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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist on “the Essence of Tyranny”

Seven decades ago, Felix Morley’s "The Power in the People" explored the central distinction between self-government and coercive government.

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

Democrat nomination seekers have proposed an astounding engorgement of centralized government power at the expense of individuals’ power to choose for themselves. But coercively crowding out self-government did not start just recently. That is why those who recognized it in the past still offer valuable insights today.

Morley’s Distinction

One of the most insightful commentators was Felix Morley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist “respected for his acumen and fairness by his peers across the political spectrum,” according to author James Person. In particular, seven decades ago, Morley’s The Power in the People focused on the central distinction between self-government and the impositions of coercive government.

  • “This Republic is grounded on the belief that the individual can govern himself… [but our] political system…is increasingly distorted in order to subject them to remote administrative dictation.”
  • “The founders…frequently asserted that the primary purpose of government is to secure private property.”
  • “The Constitution of the United States sets specific limits to the power of government…to safeguard individual enterprise against the state.”
  • “Self-government is the very heart and core of the American way of life…[not] the aggrandizement of the State.”
  • “Shall man be subject to the authoritarian State or shall he restrain State powers to the minimum necessary for an orderly Society?”
  • “In America the individual, retaining sovereignty, intended to fulfill his destiny through a free Society, holding the State in leash.”
  • “Arbitrary power in a democracy may be just as great a menace to liberty as the outright tyranny of a dictatorship.”
  • “The State…subjects people; whereas Society associates them voluntarily.”
  • “The development of the State has been that of constant aggrandizement…at the expense of…the individuals who create Society.”
  • “The unconditional surrender of power to political government…[is] wholly contrary to the principles of the Republic.”
  • “State power, no matter how well disguised by seductive words, is in the last analysis always coercive physical power…[which] works ceaselessly to enlarge that power.”
  • “The essence of tyranny is reliance on external, as opposed to internal, compulsion.”
  • “Tyrannies are almost always imposed by democratic means.”
  • “As State controls become more plausible, more far-reaching and more effective, the tendency of democracy to succumb to the demagogue becomes ever more pronounced.”
  • “The American tradition is…completely opposed to authoritarian government.”
  • “Encroachment on the rights of others is not prevented by…vesting it in government bureaus.”
  • “Every minority must be protected against the ever-possible tyranny of mass opinion.”
  • “The more that power can be concentrated, the more perfect the State becomes as an instrumentality of suppression in the hands of those who believe in suppression.”
  • “Only one form of government can nurture liberty, and that is personal self-government.”
  • “The distinguishing characteristic of American civilization is the subordination of centralized power on behalf of individual liberty.”
  • “The market does not become more humane under the direction of…the State.”
  • “To transfer power to the State…serves only to monopolize power in wholly irresponsible hands…there is no solution…in this fancied remedy.”
  • “Enlargement of the area of State authority…contracts the condition of economic freedom…this false god over every form of social organism is enormous and devastating.”
  • “The one enduring political folly is to concentrate in the hands of ambitious men power that they do not have the restraint to exercise wisely.”
  • “The most that any government can do is set people “at liberty.” The State can stabilize the condition of freedom, and that is its sole excuse for being; men must develop their liberty from within. It cannot be doled out by government agencies.”

Seven decades ago, Felix Morley wrote,

The worth and validity of American political principles are now being aggressively challenged by the philosophy of government planning.

And while the challenges facing citizens to discover how to regenerate liberty are much greater now due to further erosion of the American vision, his understanding is an excellent place to begin.

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).