The institute of Economic Affairs in Great Britain, which is a nonparty group of economists "held together by a common interest in the working of free economic institutions," has put out a remarkable paperback book, Rebirth of Britain (Pan Books, Ltd., 8 Headfort Place, London S.W.I.; 5 shillings). Eighteen authors have contributed to it, and some of their essays would perplex any classical liberal of the nineteenth century. The key to both the tone and the strategy of the papers is the fact that a nation which is far gone in state welfarism gives its citizens very little room in which to maneuver in their efforts to restore individual freedom of action. Because of the situation in
Well, an "unnecessary" state service in our various authors’ estimation is one that does not permit a voluntary choice between private and public welfare agencies. This implicit definition controls the strategy of the Rebirth of Britain authors. They don’t really advocate dismantling any of the features of the welfare state. But they do suggest the idea of "contracting out," presumably on a basis that would still compel all people to maintain some form of insurance protection against such things as sickness and old age.
In this book we find Arthur Seldon advocating enough government welfarism to provide some state support to "people with low incomes." But he would not provide this support through free services. Instead, he would have the government give to the poor "generous cash money grants or vouchers to enable them to assert themselves in the market place by exerting a choice between state and private welfare services." The idea would be to put the welfare agencies of the state into renewed competition with private insurance agencies, private schools (or "public," as they are called in
The voucher idea has been advanced in the
This would seem to be especially true in the case of the British health services. If a British citizen were to be permitted to "contract out" of dependence on the apparatus of the National Health Service, wouldn’t it be a net gain for freedom?
Counterbarrage to Planners
Rebirth of Britain was provoked by a special issue of Encounter magazine in which sixteen writers under the general editorship of Arthur Koestler wrote on economic planning, education, state welfarism, and related topics. The Koestler group, a bunch of latter-day Fabians who lamented the coming "suicide" of Britain simply because the state hadn’t managed to conscript more than a fifth of the national wealth for compulsory welfare schemes, advocated a far greater direction of the national energy from the top. This so appalled the economists who are banded together in the Institute of Economic Affairs that they decided to let go at the Koestler total planners with a counter barrage advocating as much of a retreat from state compulsion as can be made plausible to Britons who have forgotten that there ever was a classical tradition in economics.
Well, what in Rebirth of Britain is deemed a plausible retreat toward freedom in the current British context? Graham Hutton would curb the unions but continue "a national minimum wage plus locally negotiated supplements differing between industries, firms and regions." Jack Wiseman would relate payments for TV entertainment to "quantity consumed," which would not necessarily put the government-owned British Broadcasting Company out of business but would force it to compete more directly for favor with commercial broadcasting. Mr. Wiseman would return some government monopolies (coal, transportation) to private ownership, but remains doubtful about gas and electricity. Gwyn James would decrease the government supports to British agriculture, but finds a good word to say for the Swedish Land Acquisition Act of 1945 which prevents "unsuitable amalgamations" of farm property and keeps nonfarmers from acquiring farm and forest land.
Denis Thomas, like Jack Wiseman, would not do away with the BBC, but would hold it "in check by competition." Colin Clark would reduce the structure of state welfare by limiting the sum total of taxation to twenty-five per cent of the national income. (He quotes John Maynard Keynes as saying to him that "your figure of twenty-five per cent" is "the maximum tolerable proportion of taxation.")
Arthur Seldon would let schools be "sold in stages to private individuals, partnerships, companies or trusts," and he would permit "doctors’ private lists" to "increasingly replace National Health Service lists," but he would also create a "Permanent Commission on the Social Services" to "advise which state services should be run down and which expanded." E. G. West would increase the amount of private education, but would give all parents a basic annual sixty pounds in state vouchers "spendable on schooling."
Getting from Here to There: The Gradualist Approach
It is apparent from the fore-going recital that not even those who are "held together by a common interest in the working of free economic institutions" dare propose in
What the whole business adds up to is a sort of Fabianism-inreverse-gear, approaching freedom as a limit in much the same manner that Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb used in approaching socialism as a limit back in the eighteen nineties. It is the "inevitability of gradualism" all over again, but with the arrows pointing in a different direction.
Well, maybe such gradualism toward freedom as a limit is the only viable program for an
Cold Friday by Whittaker Chambers (New York: Random House, 1964), 327 pp., $5.95
Reviewed by Robert M. Thornton
If an intellectual may be defined as a person concerned with the things of the mind, Whittaker Chambers qualifies with flying colors. Widely read and conversant in several languages, he sought not knowledge alone but also wisdom, the right use of knowledge. His joy and reverence for the wonder and mystery of life set him apart from those whose ultra-sophistication renders them incapable of experiencing the higher emotions. This great difference—Chambers, a humble poet, seeking God, while his fellow-intellectuals too often were content to sit smug in the confidence that "God is dead"—helps explain the treatment accorded Chambers when he revealed his break with the Communist Party.
Chambers hated the notoriety of the Hiss Case. This was not a man eager for the plaudits of the world but a man forced by his own integrity to do what he believed was right regardless of consequences. His break with communism was not unlike the experience of a narcotic addict or alcoholic "taking the cure." It left a permanent scar.
Dr. Franz Winkler has said that Western civilization is breaking down because its spiritual foundation has been ignored or discarded, first several generations ago by the "intellectuals," and now by the common man. Chambers documented this with his life. He tells of his early college days when few professors, if any, advocated communism, but many teachers scorned religion and derided anyone who believed in the objectivity of transcendent reality. But since man must have some religion, be it good or bad, the vacuum left by the rejection of Christianity (a good religion) was sometimes filled by communism (a bad religion).
Communism, then, is not the disease itself; it is a symptom. The "disease" is the denial of God. The world is not divided between good and bad nations, for good and evil are to be found in every nation. The problem for the West is not to "defeat" communism or "coexist" with communism but to achieve a rebirth of the spiritual life among its own people, and restore its value system. This is not a job for committees, government or private, and no amount of money will bring it about. Rather, it is for each of us to look searchingly at his own life and at his spiritual heritage.
Cold Friday is a field in Chambers’
It is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.
From a letter to National Review,