Mr. Bearce is a free-lance writer in Humble, Texas.
Each age has its cynical cult—its pessimistic prophets of doom. Ours is scarcely the exception. The prevailing mood today, leastwise in supposedly "intellectual" circles, was recently summed up by one of our prominent news commentators. Asked why he reported only the ugly side of the national and international scenes, he replied with moody overcast that if there were any encouraging news to broadcast, he’d surely give it a fair propagation—leaving us to conclude that no tangible bright spots of cheer exist to be reported.
Again, pessimism is an ancient attitude—one that coupled with skepticism and cynicism has done its share to thwart individual freedom and human progress. Those of us who have undertaken the task of knowing more of freedom, preserving and enlarging upon it, are particularly susceptible to the slough of pessimism.
When we think of freedom, one of the basic concepts that comes to mind is the worth and dignity of the individual and his eternal struggle against encroachments from the state. And how today’s trend toward state intervention and the gradual subjugation of the individual are causes for discouragement! Inflation, politicians obsessed with government spending as the "cure-all" to the Promised Land, judicial decisions—these represent some of the potential bugs of despair in all red-blooded freemen.
A recent powwow of mayors went on record as expressing a desire for greater Federal responsibility in their cities. That is just cause for pessimism! Mayors, of all individuals, ought to stand firm for individual responsibility against state authority. Independence, individual initiative, limited government, and local responsibility were all the cornerstones upon which the Founding Fathers built a free society of free men working freely. Yet, here are our mayors expressing, somewhat indignantly, their feelings that the Federal authorities haven’t devoted enough time and money to the needs of the cities.
To further examine this issue, let us say that various school districts, private and state health agencies, and local welfare programs are subsidized and financed with Federal funds. This aid invariably leads to dependence, i.e., a deterioration of personal and local responsibility. Now, let us assume that a bill is passed by Congress appropriating funds to continue assistance to these education and welfare programs. It passes overwhelmingly, but trouble lies ahead because the President threatens to veto—a veto he will use declaring that the Federal government simply does not have the funds. To spend money that will not be raised by taxes would be inflationary.
Here is the curse of Federal aid. Lobbyists for the beneficiaries of the health, education, and welfare monies flock to Washington demanding passage of the bill by the President. "Why, Mr. President, we need that money! People will starve! Men will die of disease! Children will not learn their 3 R’s!" Thus, in many instances, elected officials are coerced into passing legislation that is detrimental to the free economy solely due to the authoritarian tactics of individuals who have lacked individual responsibility for so long that they become lost without Federal assistance.
So much for inflation and selfish groups; they are cause for concern, but not pessimism. We can easily share the news commentator’s blues. We can isolate all the instances where individual freedom is succumbing to the Big Brother philosophy, and then we can generalize on the gloomy findings. The result will be quite a dreary outlook on the current state of freedom. But dreary freemen and libertarians are not likable people. What is worse, the dreary freeman is but a step away from cynicism, skepticism, and pessimism—the three curses hampering the cause of freedom.
What we need is not an obsessive eye for the evil in society but a penetrating eye for the instances where free men working freely in a free society have succeeded. These examples should be our hope. They ought to cause a renewal of faith in freedom and a renewal of will to make freedom a profound blessing in men’s lives.
Allow me to illustrate. At about the same time of the news commentator’s gloom, I watched a debate on the local educational TV. The topic: "Should the United States continue to reduce its nonmilitary foreign aid program and expenditures?" One of the witnesses who argued the affirmative was a prominent gentleman from Guatemala—Señor Manuel Ayau.1 He was being cross-examined:
"Do you honestly believe, Mr. Ayau, that Guatemala doesn’t need American aid?"
"Yes, I do. It doesn’t need American aid or anyone else’s."
"You really insist that Guatemala doesn’t desperately need American technology and equipment?"
"That is correct."
"Hasn’t American aid helped Guatemala?"
"It has not. American aid has hurt us." Then he added, "Guatemala, sir, if left alone can develop on her own without American aid. We do not need your benevolence. A country can make its progress on its own, if it has the will. I know of no better example than that of your own country—the United States of America."
Bravo! Sr. Ayau realized the eternal truth that when men are free to work out their own problems, depending upon their own self-discipline, individual initiative, and personal responsibility, they can achieve abundance. Freedom, unleashing human energy through perseverance, will, and sweat—not subsidies, humanitarianism, and energy-sapping authoritarianism—is the glory of man.
So, three cheers for Ayau and his perceptive defense of the free market and individual initiative.
Accent on the Positive
Many of us waste our time cursing the setbacks to freedom and not enough time cleaning our own houses. Our energies are spent unrewardingly as we decry the lack of appreciation for freedom on the part of our fellow man. We might very well see greater advances in the cause of freedom and truth if we would channel some of our righteous condemnation into praising the bright spots in the struggle for freedom. Then too, we can take the advice of Thomas Jefferson: "The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches; we must be contented to secure what we can get, from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get."
Elbert Hubbard once remarked, "If I can give a man a thought, I’ve helped him. But if I can make him think, then I’ve indeed done him a service." This idea of making men think for themselves is the task of the freeman. It might be all bliss if men could live just as they pleased, doing and saying precisely what fitted their ego or mentality. Such is not the case, though. Our own security, freedom, and peace are dependent to a certain extent upon the attitudes of the society in which we live—a society which either rejects or accepts authoritarian philosophies.
We can give our fellow man "thoughts" about the blessings derived of free men working freely in a free society, but what is better, we can enable him to "think" for himself. This is the "thinking" which generates a more profound appreciation for freedom. Such positive action on our part is quite indirectly achieved. Rather than attempting to drill the truths of freedom into the "unlightened," we put our faith into vibrant example—the example that will encourage others to search out the truth for themselves.
The self-righteous attitude that seeks the role of saviour of mankind with omnipotent knowledge is not the way of those who adhere to the freedom faith. As in ages past, mankind has its self-appointed crusaders who are enraptured with visions of a perfect, blissful end. But he who would be the instrument for espousing the blessings of freedom must be humble; he must be willing to work individually and faithfully on a day-by-day basis, neither expecting nor seeking utopia for his fellow man.
It is quite all right to point out the defeats that freedom is experiencing, but this is somewhat a negative approach. We certainly should not be like the oft-mentioned ostrich; we must face reality and acknowledge our place in it as fallible beings. But the setbacks to freedom should not blind us. Rather, our energies must be dedicated to accenting the blessings derived of freemen thinking, working, and ordering their lives as they please.
Pessimism, cynicism, skepticism—these curses have no place in the program and attitudes of the freeman who seeks greater insight into the freedom faith. To love freedom is an optimistic faith—the faith that recognizes the harsh realities of life but also recognizes the terrific force of freedom in men’s lives. Again, if we would serve the cause of freedom, we must understand Hub-bard’s observation: "If I can give a man a thought, I’ve helped him. But if I can make him think, then I’ve indeed done him a service."
1 See "The Problem," by Dean Russell—May 1970 FREEMAN – who along with Ayau presented the argument against aid.