A Call to Liberalism

Mr. David Lawrence is Editor of U. S. News & World Report.

Liberalism has been undergoing a steady erosion. The so-called “liberalism” of today is a philosophy of coercionism in conflict with the spirit and letter of the Constitution. It is not true liberalism.

Time was when liberalism meant freedom from excessive government—freedom from encroachment upon the rights of the people.

Time was when the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution was as sacred as any other provision of the Bill of Rights about which we hear so much from today’s “liberals.” This Amendment says:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Control of education, of course, was one of the powers reserved to the states and to the people. No power of the federal judiciary has until recently been exercised to set forth standards of education or to examine and rule upon the psychological influences that may or may not prevail in the classroom.

Today the Supreme Court has proclaimed that the federal judiciary has the right to determine who shall or shall not attend public schools. This disregards the wishes of the states as expressed in their laws and respective constitutions. It is a short step now to the selection of teachers and to the designation of a curriculum by federal authority.

Today’s “liberal” acquiesces in this usurpation of federal power.

Control of employment has hitherto been a right reserved to the people—the right of the individual to work or to refrain from working, and the right of the employer to hire or to refrain from hiring. Neither the states nor the federal government were ever given the right to interfere with the freedom of individuals to contract for goods or services.

The federal government, under the Wagner Act and the Taft-Hartley Act, has undertaken to supervise the operation of labor unions and management where the employer-employee relationship is involved. No such power was ever delegated to government, federal or state, by the Constitution. It is plain usurpation.

Today the “liberal” enthusiastically champions these enlargements of governmental authority over the people.

Discrimination in economic opportunity because of race or creed or color is a shameful thing anywhere—but nothing in the Constitution grants the federal government or the states the power to punish employers or union officials who practice such discrimination. If the people want to abolish discrimination—economic or social and desire to legislate morals, why not let the people adopt a constitutional provision to accomplish such a purpose? The Eighteenth Amendment legislated on morals, but at least it was written into and taken out of the Constitution by the methods specified in the Constitution itself.

Today, without the slightest shred of constitutional power, a presidential commission coerces employers by threatening to deprive them of their right to contract with the federal government unless they obey its decrees on who shall or shall not be employed. This is a usurpation of power.

Granted that these objectives are desirable, shall they be achieved by usurpation? Do we really believe any more in that clause of the Constitution which prescribes the proper way to amend the Constitution, or do we believe that nine Justices may rewrite the Constitution as they please?

It was Thomas Jefferson, the greatest of the true liberals of America, who first inveighed against the power of the judiciary to emasculate the Constitution. He complained that the judges could make the Constitution “a mere thing of wax” which they “may twist and shape into any form they please.”

It was Thomas Jefferson who first protested against the centralized state.

Today’s “liberal” believes in the mastery of the State. He wants the government to own public-power enterprises and believes that the federal government is authorized to own or control every line of business.

True liberalism must be revived in America. It means a government of laws under a written Constitution—not a government by the caprice of men who temporarily hold public office.

True liberalism is today being ignored by so-called “liberals” who by their tactics are involuntarily enlarging the forces of reaction and stimulating extremist groups of the “right” which are as unprincipled as those of the “left.”

There is only one course for the true liberal—to oppose the ideology of those who, in the name of emergency, expediency, convenience, or profit, would forsake both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.

For it is the written Constitution—the whole of it and not just a few selected provisions—which we as citizens take an oath of allegiance “to preserve, protect, and defend.” []

Reprinted from U. S. News & World Report, an independent weekly news magazine published at Washington, D. C. Copyright 1956, United States News Publishing Corporation.

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