All Commentary
Wednesday, April 1, 1970

The Age of Authoritarianism

Mr. Newell operates a farm near Marcellus, Michigan.

The theory of authoritarian gov­ernment dominates all modern po­litical societies. The theory states that individuals—or even individ­uals of like mind working volun­tarily in concert—lack the scope of vision and means at their dis­posal to identify accurately their own best interests and to pursue them through individual effort. Therefore, the argument contin­ues, all governments possess an intrinsic right to demand from those governed the authority nec­essary to direct human effort and resources toward the accomplish­ment of prescribed social goals.

The widespread assumption is that governments by their very nature have the wisdom and pow­er to achieve these goals. People from all corners of the earth have come to regard the loss of political freedom and introspective moral motivation that has accompanied the relentless march of authori­tarianism as a necessary incon­venience that must be accepted in order to insure economic and so­cial stability and to maintain the delicate balance of international terror that has come to be known loosely as world peace. Govern­ments are freely allowed to in­crease their already vast author­ity due to the popular assumption that increased governmental pow­er more rapidly will bring solu­tions to human problems. But, the illusive goals now seem more re­mote than ever.

Governments can, by decree, create temporary illusions of eco­nomic prosperity simply by ma­nipulating the value of currency through inflation and interfering with the free market exchange of private enterprise. But the illu­sions of economic prosperity ar­tificially produced by disrupting the basic laws of supply and de­mand are cruel indeed. Once the in­flationary cycle has run its full course and currency becomes worthless, history amply indicates that the inevitable result can only be complete economic disaster and social upheaval.

Governments claim also to be the authors of civil order and so­cial stability. The theory is that more stringent laws and more vigorous law enforcement, when coupled with more equitable wel­fare programs, can produce more responsible citizens. However, his­tory and statistics seem not to support this hypothesis either. On the contrary, overt acts of passion and violence and especially crimes against private property have reached alarming and steadily in­creasing proportions. The trend toward the disregard for private property rights is world-wide. But the nations that are experiencing the most shocking increase in such crimes are the very nations that most enthusiastically have attempted to substitute govern­ment paternalism for individual responsibility.

There are, of course, in every community a few citizens who lack the mental capacity and moral judgment to live in civilized association with their fellow men. These few must be adjudged so­cially irresponsible and dealt with accordingly. But the vast majority of people do have the ability to make rational and moral decisions. The dramatic surge of criminal activity that so alarms the civi­lized world can only be attributed to a fundamental change in basic attitudes toward the once-cher­ished concept of private property.

The Socialist Formula

The political precepts of all modern societies, in varying de­grees, center around the Marxist governmental philosophy that ev­ery citizen must produce for so­ciety according to his ability and is entitled to receive from society in accordance with his needs. Gov­ernments simply function as eco­nomic intermediaries between the productive and the nonproductive elements of society and determine each citizen’s capacity to contrib­ute to the general welfare and the basic human needs that must be provided by the benevolent state.

New generations raised under this philosophy of economic dis­tribution carry with them the in­grained notion that private prop­erty is only that portion of the national wealth that government arbitrarily decides is not immedi­ately needed to promote the gen­eral welfare. Citizens morally raised to believe that they are, regardless of effort, entitled by birthright to their fair share of the national wealth often are in­clined to hold exaggerated views of their fair share. When, in their judgment, governments fail to move equitably enough or swiftly enough in the redistribution of the national wealth, it is only a small moral hurdle for these citi­zens to circumvent the often pon­derous political processes of re­distribution and appropriate “their fair share” more quickly by preying directly upon other citizens.

Civil order and social stability are not dependent upon laws and punitive reprisals, as governments are inclined to suggest. Only the criminally irresponsible can be controlled by such clumsy and in­effective devices. Rather, civiliza­tion ultimately depends upon the personal character of the morally responsible people who comprise the vast majority of any society. Once the general public becomes disoriented from the concept of private property, no amount of law and law enforcement can pro­mote and ensure life, liberty, and domestic tranquility within so­ciety.

Of equal concern to modern man as he looks apprehensively toward his government for direction are the ever-present problems of war. Since the dawn of political history, coalitions of governments have aligned themselves dramatically behind transitory issues. Forcibly conscripted armies have done bat­tle with the enemy. But the sur­vivors find that in the next decade as governments form new alliances and set the stage for the next war to ensure world peace and human freedom, hated enemies have been transformed through propaganda into warm allies; conversely, for­mer allies have become identified as hated enemies. The tragedy of the military approach to human prob­lems is that, after all of the sac­rifices of countless millions of peo­ple in endless politico-military con­frontations, humanity has found neither peace nor freedom. The survivors always are faced with even more perplexing problems than those that have been sur­mounted.

The Power to Rule and to Conscript Armies

All governments, regardless of their basic structure, philosophy, or method of perpetuation, share two common characteristics: (1) the oligarchic power to rule in a specific geographic area and (2) the unquestioned authority to con­script armies in order to extend or to defend such power in the endless game of altering geopoliti­cal boundaries. Both peace and freedom depend entirely upon moral and responsible relation­ships between individuals. The amoral and irresponsible relation­ships between governments—whether they be allied or placed in opposition to each other by the dictates of fleeting expediency —never can provide mankind with a hopeful future.

The politico-military war syn­drome systematically destroys each newborn hope for world peace by first destroying political free­dom and subsequently destroying the capacity of individuals to func­tion as free moral agents. The war syndrome compromises human freedom by conscripting armies, instituting confiscatory taxes, in­creasing inflationary public debt, silencing opposition under the guise of necessity, and coercively diverting human energies into nonproductive and immoral chan­nels. These processes in turn, by their very nature, further sub­jugate humanity to authoritarian political domination. Even in na­tions that profess to govern them­selves constitutionally, the discre­tionary powers of the executive branch are extended arbitrarily whenever the international mili­tary situation can be used to jus­tify such a course of action. When followed to its ultimate conclusion, the entire world-wide politico-mil­itary process, rather than ensuring peace, can only intensify human problems. This is done by forcibly converting the morally responsible citizens of the world into acquiesc­ing patriots under the complete domination of the autocratic few.

In all of the war-torn lands of the world, and Vietnam in par­ticular, the governments involved seek in vain for areas of even superficial agreement. The fight­ing, killing, wanton destruction, and subhuman barbarism, for the most part, is performed on behalf of the governments of both sides by forcibly conscripted soldiers. The fact that all governments now are forced to depend increasingly upon conscripted armies to carry on the heinous and barbaric activ­ities of war is a most hopeful sign that authoritarian domina­tion of the human moral climate is on the wan. The moral in­trospection of individuals is quiet­ly moving on the world political scene.

As mankind faces the problems of the future, there still is a strong tendency to search for solutions in the political ideologies that glor­ify the all-powerful politico-mili­tary state. But the great problems that confront mankind, whether they be economic, social, civil, or moral never can be resolved satis­factorily by such methods. The only true and permanent solutions must be founded on human rela­tionships that have developed through the introspective morality of concerned individuals.