Book Review: The Challenge of Liberty by Robert V. Jones

Chicago: The Heritage Foundation, Inc. 429 pp. $5.00.

This book contains a challenge to all who would be free. Mr. Jones concludes, rightly I believe, that “the success of liberty depends only upon its being used.” It is as simple as that.

Or is that so simple? Americans have come so far along the road of collectivism that the question is no longer, “Will we use it?” but, “Do we know what liberty is?” A lot of Americans do not know anything about the philosophy of liberty. For those who are interested this book is the answer. It might even have some surprises for those who feel they know all about it.

In the first 147 pages the principles of individualism are carefully developed. The rest of the book consists of attempts to discover how to realize the ideal of liberty in daily practice. The challenge lies in making the intellectual effort to understand, and in having “the moral courage to practice it.”

Mr. Jones, a lawyer and formerly a professor of business and government, advances his argument without emotionalism or semantic obscurantism. The book’s chief virtues lie in the clearly written, carefully reasoned logic of Book I, and the thoroughness with which the author attempts to apply his principles in Book II.

Another great advantage comes from having the various collectivist theories examined, and their contradictions exposed, at each stage of the argument. The author does not hesitate to show specifically how many present governmental expedients fail to measure up to the principles of liberty, and why they can never succeed.

A person’s philosophy of life will depend upon his ideas, or assumptions, about the meaning of existence. He cannot choose the appropriate means to an end until he has chosen the goal. Mr. Jones asks and answers the fundamental question, “Why are we here?” From an analysis of the nature of human existence he deduces that man is on earth to develop “the best character that each individual human being by his willed decisions can achieve.” For the author, this is also “apprehended as the will of God.” Since a man cannot be moral unless he is free to make his own choices, liberty becomes an ethical imperative. The exposition of this concept is a significant contribution to contemporary thought.

Individualism is shown to be the only system in which man can fulfill his purpose. Since “all individuals are . . . equal in human importance,” the only legitimate function of government is to maintain conditions of maximum freedom compatible with equal liberty for all.

The hard part lies in applying the principles. Occasionally Mr. Jones fails to apply them with the strict logic apparent throughout most of the book. For example, he decides against the liberty to communicate scientific information—such as how to grow marijuana and make it into cigarettes. Later on he decides in favor of freedom of speech to the extent of including “freedom of the individual to advocate the overthrow of the existing government by force . . . .”

Both are illustrations of the possible misuse of liberty, but whether the government may or may not properly intervene has become a matter of the author’s opinion. Such a procedure provides a precedent for breaking the stringent restrictions on government, which Mr. Jones himself considers essential to the preservation of liberty. Usually he is well aware of the irrepressible tendency of power to corrupt those who exercise it.

The discussion of “assistance” does not seem to me entirely consistent with the principles enunciated earlier. Although the injustices in present systems of state aid are skillfully exposed, and strict rules are laid down for deciding who is to be entitled to such assistance, there is no mention of charity in the sense of love. Apparently the author assumes that private philanthropy will not take care of all who require help. He does not seem to realize that those who cannot help themselves provide an opportunity for the development of good character through the practice of true Christian charity.

Yet we find him saying that “a people who are barred from the exercise of private philanthropy, through usurpation of the field by the state, must cease to have conviction of its need.”

The flaws in this book are minor ones. Mr. Jones has done a job that has long needed doing. The Challenge of Liberty will be of tremendous help to those who have an emotional attachment to individualism, but are unable to defend their position against the convinced socialist or ‘confused welfare-statist. It should provoke a great deal of thought on the philosophy of liberty—a concept of immense significance for this collectivist age!


Mallory Cross Johnson