All Commentary
Tuesday, September 1, 1964

Behind the Facade

Mr. Sparks is a business executive of Canton, Ohio.

The façade is the outward appearance, usually of the face or
front of a building. Often the word is used figuratively with
implications of an imposing appearance concealing something
inferior, or of conveying a false or misleading impression.

Certain countries have earned dubious reputations because of the method used to change rulers. As the leader of the most recent coup ascends to the throne, one pities the people who enthusiastically and trustingly turn to the new despot, seeking in him the “magic” that will bring them better living conditions.

Citizens of the United States are inclined to view such govern­mental instability with a lofty smugness. For we have not re­sorted to revolution to determine our governmental leaders since the founding of our Republic nearly two centuries ago. Election of our presidents and legislators has been a product of sane, peace­ful majority rule — not armed re­volt! Thus, we may think we have cause to feel superior.

The truth is that such conceit must pertain to an inheritance, rather than any accomplishment of our own. This inherited bless­ing is the concept of individual freedom and limited government espoused by our leaders of the 1770′s in reaction against the tyrannical rule of an English king.

The colonists in America had experienced a set of circumstances unique in history. The mother country had been so fully occupied with other matters of state, a civil war, and European wars for a century and a half, that the Eng­lish rulers had little time left to govern the colonists. Left alone, they had tasted freedom of choice, the right to own property, and the exhilarating spirit of self-respon­sibility. They liked it! When King George III finally gave attention to America and imposed relatively minor restrictions on the colonists, they arose in jealous wrath at in­fringement of the freedom to which they had become accus­tomed.

And so, they established a gov­ernment of their own — a govern­ment of limited power to intrude into its citizens’ decision-making areas. The mechanism they used to resolve public differences of opinion is called “majority rule.” As interpreted by the founders, majority rule was keyed to strictly-qualified citizens who un­der specified circumstances would be privileged to vote on a re­stricted list of issues, or for can­didates for office. The founders visualized the potential tragedy of an unimpeded use of this mecha­nism, and they took great pains to define and limit the powers of gov­ernment so that the tyranny of the English king would not simply be replaced by a tyranny of the majority. The Bill of Rights, the careful listing of the powers and limitations of the executive, the legislative, and the judicial, the explicit reservation to the state governments and to the people of power not specifically given the Federal government— all are illus­trations of the fear of a “Frank­enstein-monster” if the majority-rule mechanism were ever to get out of hand.

Their fears were not without foundation.

Majority Rule

In The American Tradition¹ Dr. Clarence B. Carson describes the latter-day acceptance of this widespread fallacy in those “who apparently believe that the onus of compulsion is removed from any prescribed action by voting on it. But the fact that a majority favors it does not remove compul­sion from government action, cer­tainly not for the minority. Ma­jority approval does not make gov­ernmental action voluntary; rather, it intrudes elements of vol­untarism into what would other­wise be unmitigated compulsion.” Today, majority rule has become the popular front for all kinds of coercion committed against some men by others.

The contemporary method of governing our nation may give an appearance of a genuinely advanc­ing civilization, but a look behind this facade will reveal a govern­ment of too much power under a leader duly elected by vote of the majority. A critical examination of the majority rule mechanism is justified. Is it truly a practical means to guarantee freedom? Just how democratic is a society that is based on indiscriminate use of ma­jority rule?

The use of majority “magic” approaches the hysterical level, as our inherited freedom wanes. Elected officials, through opinion pollsters, strive intently to detect the pulse beat of the nation so that their utterances may coin­cide with it.

There are implications in the terms democratic action and ma­jority rule that bear critical ex­amination. There is implied a fer­vent hope by the people for maxi­mum freedom and self-determina­tion. There is a fear of tyranny. There is the distrust of kings and dictators. These are good, healthy hopes and fears. But unfortu­nately, there also is a faith that voting in itself is a sure way of achieving freedom and protection against despotism. The act of vot­ing is the tangible evidence of a kind of participation in govern­ment that had been long denied. Before the advent of the Ameri­can Republic, people everywhere were considered subjects of their respective kings. Participation in government consisted of following the dictates of the king.

Participation by Voting

Then came this new opportunity for the American people to govern themselves. Self-government meant real participation; and what better way to manifest per­sonal participation than to vote! With a semblance of logic, they reasoned that the more opportuni­ties to vote, the greater would be the citizen’s participation in gov­ernment. To live under freedom required that one participate, and the proof of participation was in the voting. Personal participation, voting, and majority rule came to be the magical, infallible road to freedom from tyranny.

So strong has grown this faith that majority rule is now deemed appropriate for resolving any sub­ject or issue no matter how pri­vate, intimate, or individual the matter may be. In place of the original premise of limited voting on limited subject matter we find the irresponsible temptation to vote on everything. The quality of a Congress is often measured by the number of laws it has passed. Pseudo-liberals look at unlegis­lated areas of human action as challenging new fields to conquer. Thus, freedom is lost within the very nation specifically designed to hold it safe for succeeding gen­erations.

Much is made of the duty to vote. The usual “get out the vote” cliche urges the citizen to vote —how he votes being of much less significance than the act of voting. The more votes cast, the better the ensuing government, as if by magic!

We have been hypnotized by our own delusion. The statistically tabulated votes of poorly informed or morally bankrupt persons can add up only to a sizable volume of misinformation or poorly di­rected political action, thus dimin­ishing the private sector of per­sonal choice and responsibility.

“Freedom” Misunderstood

The philosophical political fa­cade of our nation can be stated in one word — freedom. Our young people write essays about freedom and democracy. Having judged numerous essay and speaking con­tests for high school students, I have read and heard hundreds of them. It is disconcerting to ob­serve how many of the meanings assigned to freedom miss the tar­get. Only a small percentage of the students read into it a true, meaningful freedom of individual choice. For most of them, “indi­vidual choice” is of little signifi­cance except that each person has a “sacred” right to cast his indi­vidual vote — as though individual choice and individual vote were synonymous. Many imply that a person ought to be forced to vote!

The magic of the facade! But there his right to choose seems to come to an abrupt end, at least, as such choosing applies to any vital area of human action within society. The word “freedom” con­tinues in prominent use in our land of the “no longer free.” Be­hind the facade of freedom grows totalitarianism.

Sleeping citizens have become accustomed to it. The govern­ment’s democratically-elected president creates for himself, through powerful tax-paid public relations programs, an air of tre­mendous power and wisdom, like the mystic divine right of the kings of old. People are encour­aged to picture the President of the United States as a great leader — not leading toward indi­vidual choice and individual re­sponsibility — but as a “god” to whom all citizens should refer their important needs and prob­lems.

With the vigilance of the people relaxed, the Federal government’s executive department acts in a manner that seriously jeopardizes the concept of private ownership of property, the pillar of freedom. It interferes in labor-management disputes, often dictating terms of settlement. Unbelievable pressure is exerted on members of Congress to pass civil rights legislation, further eroding freedom of choice and use of one’s own property. Scandal that presumably should rock the nation’s capital is mini­mized, while talk persists of black­mail wielding its fearful influence on congressional voting.

It is unnecessary to list here a full bill of particulars. Steep taxes, innumerable interferences in local and individual affairs, questionable adequacy of national defense are only a few of the more serious items behind the false face of “freedom.” A personal sense of responsibility, long ingrained in the American people, is fast di­minishing. By majority vote it has been made to seem that society is now responsible to provide each person an income whether he works or not, to educate his chil­dren whether he pays or not, to take care of him in his later years whether he has been frugal or not.

On the surface, it may sound good. It may look like self-deter­mination, but it’s not! When each one unloads his responsibility upon society, no one is responsible. Ly­ing beneath the disguise of free­dom provided by the mechanism of democratic action and majority rule grows an alarming rottenness and deterioration. The mere use of one of the mechanical tech­niques of a government of free people does not in itself bring about freedom. As we have seen, the same technique can be and is being used to take away freedom—the right of individuals and mi­norities to choose for themselves.

Properly Limited Government Encourages Maximum Freedom

Real freedom means the least government — government con­spicuous by its absence — with suf­ficient power only to protect life, liberty, and property from frauds, thieves, and murderers. Real free­dom means the full right of ownership and to make decisions for one’s self and one’s family. The right to vote — while an im­portant mechanism if properly used — should be employed spar­ingly by the people and by law­making bodies. Lawmaking activi­ties ought to be directed, for a change, toward the removal of government interferences and re­strictions already on the law books.

When government is confined to its proper, limited scope, there will be no necessity for opinion poll-takers to find out what Mr. and Mrs. America think. Each one then will decide for himself — pri­vately, separately, individually —and the matter will concern no one else when real freedom once again exists behind its facade.



¹ Irvington-on-Hudson, New York: The Foundation for Economic Educa­tion, Inc., 1964.

  • John C. Sparks, who died on March 27, 2005, served on the board of trustees of the Foundation for Economic Education for many years. In the mid-1980s, following his retirement from business, Mr. Sparks served a term as FEE’s president.