Freeman

BOOK REVIEW

Swimming Against the Tide by Clarence B. Carson

The Memoirs and Selected Writings of a Longtime Freeman Contributor

APRIL 01, 1999 by NORMAN S. REAM

Filed Under : Ludwig von Mises, Collectivism

American Textbook Committee • 1998 • 562 pages • $29.95

Norman Ream, a long-time Freeman contributor, is a retired minister living in Estes Park, Colorado.

No one who has regularly, or even periodically, read The Freeman for the past 40 years will be unacquainted with Clarence B. Carson. In this book, subtitled “Memoirs and Selected Writings,” one can discern how Carson’s philosophical position has developed through the years, from the time he departed his birthplace in Alabama, through his teaching career, and eventually to his connection with the Foundation for Economic Education.

The title of this volume is eminently appropriate, for all through those years he certainly was swimming against the tide of popular and academic opinion. Clarence Carson is a pithy opponent of all your standard left-wing fads and fantasies, but also finds himself in disagreement with some of his allies. His economic and political philosophy is firmly grounded in the moral and ethical principles the author derives from his Christian faith. Because of that faith, Carson takes issue with Ludwig von Mises and other heroes of the free-market movement for their purely secular defenses of private property and the market order. Agree or disagree, Carson stands his ground.

The first section of the book is purely autobiographical and may be a bit too detailed for the average reader. Born and educated in the South, with advanced degrees from Vanderbilt and Auburn, Carson spent the major period of his life teaching in several colleges. During his early education he had moved toward what is today called “liberalism,” but by the time he earned his Ph.D., his doctoral dissertation was titled “Embattled Individualists: The Defense of the Idea of Individualism, 1890–1930.”

Although Carson was a college professor by vocation, he was mainly interested in writing and has published over 19 books, many of them designed to be textbooks. Three of his books, Basic Economics, Basic Communism, and Basic American Government have been main selections of the Conservative Book Club. His six-volume A Basic History of the United States is certainly his magnum opus; it is an excellent survey of American history without, of course, any hint of the common leftist biases.

Carson began contributing to The Freeman in 1961. Forty of his articles became a book entitled The World in the Grip of an Idea. The author describes it as follows:

I believed that in my studies and writing I had reached a plateau above and beyond the ideologies of the 19th century which had fueled the conflicts of this century. I saw, or believed I saw, the underlying similarities and failings of these ideologies. I saw those things about Communism, Fascism and gradualist socialism. But I believed I saw the role and weaknesses of corporate capitalism as well. . . . What all these ideologies had in common was the justification of the use and abuse of organizations to control men’s minds and actions to their own ends. Every one of these collectivisms fails to grasp the fact of the superiority of the individual in all constructive activity and fails to understand that collectives are only superior in the use of destructive force on individuals.

Most of Carson’s wide-ranging memoir is taken up with stories, essays, articles, philosophical musings, economic ruminations, and more. A brief sampling: “The Constitution of Paper Money,” “The Dilemmas of Public Education,” and “Beyond the Christmas Story.”

The author has strong opinions and deep convictions. As noted, he objected to Mises’s secularism. Yet perhaps surprisingly, he includes a fine memorial to Ayn Rand.

The book has its weaknesses. The autobiographical section was not adequately edited and contains numerous errors of punctuation and sentence structure. Also, the volume would have benefited from an index. Still, Freeman readers old and new will find a lot of provocative and enjoyable writing in this book.

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

April 1999

comments powered by Disqus

EMAIL UPDATES

* indicates required

CURRENT ISSUE

December 2014

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.
Download Free PDF

PAST ISSUES

SUBSCRIBE

RENEW YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

Essential Works from FEE

Economics in One Lesson (full text)

By HENRY HAZLITT

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)