All Commentary
Saturday, October 1, 1966

Set My People Free

Unless a man is already free within himself, any attempt to give him “freedom” by law may only succeed in enslaving everyone concerned.

Mr. Breese is former chairman of the Department of Humanities, School of Engineering, at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute in Florida.

In the decade to come we are go­ing to have the chance to see whether, in fact, “freedom” can be “given” to a large segment of our population by laws carefully designed for that express purpose and backed by the full authority of Federal power. I refer, of course, to the so-called Civil Rights legislation and the people it is planned to assist.

Certainly the laws already passed, and those projected for the near future, remove former barriers and open the legal doors to the free exercise of various and sundry “rights” for all citizens.

The question then becomes of whether the new legal status of these people does actually consti­tute freedom. Is freedom really a matter of legal status? Does it depend upon laws and courts? Is it something that can be conferred or granted? Or is this only an il­lusion held by the civil rights people and their supporters?

The dictionary (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language) is not much help here. It defines a freeman as (1) a per­son not in slavery and (2) a citi­zen.

If the first definition offered could stand alone, then there would be little doubt as to what is taking place. Laws are being passed which specifically spell out a status “not in slavery” for all classes of our population. Freedom to move le­gally within the framework of so­ciety is being offered to all.

The Qualities of Citizenship

But how about the second defi­nition of the freeman? Is it pos­sible to make a citizen or does the individual have to possess or earn the innate capacity for true cit­izenship?

If it is argued that freedom is entirely a matter of legal status, then it must further be assumed that all men are born equal in all respects except for legal position. This is a manifest absurdity and is only professed today by those who feel they have no other claim to the respect of their fellows.

Quite the contrary. A freeman must be, in the fullest sense, a citizen of his society. He must be psychologically as well as legally free. He must be able and willing to assume responsibility, to make intelligent decisions, to earn and hold his place as an equal among his peers.

Men and women who are free in this sense do not depend upon legal status for their freedom. In­deed it is impossible to make them anything else but free by even the most stringent of laws and the most efficient of police states. His­tory is full of examples which bear out this point from the rebel fol­lowers of Spartacus to the black Marroons of Jamaica to the “Underground” fighters of World War II.

The very presence of black slaves in the New World was pri­marily due to the fact that the na­tive Indians, already on the ground and militarily helpless be­fore Spaniard and Englishman, either could not or would not be enslaved in any numbers. In those areas where the Indians could be brought to labor on an estancia or hacienda system there was never any major importation of blacks, but even here the native was held in peonage rather than chattel slavery.

Freedom Lies Within

Through the whole record of mankind it is the freemen in the sense of the second definition, “those who are free within,” who have been responsible for the growth of democratic institutions and of free enterprise and freedom of intellectual activity. These were the people who wrote the American Constitution and who sought to create legal freedom of opportunity for all.

But they did not at any time fall into the delusion that a man could be made free by law unless he had within himself the inher­ent capacity to think and act as a free man.

History is also filled with examples of individuals and groups who have voluntarily surrendered the rights and privileges of a legally free status in return for other values which seemed more important to them at the time. Chief among these values has al­ways been “security.”

The ancient world is full of ex­amples, perhaps the most spec­tacular being the tendency of small freeholders to attach them­selves to the latifundia at the time of the decline of the West Roman Empire. Even in their day this sort of movement was not new.

There must have been much the same urge which consolidated a formerly village and nomad popu­lation under the absolute rule of priest and priest-king when Ur of the Chaldees was still a new foun­dation.

In our own day the millions who flocked to don black or brown shirts or to wave the red flag in the name of monolithic European states were psychologically and emotionally motivated to follow a similar path.

This is also true, to only a slightly lesser degree, of our friends who enter governmental or corporate civil service hierar­chies because of what they feel to be a benevolent security factor or who place their emotional dependence upon an authoritarian-based “great society.”

The Fallacy of Social Security

The fallacy needs no exposition to the intelligent reader, yet is far more widespread than many may realize. When the innate con­servatism of thinking of the or­dinary man is understood, the prevalence of the attitude is more easily grasped.

After all, the iron shield to which the security seeker turned in A.D. 450 — 650 was reasonably ef­fective in securing him protection, just as the mud brick walls of the citadel at Babylon had been. The price for protection was higher than a psychologically free man would want to pay, but at least it bought a considerable measure of the desired commodity.

The serf and the master were both human and recognized a mu­tual obligation. A law, on the other hand, is only a legal entity which neither feels nor acts of itself. The price of liberty, under law, must still include eternal vigilance.

There are, then, two kinds of freemen, just as the dictionary recognizes. There are those who are legally not slaves, and there are those others who are free in mind and spirit and in the willing­ness to act in all ways as free men. It is the latter group to which humanity has always had to look for true leadership.

Freedom is within the individ­ual and a free society must be composed of men who are psycho­logically free.

One of the greatest questions of our day, then, must be the ex­tent to which the masses of peo­ple (in the world as well as the American society) who have re­cently been “given” a status of le­gal, or nonslave, freedom are ca­pable of assuming the rights of tru­ly free citizens and the obligations which accompany these rights.

If a majority of these newly freed citizens can stand up as genuinely free men, or if they can be inspired, trained, or en­couraged to do so, then there is little cause for concern.

If they cannot or will not do so (and the second is the greater danger) then there are, indeed, dark and stormy days to come.

Should our society choose to place its dependence upon a vague­ly legalized “freedom,” it will tend more and more to the creation of the ultimate in monolithic state Authority. Neither the virtues nor the abilities of the free man will be wanted, no matter how much they will be needed.

In this case to what extent will the dependent prove unable or un­willing to tolerate the presence of the free spirit and the independent mind? To what extent will the flight to security tend to hold back what should otherwise have been the rising tide of the future?

A Qualified Electorate

It is not enough, or even of any particular value, to insure free exercise of the ballot to all resi­dents within a given state or na­tion. The really important thing is the creation of qualified voters rather than just voters per se.

This is the true responsibility which rests today upon the should­ers of our American civil rights people and their friends and upon the shoulders of the “one man-one vote” advocates throughout the world. If they are to really help their people, it must be by leading them to “citizenship” in the fullest and best sense of the word.

The real revolution must be within the new freemen rather than in the laws of the land. They must learn to seek responsibility instead of license; service instead of privilege. They must learn be­fore it is too late that a ballot carelessly or passionately cast can destroy them as well as the society of which they are a part.

This is a truth which applies equally to the new nations of Africa and Asia and the old coun­ties in the black belt of our own South.

Unfortunately, many of the “leaders” currently riding the crest of the tide of change show little observable sign of realization of the tremendous responsibility which rests upon their shoulders. As in all “revolutions,” the voices of moderation and of liberalism are already being drowned out by the increasingly passionate cries of extremists. The voices cry for political organization, for demands upon the people and the public purse, and for more and more ex­treme legislation. A few are al­ready beginning to cry for blood.

If this trend is allowed to con­tinue, history teaches that it can only result in reaction, counter­revolution, and repression. What little has been gained will be lost to all.

Neither do the people in au­thority at the Federal level show any present indication of provid­ing constructive leadership and needed counseling to the “new freemen.” Schools are forcibly de­segregated, but where are the courses in true citizenship? Fed­eral marshals, attorneys, regis­trars, and even troops are sent in­to the troubled areas, but these cannot make citizens; they can only create voters.

If the job of assisting these people to attain true citizenship is to be done at all, it will have to be as a result of the efforts of individuals who recognize the need and take personal action to en­courage and promote a solution.

A Job for Individuals

The emergency — for it is a na­tional emergency — should be brought to the attention of edu­cators and job counselors at the local and state level. Civic groups and citizens associations should be alerted by their members. A con­certed effort should be made to demand constructive leadership from political authority at all levels.

The situation calls for action as well as consideration by the present freemen of our nation and our society. This will, as it always must, get results. There is no greater power than the power of the aroused and vocal individual.

Above all, we must have faith in the long-run power and triumph of freedom and of the free man. We must have faith in the capacity of large numbers of the “new freemen” to become new citizens, and we must actively seek to aid in this growth. It cannot be left to chance or to the leadership of the political opportunist or the economic exploiter.

  • Mr. Breese has taught Industrial Management at Georgia Tech and headed the Department of Humanities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute in Florida. At present he is a free-lance writer.