Freeman

ARTICLE

Two Directions at Once

OCTOBER 01, 1956 by LEONARD E. READ

Mr. Read is President of the Foundation for Economic Education.

We are going in two directions at once,” observed Henry Hazlitt. His subsequent explanation of this statement squared precisely with my own observations. So far as the millions are concerned, socialism is more agreeably accepted today than yesterday, a year ago, a decade ago, or at any other time since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On the other hand, there is a small but growing minority composed of thousands, not millions, who are becoming more skilled, articulate, and convinced devotees of socialism’s opposite—the free market, private property, limited government philosophy.

Detailed confirmation of this phenomenon is not the object of this essay. Suffice it to say that Hazlitt is, in my view, as keen as any observer of ideological trends. And, too, there are the private studies of the Opinion Research Corporation which expertly measure the way socialistic versus free market thinking is going with the public—and it’s toward, not away from, socialism. Further, those of us on the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education may draw upon our own ten years of specializing in this area, our considerable correspondence, and our discussions with groups from varied walks of life. It is clear to us that many millions are going in one direction while tens of thousands are going in the opposite direction.

The only object of this essay is to suggest to persons who perceive the meaning of liberty that the mass socialistic movement does not warrant despair but rather is the occasion for hope. In short, the movement toward socialism is the condition which is motivating our search for understanding.

But, first, a few broad strokes for background: The Constitution of the United States confirmed and aimed to perpetuate our revolutionary theory of government a government in the role of servant, a government of strictly limited powers. No citizen turned to it for succor because it had nothing to dispense; nor did it have the power to take from some and give to others. In the absence of any political nursemaid there developed a remarkable self-reliance among the people. Further, the government was limited to defending life and the honest fruits of men’s labors; it was not empowered to inhibit the creative actions of citizens. As a consequence, there was a freeing of human energy. In short, here, at least from a sociological or political standpoint, was liberty, the like of which never existed elsewhere. Self-reliant men and women, freed from predators and freed from restraints of their creative actions, brought into existence what is loosely referred to as “the American heritage.”

But Americans began to take the blessings of liberty for granted. Its great bounty came to be regarded as an act of nature and progress as inevitable as the sun’s rising on the morrow. That difficult human virtues and political wisdom lay:at the root of this new-world miracle was forgotten or, more likely, never learned by new generations. Americans lost the understanding, the rationale, on which their magnificent edifice was erected. With the limitations on government relaxed, with the foundations of their own revolutionary system weakened, disaster in the form of a return to the old-world pattern—sovereign state and servant people—was only a matter of time.

Societal arrangements, be they good or bad, have a tempo, a rapidity of change, far slower than that of a human being. Thus, most citizens, enjoying the forward thrust their limited governmental structures did not inhibit, came to believe that the ever-increasing governmental intervention they subsequently voted was responsible for their prosperity and well-being. Today, they fail to see that the genuineness in their situation is but the result of an earlier momentum precisely as they fail to recognize the bogus aspects of present “prosperity.” Self-reliance and freed energies have made for such a health that they can, for a time at least, take government pap without apparent immediate injury. It is unfortunate that they believe the pap the cause of their vitality.

The above broad conclusions are cited only as a preface to this brief thesis. The crack in American constitutional theory certainly was not observed when it first occurred. For my own part, I had no realization as to what had happened, what was happening, until 1932. Only a few persons appeared to have an awareness of what was taking place by the late twenties. I recall my amazement, less than ten years ago, in reading a little book published in 1923 in which the author, John W. Burgess, saw clearly what had already happened—at such an early date! Yet, it is unlikely that even Dr. Burgess saw very much prior to 1923, or he would have written his book earlier. In his Recent Changes in American Constitutional Theory, he traced the beginning of the breakdown to 1898. Events that began at that time led first to one thing and then another, culminating in the adoption of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913.1 With its adoption we officially disclaimed the theoretical correctness of limited government, private property, and the free market.


1.   Dr. John W. Burgess was the founder and for many years the head of the Department of Political Science and Constitutional Law, Columbia University. A copy of the book may be obtained from the Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y. 116 pp. $1.00.

But find the people who saw the meaning of these cracks in our structure at the time they happened! They were rare indeed. The adage that “things have to get worse before they can get better” contains an element of truth. Figuratively, only a lonely soul or two can be found who cried out against the progressive income tax in 1913 when the sin was only against good theory. This wholly un-American thing had to grow up, have a pocketbook sting in its bite, gain millions of adherents, before any significant opposition could form. Today, with this theoretical devil the monster it was born to be, there are perhaps a million citizens who would vote for repeal if given a chance. But it has taken the monster stage to generate the significant opposition[ The mere infraction of good theory did nothing more than to evoke the fears of good theoreticians. Popularly speaking, the mere infraction of good theory had no wake-up quality to it.

Having officially accepted a thoroughly communistic doctrine in the adoption of the Sixteenth Amendment—“from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”—it was perfectly natural that socialism in all its forms would follow in its wake. One could hardly expect a people to embrace this fundamental precept in the Communist Manifesto and at the same time have any strong misgivings about other socialistic theory and practice.

The record speaks for itself; we are going down the socialistic route[ Our national policy can be said to be consistent with the Sixteenth Amendment. But, and this is the important point, this very direction is generating an opposite ideological movement. Further, the socialistic direction appears to be a necessary state of affairs to hatch its opposition. Let me attempt an explanation of what at first glance appears to be an anomaly.

Now, since error (socialism or whatever) opposes truth, one might say error has no function. Yet, in a sense, hasn't error a role to play? Isn't it error we use as the stepping stone to truth? Man emerges, evolves, goes in the direction of truth, by the overcoming process. Overcoming presupposes something to be overcome. Even the taking of a simple step presupposes something stepped on. Ascendency presupposes a lower position. A movement God-ward presupposes a direction away from ungodliness.

Consider these opposites: evil and virtue, error and truth. Do we not witness mighty opposites similarly at work on every hand? For instance, would we have any notion of “up” if there were not a gravitational force pulling us down? Would “light” be in our vocabulary if there were no darkness? Would we have the concept of justice if there were no injustice? Isn't hate the evil thing that permits us to see love as a virtue? Where does the passion for security derive except from the prevalence of insecurity? And isn't all intelligence a degree of understanding and wisdom relative to ignorance?

Inquiring further into nature's mysteries, and going as far as science has probed into the ultimate constitution of things, we learn that “every substance is a system of molecules in motion and every molecule is a system of oscillating atoms and every atom is a system of positive and negative electricity.”2 Or, to quote the late physicist, Robert A. Millikan, “All elastic forces are due to the attractions and repulsions of electrons.”3 Opposites at the very root of things!


2.   Dixon, W. MacNeile. The Human Situation. New York: St. Martins Press, Inc., n.d.p. 195.


3.   Eulenburg-Wiener, Renee. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1988. p. 47.

It would appear that the mainspring of all creation, of all variation, of all progress, comes by reason of this tension of the opposites, sometimes called the law of polarity. If there were no tension-something to overcome—there would be no “becoming,” no movement toward higher orders. Obstacles, I contend, have their role. They—error and evil—are things to step on, to rise above. Without them we are incapable of perceiving any above.

There is abundant evidence that this law of polarity or tension of the opposites has been long and well understood. A few selections:

Then welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!
Be our joy three-parts pain!
Strive, and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang;
dare, never grudge the throe!
Robert Browning. Rabbi Ben Ezra

Adversity is the first path to truth.

Byron, Don Juan

 

Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.

Emerson, Conduct of Life:
Considerations by the Way

 

Are Afflictions aught But blessings in disguise?

David Mallet. Amyntor and Theodora

 

Let us be patient! These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume this dark disguise.

Longfellow, Resignation

 

O benefit of ill! now I find true
That better is by evil still made better.

Shakespeare, Sonnets. No. CXIX

 

Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again;
Th' eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among his worshippers.

Bryant, The Battle-Field

 

The road to valor is builded by adversity.

Ovid, Tristia

 

Error is the discipline through which we advance.

William Ellery Channing, The Present Age

 

Dark Error's other hidden side is truth.

Victor Hugo, La Legends des Siecles

 

Shall Error in the round of time Still father Truth?

Tennyson, Lose and Duty

 

The foregoing are ideas for arguing that growing socialism performs a negative function.

A few additional thoughts as to what the socialistic system is: It is the opposite of the free market or willing exchange economy. It is forced, unwilling, coerced exchange. It rests on the suppression of creative human energy. It is the substitution of authoritarianism for market phenomena.

To commandeer, that's it! Webster defines “commandeer” clearly: “to take arbitrary possession of; to commandeer men or goods.” Illustrations: The honest fruits of one's labor are commandeered to make up the deficits of government intervention into the light and power field, as in TVA; in the construction industry, as in government housing; in foreign trade, as in the Marshall Plan or Point Four. One's earnings or capital would probably be employed otherwise if free choice rather than commandeering prevailed. Or, look at another twist of socialism as applied to farming through acreage allotment plans. Either a part of the farmer's acreage is commandeered into nonproduction, which is by way of denying the ownership of said acreage, or some of his capital is commandeered in the form of a fine, which is by way of denying the ownership of said capital. The very essence of ownership is control. We could, properly, call socialism “the command system.” In any event it belongs to the same kaboodle of nostrums as Communism, Fabianism, nazism, fascism, the Welfare State, and so on.

Considering the nature of our faults—our taking-for-granted attitudes, our lethargy, our unawareness—it is logical that we should lose our freedom. But freedom is a prerequisite to man's creative expression. Eventually man must be free; it is human destiny. And man will be free. However, his freedom is conditioned on his understanding of it and its purpose.

The growing socialism is creating its own anti-agents. Abhorrence Of it is stimulating tens of thousands of Americans, of all ages, to study, reflection, contemplation—about freedom. They are discerning freedom's deeper values. They are regaining their faith in free men. They are coming to understand and, in understanding, are learning to explain. They are seeing that wealth, a byproduct of freedom, is not for a recess in life's activities but, instead, is for a release that they may work harder than ever at those creative ventures peculiar to their own persons. They are seeing that freedom is the gate to new levels of the intellect and of the spirit.

Socialism is freedom's opposite, the error, the thing to be stepped on and overcome; it is the tension that can spring man into a more wholesome concept of freedom. And this is the role of socialistic error in man's “becoming.” []


1.   Dr. John W. Burgess was the founder and for many years the head of the Department of Political Science and Constitutional Law, Columbia University. A copy of the book may be obtained from the Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y. 116 pp. $1.00.

2.   Dixon, W. MacNeile. The Human Situation. New York: St. Martins Press, Inc., n.d.p. 195.

3.   Eulenburg-Wiener, Renee. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1988. p. 47.


He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.

 

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

Opposites at the very root of things! It would appear that the mainspring of all creation, of all variation, of all progress, comes by reason of this tension of the opposites, sometimes called the law of polarity. If there were no tension-something to overcome—there would be no “becoming,” no movement toward higher orders. Obstacles, I contend, have their role. They—error and evil—are things to step on, to rise above. Without them we are incapable of perceiving any There is abundant evidence that this law of polarity or tension of the opposites has been long and well understood. A few selections: The foregoing are ideas for arguing that growing socialism performs a negative function. A few additional thoughts as to what the socialistic system is: It is the opposite of the free market or willing exchange economy. It is forced, unwilling, coerced exchange. It rests on the suppression of creative human energy. It is the substitution of authoritarianism for market phenomena. , that’s it! Webster defines “commandeer” clearly: “to take arbitrary possession of; to commandeer men or goods.” Illustrations: The honest fruits of one’s labor are commandeered to make up the deficits of government intervention into the light and power field, as in TVA; in the construction industry, as in government housing; in foreign trade, as in the Marshall Plan or Point Four. One’s earnings or capital would probably be employed otherwise if free choice rather than commandeering prevailed. Or, look at another twist of socialism as applied to farming through acreage allotment plans. Either a part of the farmer’s acreage is commandeered into nonproduction, which is by way of denying the ownership of said acreage, or some of his capital is commandeered in the form of a fine, which is by way of denying the ownership of said capital. The very essence of ownership is control. We could, properly, call socialism “the command system.” In any event it belongs to the same kaboodle of nostrums as Communism, Fabianism, nazism, fascism, the Welfare State, and so on. Considering the nature of our faults—our taking-for-granted attitudes, our lethargy, our unawareness—it is logical that we should lose our freedom. But freedom is a prerequisite to man’s creative expression. Eventually man must be free; it is human destiny. And man will be free. However, his freedom is conditioned on his understanding of it and its purpose. The growing socialism is creating its own anti-agents. Abhorrence Of it is stimulating tens of thousands of Americans, of all ages, to study, reflection, contemplation—about freedom. They are discerning freedom’s deeper values. They are regaining their faith in free men. They are coming to understand and, in understanding, are learning to explain. They are seeing that wealth, a byproduct of freedom, is not for a recess in life’s activities but, instead, is for a release that they may work harder than ever at those creative ventures peculiar to their own persons. They are seeing that freedom is the gate to new levels of the intellect and of the spirit. Socialism is freedom’s opposite, the error, the thing to be stepped on and overcome; it is the tension that can spring man into a more wholesome concept of freedom. And this is the role of socialistic error in man’s “becoming.” [] 1.   Dr. John W. Burgess was the founder and for many years the head of the Department of Political Science and Constitutional Law, Columbia University. A copy of the book may be obtained from the Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y. 116 pp. $1.00. 2.   Dixon, W. MacNeile. New York: St. Martins Press, Inc., n.d.p. 195. 3.   Eulenburg-Wiener, Renee. . New York: The Macmillan Company, 1988. p. 47. He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. Or, to quote the late physicist, Robert A. Millikan, “All elastic forces are due to the and of electrons.” Opposites at the very root of things! It would appear that the mainspring of all creation, of all variation, of all progress, comes by reason of this tension of the opposites, sometimes called the law of polarity. If there were no tension-something to overcome—there would be no “becoming,” no movement toward higher orders. Obstacles, I contend, have their role. They—error and evil—are things to step on, to rise above. Without them we are incapable of perceiving any There is abundant evidence that this law of polarity or tension of the opposites has been long and well understood. A few selections: The foregoing are ideas for arguing that growing socialism performs a negative function. A few additional thoughts as to what the socialistic system is: It is the opposite of the free market or willing exchange economy. It is forced, unwilling, coerced exchange. It rests on the suppression of creative human energy. It is the substitution of authoritarianism for market phenomena. , that’s it! Webster defines “commandeer” clearly: “to take arbitrary possession of; to commandeer men or goods.” Illustrations: The honest fruits of one’s labor are commandeered to make up the deficits of government intervention into the light and power field, as in TVA; in the construction industry, as in government housing; in foreign trade, as in the Marshall Plan or Point Four. One’s earnings or capital would probably be employed otherwise if free choice rather than commandeering prevailed. Or, look at another twist of socialism as applied to farming through acreage allotment plans. Either a part of the farmer’s acreage is commandeered into nonproduction, which is by way of denying the ownership of said acreage, or some of his capital is commandeered in the form of a fine, which is by way of denying the ownership of said capital. The very essence of ownership is control. We could, properly, call socialism “the command system.” In any event it belongs to the same kaboodle of nostrums as Communism, Fabianism, nazism, fascism, the Welfare State, and so on. Considering the nature of our faults—our taking-for-granted attitudes, our lethargy, our unawareness—it is logical that we should lose our freedom. But freedom is a prerequisite to man’s creative expression. Eventually man must be free; it is human destiny. And man will be free. However, his freedom is conditioned on his understanding of it and its purpose. The growing socialism is creating its own anti-agents. Abhorrence Of it is stimulating tens of thousands of Americans, of all ages, to study, reflection, contemplation—about freedom. They are discerning freedom’s deeper values. They are regaining their faith in free men. They are coming to understand and, in understanding, are learning to explain. They are seeing that wealth, a byproduct of freedom, is not for a recess in life’s activities but, instead, is for a release that they may work harder than ever at those creative ventures peculiar to their own persons. They are seeing that freedom is the gate to new levels of the intellect and of the spirit. Socialism is freedom’s opposite, the error, the thing to be stepped on and overcome; it is the tension that can spring man into a more wholesome concept of freedom. And this is the role of socialistic error in man’s “becoming.” [] 1.   Dr. John W. Burgess was the founder and for many years the head of the Department of Political Science and Constitutional Law, Columbia University. A copy of the book may be obtained from the Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y. 116 pp. $1.00. 2.   Dixon, W. MacNeile. New York: St. Martins Press, Inc., n.d.p. 195. 3.   Eulenburg-Wiener, Renee. . New York: The Macmillan Company, 1988. p. 47. He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. With its adoption we officially disclaimed the theoretical correctness of limited government, private property, and the free market. But find the people who saw the meaning of these cracks in our structure at the time they happened! They were rare indeed. The adage that “things have to get worse before they can get better” contains an element of truth. Figuratively, only a lonely soul or two can be found who cried out against the progressive income tax in 1913 when the sin was only against good theory. This wholly un-American thing had to grow up, have a pocketbook sting in its bite, gain millions of adherents, before any significant opposition could form. Today, with this theoretical devil the monster it was born to be, there are perhaps a million citizens who would vote for repeal if given a chance. But it has taken the monster stage to generate the significant opposition[ The mere infraction of good theory did nothing more than to evoke the fears of good theoreticians. Popularly speaking, the mere infraction of good theory had no wake-up quality to it. Having officially accepted a thoroughly communistic doctrine in the adoption of the Sixteenth Amendment—“from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”—it was perfectly natural that socialism in all its forms would follow in its wake. One could hardly expect a people to embrace this fundamental precept in the and at the same time have any strong misgivings about other socialistic theory and practice. The record speaks for itself; we are going down the socialistic route[ Our national policy can be said to be consistent with the Sixteenth Amendment. But, and this is the important point, this very direction is generating an opposite ideological movement. Further, the socialistic direction appears to be a necessary state of affairs to hatch its opposition. Let me attempt an explanation of what at first glance appears to be an anomaly. Now, since error (socialism or whatever) opposes truth, one might say error has no function. Yet, in a sense, hasn't error a role to play? Isn't it error we use as the stepping stone to truth? Man emerges, evolves, goes in the direction of truth, by the process. Overcoming presupposes something to be overcome. Even the taking of a simple step presupposes something stepped on. Ascendency presupposes a lower position. A movement God-ward presupposes a direction away from ungodliness. Consider these opposites: evil and virtue, error and truth. Do we not witness mighty opposites similarly at work on every hand? For instance, would we have any notion of “up” if there were not a gravitational force pulling us down? Would “light” be in our vocabulary if there were no darkness? Would we have the concept of justice if there were no injustice? Isn't hate the evil thing that permits us to see love as a virtue? Where does the passion for security derive except from the prevalence of insecurity? And isn't all intelligence a degree of understanding and wisdom relative to ignorance? Inquiring further into nature's mysteries, and going as far as science has probed into the ultimate constitution of things, we learn that “every substance is a system of molecules in motion and every molecule is a system of oscillating atoms and every atom is a system of and electricity.” Or, to quote the late physicist, Robert A. Millikan, “All elastic forces are due to the and of electrons.” Opposites at the very root of things! It would appear that the mainspring of all creation, of all variation, of all progress, comes by reason of this tension of the opposites, sometimes called the law of polarity. If there were no tension-something to overcome—there would be no “becoming,” no movement toward higher orders. Obstacles, I contend, have their role. They—error and evil—are things to step on, to rise above. Without them we are incapable of perceiving any There is abundant evidence that this law of polarity or tension of the opposites has been long and well understood. A few selections: The foregoing are ideas for arguing that growing socialism performs a negative function. A few additional thoughts as to what the socialistic system is: It is the opposite of the free market or willing exchange economy. It is forced, unwilling, coerced exchange. It rests on the suppression of creative human energy. It is the substitution of authoritarianism for market phenomena. , that's it! Webster defines “commandeer” clearly: “to take arbitrary possession of; to commandeer men or goods.” Illustrations: The honest fruits of one's labor are commandeered to make up the deficits of government intervention into the light and power field, as in TVA; in the construction industry, as in government housing; in foreign trade, as in the Marshall Plan or Point Four. One's earnings or capital would probably be employed otherwise if free choice rather than commandeering prevailed. Or, look at another twist of socialism as applied to farming through acreage allotment plans. Either a part of the farmer's acreage is commandeered into nonproduction, which is by way of denying the ownership of said acreage, or some of his capital is commandeered in the form of a fine, which is by way of denying the ownership of said capital. The very essence of ownership is control. We could, properly, call socialism “the command system.” In any event it belongs to the same kaboodle of nostrums as Communism, Fabianism, nazism, fascism, the Welfare State, and so on. Considering the nature of our faults—our taking-for-granted attitudes, our lethargy, our unawareness—it is logical that we should lose our freedom. But freedom is a prerequisite to man's creative expression. Eventually man must be free; it is human destiny. And man will be free. However, his freedom is conditioned on his understanding of it and its purpose. The growing socialism is creating its own anti-agents. Abhorrence Of it is stimulating tens of thousands of Americans, of all ages, to study, reflection, contemplation—about freedom. They are discerning freedom's deeper values. They are regaining their faith in free men. They are coming to understand and, in understanding, are learning to explain. They are seeing that wealth, a byproduct of freedom, is not for a recess in life's activities but, instead, is for a release that they may work harder than ever at those creative ventures peculiar to their own persons. They are seeing that freedom is the gate to new levels of the intellect and of the spirit. Socialism is freedom's opposite, the error, the thing to be stepped on and overcome; it is the tension that can spring man into a more wholesome concept of freedom. And this is the role of socialistic error in man's “becoming.” [] 1.   Dr. John W. Burgess was the founder and for many years the head of the Department of Political Science and Constitutional Law, Columbia University. A copy of the book may be obtained from the Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y. 116 pp. $1.00. 2.   Dixon, W. MacNeile. New York: St. Martins Press, Inc., n.d.p. 195. 3.   Eulenburg-Wiener, Renee. . New York: The Macmillan Company, 1988. p. 47. He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.


Filed Under : Socialism, Private Property

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

October 1956

ABOUT

LEONARD E. READ

Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) was the founder of FEE, and the author of 29 works, including the classic parable “I, Pencil.”

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