Admiral Ben Moreell is the famed founder of the Navy’s wartimeSea Bees. He was the first (1946) non-Annapolis, four-star admiral since the establishment of the Naval Academy. At present, Admiral Moreell is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Americans for Constitutional Action.
We hear much these days about "juvenile delinquency." Most of us are deeply concerned about this problem. But what about "adult delinquency"? I confess that I am an adult delinquent. I suspect that many others throughout America should be similarly tagged.
What is "delinquency"? My dictionary defines it as "failure, omission, or violation of duty." To have a useful concept of "delinquency" we need a yardstick to measure its degree. Such a yardstick is the "gap" between a man’s actual achievements and what he might have achieved if he had made full use of his God-given talents. Only you can know the span of that
This article is from an address of February 4, 1960 to The Women’s Patriotic Conference on National Defense, Inc., Washington, D.C. gap in your case; only I can know it in mine.
If I have the natural talents to do great things in engineering or science or the church or civic affairs or elsewhere, and those talents are little used, I am delinquent. And the measure of my delinquency is the spread between what I did and what I might have done. Thus, the wayward youth or the moron may be far less delinquent than those of us who, though we have been blessed with many talents and opportunities to develop and use them, have failed to do so.
Wherein have we failed? First of all, my generation has squandered its legacy. We were bequeathed, by our political forebears, an unearned heritage—the greatest citadel of individual freedom and opportunity the world has ever seen. We have failed to strengthen that heritage, or even to preserve it. We have permitted its structure to be eroded and its foundations weakened to the point where we are in grave danger of losing the entire edifice. Should that debacle occur, we will have deprived our posterity of their rightful heritage of freedom. The gap between what we did and what we should have done is great indeed!
I, and millions like me who should have known better, have permitted this to happen. Our retreat along the road back to serfdom has accelerated to a point where those noble words of our National Anthem, "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave," have been drained of meaning. Truly, most of our generation are "adult delinquents"! To measure that delinquency, let us see how "free" we Americans are today and, equally important, how "brave"!
Ignorance No Excuse
No one who has given serious thought to the things we have been doing to our social structure in recent years can claim ignorance of their ultimate effect. There are warning signs on every page of recorded history. But we deliberately ignore them. Miss Edith Hamilton, world authority of the Greco-Roman civilization, recently made this statement:
"Is it rational that now, when the young people may have to face problems harder than we faced… we are giving up the study of how the Greeks and Romans prevailed magnificently in a barbaric world; the study, too, of how that triumph ended, how a slackness and softness finally came over them to their ruin? In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security, a comfortable life, and they lost all—security and comfort and freedom….
"Are we not growing slack and soft in our political life? When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to the State, but the State to give to them, when the freedom they wished most for was freedom from responsibility, then
There are lessons to be learned from the experience of the men of old. But we are inclined to dismiss the ancient wisdom because our modern "social engineers" al-sure us that our new knowledge of technology and civics, of economics and human nature, make those lessons obsolete. We ignore them at our peril!
If we are in trouble today, it is not because we have lacked prophets who pointed out the dangers besetting the course we have chosen.
On August 11, 1846, the London Times published this warning: "The greatest tyranny has the smallest beginnings. From precedents overlooked, from remonstrances despised, from grievances treated with ridicule, from powerless men oppressed with impunity, and overbearing men tolerated with complacence, springs the tyrannical usage which generations of wise and good men may hereafter perceive and lament and resist in vain. At present, common minds no more see a crushing tyranny in a trivial unfairness or a ludicrous indignity than the eye, uninformed by reason, can discern the oak in the acorn…. Hence, the necessity of denouncing with unwearied and even troublesome perseverance a single act of oppression. Let it alone and it stands on record. The country has allowed it, and when it is at last provoked to a late indignation, it finds itself gagged with the record of its own ill compulsion."
It requires no great feat of memory to recall the many incidents in our own last quarter century when we could well have profited from this admonition.
Words of Wisdom
In 1860, in his "Essay on Representative Government," John Stuart Mill stated:
"A people may prefer a freegovernment, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary discouragement or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty; and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it."
What words of wisdom—and how applicable to our current national predicament!
We come now to this pertinent question: If these warnings are valid and we have failed to heed them, what freedoms have we lost as a result of our "indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit"?
Freedom in society means that persons as well as their property are secure from arbitrary invasion. To the extent that a man’s life and goods are at the disposal of another, he is not free! The degree to which our government has taken control in these areas of life and property marks the degree of its departure from our original principles.
The Greatest Intrusions
It is my firm conviction that the two greatest intrusions on individual freedom in the history of our Republic are, first, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1913, and which provides for the graduated income tax; and, second, the Act of May 18, 1917, whereby Congress "authorized and ordained" a conscript army for use in foreign war.
Here is what a great scholar has to say about these two enactments. I quote from the late John W. Burgess, Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Constitutional Law at
"We have, therefore, under this Sixteenth Amendment as I interpret it, an investment of the government with entirely unlimited power in the levy and collection of the most comprehensive of all taxes, the income tax, the tax which can take, thus unlimited, the entire product of all property and of all labor. There is now nothing in our Constitution, as I understand it, to prevent the government from exercising complete arbitrary despotic and discriminatory powers over the property of the individual through the levy and collection of this unlimited tax upon incomes."
And with respect to conscription for foreign wars Professor Burgess said: "From the point of view of the Constitutional immunities of the individual against governmental power, this distinction [i.e., that Congress had authority to organize and employ only volunteer forces in foreign war and reserve compulsory service for repelling invasion, suppressing insurrection and executing the laws of the Union internally] will be seen with a little reflection to be most vital. For while Congress, that is, the government of the United States, can always, of its own motion, declare a foreign war, it cannot, of itself alone, produce an invasion of the United States or an insurrection within the country. It depends upon other wills as to whether these conditions shall or shall not exist….
"Now the power in a government to conscript its citizens or subjects into its military service upon an occasion which it may, of its own motion, at any time, invent and perpetuate, amounts to a power to hold the people of the country under permanent military law, that is, to hold them under a law which is not limited by any Constitutional immunities protective of the individual against governmental power….
"In view of these considerations, I cannot believe that the framers of our Constitution vested the power in the government to raise and employ conscript armies for, and in, foreign war. It is the most despotic power which government can exercise. It can be so exercised at any moment, and on occasion created by government itself, as to sweep away every vestige of individual liberty and put the last drop of blood of every man, woman, and child in the country at the arbitrary disposal of government."
Here, then, according to Professor Burgess, we have surrendered to government our two most precious natural rights, that is, the right to life and the right to acquire, preserve, and enjoy property which, in its ultimate effect, is the right to sustain life.
The Declaration of Independence says that men possess certain inherent rights, being so endowed by their Creator. To secure their rights men established a government, and this government now turns about and impairs those rights.
What other rights have we lost? Among them is the right to own and hold gold, the right to privacy of records (that is, bank deposits, bank accounts, safe-deposit boxes), the right to privacy in one’s home, freedom to plant and raise such farm crops as one wills, protection from arbitrary actions by government which erode the values of our savings by inflation, and so forth. The list is long. We are subjected to compulsory participation in Social Security, mandatory wage rates, compulsory membership in labor organizations, fixed rent controls, restrictions on choice of tenants and purchasers of our property, and others.
I have in my library two sizable documents. One lists the "Emergency and War Powers of the President and of the Executive Branch of the Government acquired since 1933." The other is entitled "Provisions of Federal Law Presently in Effect by Reason of the National Emergency Proclaimed by the President
The striking feature of both lists is the tenacity with which so-called "emergency measures" hang on long after the emergency has passed. There are many which have been carried forward from World War I! It appears that those who believe in concentration of power in the hands of the central government take advantage of every emergency to achieve greater centralization; and they never let go!
Parenthetically, many of these same zealots for centralization now go further and ardently advocate concentration of power in the hands of a world government to which they propose that we surrender our national sovereignty. This would, in effect, make us largely subject to the control of those very "backward nations" who, it is claimed, are now in such dire need of our help!
Growth of Government
It is to be noted that every one of the controls and restrictions imposed on persons by the laws, rules, and regulations to which I have alluded, requires an enlargement of the power of the central government in
But there is more! The enormous growth of government has imposed a heavy tax burden on every citizen. But not even the excessive taxation we now bear is sufficient to pay the mounting costs of government; so the government resorts to inflation.
Competent economists, such as Colin Clark, basing their conclusions on studies of the financial behavior of nations, have stated that when the tax take of government rises to the range of 20 to 25 per cent of the earned income of the people, large segments of the population will demand an easing of the burden of direct taxes by increasing the volume of the money. This is inflation!
It has been demonstrated that once the government assumes responsibility for the economic welfare of its citizens, the 20 to 25 per cent range in tax take of earned income is quickly reached. In the United States we are far beyond this point. We are now above 35 per cent! And the inevitable progression appears to be on schedule, as indicated by the fact that from 1933 to 1955 there has been a 500 per cent increase in the money supply of the United States (that is, total deposits and currency outside banks) while the population increased only 32 per cent. In spite of the vastly increased productivity of our industrial machine, there has occurred, since 1933, a sharp decrease, some 55 per cent, in the purchasing power of our money!
It is unfortunate that we have forgotten the old adage: "Whoso controls our subsistence, controls us." Professor F. A. Hayek cautioned us, "Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is control of the means for all our ends."
Freedom of worship is an empty thing if we are denied the financial means to erect churches, pay our clergy, print religious literature, and propagate our faith. Freedom of the press means nothing if we are deprived of the means to buy presses, type, and newsprint. And what meaning can be attached to free speech if we know that we must speak in a certain way or else lose favor with those who control the food, clothing, and shelter which we need to survive? Unless we have full freedom in the economic realm, we cannot have full freedom in any other. Unless we have a society in which the producer enjoys the full fruits of his labor, our freedom is impaired precisely to the degree that political exactions deprive the man who works, whether with mind or muscle, of his production.
Slavery is commonly thought of as ownership of one man by another. But the slaveholder would not quibble about owning the man, provided he owns the products of the man’s labor! A slave, in other words, is a man to whom the right of economic freedom is denied. From this premise the denial of all other rights follows. Therefore, in any realistic discussion of freedom, what happens in the economic realm is basic.
How much freedom have we lost in the economic realm? As I have stated, the latest statistics show that more than 35 per cent of the national earned income is now confiscated by all levels of government.
Where the Blame Lies
Where lies the blame for our current condition—so foreign to the promises of the original American character and faith?
The fact is that all of us, you and I, must share the blame. Somewhere we got off the track. Over the past 50 years we have encouraged—nay, we have actively participated in—the propagation of a misplaced faith in the power of government to accomplish all sorts of social, economic, and even moral purposes. Implementing this faith we have thrust enormous powers upon government; or else, with great docility, we have acquiesced while the powers and functions of government have been extended, accelerated, and centralized. Such enhancement of political power at the expense of the natural rights of individuals is correctly labeled "socialism."
The tendency of citizens in all walks of life is to be complacent about the advance of what might be called piecemeal socialism—political intrusion that does not encroach upon what each one conceives to be his own territory. We tend to be apathetic about the general socialistic drift. In many instances we actively support socialistic measures under the guise of "promoting prosperity" or "developing the community." But we should now be aware that what threatens to engulf us is total state socialism.
All those in positions to influence public opinion have a duty to actively oppose socialism wherever it appears, because socialism is ancient tyranny under a modern disguise—even though it has enlisted some misguided idealism in its behalf. If the promise of America is to be redeemed, we must oppose state socialism on every level—philosophical and spiritual as well as economic and political. If our sole concern is merely that aspect of socialism which directly confronts our own company or our own industry or our own community, we may contribute to the advance of socialism on other fronts by our neglect, if not by our positive actions.
What is the current pattern of our behavior?
Unfortunately, many of the charges of inconsistency launched against us appear to have substantial basis in fact! For example, those of us in business acclaim the superior productivity of the free enterprise system, but we look for special privilege or government subsidies or loans when we cannot obtain funds from private sources. The farmer is proud of his individualism but strives for a politically guaranteed income and subsidized electricity, irrigation, and tools. The doctor is opposed to socialized medicine, but wants government subsidies for training, research, and laboratories. The educator points to the deplorable lowering of standards which results from political domination of education—then insists that federal aids to education are essential for national survival! The scientist opposes any interference with freedom of inquiry—then implores government to provide generously for "research essential to the National Defense and the common welfare." The union official extols "free American labor"—then maintains that he must have special laws which confer upon him exclusive power to coerce and regiment his members, to abolish freedom of contract and to resort to intimidation and violence, all under the guise of "conserving labor’s gains."
Young people want government to provide them with an education, a job, and a pension. Old people are content, for the moment, with generous retirement privileges. And the man-in-the-street demands from government a subsidized house, food, medical care, and an ephemeral thing called "economic security."
And most of us know that, since government produces nothing, what it gives to one it must take away from someone else, with generous deductions for "handling charges" in the course of the transaction.
One wonders—is this in truth the "Home of the Brave"? Are brave men satisfied to live off the fruits of some other man’s labor?
Is our case hopeless? Must we surrender unconditionally and take what comes? No, not if we are dedicated to the restoration of our country as the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave."
A Positive Program
What specific steps must we take?
I believe that no one, no matter how exalted his position, can determine for 177 million people their day-to-day economic and social decisions concerning such matters as wages, prices, production, associations, and others. So I propose that these decisions, and the problems connected therewith, be returned to the persons concerned.
This could be done in five steps as follows:
1. Let us stop this uneasy drift toward collectivism by ending all further special privileges and private raids on the public treasury—whether conducted by labor unions, businessmen, farmers, or any other group. In one respect, this is the easiest step of all—we need only refrain from passing more socialistic laws. But we have become so addicted to socialism that it will be just as hard for us to break the habit as for an alcoholic to stop his compulsive drinking.
2. Let us undertake at once an orderly demobilization of the bureaucracy by the progressive repeal of the socialistic laws now on our books. This is the road back to social health and fiscal sanity, and it will be a struggle all the way; every pressure group in the nation will fight to retain its special privileges, subsidies, and government protection. But if freedom is to live, all politically privileged positions must go!
3. Of the powers that remain in government, let us return as many as possible to the individual states. For, on the local level, the people can apply more critical scrutiny to the acts of their government and take corrective action.
4. Let us resolve that never again will we yield to the seduction of the government pander who comes to us offering gifts, paid for with our own money, in return for a surrender of our natural rights.
5. Above all, let us hold high before our eyes the banner of individual moral responsibility, ac-knowledging that unless each one of us humbly tries to govern his actions by God’s will—as this is interpreted in such statements as the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount—he brings chaos into society and invites tyranny.
Ideas on Liberty
Abuse Freedom—Lose It
The weakness of a free society is the fact that so few of its people understand it. Far too many have the notion that to be free means to be unrestrained. To them it means freedom to deceive, freedom to exploit, freedom to malign, freedom to steal (politely), freedom to lie (for a profit), freedom to avoid civic duty, freedom to discard moral values. Freedom, in short, to do as you please so long as you keep out of jail.
Few of those who hold this conception of freedom use all these forms of free expression. Some use one and some another—but all together gnaw away at the structure that makes true freedom possible.
Our earliest ancestors, who came to this wild land to escape the punitive restraints of monarchical society, knew that to find a durable free order here they must first of all assume voluntary restraints. They regarded it as every freeman’s privilege to serve the community. They were convinced that no free economy stood a chance of survival whose people felt no burning sense of responsibility to sacrifice as needed to maintain it. Freedom, in their language, meant being free to exercise this privilege, to perform civic duties conscientiously, to serve God and one another as conditions might require. They did not interpret freedom as license to promote the good of any man, themselves included, at the cost of justice to another.
Freedom in their view was primarily justice—that gave every man the fullest and fairest opportunity to make the most of whatever was best in his make-up.
Whether or not our own freedom will endure depends on which of these views predominates among our people at this crucial moment in their history.
From the March 1960 ‘Bankers" Bulletin, Bankers Commercial Corporation, New York City.