Principles of Progress
MAY 01, 1967 by ROBERT K. NEWELL
Mr. Newell operates a farm near Marcellus, Michigan.
All civilized societies of men have possessed inherent conceptions of human dignity and social justice. These intrinsic human values and desires, rather than the transitory governments that have attempted to articulate and formalize them, have provided the basis for social progress and the advancement of civilization.
Western civilization has been founded on two essential principles of human association. The first principle recognizes that men are entitled without reservation to the rewards of their legitimate efforts and to jurisdiction over property they have justly acquired. The second principle simply affirms the first in the hearts of men and provides mutual respect for human rights that translates into social ethics and civil justice.
The great social controversies at the crossroads of history have often revolved around conflicts between the natural desire of men to make the most of their legitimate opportunities and governmental failure to reflect accurately this basic human right. Civilizations have stagnated and social ethics have degenerated whenever these self-evident principles of human association have been abandoned in favor of legislated social nostrums and politically contrived definitions of civil justice.
It is difficult to assess the precise evolutionary position of our own complex society and project social and political trends through to specific conclusions. Fortunately, however, present human problems and social conflicts essentially are as old as civilization itself and can be viewed in the broad perspective of political history. Political history teaches by comparison with previous examples gathered across centuries of human relationships and is a most competent aid in making projected estimates of the future and predicting ultimate results of governmental policies.
A Sound Foundation
Our nation was founded on sound principles of human association that recognized the inalienable human right of free men in society to acquire property within the framework of social ethics and civil justice. Jurisprudence, during the early stages of social unfolding, took no direct interest in processes of human enterprise or in the development of the national economy. The primary concern of law was the arbitration of justly disputed property claims; and everyone happily assumed that the blessings of liberty adequately had been secured for themselves and their posterity because these principles of social development vaguely had been defined by the wording of elaborate documents. But, like historical predecessors, the nation gradually altered founding principles to conform to constantly changing definitions and political formalizations of human rights, social ethics, and civil justice.
Human rights, social ethics, civil justice, and political freedom are words commonly employed to convey concepts of human association. But, as is the case with all words that attempt to transmit ideas, the meanings of the words are as varied as the ideas of the people who use them. Ideas that are diametrically opposed, and all the gradations between, often find expression in the same word. Thus, in human association, whenever principles are abandoned in favor of political definitions of words, every form of social organization can find justification for its existence in the wording of a given document.
A Perversion of Concepts
In our society, conceptions of freedom slowly have transmuted from self-evident freedoms of human opportunity to diametrically opposed political formalizations. Freedom is now quite generally considered to be the by-product of socialism that emancipates the human being from the moral burdens and responsibilities of self-provision, self-government, and effective living. Human rights no longer are regarded as being intrinsic to the nature of man. Rather, human rights are now defined in terms of the welfare, economic provision, and standard of living that men have a right to demand and expect from the welfare state.
Social ethics and civil justice no longer are based upon mutual respect for human rights to unlimited opportunity. Justice now demands that effort and indolence be equally rewarded and that men contribute to the state in accordance with their ability and receive from the state according to their need. Ethics no longer reside in the hearts of men but instead are based upon nothing more substantial than the political caprice of the moment. The law itself has greatly exceeded legitimate functions of arbitration and plunged headlong into the economic and social life of the nation.
Government, with its multiplicity of laws, now directly manipulates the entire society and clumsily attempts to legislate varying human energies into conformity by reducing mankind to a common economic and social level. In the frantic search for socialized utopia, the nation has completely lost sight of this amply demonstrated historic fact. Regardless of the words employed, the principles of individual responsibility, mutual respect, and personal morality —rather than governmental proclamations — must necessarily underwrite the social institutions of any lasting society.
What Might Have Been
Socialistic planners have assumed full credit for all progress in every area of human association and point with fatherly pride to the continuous growth of the nation. The responsibility for astronomical public debt and ruinous inflation, which the experiments in socialism have incurred along the way, is assumed by no one. These inevitable stigmas of socialistic experimentation ignominiously are left to be pondered by future generations. How much of the national economic and social growth, generally attributed to socialistic interventionism, was due, in fact, to a normal advance in industrial technology — and indeed, how much faster and more soundly the nation might have developed without the intervention of political nostrums — are matters for hypothetical conjecture. Had the Sixteenth Amendment failed to be ratified, could the floodgates of socialism so readily have been opened? Had the fantastic sums of money, confiscated under this provision and squandered on political fantasies, been invested by private enterprise, could social objectives have been identified more accurately and attained with less waste, extravagance, and corruption? These, and many other related queries viewed against the background of political history, occupy the conjectural interest of every thoughtful citizen.
Less conjectural, and more obvious than the economic situation, however, is the unmistakable decline of human values that has accompanied the rise of statism and the demise of the individual. By transforming principled individuals, with their natural aspirations and nobilities, into a morally bereft and politically manipulated horde, the basis for our social organization and the foundations of civilization itself are systematically being destroyed. Social decadence, and all that it portends, is a problem that responsible citizens survey with justifiable apprehension.
Every form of larceny, traditionally looked upon by individuals in society and laws of arbitration as a moral violation of human property rights, is now practiced in our society with alarming violence and ever-increasing frequency. As profligate crime rapidly spreads its cancerous growth through every economic stratum of society, stolen property is often less valued than the idle diversion sadistic crime provides. Mob violence, senseless social atrocities, and larcenous crimes against men and property are multiplying to frightening proportions. This sinister abasement of human dignity, however, obviously is only a surface symptom of a far more insidious moral disease that is attacking humanity.
The socialistic planners, whose cold intelligence devised the empty, insect-like society of stereotyped human beings, view the problem of increasing immorality and social unrest as a failure of mankind to underwrite the social institutions of the new economics and thereby rise to the ethical challenge of modern civilization. But another estimate of the moral situation suggests that mankind has failed neither the new economics nor its politically defined institutions. Our immoral society, unfortunately, simply reflects the moral aberrance of socialistic government that tragically is failing humanity.
Socialism, like all government, formally frowns upon theft between individuals in the private sector of society as being immoral and socially unjust. But when socialism, by resolution and coercive law, attempts to provide equal distribution of unequal earnings, the questionable processes involved are considered to be not only well within the bounds of propriety but the very essence of morality and the epitome of social justice. When human rights to property legally are held in this dualistic perspective, it is most difficult for any citizen to make moral distinctions between private theft and the governmental plunder of private resources.
This is especially true when governmental plunder is legally instituted and artfully engineered by elected legislators whose political abilities are gauged in terms of the economic redistribution they can obtain for their constituencies. Rather than performing the traditional role of upholding private property, the law has become a respectable instrument of larceny in the hands of the people and has taken the lead in abrogating the property rights it once so nobly upheld. Larcenous crimes for ill-gotten gain, once practiced darkly in secret, have assumed the honorable guise of social justice and boldly moved to the halls of government.
The financial aspects of reckless tax-and-squander socialistic legislation and irresponsible public debt can be debated at some length and even rationalized by proponents of the new economics as being in the best fiscal interests of the nation. But, it is not difficult to understand why citizens increasingly are losing respect for unprincipled civil authority and the odious legal and political immorality that permeates our society. Law has abandoned all principles of social justice and rests upon no foundation but the authoritarian use of political power. The formerly venerated halls of government, in which the grimy business of the new morality is transacted, have become a disgraceful affrontal to every concept of human decency.
Youth Lost by Default
Tragically, the young people whose formative years of social adjustment were molded by the amorphous ethical concepts of their elders, have been especially confused by the ambiguous definitions of human rights. Consequently, they are often openly contemptuous of all conniving authority that defines and sanctimoniously makes distinctions between morality and immorality, justice and injustice, private theft and public plunder. The young people, who comprise one half of the citizenry and so provide the hope for the future, already account for a heavily disproportionate share of the private crimes against men and property. This projected trend toward moral anarchy indicates that, like so many previous and now extinct civilizations, our own society is gravely endangered by internal decay of human principles.
Civilization depends entirely upon human decency and mutual respect for the rights of men.
Civil order is upheld, not by law, authority, and political phrase-makers as it apparently seems to be, but by the moral integrity of civilized human beings. Time will promote these confused young people to the hard core of an already morally decadent society and increasingly convert amoral attitudes toward property and the use of force to acquire it into anarchistic annihilation of all human dignity. Since politically contrived standards of social conduct and punitive reprisals historically have never been substituted successfully for principles of human association, or been able to guarantee even the minimum social requirements for civilization, our society obviously is approaching a vital philosophical crossroad.
Some Fruits of Socialism
Socialism offers no evidence, historic or otherwise, to support the fashionable contention that a politically planned economy dramatically translates into social progress and human advancement. At no time in history have there been more laws and more violence; more social legislation and more social unrest; more state welfare and more greedily dependent citizens; more pseudo-prosperity and more irresponsible debt; more political dogmas and fewer human truths; more formidable government and less ethical human relationships; more legal apparatus and less justice; more law enforcement agencies and less respectful and less cooperative citizens; more collectivism and more political corruption and social decay; and more young people with fewer principles to live by.
Socialism demands that citizens surrender all moral principles based on self-respect and become subservient to politically defined attitudes toward life and property rights. Life under socialism becomes an amoral course, artfully steered through a tortuous maze of absurd values and inconsistent moralizations where political power is the only criterion of justice. As young people appraise the long-range prospects for self-justification through decent and effective living under the socialistic system imposed by their elders, it is small wonder that frustration and disillusionment are leading to the modern concept of irresponsibly living for the moment.
As society approaches the crossroad and ponders the alternatives, however, there is reason to hope for a brighter future. While there is no question about general moral confusion among young citizens who hold the key to the future, thus far only relatively small percentages have expressed their sense of futility through acts of violence, promiscuity, and sadism. Many young people retain intrinsic human values and continue to search, with little assistance from their elders, for hopeful principles of social progress.
In the philosophical struggle to reaffirm basic principles of human association — as opposed to socialized formalizations, judicial reviews, and political interpretations of hallowed words — it is well to remember that the attitudes of the young are formed by the moral influences that surround them and are forged by the examples of their elders. If our civilization is to avoid the bottomless pit of total collectivism and political self-destruction, the moral principle of private property and the closely related human right to self-justification must be supported and attested to in every facet of human association. Mutual respect for property rights will then indicate the ethical principles to follow in every human situation and insure social progress and the advancement of civilization.
We believe in the essential, innate dignity of the individual. This belief is the very basis of our Western culture, and of our American tradition and form of government in particular.
Our philosophy of the dignity of man — of freedom, if you will —flows from our belief in a Supreme Being. We believe that God created man — all men — in His image.
Accordingly we believe that there is a higher purpose in life than to serve the state. We believe that this purpose is not restricted to the material side of our lives but is first and foremost of a spiritual nature. In fact, we try to order our lives in the certain knowledge that our final destiny lies beyond the material concerns of this world.
This concept of the meaning and purpose of life is the direct opposite of the communist view. Dialectic materialism denies the Supreme Being; denies the spiritual side of man; denies any but a materialistic purpose in life.
Under communism, man is required to have blind faith in the state. He has no voice in the affairs of the state. He has no franchise as a citizen. He is not master of his own destiny. He is given or denied an education, according to the will of the state. He is ordered to work wherever the state needs him.
This is the atmosphere of a slave society. In the moral sense it is not and cannot be the same atmosphere that we have created here under freedom.
From an address, "Brotherhood Through Better Understanding" by JAMES M. ROCHE, President of General Motors