All Commentary
Saturday, June 1, 1963

Courage to Stand


Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden, Alabama.

Through the best of man’s bequest to posterity, through the great works of art, literature, and music, runs a thread of hope. This hope or dream is that some­how, sometime, somewhere, everyone will be inspired to participate in the ex­perience of individual freedom.

Freedom, often used, seldom under­stood, is a most provocative word. The fruits of freedom are tangible, and it is common nowadays to refer to them as in­herent rights. But the essence of free­dom is an exuberant individual experi­ence, the culmination of personal effort, no more inherent than a classical educa­tion.

One may inherit brown eyes, black hair, a strong body, property, real and personal; but freedom must be earned by each individual and each generation. The course of this nation was charted by free men. Realizing that each generation must navigate the ship of state for a season, they devised the framework of limited government calculated to secure individ­ual rights and create a social atmosphere most sympathetic to freedom. The mind of man cannot conceive an inheritance of greater magnitude than the oppor­tunity for self-development thus guar­anteed to each citizen of the United States. We believe such opportunity is the greatest heritage man may possess, but the guarantee of individual rights does not necessarily constitute freedom. The relationship here is roughly the same that a stack of lumber bears to a beautiful home. Lumber is a vital part of such home, but it may also be used for less artistic purposes, or left unattended to be warped and decayed by unsympathetic ele­ments.

The absolute necessity of the personal experience of freedom may be illustrated by the fledgling fisherman as he hooks his first fish. All who have participated in this experience will agree that it feels better all over than any place else, but to make a nonparticipant understand completely is well be­yond our power of communication. Sure, one may have been born near a lake or stream where the bass grow large, fight hard, and strike at anything. There may be little or no difficulty obtaining good, reliable tackle. The oppor­tunity may be extended on a silver platter, as it were — even as the Founding Fathers have extended, to every citizen of these United States, the opportunity to be free — but every individual must make his own cast, ply his own line, and land his own fish.

In like vein, freedom: for mil­lions of Americans it has come to mean no more than access to those rights guaranteed by the Consti­tution. Yet we know that a man may have access to a bathtub and remain dirty, if he chooses this course, rather than expend the ef­fort required to draw a bath and wash himself. Real freedom can be experienced only by those with the knowledge, courage, and confi­dence to accept opportunity and responsibility and to oppose those elements conducive to slavery.

Freedom Rarely Achieved

From the beginning, great thinkers have been able to enjoy a degree of psychic independence, even while abiding in a slave state. On rare occasions free men have instituted governments af­fording a degree of physical lib­erty. Yet freedom is more than physical and more than psychic; it is, in fact, psychosomatic — an active merging of the two.

No nation may justly boast that a majority of its citizens are now, or ever have been, free. This in­cludes the English colonies and fledgling United States of the eighteenth century, along with Greece at her best. A substantial minority, perhaps, but not a ma­jority. All citizens of these United States have access to those rights guaranteed by the Constitution, yet we know these ideas were in­stituted, maintained, and advanced by a minority. The colonial soldier who fought bravely with visions of a high place in a dictatorial military government was no more free than the Tory who hoped to spoil his neighbor’s property. In our time the person who would rob a bank, run a red light, or kill a buck out of season, except for fear of punishment, is no more free than one who is appre­hended for doing these things.

All rights may appear inhibited to the slave who fails to marshal his motivations for the experience of freedom. The shiftless may find their right to own property void for lack of funds. This group will also find their right to vote for an outstanding candidate inhibited by the promise of a larger hand­out by those of proven incompe­tence. The irresponsible must ob­serve his neighbor’s boundary or be arrested for trespassing, and obey traffic rules or be deprived of his right to drive. The slothful is slave to whatever work circum­stances may force upon him, and the uninformed finds all rights in­hibited by ignorance.

Self-Responsibility

Freedom is many things to many people, but by and large a free man is restrained by no force outside himself. He is uninhibited by just laws because his own sense of justice embraces the spirit as well as the letter of the law. He is prompt to condemn and resist any law that imposes an injustice on any individual. He is not a slave to his profession because he takes pride in giving full measure for remuneration received. Family and social responsibilities are ac­cepted as a joyous privilege. Since the free man is not seeking an un­fair advantage, he can and does vote for the candidate most likely to respect the rights and the dig­nity of every individual and least likely to bow to any pressure group.

Wealth is not a factor in the experience of freedom. A ninety-gallon drum filled to the brim is no more full than a teaspoon in the same state; but if both are emptied, the contents of the drum will spread over a much larger area. Doubtless, there were un­known privates in the colonial army on the same plane with Washington, freedom-wise, but they could not have covered the area he did in founding the na­tion.

Obviously, the fullness of free­dom may not be enjoyed under totalitarian government; but how can the wonders of freedom es­cape so many citizens of a nation founded on the proposition that all men should be free? There are many answers: lack of inspira­tion, understanding, communica­tion; but for the most part, lack of courage.

Many Prefer Slavery

Those who have participated in the experience of freedom tend to feel that all people want to attain this high estate. This illusion is quite natural, but the sorry fact is that many people fear freedom. Living in servitude, separated from inspiration by some known or unknown force, the spark of greatness lies dormant within these persons. It is impossible for free men, inspired by lofty ambi­tions, to understand the type who rely upon and worship the Levia­than state. The slave by choice must be small in all things other than physical bulk. Unable to con­trol his own emotions and affairs, he judges everyone by himself. Knowing he would take anything he could get away with, he fears for his own life and property. This man is happy when he can barter his opportunity to live for the doubtful promise of peaceful existence under any totalitarian government that offers to protect and provide for him. These per­sons are wrong, as was their out­standing spokesman, Thomas Hobbes, in their belief that they can actually own property and en­joy certain other fundamental rights while abiding in such a state.

This type is with us today, as it has been from the beginning. (The Hebrews said, “Give me a king.” The Romans said, “Give me a Caesar.” Many Americans are saying, “Give us socialism.”) Thus, we see the hopeless and near-hopeless, the failures of this generation; but the seeds of free­dom are not dead, only dormant. With better communication and understanding, their sons and daughters may be inspired to launch out in the quest for free­dom.

It Must Be Earned

Lack of knowledge concerning man’s relationship to freedom may confuse and frustrate many peo­ple who ought to be free. Gener­ally speaking, a citizen of these United States is first exposed to the theory that freedom is inher­ited. (Many teachers still confuse the genuine article with the equally rare opportunity to earn.) When the intelligent youth be­comes aware of the fallacy of this theory, he may cast about in frustration until arriving at the equally false conclusion that all men are slaves to something. This theory, from the stagnant philoso­phy of past civilizations, holds that the shepherd is slave to his flock, the smith to his forge, the baker to his oven, and so on. Those who succumb to this theory should know that the civilizations which spawned it have long since passed.

The phrase, “free as a bird,” is often used to emphasize an unre­strained condition, but we know that many birds must migrate to survive. All must build a nest and feed their young or the species becomes extinct in one generation. It is possible, of course, to live a life of servitude while abiding in the most desirable social atmos­phere on earth. This truth is mani­fest in fathers who hate their work and mothers who deplore their estate. Surely such people could not be classified as free. As a matter of fact, many people are slaves to something, but in the United States such a life is un­warranted and inexcusable.

Duties of Citizenship

One who participates in the ex­perience of freedom embraces the responsibilities of citizenship with uninhibited dexterity. The slave cowers in the background when possible and exerts no more than token effort when driven to per­form. These hitchhikers take ad­vantage of all by-products of free­dom but can contribute nothing to a free society, because they are slaves to their own superficial mo­tivations. In the midst of unlim­ited opportunity they exist in a world of perpetual restraint, a great liability to their country, to society, and even to themselves.

The tale is told of three men employed to build a house. A fourth man stopped and asked each of the three what he was do­ing. The first man answered that he was earning three dollars an hour. The second said he was pro­viding for his family. The third man answered that he was build­ing someone a beautiful home. To be sure, this man was earning substantial wages and supporting his family; but more than this he was happy and unrestrained, the master rather than the slave of his profession. The same holds true in all walks of life. Those who expend a bare minimum of effort will find their work very difficult, no matter what the task. One who freely gives a little extra time and thought will understand his work better, and experience little if any difficulty or restraint. Obviously, then, the smith who controls the fruit of his forge with love and dexterity is master rather than slave. Free men know this to be true; but how communi­cate such experience? How can the slave be inspired?

The Voice of Freedom

Persons who have not played baseball are unlikely to become greatly enthused about someone hitting a ball with a stick; while those who have participated in the game may share, with an unknown player, the thrill of a well-hit ball. Fishermen speak a universal lan­guage. When a fellow Izaak Wal­ton tells of landing a prize trout, they can feel the tug and see the spray. In relation to freedom, these experiences would rate as miniature firecrackers alongside the most powerful bomb. Never­theless, only a free people under­stand clearly the voice of freedom.

Attempting to communicate through this barrier helps one un­derstand the minister who looked over the faithful few and said, “The people I am speaking to this evening are not here.” Hopeless as the task may appear, some way must be devised to reach those not present — inspire them to par­ticipate in this most exuberant of all adventures.

Most provoking of all, to those who know a full measure of free­dom, is the person almost per­suaded. This individual appears to be endowed with all attributes peculiar to free men. He is aware of the socialist trend, sees the in­justice, feels the shame, senses the need to break the bonds of group pressure, but lacks just a bit of courage, one small nudge.

To the almost persuaded I would address one last appeal: Re­member that only the free have the capacity for self-government; and only in a society dedicated to freedom have sons and daughters the opportunity to try.

 

 

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Ideas on Liberty

Democracy and Progress

It is commonly believed that the “democratic process” will assure progress. But there is no way of designating excessive governmental activity so as to assure that it will aid progress rather than stop progress.

Progress arises in every instance out of an extreme minority of opinion, not the majority of opinion. The seedlings of prog­ress are often so small and unnoticed that they are ignored by those who would otherwise destroy them in ignorance as “evil” thought or acts. But if everything were to be subjected to ma­jority rule, every step of progress would presumably be de­stroyed in its infancy.

F. A. HARPER, Liberty: A Path to Its Recovery


  • Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden, Alabama.