A Reviewer's Notebook - 1977/5

Every schoolboy, as Macaulay would have said, knows that the American Revolution was fought over the question of taxation without representation. But this particular application of the idea that men have a right to control themselves had to have some deeper sanction. Money is only money, and who would bother about a little old stamp tax if a sense of violated personality had not been involved? In her The Discovery of Freedom Rose Wilder Lane made much of the fact that the early Americans were children of men and women who had risked their lives to read the Bible. The Bible had always been the Word of God, but the Protestant Reformation, which came after Gutenberg had made cheap print available to everybody, enabled the self-controlling individual to interpret that Word for himself. The right of private judgment was the key concept of the Puritan Revolution, and it followed, as Rose Lane pointed out, that responsible men would at least demand a voice in their government before agreeing to give the King the tallest trees in the pine forest or recognizing the claim to a royal monopoly of tea.

Rose Lane says the American Revolution really began in 1660, when the Cromwellian Protectorate was giving way in England to the Stuart restoration.

The Biblically sanctioned right of private judgment did not consort easily with the revived doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, or even with the idea that one could be born a subject of any merely human individual. After 1660 Englishmen in England continued to cherish certain liberties, but their attitude was pragmatic. Men of common sense like Dr. Samuel Johnson were not fanatical about any sort of abstraction. Mercantilism, which acknowledged Reasons of State in economics, was accepted throughout the eighteenth century even though the Stuarts had been banished for a second time. Private judgment continued to be suspended in many areas that had known feudalism, but in America, where there was really no State and certainly no ruling class, people still read their Bibles and made up their own minds. They had Abraham, Moses and Christ to justify themselves as self-starters and that was enough.

So Verna M. Hall is correct when she thinks of the American Revolution as being peculiarly Christian in its origins. Her sumptuous compilation, The Christian History of the American Revolution: Consider and Ponder, contains many things that are religious in only the broadest possible sense. Verna Hall is eclectic in her approach to religion. With sublime impartiality she includes long histories of the Congregational, the Presbyterian and the Episcopal churches in America. Her point is that we have always been a religious people without falling into the trap of becoming a religious state. The right of private judgment is the grand leitmotif that binds all of Verna Hall’s documentary choices together, linking them to the Puritan interpretation of the Bible as the Charter for the self-starting view of man.

Rose Lane said the American Revolution had no leaders. By that she meant it resulted from a simultaneous upwelling of similar sentiments in many minds. Maybe so, but one is nonetheless profoundly impressed, in reading Verna Hall’s collection, by the statement of David Ramsay, a Southern historian contemporary with the American Revolution, that upwards of two thousand Puritan ministers were, in a single day, ejected from their livings in England by the 1662 Act of Uniformity. These ministers had nowhere to go but America, where, as Ramsay says, their learning, piety and personal characters gave them a continuing ascendancy over the minds of the laity. The way they put the churches behind the movement that resulted in the Declaration of Independence comes clear in an anthology of quotations fom New England ministers, They Preached Liberty, just reprinted by the Liberty Press.

They Preached Liberty, edited by Franklin P. Cole. Reprinted by Liberty Press, 7440 North Shadeland, Indianapolis, Ind. 46250. 173 pages.

The parallels between the thoughts expressed in the famous liberty sermon preached by the Reverend Thomas Mayhew of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and the Thomas Jefferson of the Declaration of Independence are too striking to be passed off as a mere coincidence. Jefferson was echoing the party line of a church that was, as Franklin Cole says in his introduction to They Preached Liberty, led by "watchmen upon the walls" who took their duty to exert their leadership in "election sermons" very seriously. The ministers, in addition to being thoroughly grounded in Biblical studies, were also the classicists of the times. They quoted Aristotle, Thucydides, Cicero and Tacitus on the nature of government and public polity, and they referred again and again to John Locke, "that very wise man." God ruled in accordance with natural law, and when the govern-met of King George III broke with natural law, the 18th century parsons, still representing the 17th century view, refused to tell their flocks to turn the other cheek.

Verna Hall’s compilation is by no means limited to 18th century documents. The Centennial Oration made at Valley Forge by Henry Armitt Brown in 1878 is the most searing evocation of the patriots’ terrible winter that I have ever read. Brown describes in detail the deportment of the various generals (Mad Anthony Wayne, "Teufel Pete" Muhlenberg, Baron von Steuben, DeKalb and Lafayette, "the boy of twenty with the old man’s head") and the miserable huts of the Connecticut and Pennsylvania brigades as they must have appeared to the starveling common soldier of 1778.

George Bancroft, the 19th century historian, is Verna Hall’s chosen authority on the European background of the revolution. He is superb in his analysis of the differences between the traits of the English "aristocratic republic" and those of continental countries, and his essay on Ireland, the victim of an "English oligarchy," is a marvel of objectivity. Bancroft is great, but there were excellent historians in America before he trained himself for his scholarly exertions. The story of the prelude to the revolution, by Mercy Otis Warren, a friend and contemporary of Samuel Adams and the other great Bostonians, was set down in 1805 when memories were still fresh. David Ramsay’s Southern view, first published in Philadelphia in 1816, is equally vivid.

The Iroquois Indians figure in a "Christian history" of the Revolution, partly because some of them—the Mohawks in particular—had been converted to Christianity. But the quoted Documentary History of New York State does not labor the religious angle. The Iroquois—the Five (or Six) Nations—held the pivotal geographic position in New York between the coastal colonies and Canada. Verna Hall’s historical compilation doesn’t depart from common sense in its assessments. It is part of the anthologist’s point, however, that the right to private judgment assumes that commonsensical economic and military principles will not be violated. We did not happen to have fools for ancestors. George Washington is pictured in Verna Hall’s book in a memorable pose praying at Valley Forge. But, with Washington and his ragged army, the Lord helped those who helped themselves.

 

LIFT HER UP, TENDERLY

by Bob LeFevre

(Pine Tree Press, Box 2353, Orange, California 92669)

202 pages

Reviewed by Beverly Anderson

Whoever has tried to present economic ideas in a simple way, and still more, to make the learning attractive, has discovered it is no simple task. Add a third dimension—teaching economic ideas to a pre-teenage adolescent—and the task appears overwhelming.

It is to Bob LeFevre’s credit that he has attempted it and, moreover, has done an enormously successful job in what he describes as "a novel." Lift her up, tenderly is based upon his own experience as a guardian for a young girl in her preteen and teenage years.

The book is written for both parent and child. The parent will benefit from the author’s method in approaching economic ideas and from his simplified explanations of various economic concepts. The young reader will find the dialogue format readable and the text interesting, for the author has introduced a "real" girl who suffers through an amazing variety of teenage problems common to the species, and which he records with noteworthy gentleness and empathy.

"Gigi," our heroine, wants to know about "life." Her guardian, "Papa," explains that economic understanding is the best commonsense approach to life. By "economics" we mean an explanation of how we make or obtain the things we must have in order to stay alive. This study teaches us to deal with things as they are—reality—rather than how we wish or imagine them to be.

Economics, furthermore, leads to discussions of inequality and fairness, showing how all things, people, their abilities, land, resources are all different and unequal and can never be made equal; of value, how our estimations of things continually change in relation to one another; of scarcity, how we want the things we do not have enough of and are willing to work hard to obtain; of selfishness, how man acts to increase his own "good" as he perceives it; of charity, that the only person capable of helping another is the one who has successfully learned to take care of himself; of "good selfish" and "bad selfish"—the difference between looking after oneself by being productive as opposed to living off someone else’s efforts; of profits, how man seeks "plus factors;" of fair exchange; supply and demand; competition; value and price; tools (capital); the business cycle; money—in short, all you would ex‑ pect in an elementary text on economics except that it is presented in simple form, with mundane illustrations that the mind of a teenager can grasp and appreciate.

The relationship between parent (guardian) and child becomes important here since parents are prone to see it as a one-sided economic relationship, while the rebellious teen is likely to bring home the word "exploit" from schoolmates, as Gigi did. LeFevre emphasizes the "profit" motive, but uses a less-loaded term, "plus factor" to show that individuals (including children) act to increase these "plus factors." The pleasure a parent derives from a child and the knowledge that everything possible has been done to see that child into mature and productive adulthood is as much a "profit" as any investment stated in dollars.

It is not enough to feed, clothe, house and love your children; the parent has an obligation to teach his youngsters the meaning and common sense of life—that common sense being the economic realities of everyday living. Children accumulate a vast variety of facts and opinions, but they need a context, a set of concepts (ground rules), a coherent structure . . . some way to organize and judge the data for themselves.

Do we wonder that youngsters graduate from our educational system believing that anything is possible and right if a majority votes for it? We have failed to introduce common sense into the system—the ideas of scarcity, cost/benefit, and "tanstaafl" (no free lunch)—simple economic concepts about reality.

Oddly enough, the young emerge from adolescence girded in moral self-righteousness, with mouthfuls of "should-be’s" and "ought-to be’s," and "fairness" and "equality." Yet they proceed to stomp on any impediment in their reformist paths, including the legitimate rights and properties of others. Reality seems to be a giant obstacle that must be subdued. It is this incongruity that LeFevre focuses upon throughout the book.

One of his most effective dialogues occurs in his discussion of value and price. He points out the obvious: that you cannot spend a dollar twice; you cannot be in two places at once; you cannot get married and stay single. Whenever you make a decision, it is a total commitment, and you automatically eliminate all alternatives.

There is no such thing as a cost-free decision. So nothing comes without its price. But that’s not quite the way I’d define freedom. Freedom isn’t the ability to avoid cost or the ability to avoid the consequences of your actions. Freedom is the ability to decide which actions you will take.

For those parents and children who have encountered the current "let-it-all-hang-out" fad, with all its ramifications, LeFevre offers a thoughtful dialogue about "honesty" and "privacy," suggesting comparative implications between a collective concept of society and an individualistic private concept. He carries the discussion on to deal with teenage sex and drugs, both of which become real situations in the context of his "novel."

Finally, there is the political discussion and critique of government for which LeFevre has earned his reputation. It is a coherent, thoughtful, humane presentation. Although the book will be rejected by some because of this critique of government, it should not deter those who recognize the issues involved and accept his ideas for what they are: an alternative—presented in good faith.

The book is cogent and should be acceptable to all free-market thinkers. The ideas are basic to an economic system centered on the Austrian or subjective theory of value. The ideas are presented simply because that is what they are—simple laws of economics—common sense. It is refreshing to see them offered at last on a level for our twelve-year-olds to enjoy too.

 

GROW OR DIE!

by James A. Weber

(Arlington House, New Rochelle, New York)

255 pages

Reviewed by David A. Pietrusza

This book marshals a variety of statistics to show clearly that population growth and prosperity have generally gone hand-in-hand, and it offers a reasoned case to show why this relationship exists. Mr. Weber demolishes the zero population growth argument, and shows that the human race is not facing catastrophe. Dealing with the dubious contention that we are exhausting the planet’s resources and energy, Weber points out that we can count on an expanding economy and an improving technology to resolve today’s quandaries. Man’s greatest and most productive resource, he continues, is not the earth he stands on (although the riches we still have not utilized are vast) but the capabilities of his intellect and the resultant tools and methods he has developed to extract and develop the raw materials of the planet—and these powers have never been greater.

Official estimates of known mineral reserves have perennially fallen on the short side. In 1908, the federal government was alarmed over shortages; a commissioned survey turned up many more reserves than were previously thought to exist. A 1944 survey—if correct—would have meant exhaustion of tin, lead, zinc and manganese by 1973. It never happened; actually more deposits of these minerals were discovered in the 1950′s than in the previous quarter of a century.

And, of course, we have not even begun to meaningfully tap the largess of the oceans. The World Bank estimates that within 10 to 20 years we could harvest annually from the seas 572 per cent of our yearly manganese production, 28 per cent of our copper, 320 per cent of our nickel, and 1,200 per cent of our annual cobalt yield.

Noting that U.S. companies have already invested or earmarked 850-100 million for such "nodule" mining and at least 3 international conferences were held within one six-month period on the question, the World Bank commented that it "was a mark of the subject’s vast dimensions that at one of these conferences the focus was on ‘how to prevent potential drastic declines in mineral prices resulting from nodule mining.’ "

Grow or Die! is recommended as an antidote to the scare tactics of the zero population fanatics, whose prophecies of doomsday prepare the way for the draconian political controls they advocate.

Further Reading

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