All Commentary
Thursday, August 1, 1974

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1974/8


It is now some thirty years since I first read Isabel Paterson’s drastic attack on the compulsory public school as a model of the totalitarian state. I thought at the time that Mrs. Paterson’s fierce logic was a little out of place. After all, we had plenty of private schools around in the Nineteen Forties, and our private universities had not yet succumbed to the habit of running to Washington, their tin cups in hand. My feeling was that as long as competition between public and private systems existed, all would be well.

Time, however, seems to be proving the case for Isabel Paterson. With our parochial schools foundering, and our colleges trading in their institutional integrity in return for Federal cash, the State-supported and State-dominated system is winning all down the line. Education is not improved thereby: the mediocre mass holds back the students of distinction. With a quota system of “ethnicity” being substituted, via “affirmative action,” for excellence as a criterion of pupil acceptance, the diploma means less and less.

The State has not yet outlawed the high school or college teaching of such things as free enterprise economics or a biology that tells the truth about individual variations, but there is a subtle presumption in our school lounges and on our campuses that political solutions must be sought for all our complex problems. We are becoming a standardized people, ready to accept “controls” without bleating. When the ultimate inflationary blow-off comes, we will be doormats for our first dictator. It will be done by way of “Welfarism”; our Fuhrer, taking a tip from the late Huey Long, will do as Fascists do but will call it Progressivism.

The end results of a State-standardized educational system are becoming more and more apparent even to some of our professional “educationists.” What was wildly heterodox when Isabel Paterson was writing is now being accepted as common sense by a wide variety of scholars and legal critics who want a pluralistic society to prevail. These scholars and critics are fortunate in having a few independent foundations such as the Institute for Humane Studies and the Center for Independent Education around to support their ruminations by underwriting symposiums. So we have a good book at hand: The 12-Year Sentence, edited by William F. Rickenbacker (Open Court, $6.95). The book consists of papers prepared for an education symposium held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the Fall of 1972, with an added introduction by Professor Benjamin A. Rogge of Wabash College.

The Coercive Intrusion

Professor Rogge sets the scene by conjuring up the stuff of our daily headlines. Day in and day out we are subjected to bitter controversy over busing, sex courses, socialist indoctrination, school prayers, the educational role of property taxes, the place of “relevance” in curricula, etc., etc. None of these controversial topics would be particularly bothersome if it weren’t for the fact that schooling is compulsory from the ages of six to sixteen. With the State absorbing most of the available education money, few parents can afford to pick private schools that can really educate children without regard to specious standards of relevance or whatever. So an overwhelming proportion of our younger population is now being subjected to what Ben Rogge calls “the coercive intrusion of the collective into the life and mind of the individual.”

Professor Rogge says the whole subject of compulsory schooling is “ripe for rethinking,” and the contributors to The 12-Year Sentence make a good beginning at the job. Murray Rothbard, delving into the historical origins of the idea of compulsory attendance at State-supported schools, tells us about the Saxony School Plan devised by Martin Luther and put into practice through an edict drawn up by his disciple Melanchthon. The Saxon and Wurttemberg systems created under Lutheran influence were the models for the Prussian system of compulsory schooling. In America, Calvinist Massachusetts (unlike Pilgrim Plymouth) enacted a compulsory literacy law for all children. The law gave judges the power to seize the children of recalcitrant parents and “apprentice” them for State instruction.

Horace Mann in Massachusetts

It was the Massachusetts system that ultimately triumphed throughout most of America. Mr. Roth-bard traces the careers of the “educationists” through their school journals. Horace Mann, the editor of the Common School Journal, became the first secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, and his annual reports during the 1840s promoted the “free” compulsory line throughout the whole country. What Horace Mann did in Massachusetts, Henry Barnard did in Connecticut, Calvin Wiley in North Carolina, Caleb Mills in Indiana, and Samuel Lewis in Ohio. These are the big names in the adaptation of the Prussian system to the United States. It was all done in the name of “democracy.” But it was a “democracy” with an unconscious totalitarian ingredient. The idea, in the words of Samuel Lewis, was to take a diverse population (the new Irish, the German ‘Forty-eighters,’ etc.) and mould it into “one people.”

As Mr. Rothbard says, the moulding was not an easy process. “The pesky Catholics,” he writes, “often insisted on establishing their own parochial schools.” But quantitatively, the Horace Manns achieved a great success. In 1922 the State of Oregon actually passed a law prohibiting all private schools and compelling all children to go to public school. This seemed the culmination of a dream, but it was interrupted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1925. In the Pierce v. Society of Sisters decision, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the state.” Mr. Rothbard notes ironically that the Ku Klux Klan, in pushing for the aborted Oregon law, had made common cause with the Horace Mann educationists. The Pierce decision, so Mr. Rothbard says, points the way to a fundamental choice: “it will,” he writes, “either be Pierce and liberty or Horace Mann and the Ku Klux Klan.”

Reducing the Options

Other contributors to The 12-Year Sentence — Gerrit Wormhoudt, Robert Baker, E. G. West — are concerned lest the American people be cheated out of a choice by the economics of the situation. Our Supreme Court decisions and our statute laws and judicial interpretations may protect the public in its ultimate right to choose between a State-supported system and a private system of education, but when government taxes virtually everybody at a high rate to support public schools there is little left for the private school. Our inflation has made a bad situation almost incredibly worse. Our courts have actually twisted the First Amendment out of shape in regard to the “freedom of religion” clause. It is a negation of “freedom of religion” when a State refuses to refund money, via vouchers or remission of taxes, to citizens who consider it part of their religious duty to send their children to parochial schools.

For money reasons, then, Mr. Rothbard is not likely to see any big showdown between Pierce and Horace Mann and the Ku Klux Klan. The latter are winning by default. The private school maintains its legal right to exist, but who can afford the luxury of supporting two sets of schools simultaneously?

The fight was lost in Britain, according to historian E. G. West, through negligence. As Britain became more wealthy in the Nineteenth Century, individual enterprise responded by developing private education. But the State school people had the better propaganda. The individual, in Britain, never managed to fight.

We’ll need many more symposiums and books like The 12-Year Sentence to keep the U.S. from going the way of Britain. There is a formidable educationist hierarchy, guaranteeing jobs and tenure to teachers, to overcome if the private school is to be saved. Tax remission would be only a beginning. But the case against compulsion in education is now being cogently stated, and that, at least, is something.

 

LAW, LEGISLATION AND LIBERTY. Volume 1: RULES AND ORDER by F. A. Hayek (University of Chicago Press, 1973), 184 pages, $7.95.

Reviewed by Henry Hazlitt

Dr. Hayek’s great treatise, The Constitution of Liberty, appeared in 1960. In the years since then he has continued to explore at an even more basic level the problems with which it dealt. The present small volume, Rules and Order, is projected as the first of three. It is to be followed by a second volume dealing with The Mirage of Social Justice, and a third treating The Political Order of a Free Society.

Dr. Hayek may seem to be going once more over the same ground as he did in The Constitution of Liberty. In certain respects he is. If he had known when he published that book that he was going to proceed to the task attempted here, he confesses, he would have reserved that title for this successor. It is only in the present book, he adds, that he addresses himself to the question: “What constitutional arrangements, in the legal sense, might be most conducive to the preservation of individual freedom?”

The outstanding thesis of this book is that “a condition of liberty in which all are allowed to use their knowledge for their purposes, restrained only by rules of just conduct of universal application, is likely to produce for them the best conditions for achieving their aims.”

In explaining this thesis, Dr. Hayek elaborates more fully his contention, which will be familiar to his past readers, that both ethics and law had their origin in the tendency of men to develop practices and follow rules without clearly being aware of the social purposes served by those rules. “Man acted before he thought and did not understand before he acted.” The rules on which men acted developed over generations of experience. Those societies in which individuals followed superior rules increased their chances for survival. Thus there evolved beneficent practices and institutions which, as the eighteenth-century philosopher Adam Ferguson put it, were “the result of human action but not of human design.”

Both ethics and law in their origin emphasized the enormous importance of acting on principle. It was only when men did this unswervingly that they could depend on each other’s actions; that they could avoid conflict, maximize peaceful cooperation, help further each other’s purposes, and therefore best further their own.

A few other eighteenth-century philosophers, outstandingly David Hume, recognized this. But in the nineteeth century the refusal to recognize as binding any rules of conduct whose justification had not been rationally demonstrated became an ever-recurring theme. As a striking illustration of how this led to immoralism, Hayek quotes from a talk given by Lord Keynes in 1938. Speaking about the time, 35 years before, when he himself was twenty, he said of himself and his friends:

“We entirely repudiated a personal liability on us to obey general rules. We claimed the right to judge every individual case on its merits, and the wisdom, experience, and self-control to do so successfully. This was a very important part of our faith, violently and aggressively held, and for the outer world it was our most obvious and dangerous characteristic. We repudiated entirely customary morals, conventions, and traditional wisdom. We were, that is to say, in the strict sense of the term, immoralists… we recognized no moral obligation, no inner sanction, to conform or obey. Before heaven we claimed to be our own judge in our own case.”

To which he added: “So far as I am concerned, it is too late to change. I remain, and always will remain, an immoralist.”

The reader will recognize in this passage an ominous key to the present. It is the spread of precisely this attitude since then to ever-widening circles that helps to explain the moral and political decay in the last few decades, ranging from politicians in the highest offices who proudly call themselves “pragmatists” down to such lunatic-fringe movements as the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Again and again Dr. Hayek emphasizes that “Freedom can be preserved only by following principles and is destroyed by following expediency.” The direct effects of any interference with the market order will be clear and visible in most cases, while the more indirect and remote effects will mostly be unknown and therefore disregarded. When we decide each issue on what appear to be its individual merits, we always overestimate the advantages of central direction.

Dr. Hayek applies his principles to ethics, politics, and law: “Law in the sense of enforced rules of conduct is undoubtedly coeval with society; only the observance of common rules makes the peaceful existence of individuals in society possible.” Law is older than legislation. Our forefathers thought of law as something existing independently of human will; not as something to be invented, but something to be discovered.

There is not space here to elaborate Dr. Hayek’s theme, or to enumerate all his contributions. I must content myself with saying that his analysis of the origin, nature, and function of law is one of the most profound and enlightening ever written.

I have only two criticisms of this book. One is that Dr. Hayek’s exposition is conducted too remorselessly on a highly abstract plane. One longs for concrete illustrations or examples, which are almost never offered. This unrelieved abstractness has long been a defect of Hayek’s style; but in his earlier books, notably The Road to Serfdom, he more than atoned for it by his gift for pithy aphorism. Here he holds on to his sentences too long and over stuffs them with subordinate clauses. This makes for more difficult reading than even the profundity of his thought can justify.

My second criticism is one of substance. Dr. Hayek is adamantly opposed, quite properly I think, to what might be called ad hoc utilitarianism. He wishes to emphasize the importance of acting inflexibly in accordance with principle, with established rules. But he admits that ethical and legal progress has been made possible only by the constant “improvement” of these rules. Yet he never specifically asks, what is the criterion for deciding how a particular rule is to be improved? It is not merely consistency with other rules. Is it not, in fact, whether a proposed modification is likely to have more desirable social results? And is not this a utilitarian test? Is it not at least a form of rule utilitism?” A judge in striving to interpret and perfect the common law, no less than a moral philosopher, must have some criterion in mind. Dr. Hayek rightly rejects all ad hoc applications of utilitarianism, but he seems to me possibly to have lost sight of the need for some utilitarian test for rules or laws themselves.

But I do not wish to overemphasize either of these objections. Compared with Hayek’s contribution they are minor. This is a book of cardinal importance. It helps to lay more solid philosophical foundations for ethics, law, legislation, and liberty.

 

THE LIBERTARIAN ALTERNATIVE: Essays In Social and Political Philosophy, edited by Tibor R. Machan (Chicago: Nelson-Hall Company, 1974) 553 pp. $12.50.

Reviewed by Allan C. Brownfeld

The Libertarian Alternative, a selection of essays in social and political philosophy, fills an important gap in the literature of American thought.

Thirty prominent exponents of libertarian ideas argue from their individual perspectives for the restructuring of collectivist institutional, cultural, and intellectual elements to achieve the libertarian alternative of a free society, based on individual rights and functioning through a free economy.

In an essay which introduces the reader to libertarianism, Professor John Hospers declares that, “The political philosophy that is called libertarianism is the doctrine that every person is the owner of his own life, and that no one is the owner of anyone else’s life; and that consequently every human being has the right to act in accordance with his own choices, unless those actions infringe on the equal liberty of other human beings to act in accordance with their choices.”

Political theories, both past and present, argues Hospers, “have traditionally been concerned with who should be the master (usually the king, the dictator or government bureaucracy) and who should be the slaves, and what the extent of the slavery should be. Libertarianism holds that no one has the right to use force to enslave the life of another, or any portions or aspect of that life.”

To those who agree that the rights of life and liberty are indeed essential, but who denigrate the right to property, Hospers replies that, “the right to property is as basic as the other two; indeed, without property rights no other rights are possible. Depriving you of property is depriving you of the means by which you live… The right to property is not the right to just take it from others, for this would interfere with their property rights. It is rather the right to work for it, to obtain non-coercively, the money or services which you can present in voluntary exchange…. If one is not free to use that which one has produced, one does not possess the right of liberty.”

In an essay entitled “The Anatomy of The State,” Professor Murray Rothbard argues that the collective term “we” has “enabled an ideological camouflage to be thrown over the reality of political life. If ‘we are the government,’ then anything a government does to an individual is not only just and untyrannical; it is also ‘voluntary’ on the part of the individual concerned. If the government has incurred a huge public debt which must be paid by taxing one group for the benefit of another, this reality of burden is obscured by saying that ‘we owe it to ourselves.’”

“‘We’ are not the government… the government does not in any accurate sense ‘represent’ the majority of the people, but even if it did, even if 70 per cent of the people decided to murder the remaining 30 per cent, this would still be murder and would not be voluntary suicide on the part of the slaughtered minority…” In an essay concerning “Skinner’s Behaviorist Utopia,” Dr. Bruce Goldberg rejects the Skinnerian thesis that man does not possess free will and is, instead, merely a result of his conditioned responses. For Skinner, the only alternatives are “good control” and “bad control.” To this, Goldberg responds: “… this is simply the product of a bit of sham reasoning. What, one wants to ask, do you say about the possibility of establishing a society in which people are not subject to a rigid conditioning process in the hands of ‘behaviorist’ engineers, but in which they are able to encounter many and diverse influences and make up their own minds about which they regard as the more important and which the less?” Skinner would reject it. Goldberg, affirming man’s unique individuality, believes that anything else would deny man’s humanity.

Discussing “Involuntary Mental Hospitalization,” Dr. Thomas S. Szasz points out that persecution of men and women for religious differences, or on the basis of race, may have been eliminated in modern Western society only to be replaced by a new kind of persecution. “Modern liberalism,” he writes, “allied with scientism, has met the need for a fresh defense of oppression and has supplied a new battle-cry: ‘Health.’ In this therapeutic-meliorist view of society, the ill form a special class of ‘victims’ who must… be `helped’ — coercively and against their will, if necessary — by the healthy…. In the therapeutic state toward which we appear to be moving, the principal requirement for the role of big brother may be an M.D. degree.”

Contributors to this collection include Henry Hazlitt, F. A. Harper, Milton Friedman, Nathaniel Branden, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Anne Wortham and Yale Brozen. In seven areas of concern they make penetrating analyses of the relation of justice, liberty, and the individual; the interaction of states and societies; the failure of contemporary statism; the dynamics of free societies in foreign affairs; the response of economics to a free market; and the prospects for and obstacles to libertarianism.

On matters of foreign affairs the libertarians appear especially weak and dogmatic, seeming to misunderstand the very real nature of totalitarianism as represented in this century by Nazism, Fascism and Communism. Accepting a seemingly utopian conception of man as good, and as being corrupted by such institutions as the state, many libertarians would dismantle our military defenses and, in effect, leave us naked before our enemies. They would soon learn that such an approach would not enhance freedom, but would destroy it totally.

Other than this serious blind spot, the thoughtful material in this volume is a welcome addition to a growing debate within the nation about the need to rediscover the dynamics of a truly free society. Libertarianism has much to contribute to that debate, and this volume, edited by Tibor R. Machan, represents a significant survey of a political and social entity which, its supporters believe, “may represent the wave of the future.”

 

THE ECONOMICS OF ENERGY — What Went Wrong and How We Can Fix It by Roger LeRoy Miller (New York: William Morrow & Co., Inc., 1974, 131 pp.) $4.95

Reviewer: Robert M. Thornton

Businessmen, in popular mythology, are all in favor of free enterprise. Not so! Like most other people, they are tempted by political favors that will spare them the challenge of competition. They denounce “unfair” competition and argue persuasively that the privileges they want are really for the benefit of consumers! We must resist these flimsy arguments and insist on really free enterprise… for the consumer’s sake!

This is the main thrust of Dr. Miller’s excellent little book which teaches some important general truths about economics while analyzing the “energy crisis.” There is a “crisis,” he explains, because we have not had a free market for energy; government interference has distorted the market and as a result we suffer from “shortages” of energy in its several forms.

We hear congressmen denouncing oil companies when it was the government itself that extended privileges to the industry. With equal duplicity the oil companies now protest government interference, although in the past they have sought government favors. Government supported the price of petroleum products by controls on the import of inexpensive oil; and it kept the price of petroleum products down by enforcing price controls on the industry! Naturally we get a mess. As to the evils of an international oil cartel, Miller wisely notes that the urge to “cheat” is unbearable in such situations and that only government can enforce cartel allocation restrictions to hold down supply and keep the price high.

Another government policy that helps bring on an “energy crisis” is the use of fixed rates for electricity instead of charging more during peak periods. The regulators save us from paying the true costs of our actions — the expenses for expanding facilities and reducing environmental damages. Also, the Federal Power Commission has kept the price of natural gas so low that it encouraged high consumption and discouraged exploration for new sources.

Conservation, writes Miller, does not mean limiting the use of a resource but correctly determining what we are to use and when we should use it to maximize the benefits. He stresses the importance of private property rights because when no one owns a particular resource, there is no incentive to use it economically.

Several measures have been recommended to “fight” the “energy crisis.” One is price controls, but these are effective only in creating disruptions in the economy; they get people to respond to distorted price incentives. By not allowing the prices of refinery products to rise, they take away incentives to increase supply or reduce demand. Rationing has been suggested, too, but no system would be fair and would lead only to black markets and an expanding bureaucracy. Higher taxes on fuel would have the same disadvantages as price controls and rationing plus they would put more of our money into government hands. Setting lower speed limits means more fuel used by trucks than when they are permitted to operate at efficient rates of speed. Also, a reduced speed limit means more trucks will be needed to haul the same amount of goods and that in turn means greater fuel demands. The only answer is the free market.

Miller scoffs at the idea of trying to achieve self-sufficiency regarding energy needs. Prosperity comes from being able to buy where cheapest and to enjoy the benefits of free trade instead of suffering the high costs of protectionism; specialization rather than autarchy means more for everyone.

One would like to see this easy to read, relatively inexpensive book widely distributed. It makes so very clear that the free market is not a system designed to benefit only businessmen but one that benefits all of us. We must insist on the free economy for the consumer’s sake.

 

THE TIME IT NEVER RAINED by Elmer Kelton (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1973) $6.95, 373 pp.

Reviewed by Robert M. Thornton

The hero of Elmer Kelton’s fine contemporary novel is Charlie Flagg, a Texas rancher past middle age. It is man against the elements as Charlie fights to save his herds during a six-year drought, and at the same time live with the social changes of his time — relations between father and son, white Americans and Mexican Americans, ranchers and townspeople, citizens and government. A true hero he is, too, not afraid to take an independent stand for what he knows is right and risk everything to keep his integrity. He was no saint, no unreal character from the storybooks but a real man with all that implies, both bad and good. He could be unreasonably bull-headed and cantankerous. With all his tolerance and fair-mindedness, he still suffered from a prejudice that expressed itself in a mild form of paternalism. The story does not have the conventional happy ending; but, unlike some modern works of fiction, it leaves the reader joyous, not despondent. One puts down the book with tears in the eyes, yet a smile on the face.

Men and women such as Charlie Flagg and his wife founded and settled this country and made it prosper by taking the bitter with the sweet and accepting responsibility for themselves. Such persons seem to be in short supply today, which may explain why our nation “ain’t what it used to be.” This independent, yea-saying-unto-life spirit must be recaptured by Americans if we are to have a rebirth of liberty in the “land of the free.”

At a time when more and more people not only accept government handouts but demand them as a right, it is good for the soul to read a story, albeit fictional, of a man who refused to go on the dole and willingly faced the consequences of being his own man.  


  • 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.