholar, Tocqueville, who after an extended visit to America in 1831, wrote:

"… whilst the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from con­ceiving, and forbids them to com­mit, what is rash or unjust….

"Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political in­stitutions;…"

The Preservation of Liberty

We come now to this important question: What is the proper role of business and industry in the preservation and strengthening of those principles and practices which account for our incompara­ble progress?

Since we were conceived as a na­tion of sovereign individuals, it is clear that we can improve our so­cial structure only as the individ­uals who comprise it improve themselves. Any attempt to im­prove society by imposing im­provement on individuals using the coercive power of government is futile! The use of coercion to effect an alleged "good" destroys individual freedom of choice and erodes moral responsibility. It follows that the development by the individual himself of those positive personal traits which con­tribute to a good society will re­sult in a maximum furtherance of the higher ends of life, i.e., schol­arship, art, music, charity, and worship. Conversely, there are other personal traits which im­pede or prevent social progress.

Minimize Bad Traits

The question is: Do the forces set in motion by business and in­dustry tend to maximize the good traits and minimize the bad ones? Let us see how business can gen­erate a climate conducive to in­dividual character growth by counteracting such destructive forces as coercion, prejudice, and irrationality.

1. Coercion. The greatest enemy of human progress is coercive force which acts to restrict man’s creative energies. There is agree­ment among political philosophers that political action is coercive. What about business action: Is it coercive? Obviously, the answer is "No." The businessman, as such, has no power to coerce. He can­not force people to buy his goods or services. He may call upon gov­ernment for special privilege and thus obtain a coercive monopoly. But by doing so he forfeits his status as a businessman and be­comes, in part at least, a politi­cian.

The production and exchange of goods and services is a wholly peaceful process. A business so­ciety tends to be a peaceful so­ciety, if only because peace maxi­mizes the conditions under which the production and exchange of goods are facilitated. And peace is essential for social progress.

The businessman, having no means of coercion at his disposal, relies on education and persuasion. Since everyone at home and abroad is a potential customer, he must cultivate them. The peace­ful exchange of goods and services throughout the world paves the way for exchange of ideas. This encourages travel and personal contacts. So, on the whole, busi­ness tends to reduce coercion in human affairs.

2. Prejudice. A man’s judg­ment can rise no higher than this acquaintance with the facts. Prej­udice is a premature judgment based on insufficient evidence. As applied to human affairs, it im­plies a dislike of some people based on their opinions, their national­ity, the color of their skins, or their religion. What does business do about overcoming prejudice? The clear-cut answer is that, in this area, economic considerations should have first priority for the prudent businessman. In general, the businessman does not concern himself with the color of another man’s skin — if the color of his money is acceptable.

As an employer, the business­man penalizes himself when he refuses to hire the best available man for the job because of some noneconomic consideration. His business sense dictates otherwise. The same is true when, as a seller of goods, he refuses to make a sale for other than economic rea­sons. Thus, the mechanism of trade acts to break down the bar­riers of prejudice.

3. Irrationality. In a good so­ciety people act in reasonable, sane, and sensible ways, and busi­ness disposes them so to act. Mod­ern business rests on technology which, in turn, rests on science. Science and technology demand a high-level, rational pattern of thought and action. The scientist, the engineer, the business mana­ger must all be rational. Thus, business contributes to the forces in our society which exert a strong pull in the direction of rationality in human affairs.

Maximize the Good

Every reduction of coercion, prejudice, and irrationality affords more opportunity for creative in­dividual development, which con­tributes to social progress. The elimination of bad conditions might be said to establish neutral ground. Let us see what desirable positive traits are fostered by business. There are at least four important ones: integrity, under­standing, reasonableness, and in­dividuality. Let us examine each of these briefly.

1. Integrity. No society can co­here for long unless people can trust each other. Nor can a busi­ness long endure unless its prod­ucts represent honest materials and workmanship. Regular cus­tomers, an essential for survival of any business, cannot be at­tracted and held without a quality product. Our entire system of de­ferred exchanges and credit is based on trust. The enormous net­work of mutual trust and confi­dence which underlies our business system is a social force of great power and momentum, headed in the right direction. It makes for integrity throughout society.

2. Understanding. A hermit who grows his own food and pro­duces for his own use consults only his own needs and tastes.

But everyone who produces goods or services for exchange must consult the needs and desires of other people. The businessman must build a clientele. He cannot do this unless he understands the needs of his customers and causes them to feel that he can be trusted to fill those needs, now and in the future, for products they want at prices they can afford to pay.

3. Reasonableness. The vital stake which business has in peace tends to create situations in which men seek a reasonable adjustment of their differences instead of fighting about them.

A businessman does not want conflict with his customers; he wants to persuade them to accept his goods. As the atmosphere of reasonableness begins to permeate all of society, people come to ap­preciate the variety in human life. Instead of a desire to make other people over in their own image, they want every person to pro­gress as far as his personal talents will permit. In a reasonable so­ciety no man tries to play God for other men.

4. Individuality. To the extent persons to take care of the economic requirements of life with a minimum expenditure of time and energy, increasing amounts of both are put at their disposal to be used in whatever individual and creative ways they see fit. Not every person will use them wisely, but if the surplus does not exist, if people are bound down by un­ceasing toil, there can be no flower­ing of those higher faculties which I have mentioned. Thus, business provides the essential condition which can release whatever po­tentiality individuals may possess.

Creative Forces Released

So we see that business serves people directly by being the most economic instrument for provid­ing goods and services. And in noneconomic matters business is a useful servant to society as a whole, because it releases forces which make for integrity, under­standing, reasonableness, and indi­viduality.

It is generally conceded that an individual is most productive when he has a maximum of freedom from restraint, whether his en­ergies find an outlet in religion, in writing, or in thought, or whether he is engaged in the pro­duction and exchange of goods and services. And, as a matter of fun­damental principle, there is no more warrant for attempting to clamp political controls on man’s energies in his shop than there is to place his energies under politi­cal control in his church, his class­room, his editorial office, or his study. If freedom is good in any of these places, it is good in all of them!

Attempts of Protectionism

What can we say about business and politics? There have been few businessmen who have not, at some time, found themselves with goods and services on their hands, but no market. This does not look good on the books, but business is a profit and loss system. If a busi­nessman finds this happening to him regularly he’d better stop making high button shoes and get in step with current fashions. On purely business calculations he would either change his product in accordance with the demands of the market or go out of busi­ness. But there are other calcula­tions, unfortunately not always so pure.

Up to about a century and a half ago, the businessman who wanted to keep making high but­ton shoes, or their equivalent, when the market called for satin slippers, would go to the king and get a royal grant of monopoly. This would decree that no one else in the kingdom had permission to make shoes of any kind, which meant that those who wanted satin slippers could wear high button shoes — or go barefoot. The sys­tem was called mercantilism, and by royal patents, licensing, and controls it set up a network of restrictions and made business a branch office of the crown.

It was easy for the intellectuals of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries to see what was going on: the king and his favorites had a monopoly on all business and industry, which they were throttling with their con­trols. In France, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, Col­bert, Minister of Louis XIV, asked the manufacturer Legendre, what the Crown could do to help busi­ness. The answer became famous. "Laissez nous faire," he replied, "Just let us alone." It was obvious that if the king and his henchmen were stifling business and keep­ing people in poverty, the remedy was to put the king in his place. And this was eventually achieved. But the producer-politician al­liance did not cease when monarch­ies gave way to republics. In every age and in every political arrange­ment there are some who try to keep producing goods for which there is no market, as witness our costly farm program of the past three decades. Such people are putting human and natural re­sources to wasteful use. The usual penalty for not using resources as the free market demands is to be forced out of business to make way for someone who will use the resources economically.

Democracy of The Market

The free market place is a true democracy. Every dollar is a bal­lot with which the people, by their purchases or their refusal to pur­chase, decide what is to be pro­duced and who is to produce it.

But ever since the eighteenth century revolutions, which deposed the kings, people have been fas­cinated by the exercise of politi­cal power. At best, political power is wielded by representatives of the people who are responsible to the electorate. At worst, tyrants seize power and wield it despoti­cally in the name of "the people." The worst despotisms in history are the modern totalitarian states, all of which call themselves "Peo­ples’ Democracies."

As a former businessman, I am frank to admit that some business­men have, knowingly or otherwise, played the political game. For quick returns, they have accepted, and some of them have sought, political favors and subsidies. This fact constitutes about the only argument the socializers have left in their arsenal. They demand more subsidies for farmers, more public housing, aids to education, Medicare, urban renewal, dams, power plants, and many other "Great Society" subventions. To support their arguments they point to some businesses which government has subsidized.

Every businessman, who today refuses to be guided by the popu­lar verdict of the market place and runs to government for help, tomorrow is slated to be controlled or taken over by government, to­gether with his industry col­leagues! This confronts every businessman with a serious moral problem. He has a heavy respon­sibility, not only for the future of his own business, but for the future of our way of life as well.

A Climate for Survival

It is unfortunate that not enough businessmen have real convictions about the social con­ditions which are essential if pri­vate business, as a relatively autonomous activity, is to sur­vive. They think their job as busi­nessmen is done if they are able to pay wages and salaries to em­ployees and dividends to sharehold­ers and maintain a going concern. But if we accept the thesis that each of us has a duty to preserve the cultural, social, governmental, and economic structures which made our national preeminence possible, it follows that if busi­ness is misconceived as an undiluted effort for more money to the virtual exclusion of other val­ues, business is not good for so­ciety as a whole. In fact, it is not even good for itself!

Without a reasonable assurance of profits, the businessman could not survive as a businessman. But there is more to his responsibility than maintaining profits. Perhaps it can best be summarized by say­ing that he, together with his fel­low citizens, have an obligation to keep alive and healthy the goose which lays the golden eggs.

It is an interesting concept that society is a derivative of the mar­ket place. The human community does not come into being except as men are able to exchange their surplus energies in the form of goods, services, and ideas. If every man were self-sufficient, society would be inconceivable. The fact of human interdependence, as men are now constituted, implies the existence of media whereby this interdependence is manifest.

Freedom to Trade

A society is impossible unless there be some exchange, and it is rich and complex in the degree to which these exchanges multiply. And they will multiply unless they are sabotaged. So we need political government to protect exchange against sabotage. But time and again this protective function is perverted and government itself becomes the saboteur.

Let me suggest briefly what this means. Businessmen should know that the concentrations of power and the collateral responsibilities which are lodged with them must be exercised in the context of American life; that if private business does not assume commun­ity responsibilities, a social vac­uum is created and government steps in; that bureaucrats are very adept at avoiding restraints with which the electorate attempts to protect itself; that American busi­ness must act as though it has a soul; and this is just as important for a huge corporation as for an individual businessman. Those of us in business should know that what we think, what we say, what we do, and most important, what we are during working hours can­not be divorced from the responsi­bilities we must assume as mem­bers of society at all hours! Those responsibilities can be discharged only as we participate to the full extent of our talents in the whole life of our communities.

The American social organiza­tion is a fabric, the principal threads of which are religion, in­dustry, law, political economy, education, social well-being, and the cultural arts. It is not enough that business should tell the pub­lic only of its achievements in its highly specialized sphere of pro­duction and distribution. Unless American business moves into all of these areas at once and vigor­ously, they will soon be fully ap­propriated by those who believe and expound doctrines which will ultimately destroy our way of life and our businesses.

A Constructive Course

Where do we go from here? In light of our current national situa­tion, what is the proper area and direction for our energies? It is evident that business cannot af­ford to sit on its historic achieve­ments, significant as they are, while its past laurels are wither­ing away.

The eyes of the world are fo­cused on us. They are watching to see how far we will depart from those basic principles, defined by our Declaration of Independence and made operative by our Consti­tution upon which our political forebears erected this great Re­public, principles which have been devoutly professed by our people over the years.

It is unfortunate that our two major political parties are now being pulled together by the strong magnet of economic pana­ceas to be administered by an all-powerful central government, a government which promises to de­prive men not only of their God-given rights, but what is even more disastrous to their survival as moral beings, to relieve them of their personal responsibility to the social order.

It is a mistake to think of this development as the "new look" in political economy. It is as old as history. Those who look askance at constitutional conservatives be­cause of our alleged "nostalgia for the days of McKinley" are themselves striving to have us re­turn to the days of Hammurabi of Babylon, some 4,000 years ago. All of the "welfare measures" now being practiced or proposed as great cosmic breakthroughs were tried then, and many times since. And they have always arrived at the same terminus, a nation of serfs dominated by a small clique of ruthless men. How can we fail to note that while hundreds of mil­lions of the impoverished and op­pressed throughout the world are yearning to live under our system, we are moving steadily toward that from which they are trying to escape?

There is, without a doubt, a "new look" in America today, but only because we have lost touch with our original principles. The sixty-five years since McKinley have been the period of The Big Change. In foreign affairs we have long since abandoned our nine­teenth century policies of nonintervention, neutrality, and peace­ful trade with all nations. The "new pattern" has been marked by two World Wars, the Korean "police action," and the continuing "Cold War," with our costly involvement in Vietnam and our debilitating foreign aid programs. Domestically, we have witnessed the progressive extension and ac­celeration of the powers and func­tions of the central government in Washington and a corresponding weakening of local and state gov­ernments.

Government at its several levels now skims off by taxation more than 40 per cent of our total national income. In spite of this, we are steadily increasing our burden of debt. Our Federal 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 one and a half trillion dollars, that is, $1,­500 billions, or $7,500 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.

The Moral Issue Involved in Deficit Spending

There is a moral issue of great significance here. Our political forebears believed that no man has a right to deprive his poster­ity of their God-given rights by voting away their freedom. Thom­as Jefferson considered the act of deferring payment on the public debt the same as enslaving future generations. In a letter to a friend he stated:

There have existed nations, and civilized and learned nations, who have thought that a father had a right to sell his child as a slave in perpetuity; that he could alienate his body and industry conjointly, and… his industry separately; and consume its fruits himself… But we, this age, and in this country especially, are advanced beyond those notions of natural law. We acknowl­edge that our children are born free; that freedom is the gift of na­ture and not of him who begot them; that though under our care during infancy, and therefore of necessity under a duly tempered authority, that care is confided to us to be ex­ercised for the preservation and good of the child only; and his labors during youth are given as a retribu­tion for the charges of infancy… We believe, or we act as if we be­lieved, that although an individual father cannot alienate the labor of his son, the aggregate body of fathers may alienate the labor of all of their sons, of their posterity, in the aggregate, and oblige them to pay for all the enterprises, just or unjust, profitable or ruinous, into which our vices, our passions, or our personal interests may lead us. But I trust that this proposition needs only to be looked at by an Ameri­can to be seen in its true point of view, and that we shall all consider ourselves unauthorized to saddle posterity with our debts, and morally bound to pay them ourselves.

Our new "Opulent State," cen­tered in Washington, does not tyr­annize, but, in Tocqueville’s words, "it compresses, enervates, extin­guishes, and stupefies a people." The Federal Republic contem­plated by the framers of the Con­stitution is giving way to a Uni­tary National State, with symp­toms of Empire.

This sixty-five-year-old defec­tion from our fundamental princi­ples has been regularly viewed with alarm. But in spite of spo­radic opposition to the trend, the momentum from several sources, some theoretical and some ex­pedient, has yearly pushed us further toward collectivism and statism. Both major political par­ties now bow to this trend. Each goes along with it, one enthusi­astically, the other reluctantly.

Majoritarian Tyranny

I fear that we are drifting into a kind of "democratic despotism" in which the individual is subor­dinated to undisciplined majori­ties. The antithesis of majority rule is not minority rule; it is the principle of individual liberty. To secure individual liberty our Con­stitution places various restraints on majority action. Lincoln spoke of our Republic as "a majority held in restraint by Constitutional checks and limitations." The con­viction at the center of our system is that each man has certain in­herent rights which it is the duty of government to protect, so that even as a minority of one he has immunities which no numerical majority may invade. No majority has the right, under our system, to impose its religion on any minority, or to impair its freedom of utterance or to deprive it of prop­erty. But under the new dispensa­tion the majority is almighty! All it has to do is to gain control of government which gives it legal sanction to work its will on the rest of the nation. Majority deci­sion at the polls is an excellent way to choose political administra­tors, but it is a violation of the moral law for the majority to vote away any part of a man’s freedom. The majority may have the power to do this, but the right to this action it never has!

Did the election of Mr. Johnson by the votes of 42 million people, which, after all, is only 38 per cent of those who were eligible to register and vote, confer upon him a mandate to impose his will on all 195 million of our people or, even on one individual if, in doing so, he violates that person’s Con­stitutional rights?

Our nation was established as a society of sovereign individuals, each of whom was expected to ex­ercise his freedom under God within the moral law. We con­sidered ourselves to be a nation of "uncommon men," each with free­dom to choose his own course of action provided it did not interfere with another’s freedom of choice, and each accepting the risk of the wrong choice as the price he must pay for freedom. It was under this system that we made our greatest spiritual, cultural, and economic progress.

But in recent years, many of us have become obsessed with the delusion that there is such a thing as "the common man," and that these "common men" must be herded together by government commissars so that they can be fed, clothed, sheltered, and re­lieved of responsibility for living! And all this is to be accomplished by computers and automation! America was not built by such fic­titious "common men." I choose to believe that there is no such thing as "the common man," except in the eyes of certain politicians. We are all "uncommon men." We built this citadel of freedom with uncommon men. We can save it with the same kind of men. We and countless others like us throughout the nation are the "uncommon men" who will save this "last best hope of earth." Businessmen have shown by their achievements in the rigorously competitive arena of trade and in­dustry that they have the talents to do this if they but have the will!

A Declaration of Rights

What shall be our guide? In my researches I have found none better than that written into the Virginia Declaration of Rights by George Mason, in 1776, which reads:

No free government or the bless­ings of liberty can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by fre­quent recurrence to fundamental principles.

What were the fundamental principles referred to by Mason? I believe they were, broadly speak­ing, religious principles; not the doctrines and creeds which dis­tinguish one sect or denomination from another, but rather the fun­damental belief in God which they share. It was a basic American principle to maintain a strict sep­aration between Church and State, not because of any hostility to reli­gion; quite the contrary. The State was to be secular in order that the society might be genuinely reli­gious and thus self-disciplined. A free society is possible only if it is composed largely of self-disci­plined individuals.

These convictions are visible in both the Declaration of Independ­ence and the Constitution. The framers of those documents be­lieved they were transcribing "the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God." The supremacy of the Con­stitution was believed to stem from its correspondence to a law superior to the will of human rulers.

In effect, the Founding Fathers were trying to set up a secular order based on their idea of the pattern laid down by God for man’s conduct in society. And as evidence of their faith in the sanc­tion of "divine Providence" for their actions, they pledged to each other "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor."

Dedication to Principle

Our duty is clear. Let each of us dedicate himself to those fun­damental principles bequeathed to us by the Founding Fathers, which served us so well over the years, until we chose to abandon them to follow the Pied Piper of State Absolutism.

Our cue is in the words of the poet Whittier:

Where’s the manly spirit
Of the true-hearted and the un­shackled gone?
Sons of old freemen, do we but in­herit their names alone?
Is the old Pilgrim spirit quench’d within us?
Stoops the proud manhood of our souls so low,
That Mammon’s lure or Party’s wile can win us to silence now?
Now, when our land to ruin’s brink is verging,
In God’s name let us speak while there is time;
Now, when the padlocks for our lips are forging,
Silence is a Crime.
 

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July 1967

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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Economics in One Lesson (full text)

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The full text of Hazlitt's famed primer on economic principles: read this first!


By FREDERIC BASTIAT

Frederic Bastiat's timeless defense of liberty for all. Once read and understood, nothing ever looks the same.


By F. A. HAYEK

There can be little doubt that man owes some of his greatest suc­cesses in the past to the fact that he has not been able to control so­cial life.


By JEFFREY A. TUCKER

Leonard Read took the lessons of entrepreneurship with him when he started his ideological venture.


By LEONARD E. READ

No one knows how to make a pencil: Leonard Read's classic (Audio, HTML, and PDF)