All Commentary
Thursday, October 1, 1970

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1970/10


Lillian R. Boehme, the editor of a monthly magazine called The Libertarian, likes to write with a double focus. It is a difficult trick, but she pulls it off in a searching, closely argued book called Carte Blanche for Chaos—a Critical Look at the Kerner Report (Ar­lington House, $7.00).

On one level this is a “news” book. It goes rather exhaustively into the findings and recommenda­tions of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders that tried to get to the bottom of the urban rioting and arson that began in the Watts area of Los Angeles and spread throughout the land for several of those “long, hot summers.” But behind the critique of the news there is an­other and far more positive book of a kind that would have appealed to the late Isabel Paterson or the late Rose Wilder Lane. Mrs. Boehme is not only concerned with exposing the statist bias of the members of the Kerner Com­mission, she is also concerned with enunciating the principles of what Leonard Read calls “the free­dom philosophy.” The Kerner Commission’s performance is the occasion for Mrs. Boehme’s work, but she could have done just as well if she had picked any one of a number of recent “official” in­vestigations such as the Scranton committee’s probing into the causes of campus violence. With Mrs. Boehme it is the application of her own ideas that counts.

Briefly, Mrs. Boehme has it in for the Kerner Commission for being part of the disease which it was supposed to anatomize and to cure. The men of the Commission blamed the urban riots on “racism.” The theme, as stated, is that the “needs” of the rioters and arsonists, mostly black be­cause of the geographical focus of the Report, constitute a set of “rights,” and the fact that the “needs” had not been satisfied over the centuries was enough to justify or at least to excuse all manner of violence. “Society” is the guilty party according to this way of thinking. The victims of the rioters, so the Kerner philos­ophy assumes, are necessarily to blame for their own injuries, des­poliation, and deaths. For they had done nothing to meet the “needs” of their tormentors and murderers.

This, of course, is a jungle philosophy. It makes hunger an excuse for taking the property of the person next door. It does not recognize the individual nature of “rights,” which must be consid­ered anterior to the institution of government if we are not to con­fuse them with permissions or gifts or dispensations or privi­leges.

With their peculiar view of the nature of “rights” it is scant cause for wonder -that the men of the Kerner Commission forgot to look at the victims of the rioters. Mrs. Boehme says that “people whose homes had gone up in flames, small shopkeepers whose stock vanished in the arms of looters, were not heard…. The ‘antago­nistic views’ of the victims of vio­lence were deemed irrelevant to the Commission’s quest.”

Mrs. Boehme does not deny that life, in a slum, can be hard. But it does not follow that just be­cause the “nonproductive” are poor, the productive are guilty of “depriving” them. The only way in which the poor can be upgraded is to let the producers go to work producing more, for without an expansion of the economy there can be no jobs for the “needy” who have not succeeded in finding berths within the productive sys­tem. Even the taxes that go for “relief” in the slums are depend­ent on prosperity outside the slums.

In a devastating summary Mrs. Boehme says the Kerner Report claims to defend human rights by obliterating the very concept of rights. The Report treats “needs” as rights to what other men pro­duce. It deplores violence—and proposes to institutionalize it by laws that justify the forcible re­distribution of other people’s prop­erty. It preaches against racism, but it judges all individuals in racist terms (it is “they,” the Kerner Commission members, “who cannot see or write of a man without referring to his color.”) The Commission speaks of justice, yet it proposes that the victims of the rioters be forced to pay for swimming pools, rat poison, schools, and even garbage pails for those who have burned the shops and stolen liquor and TV sets. Praise for “law” may be found in the Report, but it goes on to make out a case for the thief who shoots a policeman in “self-defense.” The Report is all for “freedom” of thought—but it offers sneaky justifications for shaming the press into self-cen­sorship, and it advances proposals for state manipulation of the thoughts and actions of men. Fi­nally, the Report is anticapital­istic. It makes “incompetence the coin of the realm.” It proposes that the plight of the unemployed be alleviated by passing more “laws to make employing them uneconomic.” It sets up the “have-nots” as the judges of the “haves,” which means that investment cap­ital can be seized before it has made a single new machine or built a new factory. It praises “free enterprise,” but recommends “a fascist system of nominal pri­vate ownership castrated by stat­ist controls.”

The Underlying Philosophy

If I have any criticism of Mrs. Boehme’s book it is that she doesn’t tell us enough about the statist philosophers of the nine­teen thirties who created the mod­ern slums, miscalled ghettoes, in the first place. The reason why the blacks took up a forced march into Harlem and Watts, into Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant and Detroit and the Chicago South Side, is that the New Deal attempt to cure the woes of American agri­culture by subsidies to the richer farmers ended by “tractoring the field hands off the land.” The money the cotton planters got for limiting their productive acreage went into high-priced mechaniza­tion at a much faster pace than would have occurred naturally if “market” principles had been per­mitted to operate. What would have been an orderly transition, with factories moving into the South to employ stay-at-home labor displaced from the farms, became a rout. The blacks, faced with the necessity of finding new places to live, moved into northern city areas that were already being deserted by whites who could afford to take up new homes in suburbia. New Deal statism was at the bottom of the congestion that occurred over the years.

Since statist ideas are respon­sible for the overcrowding in places like Watts, I am more in­clined than Mrs. Boehme to be lenient with the businessmen who have tried to do something about training and employing the so-called “hard core.” Mrs. Boehme criticizes the Lockheed Corpora­tion’s program for putting Watts people to work in the factory it has built in the Watts Industrial Park. And it is true that the prac­tice of setting up “negative” stand­ards (such as being a school drop­out or a person with a criminal record) for employment has its ludicrous aspects. But when the Lockheed company says that “none of these requirements is so difficult as to present a significant obstacle to the normal profit func­tion,” shouldn’t we be willing to accept the explanation if the stock­holders approve? The state itself forced man off the land into the slums, leaving a problem of mop­ping up to somebody. So why ob­ject if businessmen volunteer to do the mopping?

 

THE THEORY OF EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES by Albert Jay Nock (New York: Arno Press, 1969, 160 pp., $6.00).

Reviewed by Robert M. Thornton

Some excellent books and essays on education have been published during the past twenty years—most notably those by Jacques Barzun, Mortimer Smith, Richard Weaver, Bernard Iddings Bell, George Roche, R. J. Rushdoony, and Christopher Dawson. There were earlier critics and one of the most perceptive was Albert Jay Nock whose The Theory of Educa­tion in the United States has been republished. This volume is made up of the Page-Barbour Lectures delivered at the University of Vir­ginia in 1931. First published in 1932, it was republished in 1949 and has for a long time been out of print and very hard to come by. Much of the criticism directed against modern education, while worth while and true, does not go deep enough. But Nock, the radi­cal thinker, put his finger on the root of the matter: the faulty theory of education which guides most educators in this country. Stated briefly, this theory declares that (1) all persons can be edu­cated; (2) all persons should be educated; and (3) universal edu­cation will bring us a much im­proved society. Part one is, of course, false because not all per­sons are educable any more than all can run a mile in four minutes or write a best-selling novel. This was recognized at about the turn of the century by the powers that be but instead of discarding a worthless theory, they substituted training for education. Nearly everyone may be trained to do something whether it be driving a truck, performing a surgical oper­ation, or programming a comput­er. Training has to do with in­structing or “putting in” informa­tion and is concerned with in­strumental knowledge, with vocationalism or how to earn a living. Responsibility falls chiefly on the instructor.

Education, on the other hand, is a drawing out process that has to do with formative knowledge, with how to live. Responsibility, of course, rests with the student. “Education,” wrote Nock, con­trasting it with training, “con­templates another kind of product; what is it? One of the main ele­ments in it, I should say, is the power of disinterested reflection. One unmistakable mark of an ed­ucated man is his ability to take a detached, impersonal, and com­petent view of something that deeply engages his affections, one way or the other—something that he likes very much. The study of history has really no other purpose than to help put this mark on a man. If one does not study it with this end in view, there is no use studying it at all.”

Training we need, especially in this age of a rapidly expanding technology, because we need prac­tical know-how to provide our economic needs and wants. But we need “useless knowledge,” too, be­cause that is what civilizes us. Education, rightly so called, has suffered a terrible decline in our time, because we have operated for several generations on a skewed theory which confuses ed­ucation with training.

Part two of the theory is un­acceptable to those who recognize the error in part one. Those who have not recognized it are re­sponsible for making our school system (outside of private and parochial schools) compulsory both as to support and attendance, a situation not unpleasing to the collectivists who labor for the creation of an all-powerful state. The problems created by the ap­plication of this false theory are serious: rising taxes, crowded classrooms, shortage of qualified teachers, decline in the quality of schools, the trend toward Federal control of local schools, student riots, and lawbreaking.

Part three of the theory of edu­cation embodies the idea that “ed­ucation” can solve all the problems of the world. This is, of course, a delusion even if we were speak­ing of true education and not training. Even if everyone were educable, universal education would not bring about a utopia. It is not simply a lack of knowledge and wisdom that is responsible for poverty, prejudice, and war; these stem from the very nature of man as a flawed creature. One might even say that training passed off as education is making things worse.

The responsibility for the de­plorable state of education today “lies nowhere in the order of our institutions; it runs back to the acceptance of an erroneous theory. All this ludicrous state of things that we have been examining is the inevitable result of trying to translate a bad theory into good practice.”

 

THE BRITISH NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE: Bad Medi­cine, Bad Politics, Bad Economics by Michael R. Saxon, M.D. (The Saxon Foundation; 143 S. Lincoln Avenue, Aurora, Illinois 60505) 1970, 61 pp., paper, $1.75.

Reviewed by W. M. Curtiss

The 22-year-old British National Health Service is pronounced a failure by Dr. Saxon. He says it presently encompasses about 95 to 97 per cent of all the health serv­ices in the United Kingdom. “To a sensitive practicing physician alert to the current trends of so­cializing American medicine, the British system offers much to ob­serve and compare with an ever-expanding government-sponsored health service scheme inaugurated in America in July of 1965 [Medi­care].”

Dr. Saxon discusses the familiar shortcomings of the NHS—the high number of patients per doc­tor (2,500 average); the low in­come of doctors resulting, in part, in their great exodus from the islands; the inadequate hospital facilities; the suffocating effect on medical research; and, of course, the high cost covered through taxes. General practition­ers say they have become second-class doctors.

English socialists have claimed that their system shows a special compassion in understanding the needs of the poor and the sick. This strikes an exposed nerve in Dr. Saxon who believes that the truth is exactly the reverse. Amer­ican doctors, practicing in a mar­ket economy, can express compas­sion for their patients; whereas British doctors, in attempting to treat all patients alike, feel little need for compassion and have little time to demonstrate it.

To offer medical care to all on an equal basis and at little direct cost has popular appeal, and plays right into the hands of politicians. Dr. Saxon believes this an impor­tant reason why socialized medi­cine has progressed so far in the United Kingdom. But how many doctors will say, with Dr. Saxon, that: “It can hardly be said that medical care is really a necessity. Food, clothing, and shelter are even more fundamental to human existence than medical care and are supplied satisfactorily through the market place…. The con­stant search for profits as one de­livers a needed service to the mar­ket, creates a competitive atmos­phere wherein the consumer al­ways gets the most for the least. Why then is medical care differ­ent?”

Dr. Saxon obviously wants us to learn from the British experience.


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.