All Commentary
Friday, February 1, 1974

A Prescription to Soothe One’s Wounds

Mr. Sparks is an executive of an Ohio manufacturing company and a frequent contributor to The Freeman.

Authoritarian government is well known to be the instrument by which man’s freedom to act peacefully is most often hindered or prevented.

The advocate of freedom in the United States, or in any land where the government officials are elected by the democratic process, is aware of the difficulty of removing this authoritarian tendency —even in democracies. To remove totalitarianism from a democracy, the relatively few who understand why individuals should be free to make their own decisions must be able to persuade the majority of voters to the freedom point of view. To achieve such a mission may take generations, if not centuries. Small wonder that the hopes and efforts of those who love freedom often end in frustration.

The purpose here is not to divert attention from the main event. To work toward a wider understanding of the exciting freedom philosophy is of prime importance. But instead of being frustrated, let the seeker of freedom know there is an area of open opportunity to practice the basic tenets of his philosophy without hindrance: in his personal affairs. And to the extent that he succeeds, the rewards are most gratifying.

Suppose our freedom advocate is a family man with a wife and children. How easy and natural it would be for him to assume the role of the tyrant or dictator in his family, while fully intending to be kind and beneficent. As the total ruler of this small kingdom, his word is law, applying repeatedly to the actions of his wife, sons and daughters. Picture the stifling effect on the potential creativity of those under his thumb, as well as an absence of real love of the subjected for their ruler.

Such an atmosphere is bound to affect adversely the well-being and health of the family tyrant. Imagine the heavy and continuous responsibility of making major and minor decisions, not just for one person, but for two, three, four, or five. The burden would be heavy — and the results can be predicted: members of the family absent from home beyond normal reason, little genuine fun and relaxation, children secretive and reluctant to confide in the despot, turning for counsel or information to sources other than the home. All of these are serious reactions, but none could be termed outward revolt. Consequently, the danger exists that the life of the tyrant of the family rolls along uninterrupted while the estrangement solidifies. One by one, as they reach adulthood, the children sever all family ties, leaving the aging tyrant increasingly embittered that his children seem without any love or concern for him.

This same man who logically and clearly sees that excessive power given to men in government produces unhappiness for the oppressed citizens, seems wholly oblivious to those personal circumstances where he held a small amount of power as head of his family and used it badly to rule and dictate. Had he been able to see himself and apply the philosophy of freedom to those around him in his family, his rewards would have been full beyond all expectations.

Parental direction is an awesome responsibility and should not be abdicated. But it can be done joyfully, gently, lovingly, persuasively, to yield a lifetime of pleasure and gratification.

The freedom advocate also may be in a supervisory position over employees. Again, his power can be dispensed with, or without, abrasiveness. Since his effectiveness would be adversely affected if he chooses to be an all out tyrant boss, he may curb his tendencies to wield power ruthlessly. He may have just enough introspection to see that such action could injure his opportunities for advancement or promotion. Unless he owns his business, failure to understand and control his use of power could lead to his early dismissal. Even a business owner can ill afford to be a tyrant over his employees, although his harvest of resentment and lost production may not be immediately apparent.

Although this advocate of freedom may discern clearly the evils of power mad governmental officials, he may at the same time fail to perceive the similar error in the heavy-handed way he employs power personally. It is appropriate that a supervisor instruct and provide direction for subordinates. If he can do this in an atmosphere of freedom, he may then be able to tap the latent creativity of the people who work with him, and encourage its flow, thus enjoying the good will and well-wishes of his colleagues.

From one’s personal life, therefore, can come the healthful satisfaction of practicing freedom among those over whom one has the power to demand submission.

Freedom applied in his personal life can do much to soothe the wounds of the freedom advocate as he is outraged by the oppressiveness of big government. As a matter of fact, he may find that minding his own business is quite a happy and rewarding way of life.  

  • John C. Sparks, who died on March 27, 2005, served on the board of trustees of the Foundation for Economic Education for many years. In the mid-1980s, following his retirement from business, Mr. Sparks served a term as FEE’s president.