All Commentary
Tuesday, May 1, 1962

Our Choice


Mr. Mulqueen, in his Junior year at a West Coast college, looks from present problems toward the future.

Recently in our neighborhood the local office of Civil Defense called a meeting and offered a film and lecture, followed by discussion, to better prepare us in case of na­tional emergency. Ours is a large community, but only twenty-five persons attended the meeting. The CD representative noted this lack of interest in home preparedness and said that citizens in Russia and various European countries are better informed because they are required by law to take an ac­tive role in Civil Defense.

A woman in the audience thought that “in a time of emergency such as this, our government ought to force every adult in the community to take CD instructions for the general good.” (Emphasis hers.) Others supported her view. I dis­agreed, though I couldn’t resist a certain compulsion to understand what prompted her suggestion. Of course, this has been the great debate in all societies down through the ages: whether to rely upon in­dividual volition, or to insist on domination “for the general good.”

A Crossroads

America, and the world in gen­eral, is at a crossroads. Every ma­jor issue today seems rooted in this question of whether the in­dividual should be dominated by experts who would plan his actions “for his own good,” or should there be reserved to each individ­ual his dual right (1) to develop his creative powers according to his own choice, and (2) to freely exchange the fruits of his labors—limited only by the extension of those same rights to his neigh­bors. Under the truly free system, governmental coercive power can only be used in defense of the rights of all human beings. It ought never to be used for the im­moral plunder of one citizen (his liberty or his property) for the favor of another. The alternatives are volition, or domination of the individual; and we need to under­stand just what it means to choose one or the other.

Many people in the United States assume that every subject under a king or a dictator is necessarily unhappy with his lot. We hear of the terrible purges of all dissent­ers whenever such a system is im­posed. Yet, the irony is that once people “get the hang” of living under a dictatorship, they may prefer it to a free system that leaves the individual responsible for his own actions and choices. I once met a young man who lived under the Nazi system in Ger­many, and another who lived un­der Italian fascism. Both believed that the totalitarian state was the only “sensible” solution to govern­mental and economic problems. They looked upon free societies as uncontrolled mobs of people too ignorant to manage their own af­fairs, suffering injustices sup­posedly avoided under govern­ment planning. They recalled their dictators with great affection, as the “expert captains of the team.”

Authoritarians of all kinds are anarchists in the name of “law and order.” Usually soured by person­al failure, these selfish despots try to give their “sheep” a false sense of security by exhibiting unusual energy and giving the appearance of getting things done. Having no respect for either the liberty or the property rights of their under­lings, they hold in contempt the idea of government limited to a defensive role. To maintain their power, they have to preach against freedom, and convince their sub­jects that the only safety in life lies in unthinking obedience to the ruler. The law, once intended to protect man, becomes the special privilege of an anarch—the dicta­tor’s tool of tyranny.

An Instrument of Justice

The problem then, if we would retain our individuality and free­dom, is to use the law only as an instrument of justice among men, to confine government’s coercive powers to a defensive role, leaving individuals full opportunity to de­velop their respective potentiali­ties, as each may choose, under the law. This means that the law may not be used to stack the cards against one man or group in favor of another. No person should have the power to suspend “temporar­ily” the rights of his neighbors, even if he thinks such domination might be in their best interest. Those who would grab control in time of emergency to “protect our freedoms” have bought the Marx­ian myth that the dictatorship of the proletariat would wither away into a perfect, classless society. It is not so, for among men, none has the right to “play God” over his fellows.

As young people about to as­sume our respective roles in soci­ety, we in our nation’s colleges must decide whether it is better to support some sort of “planned so­cial team,” or to be a moderate in­dividualist—a libertarian. We must decide whether our lives would be better “planned by ex­perts” or based on our own de­cisions.

Reliance on “Big Brother”

As we analyze the views of those who support big government and “social planning,” we find these basic assumptions: The average man is really unable to take proper care of himself; team spirit is necessary in order that experts, the elite of totalitarianism, might have more effective control of ev­ery teammate. The failure and per­sonal disaster they allegedly fear for others is basically their self-reluctance to face life on their own two feet. They would much rather trust in George Orwell’s “Big Brother.” They still want a “dad­dy” or a “mommy” to fall back on in the face of adversity.

The basic psychology of author­itarianism is immaturity, a lack of self-reliance and self-responsi­bility. Freedom requires the un­derstanding, the will, and the cour­age to stand—alone if need be—with honesty and justice, behav­ing toward others as one would want them to behave in turn. If one’s freedom of choice is the sort of security he desires, he will not find it by compelling his neighbors to attend Civil Defense meetings.

The state has no moral right to do what the individual cannot do. The individual has no moral right to use aggressive force against his neighbors. The state is not God; it derives its powers from the peo­ple who make up its citizenry. The people can’t give what they haven’t got. Any government action is necessarily unjust if it deviates from what is justifiable action by individuals.

Our choice, then, concerns emo­tional maturity. Either we want the kind of security that means dependence on “Big Brother,” or we want the opportunity that en­courages individual creativity. The latter affords relative success for most, excellence for some, and fail­ure for a few. We simply cannot have both opportunity and state planned security.

Each grant of “security” by the government necessarily diminishes the opportunities available to our­selves and our children. This is our choice. Let’s face it.