Mr. Emeny performs agricultural services on a contract basis in New Zealand. This article is from an address before the New Zealand Society for Economic Individualism.
History shows that whenever people collect in groups, there must exist two factors if they are to rise above the level of animal conduct. These are leadership and law. Admittedly, both leadership and law can foster evil and predation instead of ethical, tolerant, creative, and peaceful conduct. And though leadership quickly rises among groups, the law it produces can vary tremendously in quality. Yet the fact remains that human association in groups, communities, or nations cannot last without these two factors.
People gather in groups mostly for two reasons: (1) for the destructive purpose of plunder or warfare; and (2) to pool their skills, their assets, and their labors in the endless struggle to wrest from nature the material necessities of life. Our purpose in this discussion is not to foster warfare but to concentrate upon creative and peaceful endeavor.
If there exists a choice of good or bad leadership and law, there must also exist a choice between two types of society. But the understanding that everyone must constantly make this choice seems to be a missing link in the voting public’s field of political knowledge. All too few perceive the nature of this choice and how it affects their actions and their lives.
The alternatives are these: On the one hand, a society where all responsibility for human endeavor is vested in central authority—government—be it the crown or a political party or any other form. On the other hand, a society where people accept personal responsibility for their own affairs. This is the real issue, and it is relevant to everything people do, in work and in pleasure, in the most obvious and in the most intimate of human affairs. We can no more escape choosing than we can escape the consequences of our choice.
Many people fall into the error of thinking that the choice is between communism (or socialism) and some vaguely understood conception of freedom—between government control and private control—always between things removed from themselves. In this they are mistaking the methods for the issue itself.
Obviously, most people want freedom. But they fail to define it conclusively. In fact, there are about as many variations of freedom as there are people. Individually, they fail to comprehend that the real issue is simply freedom from personal responsibility or freedom from slavery. To enjoy freedom from personal responsibility they must endure coercion in some form. Those who have delegated responsibility to someone else must henceforth do as they are told. Otherwise, the planning done for them will be disrupted by the innumerable individual conceptions of needs.
Practically everyone rebels against slavery, or the use of force against them by others. If they desire freedom from being bossed around, they must accept personal responsibility, and with it, the consequences of their own decisions. This state of affairs richly rewards wisdom and severely punishes folly. It is significant that most people seek protection from their own folly more diligently than they trust the rewards of wisdom. This is merely a reflection of the lack of courage and character in our present stage of human progress.
The Reason for Government
At this point, let us try to establish clearly the reason for the existence of government in our midst. As I see it, those groups who joined together for the improvement of the means of production of the necessities of life soon found, as we still do today, that humanity as a species always produces its quota of predatory strains—that a minority in its midst always prefer to plunder the production of others rather than struggle with nature to create their own livelihood—that respect for human life is not universal among human beings—that it is necessary to defend by force the fruits of their labors if they are to know even elementary security.
As the practice of peaceful cooperation increased, the wealth of those sharing the spoils of plunder attracted greater numbers, thus increasing the burden of defense. Specialization being the pattern of all progress, the producers soon found it more effective to hire some of their number to concentrate on becoming skilled fighters. Long, long ago they doubtless delegated to this group responsibility for their safety and granted them a monopoly of the use of force in their community.
Thus, they created government. It was an agency, supported by the production of the rest, presented with the opportunity to contribute greatly to the advancement of humanity by the exercise of wisdom, tolerance, and honesty, through leadership and law. But, at the same time, it was also equipped with the power to turn on the people and enslave them.
The gruesome pages of history show that, almost without exception, the power of government attracted or created men who chose the latter course. Government, whose only justification for existence is to protect impartially the property and the life of the individual, has a shocking record of doing just the opposite. Keeping in mind government’s proper function in society, we must see that whenever central authority transgresses beyond this strictly limited role, it is no longer genuine government. Instead, it is a force of barbarism and corruption, something akin to the marauding wolf pack that plagues the flock to satisfy its own appetite.
The Struggle for Freedom
Let us now review briefly the history of human progress in the pursuit of individual freedom.
From the dawn of recorded history, men have been engaged in a continuous struggle to secure freedom from the barbarism of their governments or the plundering invasions of their neighbors. Over the ages, the slaughter of persons and the destruction of natural resources, through wanton plundering and the attempts to defend against it, defy comprehension. Not even the greatest flights of imagination could encompass the total carnage, which still goes on in many parts of the world. And though we ourselves appear secure today, the situation could easily change overnight to our peril.
The point is that fighting for freedom with weapons has been of little avail and holds even less promise for the future. Defensive violence is strictly an emergency measure, a last desperate resort, and its result for the most part has been to transfer coercive power from one group to another, to the continued detriment of human liberty.
I would trace the great breakthrough in this struggle to the triumph of reason over force on the part of Moses. In his "Ten Commandments" he appears to have succeeded in combining leadership with the rule of impartial and ethical law—to have produced a basic code of human conduct by which to resolve the problems of community life. That the Israelites grew and prospered in a harsh and hostile land indicates the value they gained from this harmonization of leadership and clearly defined ethical law. When they made the error of abandoning the system and accepting instead the rule of kings, they were soon overrun by their neighbors.
Greece and Rome both made their greatest contributions to human progress when they permitted to function in large measure this combination of leadership and law. Both nations suffered decline and subjugation when the rule of law became the plaything of government or sectional groups in the community, used for escaping responsibility for one’s own welfare and plundering others of the fruits of their labors. The change in the role of government brought disaster to all.
For European races, Magna Carta in 1215 marks the beginning of the battle to replace the rule of kings with the rule of law and to make this an instrument to defend the individual ownership of property from confiscation by government.
History records such events as brief flashes where reason and knowledge triumphed over brute force, where people laid down their weapons and sought a solution by intellectual effort. Unfortunately, human folly soon permitted men to accumulate sufficient power to impose their will upon the populace, and Magna Carta could not prevail.
But a start had been made and was followed by "The Petition of Rights" in the third year of the reign of King Charles the First, a declaration of personal liberty and immunity from arbitrary taxation.
When William and Mary came to the throne, the "Bill of Rights" advised them that the rights and liberties inserted therein were the ancient, true, and indubitable rights of the people.
The "Act of Settlement" in 1701 aimed at ensuring the independence of the judiciary from control by the ruling monarch.
Combined with these were the Habeas Corpus Acts to assure personal freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.
These five historic charters represent a continuous attempt over several centuries to create a rule of law sufficient to counter the abuse of power by kings—the groping of human minds for a solution to the repetition of plunder, slavery, and barbarism.
Changing the Leader
That progress came so slowly over these centuries can be traced to the main objectives of the struggle. Our ancestors seem to have been primarily concerned with replacing leadership from the crown with leadership from parliament. The Civil War accomplished this objective, but did little to abolish the abuse of power by central authority. Though great efforts were made to fashion parliament into an impartial instrument of leadership, its laws were nonetheless dictatorial. Cromwell, the Civil War leader of such fine ideals and ethical standards, soon found it necessary to condone shocking standards of brutality to administer the economic affairs of the people by parliamentary rule. Eventually, finding it impossible to get agreement from parliament, he assumed full dictatorship.
This appears to be the rock upon which the hopes of the people foundered. Both Cromwell and parliamentary leadership still considered the role of leadership and law to be one of coercively directing the economic affairs of the people. The people had merely transferred the powers and privileges of autocratic rule from a group of courtiers to a group of parliamentarians, and they suffered accordingly. Though they may have desired to live according to the highly ethical code of Moses, such a goal still eluded them. Neither the fine words of the five charters nor the turn toward representative government were sufficient to release mankind from poverty and pestilence, from the practice of plunder and the abuse of political power. Further evolutionary phases were necessary before liberty was to be achieved.
A Flow of Ideas
Not all was in vain, however. Habeas Corpus and the Act of Settlement helped to free men’s minds, their tongues, and their pens. An intellectual offensive developed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Brilliant minds dwelt deeply and freely upon the most pressing and the most abstract fields of politics and economics.
From such men as Ricardo, Adam Smith, Mill, Jefferson, Hamilton, Paine, and Franklin, to mention a few, came the flow of new ideas that were eventually to liberate great sections of mankind from the darkness of past ages. Their great contribution to human progress came from conceiving and proclaiming the view that each and every human adult possessed the ability to be responsible for his own destiny; that individual freedom, matched with personal responsibility, was the mainspring of all human progress; and that if freed of the crippling and frustrating direction of central authority over their property, their skills, and their energies, people themselves would far better solve the problem of providing their own food, clothing, and shelter and at the same time abolish both waste and barbarism from their midst.
These were epic times, when the darkness of economic ignorance was lifted and to the minds of men were revealed the immortal principles of natural and economic law.
Freedom of Enterprise
Having discovered the principles, great minds now turned to fashioning the methods to implement such ideas. As has always been the case, they were violently opposed at every turn by established power and privilege. We owe a great deal to the eloquence and perseverance of men like Edmund Burke, the two Pitts, Cobden and Bright and the Free Trade groups of the early nineteenth century, along with many others, for the understanding and acceptance of the economic system combining private ownership with freedom of enterprise, and the individual’s unrestricted right to compete for support from consumers, who themselves enjoyed unlimited freedom of choice to shop where and when they received the greatest value.
It was this radical change in the economic system that finally brought peace, progress, and liberty to Britain, the Commonwealth, the U.S.A., and all other nations that adopted it. The main effect of the system is to strip government of power over economic affairs and thus drastically limit its scope for coercion. With economic power dispersed over the whole population and economic affairs under the direction of natural and economic law, political leadership was at last stripped of both the temptation and the opportunity for violence against the property and life of the individual. Because the government was relieved of responsibility for the welfare of the individual, it no longer had to impose a drastic form of coercion upon his property, his skill, and his energies. The dispersion of economic power led to dispersion of political power under universal franchise and, eventually, to a vastly improved parliamentary system.
Few impartial observers will dispute the fact that the opening of the twentieth century saw leadership and the rule of law far more actively engaged in protecting the property, life, and liberty of the individual than at any other time in world history. Between all English-speaking countries, and many of their neighbors with whom they had fought for centuries, war had ceased completely. Trade and populations flowed about the world in proportions previously undreamed of by the wildest prophets.
In these fortunate countries, central authority was limited to a strictly protective role. Parliamentary leadership and the rule of law attempted, within the limits of human frailty, to function in harmony with the moral law, as laid down by Moses, natural law as evident all around us, and economic law as operated through private ownership of property and freedom of competitive enterprise.
It is surely worth reflecting upon the basic structure of society which made this progress possible.
The Foundations for Progress
For the individual, there were four cardinal requirements : self-reliance in productivity ; self-direction of economic and personal affairs; self-discipline in all aspects of human conduct; and finally, self-respect for truth, for quality of leadership, and for the rights of others.
For industry and commerce, there was the obligation to place no obstacle in the way of expanding the system of division of labor and freedom of trade.
For all forms of political leadership, of which parliament is only one, there existed the gravest responsibility to exercise wisdom, tolerance, and honesty under the rule of ethical and impartial law. A constant duty was to confine authority to the role of protecting equally the property of the populace from theft and fraud, and their lives from violence and intimidation. Their task was not to administer the affairs of men but merely to dispense justice among men who administered their own affairs—to harmonize the use of parliamentary and judicial law with the irrefutable principles of natural, economic, and moral law—a fitting task for the most noble men of any land.
One major point should be perfectly clear. All the beautiful and idealistic words within the human vocabulary, all the political and judicial institutions that mankind can organize, are of limited value in the task of preserving liberty and peaceful progress unless they are created for the express purpose of defending four basic economic principles. These are individual ownership of property, freedom of enterprise, sanctity of contract, and freedom to compete for consumer support.
Parliamentary rule can be just as autocratic as the rule of kings unless it is devoted to such ends.
No community has ever known liberty, democracy, and peaceful progress until it embraced this economic system. If any people who have known such freedom are foolish enough to allow their governments to regain extensive powers of confiscation of private property or the direction of economic affairs, they are certain eventually to lose both liberty and prosperity, once the reserves created by freedom have been exhausted.
The Urge To Control
Whenever the subject of leadership and law arises in debate, one argument invariably comes forward, namely, that we must have someone, or some group, to govern the country, to run everything; otherwise, there would be chaos. The advocates of this policy, and I fear they represent the majority of our population, demonstrate total ignorance of economic law and little respect for the noble quality of the human mind. Unwittingly they are returning to sixteenth-century standards of thought and knowledge.
This implies that people individually possess no sense of value in material things and no inherent moral standards—that force alone can show us right from wrong and that government control is the only way to achieve coherent progress. Such people fail to recognize their own economic power and the methods available for them to direct production, distribution, and exchange of all human requirements.
They fail to perceive that a most effective alternative method exists, which they and everyone else can use almost costlessly and effortlessly. This is the method of voting through their disposal of their personal resources. When permitted to buy and sell freely, they will have one consistent thought, namely, to get the greatest value in every exchange. Thus people, acting individually, can at the same time collectively produce a prime motivating and directing force for industries and commerce accompanied by a discipline for human affairs vastly superior to any coercive power from central government. Also, by this method, the population can establish conditions which insure that no one rises to material wellbeing without bestowing a continuous measure of service upon mankind everywhere.
In the field of human relations there is always one flaw in this method of free and voluntary exchange. It does not grant favors to anyone and has no use for loafers, drones, or those who prefer plunder to creative effort. Consequently, the predatory instinct, always just below the surface in human nature, will everlastingly try to find a way around such economic and moral law. Without the aid of central authority, predatory elements can have little success. But once let them succeed in enlisting such aid and they will quickly wreck the pattern of peaceful progress, enriching themselves at the expense of others.
Human history is a continuous record of this evil. Only briefly has any population escaped such troubles. Regretfully, granting favoritism to special groups has become the predominant feature of modern leadership, and the rule of law is being used extensively for plundering purposes. It is worth studying the lessons of Rome and Athens if we desire to know where such dubious standards will lead us. We seem to be treading the same paths in our individual and national affairs that brought disaster to both of these splendid examples of human association.
Many Requirements To Be Met
The lesson I would take from the history of the struggle for individual liberty and human progress is this : that it takes a combination of human activity to reach and preserve such treasured goals.
The production of finely worded charters gives cohesion to human ideals, thus creating a lofty pinnacle to attract the noblest spirit. The production of written constitutions gives guidance to the organizational requirements of community and national life. This also creates a banner around which future generations can rally when their personal freedom is menaced by predation in high places, as will inevitably happen. Constitutionalism can define the strict limits of the exercise of power by authority and make those limits defendable by the rule of law. An independent judiciary is essential to resolve human conflict in everyday affairs. Universal franchise can be used to choose the personnel of central authority but gives very limited opportunity for the expression of public will; as an instrument for directing economic affairs it is most unsuitable and highly dangerous. Parliamentary institutions, if properly constituted with strictly limited powers, can fulfill the need for leadership and the rule of impartial and ethical law. The one main objective of all must be maximum freedom of voluntary and responsible human cooperation in creative and peaceful endeavor.
Yet, it would appear that all the written laws in the world will not succeed in higher purpose, in defending liberty and progress, unless they seek to preserve and improve the only system for directing our economic affairs that is consistent with economic and moral law. For mankind lives and expands by the fruits of its labors. Ample evidence exists that we have found this method in private ownership and freely competitive enterprise. I would conclude that the fate of mankind will depend upon whether the hu
man race is wise and courageous enough to go forward to perfect the harmonization of individual freedom with personal responsibility—or so foolish and cowardly as to prefer irresponsibility and slavery. The irrefutable fact remains that in everything we do—as individuals, as a family, as a community, and as a nation—we must everlastingly make this choice.
All By Himself
The morning after Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic nonstop from New York to Paris, an associate of Charles Kettering rushed into the research expert’s laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, shouting: "He made it! Lindbergh landed safely in Paris!" Kettering went on working. The associate spoke again: "Think of it—Lindbergh flew the Atlantic alone! He did it all by himself!" Kettering looked up from his work momentarily and remarked quietly: "When he flies it with a committee, let me know."