All Commentary
Saturday, July 1, 1978

Survival of the Species

Well worth reviewing is Admiral Moreell’s address before the National Association of Purchasing Agents at Cleveland, Ohio, June 13, 1950.

He was then Chairman of the Board and President of Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation. As Chief of Civil Engineers of the Navy, he was noted for the Incredible exploits of his Navy Construction Battal­ions, the Seabees, during World War

When Charles Darwin’s book, On The Origin of Species, appeared in 1859 it was strongly condemned by those who believed that his theory of evolution contradicted the thesis that man is a creature of God. But now that Darwin’s theory has been amended and corrected it is gener­ally accepted that evolution is not a contradiction of God’s designs for mankind.

Today I want to discuss with you not the origin of species, but the survival of species; and I want to discuss this subject in terms of faith in my fellow man, which stems from a faith in God. I might have chosen a shorter title—a single word—liberty. For I believe that the key to the survival of civilization is human liberty. When our liberty is gone—whether because some ag­gressor takes it from us by force, or because we ourselves willingly vote it away—civilized man will die. Men will become robots, machines with­out minds, controlled and driven by godless masters.

I believe that God intended men to be free to make their own decisions and to be responsible for the conse­quences of those decisions. Thus it seems to me that it is an act against God for men to pass laws which destroy individual liberty; which deprive persons of the responsibility for their own acts or for their own welfare. Such laws are advocated by persons who lack faith in God and in their fellow men!

It seems to me that there is con­vincing evidence to support my be­liefs on this subject. And the basic evidence is found in the fact that no person is physically or mentally or morally identical to any other per­son. For example, everyone knows that the fingerprints of all persons are different. And these dif­ferences—these individualities, these inequalities—carry through all the physical, mental, and moral characteristics of mankind. It seems to me that if we have faith in God, we must realize that He had a pur­pose in designing us so that no per­son is like any other person; that is to say, so that each person is an individual. Let us examine this God-given individuality of men and speculate upon its relationship to liberty and responsibility and survi­val.

The Right to Choose

It must be obvious that liberty necessarily means freedom to choose foolishly as well as wisely; freedom to choose evil as well as good; free­dom to enjoy the rewards of good judgment, and freedom to suffer the penalties of bad judgment. If this is not true, the word “freedom” has no meaning. Yet there are persons in America who wish to pass laws to force people to do only “good,” or at least their concept of what is good. These would-be dictators are not content with a preventive law which punishes a person who deliberately chooses to injure his neighbor; a law which prevents any person from forcing his viewpoint upon any other person; a law which penalizes the person who interferes with the lib­erty of others. On the contrary, these persons who arrogate to them­selves the functions of God demand a positive law to compel others to do as they wish them to do. And—for some reason which I cannot under­stand—these same people use the words “liberty” and “democracy” to justify their plans to deprive other men of freedom.

These proposed laws are fre­quently justified on the ground that there are physical and mental in­equalities in the world; that those inequalities result in economic in­equalities; and that the primary function of government is to pass laws that will tend to equalize such inequalities. Is not this concept of government a rather brazen in­dictment of God? Is not this an acceptance of the communistic theory of using force to take “from each according to his abilities” and to give “to each according to his needs”? It is true that no two per­sons are equal; and that some per­sons receive more pay for their ser­vices than do other persons. But my faith in God makes me insist that there is a logical and good reason for this fact.

The Source of Progress

This inequality among persons is a law of nature, a law which is just as unchangeable and just as neces­sary to understand as is any other natural law, as, for example, the law of gravity. This particular law is known as the “law of variation”; and from the unrestricted operation of this law of nature comes all human progress.

The law of variation permits chil­dren to be different from their par­ents. It permits brothers to think differently and to act differently. It permits the existence of both misers and philanthropists; saints and sinners; rich and poor.

Variation and Change

The “higher” the form of life or of non-life composition, the more complex its variation and the more rapid the expected change that follows from crossing two of them. As the com­plexity increases, the “offspring” become less and less pre­dictable. In chemistry, for instance, combinations of the differ­ent basic elements can result in innumerable compounds; possible mixtures of different possible compounds, in turn, magnifies beyond our capacity for comprehension the num­ber of possible results. It is similar for the complex living organisms, like persons, where differences combine in the biological process into innumerable and wide differences. That is why persons differ so widely in their capacity to do different things, to comprehend different things, or to con­tribute to progress.

Out of this change comes “progress.” And the greater the variation, the more rapid the progress can be. It makes no difference, so far as the opportunity for progress is concerned, whether the change is induced by the Unseen Hand of evolu­tion, or by conscious choice as in the selection of a mate, or by learning from someone who is more informed, or by simply patterning one’s acts after those who know better how to do a thing.                

F. A. HARPER, Liberty: A Path to Its Recovery


It permits in­ventors to invent, managers to manage—and purchasing agents to purchase. It permits each person to seek a job or profession which is most suited to his inherent talents and his desires. It encourages a vol­untary division of labor, with result­ing maximum efficiency and greater prosperity for all.

Without this variation—this un­equalness—our social structure would be similar to that of an anthill or a beehive, where each member is born to do a certain predetermined job which he does with blind al­legiance to his society and with no consideration of personal interests or preferences.

Unfortunately there are many persons in the world who hate varia­tions and inequalities, who admire the type of society developed by the ants and bees. These people see that variation among human beings has allowed one person to produce more than another, with resulting differ­ences in material possessions and comforts. And then these self-ap­pointed supervisors of human des­tiny, who cannot tolerate variation, begin to agitate for a law to take away from the high producer and give to the low producer. They want to use the force of government to repeal the law of variation; to rede­sign mankind; to force their con­cepts of morality and economics on all other persons.

Master Minds at Work

In this process they deny to every person the right to dispose of the products of his own labor as he chooses. On the contrary, it must be as they, the “master minds,” decree! These so-called “do-gooders” and “benevolent” legislators deny this right of choice to the producer be­cause they fear that other people will spend their earnings in a pattern different from that which they would plan for them. They have no faith in the voluntary decisions of free persons!

For example, the person who earns the money might want to endow a college or a hospital or a summer camp for poor children; but the planner wants to take the money away from him and use it to sub­sidize “cheap” electricity for the people who live in Tennessee or in the Pacific Northwest.

The person with a good income might want to spend some of his money for a trip around the world, but the planner calls this “social inequality,” and he proposes a law whereby the government may take the individual’s money, by force, and use it for some so-called “socially useful” purpose like encouraging the growth of surplus potatoes, for which there is no market, in order that they may be destroyed.

Or the planner may propose to deprive the producer of his money and apply it to some alleged “social good” like government ownership of housing, or a government steel plant, or government-controlled ed­ucation, or some similar project which gives to government the power to tell the people what they must or must not do; how they must or must not live.

Enemies of Liberty

I am willing to concede that the do-gooder may have the best inten­tions in the world. But it cannot be denied that the laws he proposes always involve more government, more government ownership and operation of the means of produc­tion, more government interferences in the distribution of what individ­uals have produced, more power for government and less freedom of choice for individuals.

I hold that the people who advo­cate these positive laws against freedom of choice are—knowingly or unknowingly—the enemies of free­dom and progress. They themselves have lost all faith in liberty and in the ability of free persons to care for themselves and voluntarily to ex­tend a helping hand to their neigh­bors in need. Thus they band to­gether to advocate laws antagonistic to humanity; laws which restrain liberty, thwart variation, belie in­equalities, and defy God’s design!

Against the background of my many years of service in the Navy, I make this declaration: I do not fear the Russian Army, or the atom bomb, or the hydrogen bomb, nearly so much as I fear this concept of using the law to relieve individuals of the responsibility for their own welfare and to deprive them of their freedom of choice. We can all see the danger of a military threat to our freedom. If we are attacked we will fight, and we will win! But few of us appear to understand this insidious process whereby we use our own laws and our own government to destroy our own liberties just as surely as if some foreign conqueror had power over us.

Here is an example of how we are deceiving ourselves: Let us suppose that some foreign power could con­fiscate the incomes of persons in America; and let us suppose, further, that this foreign power were to confiscate 89 per cent of the in­come of our most efficient producer. Would this producer continue to produce abundantly under such cir­cumstances, or would he not soon relax and begin producing only enough to subsist himself and those dependent upon him? This sit­uation is easy enough to under­stand when we visualize the confis­cator as a foreigner. But we do not seem to understand it when the con­fiscator is a combination of fellow citizens. For we ourselves have voted to confiscate 89 per cent of the income of our best producers!

When will this confiscation of an individual’s income rise to 100 per cent? Do you believe that ambitious men who are hungry for power would stop short of this complete communism if, by going on, they could achieve their aims? Let us consider this question: Just how much liberty does a person really have when more than half of his earnings are taken from him with­out his consent and are spent for purposes distasteful to him?

The End of the Road as Liberties Slip Away

It makes one wonder whether we are deliberately trying to destroy ourselves. All along this course our liberties begin to slip away from us. In the beginning this happens slowly and almost unnoticed. The “emergency” and “temporary” re­strictions and compulsions by gov­ernment are not generally recog­nized as lost liberties. But the end result of this procedure—a pro­cedure that always comes neatly wrapped in the American flag and labeled “social justice”—is complete government control, complete loss of liberty, and the extinction of civilized man as we know him.

Why should this confiscation—a percentage of our production that even a conqueror would not dare to take—be called liberty? Why should the word “freedom” be used to de­scribe these government compul­sions and restrictions? Certainly the founders of this republic had no such concept of freedom.

Now I know that those who dis­agree with me will say that this is a democracy and that we can vote for anything we please; that, in fact, we can vote to turn all industry and all income over to the government, if we so desire.

That is true; but consider this: It is also true that we could vote to re-establish slavery in America. Would that make slavery “right” or “democratic”? We could democrat­ically vote to have a state religion and to force everyone to conform to the majority decision; but that would make a mockery of democracy and the right to vote. We can demo­cratically vote to print enough money to give every person a million dollars; but would such exercise of the franchise help anyone except those who wish to destroy America?

All these measures—and others of a similar nature—could be enacted legally and democratically under the concept of majority rule. But would any person be so foolish as to say that they should be enacted? Will any thinking person say that a law is “right” merely because a ma­jority has voted for it? We must al­ways remember that our Constitu­tion was designed to protect the free­dom of the smallest possible minority —one person —against the demands of the greatest possible majority—all other persons combined. That single idea of inalien­able rights of the individual person is—or, at least, was—the fundamen­tal spirit of the American tradition of government. And if we lose that concept of government, by force or by our own votes, the American dream of liberty will be ended.

I am very glad that we have a form of government that requires voting, because so long as this condi­tion exists, there is nothing to pre­vent us from voting against these immoral laws that are leading the American people into bondage to their own government. It is still pos­sible to turn back; and it is not yet too late to turn back. If we really want to face the responsibility, to pay the price, of a return to freedom, we can still have it.

How to Destroy Progress

Let us speculate on the price which we must pay for liberty. First and foremost, all so-called “welfare” schemes must go; for dependence upon government will destroy prog­ress and production in two ways: First, the high producers will not continue to do their best if most of the product of their labor is taken from them. Second, the low produc­ers will not be eager to work harder if they know that government will guarantee to them the security of housing, food, medical care, old age benefits, and the other necessities of life. If we continue along this path to the misnamed “welfare state,” we must soon find ourselves in the posi­tion of our Reservation Indians, who have had a system of government-guaranteed “security” for the past hundred years.

The inevitable result of such “security”—to the Indians or to any other people who try it—is dramat­ically told in a report from R. J. Rushdoony, a former missionary to the Indians on one of our American reservations:

One of the surest consequences of a government of “welfare” and “security” is the rapid decline and death of respon­sibility and character.

Whatever the pre-reservation Indian was, and his faults were real, he was able to take care of himself and had a charac­ter becoming to his culture and religion. He was a responsible person. Today he is far from that. The wretched security he has had, beginning with the food and clothing dole of early years, designed to enforce the reservation system and de­stroy Indian resistance, has sapped him of character. The average Indian knows that he can gamble and drink away his earnings and still be sure that his house and land will remain his own, and with his hunting rights, he can always eke out some kind of existence.

Government men too often hamper and impede the man with initiative and character. This is because their program inevitably must be formulated in terms of the lowest common denominator, the weakest Indian. In addition, the provi­sions of the government for the “welfare” and “security” of the Indians remove the consequences from their sinning and ir­responsibility. The result is a license to irresponsibility, which all the touted government projects cannot counteract.

And I believe the results would be no better for the best hundred or thousand persons selected from any society, after a generation or so of the same kind of “welfare” and “security” government. . . .

Slavery in America

Let us look at another example from our own history. Here is a statement from an article called Wards of the Government by Dean Russell:

The constitutions of former American slave states generally specified that the masters must provide their slaves with adequate housing, food, medical care, and old-age benefits. The Mississippi Constitution contained this additional sentence:

“The legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves. . . . (except) where the slave shall have rendered the State some distinguished service;”

The highest honor that Mississippi could offer a man for distinguished ser­vice to his country was personal respon­sibility for his own welfare! His reward was freedom to find his own job and to have his own earnings, freedom to be responsible for his own medical care, freedom to save for his own old age. In short, his reward was the individual opportunities—and the personal re­sponsibilities—that have always dis­tinguished a free man from a dependent.

What higher honor can any govern­ment offer?

But many present-day Americans are trying to avoid this personal responsibil­ity that is freedom. They are voting for men who promise to install a system of compulsory, government-guaranteed “security”—a partial return to the old slave laws of Georgia that guaranteed to all slaves “the right to food and raiment, to kind attention when sick, to mainte­nance in old age. . .” And the arguments used to defend this present-day trend toward the bondage of a Welfare State are essentially the same arguments that were formerly used to defend the bond­age of outright slavery.

For example, many of the slave-holders claimed that they knew what was “best for the slaves.” After all, hadn’t the masters “rescued” the slaves from a life of savagery? The advocates of government-guaranteed “security” also claim that they know what is best for the people. Many of them argue in this fash­ion: “After all, haven’t the American people conclusively shown that they are incapable of handling the responsibility for their own welfare?”

Many of the slave-holders sincerely believed that the “dumb, ignorant slaves” would starve to death unless their welfare was guaranteed by the masters. And the advocates of compul­sory “security” frequently say: “Are you in favor of letting people starve?”

But as proof of the fact that personal responsibility for one’s own welfare brings increased material well-being, consider the emancipated slaves. Among them there were old and crippled and sick people. They had no homes, no jobs, and little education. But—most precious of all—the former slaves were responsi­ble for their own welfare. They were free.

They had the privilege of finding their own security.

Now compare the remarkable progress of those former slaves to the lack of progress of the American Indians who were made wards of the government; who were given state-guaranteed “secu­rity” instead of freedom with responsibil­ity. In 1862, most American Negroes were slaves. Today they are about as self-supporting and responsible as other American citizens. Meanwhile the In­dians as a group have become less self-supporting and more dependent on gov­ernment aid. It has been claimed that many thousands of Indians will actually die of starvation unless the government feeds them. If this is true, why is it so? . . .

How to Destroy a Person

To those two reports on the results of government-guaranteed “secu­rity” I desire to add this thought: If I should want to destroy you, I would try to relieve you of the responsibil­ity for your own welfare and to make you dependent upon me for food, clothing, housing, medical care, and the other necessities of life. After a few years of such dependence you would be helpless, subject to my every command—in effect, a slave.

But in spite of the two cases I have noted above, and many similar ones which can be cited from the long record of history, there are well-in­tentioned but misinformed persons who still insist that unless govern­ment supports its citizens they will be ill-clothed, ill-housed, and ill-fed.

This belief is often expressed by the question: “Would you let them starve?”

Do the people who utter such non­sense understand the meaning of their proposals? In effect they are saying that a free person in a free society cannot support himself; that a free American cannot or will not support his own family; that free Americans will permit their less for­tunate neighbors to starve; that our American doctors will not aid a sick person who has no money; that per­sons with freedom of choice will choose to let homeless people sleep in the streets; that a free people will reject their responsibilities to their fellow men; and that we have re­nounced Christ’s commandments on love and charity.

I refuse to concede that we Ameri­cans have sunk so low. If we have, then liberty is dead, and we are taking part in its interment. If we cannot and will not accept the re­sponsibilities of liberty and a volun­tary society of free men, then indeed is civilized man at the end of his rope. If I had any thought that this is the case, I would not be speaking to you today. For I believe that we Americans want liberty, and that we are willing and able to pay the price for it.

The Price of Liberty

This price which we must pay is the abolition of all special laws for all special groups and interests. Subsidies to businessmen as well as to farmers must stop. Special privileges and preferences for able-bodied veterans must be ended. There must be an end to special laws which exempt labor groups from the consequences of their actions. The special tax privileges for producer and consumer cooperatives must be repealed, or extended to all corpo­rate business. The law which gives tenants special treatment at the ex­pense of home owners must be abolished.

Whatever the sacrifice, our gov­ernment must live within its in­come; and the amount of that in­come which is taken from the people must be drastically reduced. We must abolish all privileges and ask of government the only equality which can possibly exist—equality before the law. In short, we must demand that government confine it­self to the primary functions of pro­tecting the life, liberty, and property of the individual—all individuals.

Then each person will be free to do as he pleases so long as he does not interfere with the right of any other person to do as he pleases. Then each person will enjoy as much equality and security as it is possible for him to have in a world of admitted in­equality and insecurity.

I am aware that this price for liberty may seem high to some peo­ple. I know that those groups and persons who now enjoy those special privileges will do all in their power to keep them—and to extend them. Even so, I have faith that the vast majority of the American people want liberty and are willing to ac­cept the personal responsibility which liberty requires. I believe that the only requirement for the return to liberty is an understanding of what it is. I believe that we will understand it and that we will then return to it. I have this faith in my fellow Americans because I believe they will know that upon liberty—and upon liberty alone—depends the survival of the species!

“Survival of the Species” is from a two-volume paper-backed collection of Admiral Moreell’s speeches and articles—The Ad­miral’s Log—timely, yet timeless commentaries dedicated to re­storing and preserving freedom. The set is available for $1.00 from The Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on­-Hudson, New York 10533.

  • Admiral Ben Moreell (1892 – 1978) was the chief of the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks and of the Civil Engineer Corps. Best known to the American public as the Father of the Navy's Seabees, Moreell's life spanned eight decades, two world wars, a great depression and the evolution of the United States as a superpower. He was a distinguished Naval Officer, a brilliant engineer, an industrial giant and articulate national spokesman.