All Commentary
Thursday, March 1, 1962

Planned Chaos And The New Idolatry

The Reverend Mr. Opitz is a member of the staff of the Foundation for Economic Educa­tion.

If we could take a sampling of American public opinion, asking people, “Are you for communism or against it?” an overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens would be in opposition. They would accept the anticommunist label as readily as most of us. How could they do otherwise, with commu­nism’s ugly record of the past forty years spread before all eyes? What are the ingredients of this record? Revolution, treason, and betrayal were present from the beginning. As the record unfolds, it becomes ever more grim; con­centration camps, torture, and mass murder; broken treaties, conquest, and the suppression of whole peoples. And the end is not in sight.

Communism did not invent the crimes it practices; history, as Edward Gibbon remarked in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of man­kind.” But if we examine the pres­ent world crisis centering around communism, we discover two things which are new.

There is, first of all, the magni­tude of this tyranny, not only in terms of the area over which it holds sway and the countless mil­lions of people it controls, but al­so in terms of the penetration of this control into each man’s life. Ancient tyrannies—no matter how boundless their ambitions —were limited in extent by the dif­ficulties of communication and supply. Genghis Khan and Tam­erlane overran vast territories, killing and terrorizing, but they were hampered by the practical problems of logistics and policing. Present-day conquerors avail themselves of the latest techno­logical advances in every field; in transport, as well as in the use of the written and spoken word. And they have discovered new techniques for securing “cooperation” by intimidation and scien­tific terror, so that people police each other.

The second new thing about modern tyranny emerges from the first. Communism is not simply a mere revival of ancient slavery or serfdom; it seeks to dominate the minds of its subjects as well as their bodies. Communism uses its population as drudges, and by Stakhanovite methods seeks to get more production out of them. But it does not stop there. Commu­nism claims the hearts and souls of men, as well as their bodies. It seeks to create a new man, in­dependent of the old ties which bound men to family, country, and God. To the extent that commu­nism succeeds in severing men from their old attachments, it fails; its “new men” become mon­sters.

In spite of these things, there have been communists and fellow travelers among us. They are with us yet. Some are influential and articulate. But despite a genera­tion and a half of communist prop­aganda, comparatively few Ameri­cans adopt the party line—so long as it bears a “Made in Moscow” label.

The 1930′s, it is true, were spoken of as “The Red Decade,” but this red tinge, after all, af­flicted only a relatively few per­sons. There was, of course, the honeymoon period during World War II when Russia was our “noble ally.” This was a period when people who should have known better joined all kinds of “Front” organizations and coughed every time Joe Stalin had a tickle in his throat.

But when the crusading fervor of World War II wore off, we took another look at the Soviets, and there was the same old dictatorial rule, the concentration camps as before, the continuing political murders, the underhanded pene­tration of all governments includ­ing our own by communist agents and dupes, the conquests, the brutal suppression of natural hu­man aspirations for more freedom (as in Hungary)—and we began again to see communism for what it really is: ancient tyranny plus all the modern refinements.

Communism: a Twofold Danger

As a result, Americans are now aroused against communism as never before. They see it as a two­fold danger; as a subversive ideol­ogy, and as an armed revolution. Communism, in the first place, is a kind of ersatz religion, a chal­lenge and a threat to our whole way of life. In the second place, communism is an armed revolu­tionary movement which threatens our very lives. Naturally, there­fore, Americans want to defend themselves at both levels; the spiritual as well as the military. Defense at both levels is impor­tant, but the spiritual is more im­portant than the military. Com­ing from a clergyman, this may sound like a mere sentimental gesture, so let me try to explain.

Power is not the same thing as brute strength. If it were, we would not be here talking about the threat of communism, for modern communism began a little more than a century ago as a de­fenseless idea, or ideology, in the brain of Karl Marx. When this ideology was first unleashed, it had no military hardware at its disposal, and it had little else! A number of researchers have shown that Marx did not have original opinions in economics, politics, or intrigue; instead, he picked the brains of other men. But he dressed up these old ideas so attractively and imparted such a spin to them that they have ever since exerted an almost irresisti­ble attraction on millions of men. The times were ripe for such a movement as Marx launched; and nothing, as Victor Hugo has told us, is so powerful as an idea whose time has come. Long before Marx­ism took root the once healthy soil of Western culture had been pre­pared for just such a perverted growth.

In the early years of the twen­tieth century a self-unemployed lawyer and political exile was liv­ing in a foreign country in a run­down boarding house. He lived on handouts. He wrote angry tracts, made rabble rousing speeches, and plotted the Revolution. As World War I drew to a close, he seized control of a great country and set brush fires on every continent. The man’s name was Lenin. He had no physical power at the outset, but he lived for an idea. It was an evil idea to which he devoted his life, but the Marxist ideology which consumed him forged ahead until it invested itself with today’s Soviet military machine. But the real power was in the idea; once this idea began to take hold of men’s minds, military weapons gravitated toward it. Once this idea begins to lose its hold on men’s minds, the weapons will start to fall away.

Ludwig von Mises, the eminent economist and social philosopher, puts the point as follows: “One can become a leader only if one is sup­ported by an ideology which makes other people tractable and accommodating. Might is thus not a physical and tangible thing, but a moral and spiritual phenomenon. A king’s might rests upon the recognition of the monarchial ideology on the part of his sub­jects.” This insight accords with the advice of the French revolutionist who told his followers: “Don’t attack the king; attack the idea of monarchy.”

The Marxist ideology has seeped into several countries and these countries have armies. We must, therefore, keep our guard up against a possible military threat, and this we are doing. We spend a great deal of money each year on ships, planes, tanks, bombs, and missiles. Furthermore, we have some able military minds and tech­nicians among us. Even though our military defense system is not all it should be, and may be sadly lacking in certain sectors, it is in far better shape than our intel­lectual, moral, and spiritual de­fenses. Our real enemy, basically, is not a foreign army; it is an alien philosophy. The real danger is that we will disown our native heritage of religious, political, and economic beliefs and replace them with beliefs patterned after the ideology of our opponents. Should this actually take place, they will have gained the victory without firing a shot.

To a greater extent than we like to admit, this is happening. It may happen even among a peo­ple who regard themselves as anti­communist, if they are betrayed into the comforting belief that communism is an external and foreign threat only.

Admiral Ben Moreell has puthis finger on this danger. “Com­munism is a species of blasphe­mous religion,” he writes, “operat­ing under several guises, or ali­ases, the Moscow variety being the most obtrusive.” He concludes his catalog of communism’s aliases by saying:

“And, finally, there is ‘domes­ticated communism,’ a species which is far more destructive of our social and political institu­tions than any of the others. Its followers denounce ‘communism,’ in the abstract, with all the vigor at their command. But, at the same time, they advocate measures which ideologically differ little from the program promoted by Marx and Lenin. We Americans have repeatedly been alerted against an unanalyzed thing la­beled ‘communism.’ But many of our people have not been alerted against the specific political and economic measures which, taken together, are communism. They readily accept the heart of the communist doctrine, which is the enhancement of political power at the expense of the natural rights of the individual.”

For the Mind and Soul of Man

What we are witnessing today is a world-wide battle for the mind and soul of man—in edu­cation, in religion, and in politics. It is a contest to determine the system of values to which men will give their final allegiance. Call this a battle of propaganda, if you will; and in this area we must admit that it’s Russia by a mile.

Our predicament, in a nutshell, is illustrated by the famous state­ment of the then General Eisen­hower about his conversations with Marshall Zhukov. “We tried to explain to each other,” said Eisenhower, “just what our sys­tems meant, to the individual, and I was very hard put to it when he insisted that their system appealed to the idealistic, and we completely to the materialistic, and I had a very tough time trying to defend our position…. You run against arguments that almost leave you breathless; you don’t know how to meet them.”

Genuine loyalty to a code of val­ues must be freely given. This is not a matter for the intellect alone, but a man who cannot give reasons for the faith that is in him and meet the arguments against it is in danger of losing that faith. It is not enough merely to proclaim our devotion to the American System; we must seek to understand what it is and how it came to us. Unless we are aware of the spiritual and moral ante­cedents of our way of life, as well as the political and economic im­plications of it, we will lose what Abraham Lincoln called “the last best hope of earth.”

Military Preparedness

A growing number of people are now aware that military prepared­ness is but a phase of the war which is total. The enemy we con­front seeks to disarm us intellectu­ally; he seeks to confuse our sys­tems of loyalties, to distort our values, to capture our very souls. Hence, the crucial need for a re­birth of our own philosophy. In addition to this, we must under­stand the ideology of communism and its various techniques for ad­vancing its aims short of military conquest. Some of these techniques make use of “double-think” and “double-talk.”

To illustrate: The Soviet Union denounces imperialism and coloni­alism, and becomes the greatest imperial and colonial power in his­tory. It uses the concept of democ­racy to buttress autocracy. It per­verts the judicial processes to wring confessions from innocent men. This is warfare in another dimension than the military. It even goes beyond what is usually called “psychological warfare.”

The aim of war always has been to impose your will on the enemy or to prevent him from imposing his will on you. Propaganda has always accompanied arms, but main reliance in the past has been on physical force. You inflict dam­age on the enemy’s soldiers and destroy his property until his will to resist has been broken. But modern refinements of propaganda techniques are so effective that in many instances the will can be gotten at directly to soften or break it. Something of this sort happened to many of our soldiers in the Korean War, in the process called “brainwashing.”

Confused about Communism

It is understandable, though it may be regrettable, that many of our young soldiers in Korea had no clear comprehension of com­munist ideology. This disability they share with a majority of our fellow Americans today. “Commu­nism,” for all too many Ameri­cans, is simply a label which they have been conditioned to distrust, hate, or fear. But if you ask them for an exposition of the ideology behind the label, they are at a loss. We have paid for this ig­norance, and we continue to pay for it; but it is not the worst of our afflictions. It is bad enough that we as a people are untaught as to communist ideology and methods, but it is inexcusable negligence that millions of Ameri­cans go through college, and mil­lions more through high school, and do not know what American­ism is!

Try an experiment. Ask a doz­en or so of your friends how many have read The Federalist. Ask them to give a coherent account of the philosophy and structure of the federal republic projected by the Founding Fathers. When you have done this, wonder no more that there were defectors in Korea! We Americans have lost touch with the wellsprings of our national life. Is it any wonder, then, that this confused genera­tion, ignorant of Marxism and Americanism alike, offers so little resistance to communism, except on the level of labels?

Not Clear about Liberty

If one were asked to sum up in a phrase the essential meaning of American life as projected by the Founding Fathers, what words would he choose? Permit me to answer this question by offering the phrase, “liberty and justice for all,” as epitomizing the American ideal. These words have relevance to our workaday world, to the realm of economic life, its mean­ing, and its freedom, but they carry religious overtones as well. Our religious heritage spells out into personal liberty in the politi­cal and social spheres. The God who gave us freedom to accept or reject Him certainly intends us to be free in our relationships with other men.

This leads logically to the gen­eral philosophy of freedom which includes liberty in the economic sphere as one of its particulars. Once, perhaps, this could be taken for granted, but not in today’s troubled world. Our situation has changed with reference to the roles of citizen and government; the balance of power has shifted to government, and the political power which was once dispersed in this country in municipal, county, and state units has been largely concentrated in Washing­ton. Centralization of political power is the pattern in all coun­tries, whether they are behind the Iron Curtain or on this side of it. The liberties we once enjoyed as our birthright and exercised ac­cording to our own discretion have been annexed by society or by the state. Formerly, we en­joyed independence; now we are grateful for parole during good behavior.

Both in theory and in practice we have gone from inherent and inalienable freedom to what might be called a kind of discretionary serfdom. Once we were free to ini­tiate our own pattern of action and follow our own wisdom and con­science—provided our actions did not infringe the equal rights of all other persons. Now, we are al­lowed to do whatever the state or the law permits.

Presently we have a great deal of latitude within the state’s area of permissiveness, so that we hardly feel its yoke upon our necks. But if we accept the princi­ple that the state is our master and the endower of such rights as it tolerates, then we must look for­ward to this mastery being ex­ercised over us with ever-increas­ing rigor. We still dwell under the protection of the old idea that an individual has God and the right on his side when he challenges the immoral actions of an unjust state. But this idea dwindles as its religious underpinning is eroded.

Governments Established To Secure Men in Their God-given Rights

The basic premises of the Amer­ican system are to be found in the Declaration of Independence, where it is asserted that each man derives certain rights from God. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalien­able rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Governments are established —according to this philosophy—to secure men in their God-given rights. Constitutions and political structures merely formalize the outer and social freedom which men’s inner and spiritual liberty demands. If government fails in its primary task of defending men’s birthright of freedom, men are justified in altering or abolish­ing it, so the Declaration reads, and may then “provide new Guards for their future security.”

The inherent rights idea which was so prominent in the thinking of the Founding Fathers is but the immediate application to polit­ical philosophy of the Christian idea of man as a creature of God and accountable to God for the proper ordering of the soul for which he alone is responsible. The late Dean Inge spoke of Chris­tianity’s “deep-rooted individual­ism.” He asserted that “assuredly its tendency is to claim ‘natural rights’ for every human being as such.”

The Marxist Idea

In contrast to this statement there is the declaration of the late Sidney Webb, the godfather of Fabian socialism: “The first step must be to rid our minds of the idea that there are any such things in social matters as abstract rights.” And Marxism, denying God, logically denies the idea of individual rights. In so doing it reduces individuals from persons in their own right to mere units of the state. Communism, with all its ugly features, follows logically from this initial premise.

Party line communism with a “Made in Moscow” label on it is not popular in America. It doesn’t need to be. Its unpopularity does not matter, if only we can be in­duced to accept the Marxist ideol­ogy under some other label. This we are doing. Americans have been running away from their own revolution—which for the first time gave political form to the “individual rights-Creator sover­eignty idea”—in order to embrace an alien program saturated with Marxism. They do this under the delusion that there is some safe middle ground between the idea of freedom, on the one side, and communism on the other.

But there is no such neutral ground! There is only one place to take a stand, if we are really op­posed to Marxism, and that is to stand uncompromisingly with the philosophy of freedom, including its spiritual and moral antecedents together with its political and eco­nomic implications.

Rights as Demands

The key idea of freedom, as I have emphasized, is the conviction that men derive their rights from the Creator. This is a religious idea, so I turned to a “Report on the Changing Dimensions of Hu­man Rights” recently issued by a national church group. I was grat­ified to see that the Report quoted the Declaration of Independence and then went on to say: “Human rights belong to persons because of what in God’s grace they are, not because of the political power of the state.”

But my gratification vanished when I saw how the authors of this report spelled out their premise, and in so doing changed the con­cept of “rights” into “demands” or “goals.” “Where formerly hu­man rights were limited mainly to those political rights which governments have protected,” reads the Report, “they now ex­tend their orbit to include a whole galaxy of social and economic goals in the attainment of which people look to their democratic, representative governments as in­struments.”

Human “rights” were once thought of as endowed by God. “Rights” have now been debased into demands which people may make of the state for “social and economic goals.” The state has no means of its own for meeting such demands, so, in practice, this con­cept of “rights as demands” means the creation of pressure groups to secure favors from the state for their members at the expense of people not so organized. This is, of course, a flat denial of the lat­ter’s rights. That a church group should sponsor such a philosophy is a measure of our intellectual and spiritual decline.

Capacity for Self-Government

The framers of our institutions, Madison said, rested all their ex­periments upon “the capacity of mankind for self-government.” In order that men might have an area for the exercise of their nat­ural freedom, government was to be limited to certain delegated and specified functions. Our govern­ment was not designed to adminis­ter the affairs of men; it was de­signed to administer justice among men who run their own affairs.

“Free government,” as Jefferson wrote, “is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jeal­ousy and not confidence which pre­scribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power…. Our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go…. In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Con­stitution.”

When government is limited to well-defined and well-understood functions and duties in society, men have plenty of elbowroom to go about their creative and pro­ductive tasks. This is the meaning of freedom in human affairs, and such freedom as we have enjoyed in America is the result of keeping government within its proper bounds. “The history of liberty,” as Woodrow Wilson told us in 1912, “is the history of the limita­tions placed upon governmental power.”

The Founding Fathers were heirs of the spiritual faith which, in the fullness of time, gave rise to political liberty. We stand inthe same line of succession, and thus we have at hand all the in­gredients for a possible rebirth of freedom. Only the will is lacking, and only our individual initiative can make it up. What we do or don’t do with our lives can mean victory or defeat for the things that matter most for us and our posterity.



The Coming Slavery

Table-talk proves that nine out of ten people read what amuses them rather than what instructs them; and proves, also, that the last thing they read is something which tells them disagreeable truths or dispels groundless hopes. That popular education re­sults in an extensive reading of publications which foster pleas­ant illusions rather than of those which insist on hard realities, is beyond question…

Journalists, always chary of saying that which is distasteful to their readers, are some of them going with the stream and adding to its force. Legislative meddlings which they would once have condemned they now pass in silence, if they do not advocate them; and they speak of laissez-faire as an exploded doctrine. “People are no longer frightened at the thought of socialism,” is the statement which meets us one day. On another day, a town which does not adopt the Free Libraries Act is sneered at as being alarmed by a measure so moderately communistic. And then, along with editorial assertions that this economic evolution is coming and must be accepted, there is prominence given to the contributions of its advocates. Meanwhile, those who regard the recent course of legislation as disastrous, and see that its future course is likely to be still more disastrous, are being reduced to silence by the belief that it is useless to reason with people in a state of political intoxication.

Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus The State, 1884

  • The Rev. Edmund A. Opitz (1914-2006) was a Congregationalist minister, a FEE staff member, who for decades championed the cause of a free society and the need to anchor that society in a transcendent morality. A man of wide reading and high culture, Opitz was for many years on the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. He was one of the few voices in the 1950s through the 1990s calling for an integrated understanding between economic liberty and religious sensibility. He was the founder and coordinator of the Remnant, a fellowship of conservative and libertarian ministers.