MAY 01, 1958 by REGINALD JEBB
Mr. Jebb is a British educator, editor, and journalist.
Communism is like the hydrogen bomb, which, when it explodes and falls to pieces (as communism will undoubtedly one day), leaves behind it a lethal radioactivity that affects future generations.
It is the firm purpose of the Atlantic Alliance eventually to free the nations that are at present under the yoke of the USSR. But what sort of form will that freedom be apt to take? How much communist radioactivity will persist after the explosion is over?
It might seem that a communist dominated country, once it has won its freedom, would discard every vestige of the chains that bound it, and, in its loathing of the persecution it has suffered from totalitarian state practices, revert to the kind of society in which personal liberty and initiative flourish.
Such a hope does not sufficiently take into account the radioactive poison that communism has spread abroad.
From answers to questions put to Hungarian refugees and to Poles, now able to express their opinions under the milder regime of Gomulka, it is not unusual to learn that, while they repudiate communism they look forward to a socialist State after their liberation has been effected. The reasons for this are pretty clear. The religious faith of some of them has been dulled by years of atheist indoctrination; they have almost lost sight of what a really free society means; and they see socialist regimes or at least socialistic practices at work in many western countries that have never felt the heel of Moscow. There is a tendency to think, not so much in terms of natural law and human responsibility, as those of a choice between false gods. It is a case of the fable of King Log and King Stork in reverse. King Stork who devoured the frogs has been killed. The new frogs welcome King Log, unaware that he will provide a place for a second King Stork to perch upon. That mentality is due to the radioactive poison that communism leaves behind it.
Does this adaption of the fable appear extravagant, topsy-turvy? But that is exactly what a reversion to socialism from communism would be. To adopt voluntarily a system that has in it the seeds of one’s present persecution is indeed so extravagant as to denote a kind of madness. It is like seeking a cure for rabies in the hair of the dog that bit you. It seems probable, however, that that is what may happen.
They Once Knew Freedom
If we look back to the years between the two wars when Poland had been freed from her long partition and had become independent, and when the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been dismembered and Hungary was a separate independent state, we see little socialism in the government of either country (save for the few months of communist rule under Bela Kun in Hungary in 1919) . On the contrary, the composition of the government in both countries — though somewhat authoritarian, with a powerful president elected every seven years in Poland, and a regent in Hungary pending a return to the monarchy — was by no means centralized in practice. Much local administration was entrusted to regional authorities And — an important factor — private property was safeguarded. Poor and rich alike were left largely undisturbed by state interference.
If, then, these two countries are now contemplating a collectivist regime when liberation gives them the choice, it is not through prior active experience of socialism, but rather on account of the postwar wave of proletarian propaganda which purports to show that socialism benefits the poorer members of society.
For all those who believe in a free society, this is an alarming outlook. It is no use pretending that, because socialism is less tyrannous than Soviet communism, a movement from the latter to the former may mean a gradual return to freedom. It is no more a way back to freedom than would be a leap back from the fire into the frying pan, there to await a slow death.
The Philosophy of Christendom
Can anything be done to avoid such a calamity? Since the cause of it is a choice between two false and closely allied gods, the first and fundamental remedy is a return to the philosophy of Christendom from which all the western nations have sprung. The second is a practical exposure of the growing perils of statism.
The essence of socialism is warfare against private property. That is contrary to Christian philosophy. If we refer to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest theologian and philosopher who has ever lived, we find that his arguments run somewhat as follows:
The earth was given by God to mankind for all to use. But if all land is held in common, so that no one possesses any part of it as his own, two things are likely to happen: there will be strife between two or more persons seeking to derive wealth from the same piece of land; and if no one is personally responsible for the working of any particular piece of land, there will be little incentive for individual effort, each man being inclined to leave to another the production of wealth. St. Thomas therefore decides, after laying down the essentials of just ownership and the duties incumbent on the owner, that personal possession is in accordance with the Divine order of things.
That is a generally accepted tenet of Christian philosophy. Its truth is in no way affected by such an argument as that the Religious Orders and some other voluntary bodies relinquish personal ownership and hold their goods in common. Such exceptions are both voluntary and ordered. The community agrees to act as a single person. Nor is the fact that sometimes an owner of property is rapacious and rides roughshod over the needs of those less fortunate than himself any argument against the principle of private ownership. Whatever the social system adopted, there will always be people of this kind, and, as has been said, St. Thomas insists on the duties as well as the rights of ownership.
The roots of private property thus lie deep in the soil of Christendom.
Baiting the Trap
The socialist attack on this Christian principle is insidious —an ambush for the unwary. In the assumption of control of the means of production by the State the socialist argues that justice will be done to all and that inequalities will be leveled out. The State, he affirms, is impartial, whereas the private owner thinks only of himself. Under socialism, therefore, exploitation of one man by another will end.
That is the bait laid in the trap. If we are to prevent ourselves and others from being caught, we must make perfectly clear what this means in practice.
It means first of all burdensome and ever-increasing taxation, for if a great part of the normal expenditure of a nation is to be undertaken by the State, the money must be found by taxation. This creates two major evils for the individual. His opportunities for exercising personal choice are reduced to the vanishing point, so that initiative dies; and, secondly, he loses all incentive to save, relying upon the government to amass the capital without which all production comes to a standstill. But unlike the private individual or the firm whose livelihood depends upon saving for the provision of capital, the State does not save. On the contrary, it carries an ever rising debt, which demands further taxation to cover the interest due on it. The explanation is simple. Centralized direction on this scale requires a vast unproductive bureaucracy to administer its planning, a bureaucracy whose only incentive is to hold its job and to receive the pay squandered upon it.
As to the argument that the State deals impartially with everyone, whatever the motives of those in power may be (and who can deny that they are usually influenced by pressure groups and vote catching?) impartiality in this connection means reducing to a dull level all the varied ingenuity of human beings. It is a colossal attempt to fit square pegs into round holes. If socialism had been the system intended to govern human affairs, men would have been mass-produced from a single blueprint, and they would have been denied the faculty of free will.
If we turn to relations with foreign countries, we see similar evils arising from controls by the State. There is no resilience when trade depends upon state bargaining. Every transaction takes on a political flavor which spells death to economic give and take. What private firms can thresh out together in a boardroom to their mutual satisfaction becomes a matter of high policy affecting the prestige of governments. Whatever bargaining takes place runs the risk of estranging the two countries concerned and possibly even leading to war. For wars are almost always the result of fear or jealousy of a state government that has so tightened its control over the people of its country that it is able to implement any decision it may come to, however unpopular. It thus becomes a potential danger to the world — a power unit divorced from the aims and desires of its people.
Socialism Breeds Apathy
It is this last characteristic of a socialist government that makes any relapse into socialism by countries freed from the tyranny of communism a matter of serious moment to all those nations that believe in a free society. If, for example, Poland were to adopt a socialist regime, all the vigor of that courageous and talented nation would bit by bit give place to subservient indolence. And if it be asked why then the Poles, who have suffered communism for so many years, have still maintained so much of their fighting spirit, the answer is that communism actively persecutes a people and by its very tyranny keeps alive in brave hearts the determination to resist; whereas socialism, by its milder methods and subtle propaganda, gives the impression that it is working for the betterment of the nation and so lulls it into a somnolent lethargy, until the government has consolidated its control and all power of resistance is dead. After that, a return to communism is the only logical sequel.
If the satellite nations are intending, after their liberation, to replace the false god they hate by another false god that they have not experienced, it is more important than ever that free men strongly resist encroachments in their own countries on the liberty and initiative of the individual.
Freedom is contagious, and it breeds creativity just as surely as control breeds apathy.
WHAT’S THE SCORE?
REPORTED: That the Soviet government is spending more than the United States government on respective exhibits at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.
RUMOR: That some persons are concerned, lest visitors to the Fair conclude from these exhibits that the Russian way of life is superior to the American way of life.
SUGGESTION: That for such persons, there be erected a large scoreboard with a running tally of visitors to the Fair:
From Russia ____
From The United States ____