All Commentary
Tuesday, January 1, 1974

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1974/1


Every year the Northfield, Illinois, publishers of Who’s Who Among American High School Students issue a detailed response to a questionnaire which they circulate to a few thousand “high achievers” in the eleventh and twelfth secondary school grades. The 1972-73 annual survey is extremely encouraging; our seventeen-year-olders are now refusing to associate themselves with any of the hippie attitudes of the late Nineteen Sixties. The vast majority of the boys and girls who replied to the questionnaire indicated a good rapport with their families, said “no” to sexual promiscuity, and presented an overwhelming opposition not only to hard drugs but also to the marijuana cult. If and when they carry their attitudes on into college, we are likely to see an end to campus trashing, the forcible seizure of deans’ offices, and the endless demonstrating and violent politicking that keeps serious students from paying attention to their books.

This is the more hopeful reading of the future. Surely Richard S. Wheeler, a former chief editorial writer for the Oakland Tribune, would like to endorse the idea that American adolescents are returning with some real conviction to our older and saner traditions. But, as Mr. Wheeler says in an epilogue to his The Children of Darkness: Some Heretical Reflections on the Kid Cult (Arlington House, $7.95), he can’t quite believe there has been any fundamental change in the ideology governing the youth movement. The new calm, he says, is tactical. He very much fears that our so called counterculture “remains stubbornly alienated.” It would, he thinks, take a real religious movement among the young to change things much, but he doubts that such a movement is in the making. “Too many of the kids,” he concludes ominously, “have a compact with the devil.”

Permissive Adults

The truly interesting thing about Mr. Wheeler’s book is that he blames the adult world for the kid “revolution” of the Sixties. What happened was that the children who were born in the years after World War II tumbled to the fact that their permissive parents didn’t give a damn about much of anything. The parents were still living on the moral capital built up by their forebears who still held to the values of an individualism tempered by traditional Christianity. Underneath the correct behavior of the adult world the young sensed a complete lack of moral convictions. The hypocrisy of the adults provoked the counterculture. What the kids did in the Sixties was to act out the secret beliefs, or lack of beliefs, of their elders. The hidden nihilism of our world suddenly took on active and violent form.

The irony of the protest against regimentation by the “Establishment” is that it happened in the freest society the world has ever seen. What the kid culture failed to understand was that there was nothing to prevent each and every individual from achieving a personal salvation that might have transformed society without any “revolution.” Here Mr. Wheeler zeroes in on the picture of the world presented to people who get their news from the TV screen. In Mr. Wheeler’s opinion it was no accident that our “first television generation has turned out to be revolutionary.”

A Negative Image

The image of America that comes over the tube is heavily negative. On TV, society is exploitative. Our capitalists have “raped” the continent (never mind that wood from our forests built millions of homes that have been adequately warmed by our oil and coal). Our blacks “are cannon fodder, and rich men sit upon the pile of their corpses.” Nader’s picture of our economic system is taken by the young TV-viewers as gospel: the consumer is represented as being cheated at every turn.

With calamity the daily TV fare, how could the first television generation know that the workaday American world goes smoothly enough even though our society has been failing in philosophic and religious conviction? The kids, untrained in the reading arts in a school system that does not know how to teach grammar, rhetoric and logic, are unable to catch a hint from the routine dividend reports on the financial pages, or the story about a golden wedding anniversary on the society page. Muckraking journalism, taking over the big broadcasting studios, sees the world as a seamless web of “problems,” each more devastating than the one before.

Mr. Wheeler observes that, “thanks to the media,” there is “no longer any spatial isolation or localization of interest” in what the young receive from our “democratized” reporting. Evil is everywhere, whether in Biafra, Vietnam or the American Appalachians. The TV camera turns everything into instant crisis. And so we have an obsession with politics: if Christianity has failed to solve our crises, the State must do what individuals, working in voluntary groupings, have been unable to accomplish.

Self-Betrayal

The kids, according to Mr. Wheeler, don’t really believe that State action will change things.

But if there is no God, some secular surrogate for the Deity must be found. So the kids play at a revolution which, if it should ever succeed, would hand things over to the socialistic modern liberals. Retreating to their communes or copping out by succumbing to the drug culture, the Flower Children don’t make good material even for a Party of the Left. But in going along with the Leftist criticism of capitalism, the Flower Children have betrayed themselves. Liberal reform may have failed, but it is still thought of by the young as the only alternative to “repression.”

The real trouble with the young, as Mr. Wheeler sees it, is that they are terrified by the “vast liberty of a permissive society.” They are vaguely aware that they might become anything they choose, but it takes character to persist in learning a skill or acquiring the patience to wait for promotion in any hierarchical arrangement of society. Having been reared in an overprotective environment, the young have not had any chance of developing resilience and toughness.

Terrified Leaders

The gurus of the Sixties were all terrified creatures on their own. “ Liberty,” says Mr. Wheeler, “terrifies Herbert Marcuse… it appalls Tom Hayden and Mark Rudd… for those unprepared for it, liberty is the most frightful bomb ever to explode on the human psyche.” The kids, in their rebellion, have actually hoped to encounter some frontiers of resistance from their elders. But they have had no such luck; society has become a spongy mass.

There will be no basic change in our situation without a spiritual revival. Mr. Wheeler thinks our Christian churches must “garrison themselves” to fight our secular liberalism that tries to turn responsibilities over to the State. The time may be soon at hand, he says, “when Christianity must retreat into the monastic life.” But what if the kids continue to “have a compact with the devil”? Mr. Wheeler remains a pessimist: “the great rockfests are over,” he says, “but the music lingers on.”

 

ABRAHAM LINCOLN — THEOLOGIAN OF AMERICAN ANGUISH by Elton Trueblood (New York: Harper & Row, 1973) 149 pp., $4.95 cloth.

Reviewed by W. Marshall Curtiss.

Dr. Elton Trueblood, renowned Quaker theologian and professor at Earlham College, has written “another” book on Lincoln. He makes no apology for adding to the vast storehouse of writings about this great personage. He reminds us that Lord Tweedsmuir, in justification of another biography of Oliver Cromwell said: “Every student of the seventeenth century in England, must desire sooner or later to have his say about its greatest figure.”

Of the American Experiment, Dr. Trueblood says: “We know who the greatest figure is and we cannot leave him alone. The next best thing to being great is to walk with the great.”

Dr. Trueblood feels that in these troubled times, a walk with Lincoln is especially appropriate. Most particularly, he discusses Lincoln’s religion. In his analysis of these complex aspects of Lincoln, the author, while aware of the voluminous writings about the man, relies largely on what Lincoln himself wrote. He did draw substantially on the writing of the late Reinhold Niebuhr.

A few writers, recently, have attempted to pin the label “racist” on Lincoln. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, it is said that Douglas suggested Lincoln’s position would lead to intermarriage and the mixing of the races. Lincoln said: “There are white men enough to marry all the white women, and enough black men to marry all the black women, and in God’s name, let them be so married.” Those who would call this racism should read further, especially the Emancipation Proclamation.

Politically, Lincoln was a staunch believer that politics is the science of the possible. As a careful student of the American revolutionary times, he knew that the republic was founded in compromise. His mission, as he conceived it, was to preserve the republic — the American Experiment — at all cost. He saw slavery as one aspect of a greater problem. “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

This position, of course, did not endear Lincoln to extremists of either side. It led, no doubt, to the belief that a deeply religious man could not hold such views. But Lincoln believed that some degree of consensus was necessary if the Union was to be preserved. He emphasized this in his “House Divided” speech: “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”

As the war wore on, Lincoln saw that if the Union was to be preserved, slavery must go. His Emancipation Proclamation was the culmination of his thinking in this area.

Trueblood’s development of Lincoln’s religious thinking is largely to show how it developed from early boyhood to mature adulthood. The fact that Lincoln never became a member of an organized church has led some to think of him as nonreligious. But Trueblood points out that only 23 per cent of the population were church members in 1860 compared with 60 per cent a century later.

An interesting sidelight on Lincoln’s reaction to those who would have one big church instead of the divided condition of Protestantism and the fragmentation which then existed, is his reply to a visitor who lamented this situation. “The more sects we have the better. They are all getting somebody in, that others could not: and even with the numerous divisions we are all doing tolerably well.” This might well be pondered by those who today advocate “one big conservative organization.”

It will be recalled that Lincoln’s education was based in large part on his early reading of the Bible. He could quote from it at length and it had great influence on his later speaking and writing. His was a religion of the Bible rather than of an organized church. Perhaps the most important aspect of his religion was that he was more concerned with knowing God’s will than in seeking personal salvation. Trueblood says: “He could not abide the kind of a religion which made a man interested only in the salvation of his own soul without any reference to human injustice such as that of slavery.” He was free of the self-righteousness that seemed to trouble the extreme idealists. “He differed from the fanatical moralists primarily in that he was always perplexed.” Or, as we would say today, he didn’t have all the answers.

In seeking to know God’s will, Lincoln was aware that in the war, somebody was mistaken. He knew that Jefferson Davis was, like himself, a man of prayer. He knew that both sides prayed to the same God.

Grounds for skepticism over Lincoln’s religion may have come from his youth when he delighted in debate and took either side of any argument. This may have ledto the often quoted Herndon saying that Lincoln was an infidel. But to study his development, with deep religious experiences, makes it reasonably clear that Lincoln was a religious and compassionate man. His early years were lighthearted and his speech full of humor. Referring to his storytelling during a troublesome time in later years, he said: “If I couldn’t tell these stories I would die.” Trueblood tells us that the death of his four-year-old son Eddie in 1850 “sufficed to eliminate forever the lighthearted irreverence of his youth.” “During his forty-nine months in the presidency, Abraham Lincoln issued nine separate calls to public penitence, fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving. Seen together they reveal with remarkable clarity both the growth and the depth of the man’s inner life.”

Students of freedom, limited government, and the voluntary society will be interested in True-blood’s reference to John Bright and his influence on Lincoln. It will be recalled that Bright joined Richard Cobden in 1841 in the Anti-Corn-Law League. Bright was an English Quaker, opposed to slavery and a strong opponent to England’s recognition of the Confederacy. There was much Southern and Anti-Union sentiment in England at the time and John Bright was almost the only major statesman who supported Lincoln’s firm policy. Bright did have the support of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, all of which was of great importance to Lincoln.

As expected, Trueblood would include mention of important Quaker influences on Lincoln. John Bright was one; and another, perhaps even more influential in his later life, was Eliza P. Gurney. Mrs. Gurney was the widow of the famous English banker and Quaker minister, Joseph John Gurney.

Trueblood says that the Lincoln-Gurney letters — together with Lincoln’s “Meditation on the Divine Will” — “provide a genuine introduction to the theme completed in the Second Inaugural.” This address often has been called the greatest state paper of the nineteenth century and a theological classic.

Evidence of Lincoln’s spiritual growth was a statement by Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune. Greeley had been most critical and impatient with Lincoln in the early years of the war, but later wrote: “Never before, did one so constantly and visibly grow under the discipline of incessant cares, anxieties, and trials. The Lincoln of’62 was plainly a larger, broader, better man than he had been in’61; while’63 and’64 worked his continued and unabated growth in mental and stature.”

Trueblood’s little book is truly a refresher for those whose study of Lincoln has dimmed a bit over the years, as well as an introduction for those just starting their “walk with the great.”

 

UNDERSTANDING THE DOLLAR CRISIS by Percy L. Greaves, Jr. (Belmont, Mass. 02178: Western Islands) 302 pages, $7.

Reviewed by Henry Hazlitt

This book consists of a series of seven lectures given by Professor Greaves in the Argentine in 1969. Yet it forms, in effect, a rounded economic text. The titles of the lectures sufficiently indicate their contents: 1. What Is Economics?, 2. The Role of Value in Human Action, 3. How Prices Are Determined, 4. The Effect of Wage Rate Interventions, 5. The Theory of Money, 6. The Cause of the 1929 Depression, and 7. The Evolution of the Present World Monetary Crisis.

There is a Foreword by the late Professor Ludwig von Mises. Percy Greaves has been for years a devoted student of Mises and does not profess to be doing much more than apply the principles of “Misesian” economics to some of the outstanding problems of our time. Yet, through his long years of study and thinking he has made these ideas his own.

In an autobiographical passage in his preface, he tells us how deeply he and his family suffered from the collapse and depression of 1929, how the gnawing question of what caused this depression set him off on a life-long quest for an acceptable answer, and how, at last, becoming aware of Ludwig von Mises and his teachings, he finally found answers that fully satisfied him as to the real causes of inflation, mass unemployment, and modern economic depressions.

The first four lectures are almost purely theoretical. They lay the groundwork for the last three, which deal largely with recent economic developments and future prospects. In this arrangement Mr. Greaves follows the practice of Böhm-Bawerk, the teacher of Mises, who once said: “I cannot profitably discuss the ‘practical’ side of the subject until there is complete clarity with respect to the theoretical side.”

Readers of Mises and Böhm-Bawerk will find few surprises in the early chapters on the nature of economics, the role of value, and the determination of prices. They will, however, find the exposition simple, clear, and condensed. Mr. Greaves opens what he calls Part Two with his chapter on “The Theory of Money.” In his Preface he has told us that “The study of money is at the apex of that mountain of human knowledge known as economics.” His chapter justifies that description.

The theory he expounds is essentially that of Mises, but his presentation is lucid and concise without being oversimplified. It is a quantity theory of money, in the sense that it recognizes that whenever the quantity of money is increased, other things being equal, the value of each unit tends to fall (as with any other economic good). But this is not the crude mechanical quantity theory of money (espoused today by the so-called monetarists) which holds that a given increase in the quantity of money will produce the same proportional increase in “average prices.” Greaves points out that the increases in commodity prices brought about by increases in the quantity of money are neither proportional nor uniform, nor do they occur all at the same time.

He exposes the fallacies in the idea that the value of money can somehow be kept constant by political manipulation. It is impossible in the nature of the case to maintain inflation indefinitely at a uniform rate. Inflation — the injection of new paper money into a society — can never provide more than, at best, a merely transitory stimulation. It adds no new wealth; it merely redistributes purchasing power, and can help some groups only at the expense of others. Inflation is never necessary: “The quantity of money available in any society is always sufficient to perform for everybody all the functions that money can perform.” “A free market economy cannot permanently operate on a politically manipulated paper money standard. Free men need a market-selected money. Under present conditions, this means a gold standard.”

The present writer is often asked by correspondents in what book or books they can learn most about economics. I have told them that the Mt. Everest of modern texts is Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action, but I have had to warn them of the difficulties of the ascent, particularly for tyros. The problem has been to recommend a book or books that would most quickly prepare them to understand the Mises opus. I have often suggested Faustino Ballve’s little Essentials of Economics, which is excellent, but not long enough (126 pages). What has been lacking is a book of intermediate length to introduce readers to a full appreciation of the Misesian principles and insights. Professor Greaves’ book, among its other merits, admirably meets this need.

 

TWO CONCEPTS OF THE RULE OF LAW by Gottfried Dietze. (3520 Washington Boulevard, Indianapolis, Liberty Fund, Inc., 1973) 108 pages, Cloth, $5.00.

Reviewed by Ridgway K. Foley, Jr.

What constitutes the essence and appropriate role of the state? How does man define justice? What is law; what is order; what is liberty; and, how do these concepts interrelate? Under what system or governmental structure can we secure maximum individual freedom and yet preserve the order necessary to avoid anarchy? What forces threaten liberty and orderliness today?

These and related inquiries have intrigued political philosophers and students of jurisprudence from the time of Plato. Now Gottfried Dietze, the distinguished scholar from Johns Hopkins University best known for his In Defense of Property published a decade ago, turns the light of his analysis and talents upon such heady questions in Two Concepts of the Rule of Law.

Encouraged and published by Liberty Fund, Inc., Professor Dietze’s latest book consists, in the main, of two long essays: “The Just State and State Justice”, composed in 1966, and “State Justice and the Just State”, written from a vantage point five years later. Despite similarity of title, the two chapters examine similar problems from divergent points of view, points of view induced if not impelled by events transpiring in the United States in the intervening years.

The author cogently observes “In today’s Germany, constitutionalism is probably endangered as much by state impotence as by state omnipotence.” (pages 92-93). While he directs a warning to the Bonn regime, his analysis, writ large, should be heeded by all nationalities. Indeed, this sentence summarizes the entire book: constitutional government, the nineteenth century structural hope for securing personal liberty, faces a dual threat, an ever-expanding welfare state and an omnipotent permissive state.

The Encroaching State

In Chapter I, “The Just State and State Justice,” Professor Dietze lays bare the threat of the enveloping state, ever intruding more deeply into the lives of its citizens. Although he displays no particular commitment to libertarianism (and indeed seems a captive of Germanic traditionalism), we know from his magnificent In Defense of Property where his instincts rest.

Yet in this chapter, the writer seems to seek an orderly balance in which essential law will preserve and protect the individual without despotism. If, by this, Professor Dietze means that government should maintain and enforce rules which inhibit and deter individuals from coercing and defrauding other members of society, and should provide for the orderly settlement of disputes, I would certainly agree. If he suggests some greater range to the appropriate state power, particularly in his disturbing use of noncontential phrases such as “liberal bill of rights” and a “social bill of rights” (see page 44), I must respectfully disagree.

Perhaps the lack of clarity emanates from Professor Dietze’s posture as a scholar and a scientist. He treats difficult questions objectively, acting as a value-free investigator for the most part. This we must cheer after myriad liberal “social scientists” assault our senses with unscientific and loaded conclusions.

In any event, the first chapter considers the seed of tyranny existent in a liberal Law State, tracing the alteration of Germany from its nineteenth century tradition through the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Third Reich. Although the lesson is not a new one, the author offers valuable insight into the theoretical underpinnings which made possible such a development. Ideas have consequences, and it becomes imperative to learn what malevolent or benevolent ideas contributed to the rise of an Adolf Hitler so that, hopefully, such a cataclysmic event might be avoided in the future.

After the Riots

Professor Dietze wrote Chapter II, “State Justice and the Just State,” in 1971, after viewing the riots, the violent demonstrations, the confrontations, the hijackings, and the general licentiousness of the later 1960′s. These events obviously took their toll and colored his thinking, for in this essay the author expresses concern about the survival of constitutional government (in the original liberal tradition) in an age dominated by the permissive state. He bleakly forecasts the future when he remarks:

As long as there are human communities and states, there will be State Law. On the other hand, the future of the Just State is less clear. As a result of its formalization, that state can be inverted and annihilated by State Law. Considering the substantive evolution of that law as the concretization of political decisions, the survival of constitutional government appears to be doubtful. It is true that, by means of State Law, constitutionalist idealists, with varying success, again and again have tried to create, even under the most adverse conditions, institutions which approach their ideal. However, welcome as these attempts may have been for combating the threat to constitutional government from the power of the state, their all too permissive conception often brought with them a laxity which overlooked the importance of the law for constitutional government and thus endangered the latter through state impotence. (page 92)

Chapter II deals with a very real threat, one which perplexes many of us who live in this unsettled age. On the one hand, all manner of regulations impede the release of creative energy by the individual: the Law State. On the other hand, government, for all of its monopoly of organized force, seems wholly unable to cope with bandits and terrorists in our midst who deprive their neighbors of life and property and who absolutely defy any rules of law or common morality: the Permissive State. The murders at Munich, the behavior of the Chicago Seven, the Soledad Brothers affair, the Black Panther police snipings, all reveal on utter indifference to an orderly society, a vital threat to creative citizens, and an almost complete inability of organized government to cope with persons who operate outside of a moral consensus.

Two Concepts of the Rule of Law makes one hunger for a more intense analysis of the interrelationship of freedom and order. Can we anticipate a natural concatenation of the creative energies of the millions of individuals who make up the modern state, or are collisions between personal desires and drives which can only be determined by the state inevitable? I rather believe the former but would welcome Professor Dietze’s consideration of the subject together with a specific look at some of the apparent person-to-person conflicts “solved” by the modern state. In summary, the author says a great deal in a short span but, by virtue of the nature of his subject, he leaves much unsaid.

A word of warning to the unwary reader: do not expect a fast and easy track. This man writes for the person who thinks about knotty problems. The author assumes a knowledge of history, of law, and of philosophy on the part of his reader. More than that, he demands that his reader think and participate in the scholarly endeavor. One who bears with Professor Dietze and who brings his own insights along on the journey will be amply rewarded. 


  • 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.