All Commentary
Friday, July 1, 1960

Freedom: The Motor of Maturity

Mr. Miles offers a management consulting service in Los Angeles and does free-lance writing and editorial work.

Today many of those who have been most sympathetic with our past moves toward collectivism are starting to beat the drums to make the government responsible for the “mental health” of “its” citizens. They point to the facts that half our hospital beds are oc­cupied by “mental” patients and that one out of every 10 or 12 of us is destined to spend some time in a mental hospital. They conclude that “mental health” has now be­come important enough to be taken over by government.

But here may be an issue made to order for libertarians. For men­tal distress is largely, if not main­ly, loss of contact with reality. In fact, this is how schizophrenia, re­sponsible for 55 per cent of the “mental cases” in hospitals, is now described. And loss of contact with reality is directly traceable to loss of freedom.

The classic example of contact with reality used to be farming. The farmer prepares the ground; sows; the seeds grow into plants; he harvests the crop. The better he has done his job, the better the harvest—and the better he and his family will live. But today, farmers (and others) are not free to work in this way. Often the work a man does bears little rela­tion to the rewards he reaps. And so it is little wonder that he tends to lose contact with reality.

In the Winter 1959-60 number of Modern Age (reprinted in the May 1960 Freeman), William C. Mullendore traces the confusion of our society to lack of “responsible individualism.” It may be that one of the most striking examples of that confusion is precisely the same mental distress that the so­cialists would cure by less individ­ual responsibility.

Examining studies of insanity, one finds such cases as the man who, all during his childhood, was protected by his mother—and when it finally became necessary for him to get a job and assert himself, went into a tailspin. Here is a young woman who had been told all her life by an older sister what to do, what to eat, what to wear—and who had broken down shortly after getting married. Here is another young lady who had waited on her invalid father day and night for the 30 years since he suffered a stroke and so became totally dependent on him for an emotional outlet. Here is a man with a history of almost con­stant illnesses as a child who, as a consequence, was never expected to do any real work or assume any real responsibility even during his well periods. And so it goes.

Most of these persons as chil­dren went regularly to school and studied their school lessons. Many of them became known as espe­cially “bright” students. But none of them learned enough about the fine art of controlling situations, rather than being controlled by them, to develop the maturity nec­essary to cope with life once the crutch of over-protection or emo­tional dependence was withdrawn. They did not learn how to make their own decisions and choices—and how to take the consequences. They did not have the freedom that comes only with standing on their own two feet and physically and mentally “slugging it out”—a freedom more vital to man than any of his gregarious “drives.”

Even a new-born infant seems to have a deep-seated need for freedom of movement. When the baby gets a little older and strong­er, he will scream and kick and struggle and get red in the face if he is constrained from turning over when he feels like it, or stretching, or doubling up. The be­haviorists call this “rage.” It would be equally appropriate to call it a demonstration of man’s basic, and elemental, love for free­dom, and of his growing aware­ness that he is an individual with inalienable rights.

Evolution Toward Liberty

The normal development of the child is such that, as he grows older, more and more freedom be­comes available to him, seemingly restricted to that amount he can use in each of his stages of growth. Just as by using his free­dom to pit himself against the ob­stacles of the world, the child—and later the man—develops the physical, mental, moral, and spirit­ual muscles that will build matur­ity and enable him to understand his world, so has our civilization developed by gradual (and fitful) steps. The evolution of life itself, if read correctly, suggests that the need to be free is one of the primary needs of man. Lecomte du Nouy says in his great book, Hu­man Destiny:

“Evolution has all the appear­ances of being a choice, always made in the same ascending direc­tion towards a greater liberty…. The increasing freedom of human beings is evident if one starts with the monocellular being and the mollusks: freedom of movement, liberation from the chains im­posed by a strict dependence on the environment (concentration of saline solution, temperature, food, etc.), liberation from the ne­cessity of using the hands for walking or digging, liberation from the time-consuming method of transmitting useful acquired characters and experience (through speech and tradition), and last of all… liberation of conscience.”’

The quest for freedom is not simply a thing added on, as dicta­tors and bureaucrats seem to as­sume, or even one of the luxuries of integrity. It is part and parcel of the stuff of which human life is made, built in through a hundred million years of evolution, a mil­lion years of pre-history, thou­sands of years of history. When the circumstances of a man’s life deprive him of freedom, they also deprive him of the sanity and ma­turity for which he was born. Without freedom he cannot build up and toughen those inner re­sources which give him the flexi­bility and initiative so necessary for the give and take of life.

It is by freely trying out many different modes of behavior and then evaluating the consequences that are associated with such-and-­such a type of behavior under such-and-such a circumstance that the wild gyrations of childhood, laughter one moment and tears the next, are narrowed down with the oncoming of maturity to small­er and more controlled emotional swings that will enable him to face the problems of life with ini­tiative, self-reliance, and love. The gradual integration of reality into the patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving is interrupted for the mentally disturbed individual. He somehow never learns to be self-reliant in the confidence that things will turn out as planned; to take the initiative, and thus make himself into an agent through which the cosmic crea­tive force may flow;2 or to love, which for the mature individual involves self-discipline and respon­sibility for others. He knows only the dependence of the child—but he yearns to express the emotions of adulthood, the emotions in­tended to fit him for maturity, without knowing how to do so. He is torn between two worlds, and the result is the extremes of be­havior of the manic-depressive; the delusions of persecution and of grandeur of the paranoic; and the silliness, negativism, apathy, and “split personality” of the schizo­phrenic.

Life’s Challenge: Prove Thyself

Friedrich Hayek shows in The Sensory Order that reality is not simply something in the “outer world” to be reached out to by sensory organs, but rather is created by each individual for him­self.3 Such a concept of the de­velopment of reality makes it even more apparent that a nice balance between emotional responses, be­tween work and accomplishment, between experience of effect and understanding of cause is required—in order that relationships (which are all we know) may be integrated in a constantly tighten­ing nexus. The “development” of “reality,” so conceived, which is here called maturity, is threatened by injudicious interference with the freedom of the individual, whether it be by parental over­protection, teacher coddling, welfare-statism, or whatnot. In its most extreme form, non-freedom leads to, or perhaps is, insanity. (For his 1984, George Orwell ex­panded a lunatic asylum to be coterminous with civilization.)

Life always throws down a chal­lenge to the newcomer. That chal­lenge reads: “Prove thyself.” Parents, teachers, friends can help the individual get ready to meet that challenge, but they can protect him from accepting it and the at­tendant risks only by withdrawing him from the enterprise of life.

And the attendant risks. Facing challenges from which the teeth have been pulled just will not do. Such a situation is as artificial as providing a dog simultaneously with food and with electric shocks—and likely to have the same re­sult: breakdown.

Whatever can be said in opposi­tion to an agency using coercion against one group or individual to protect another (and it is much) the greatest harm may, in the last analysis, be caused not by the coercion, but by the protection. Society can provide the individual with anesthesia but not with ma­turity. Only by “bringing off” affairs where he has freely staked something of value can the indi­vidual learn—and by learning, hold the bricks of security in place by freedom, the mortar of ma­turity.


1 Du Nouy, Lecomte. Human Destiny. Longmans, Green and Co., 1947. pp. 92-93

2 See Leonard E. Read, “Economics for the Teachable,” THE FREEMAN, January 1960, pp. 32-40.

3 Hayek, F. A. The Sensory Order. The University of Chicago Press, 1952.