All Commentary
Saturday, January 1, 1966

The Human Desire for Freedom

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

Some thirty years ago surveys of employee motivation were con­ducted in great depth by some pretty hard-headed personnel or­ganizations, and the eventual re­sults were published and widely studied in such magazines as Fortune.

To the surprise of everyone con­cerned, the primary goal of the employee, both clerical and indus­trial, was neither salary nor “se­curity” but a sense of personal worth, of achievement in the job, and the desire to receive a fair deal and recognition from the em­ployer.

Unless John Doe can see the chance of achievement in status and in accomplishment of some­thing he feels to be important in the job, he is unhappy no matter what the rates of pay or the fringe benefits offered him.

No findings since these surveys were made in the thirties have in any way contradicted or super­seded them.

In other words the typical man puts above anything else the need to feel that he is doing something worthwhile and that he can in­crease his skill and move forward by his own efforts. He is not fool­ish enough to believe that, under any system, everyone can become a millionaire. He does need to know that he can earn status and the recognition of his fellows in his own life and his own job.

It is just this sense of achieve­ment which he cannot attain under any system except that of free competition and free enterprise. And it is for just this reason that man cannot fulfill himself as an individual within the termite hill of a totalitarian system.

This is the inescapable truth which dooms totalitarianism from the start. The seed of destruction lies within the Republic of Plato, the latifundia of slave-powered second-century Rome and eigh­teenth-century Brazil, the Russian Gosplan, the British modified so­cialism, and all other totalitarian efforts.

The socialist condemns the com­petitive activities of the men at the top of the human pyramid as a sort of “original sin” which is des­tined to destroy mankind. Success in competition and in achievement is condemned in terms of morality and with religious fervor.

Yet, no totalitarian regime has ever succeeded in destroying or even seriously limiting the activi­ties of the sort of predatory com­petitor whom they all alike con­demn. Under the socialist regime this fellow flourishes even more freely than before. He merely transfers his activities from pri­vate to public enterprise. As Jo­seph Wood Krutch observes in his Essays on Man and Nature,

When men cannot compete for wealth they compete for position, for authority, for influence in the right places. When they cannot own a pal­ace, four automobiles, and ten serv­ants, they manage to get themselves appointed to jobs in connection with which these things are assigned them. More dreadfully still, when these same men find themselves no longer required to pay the common man to do their work for them, they quickly discover that when the profit motive has been abolished, the fear motive affords a very handy substi­tute.

Socialism, in fact, does nothing at all to hamper or eliminate the sort of competition against which it is continually preaching; it merely puts it on a dog-eat-dog basis.

What the totalitarian actually accomplishes is something very different from what he says he wants to do. It is the elimination of the opportunity for achieve­ment from the lives of the gen­erality of mankind, and this is, in very truth, a cardinal sin against the human spirit.

When the totalitarian removes from man his freedom of achieve­ment within the framework of a free economy, he performs a spir­itual amputation more deadly than the physical removal of an arm or a leg. Rather, he attempts such an amputation; for in fact, no essen­tial component of humanity can ever actually be cut away.

The termite and the ant can live within the tight straitjacket of a controlled and regimented hive precisely because they are not human. The need of achievement, which is the root and basis of all competitive activity, is lacking in the insect. But it is present in the man.

Without this need, the man is no longer a man. If it should be cut away, he would no longer live and exist as a man. The Haitian concept of the zombie suggests what would remain of man with­out his competitive drive to achieve something of value.

Seldom has the need to achieve been given as free a rein as in our own American economy from the founding of the first seaboard colonies through the second decade of the present century. And it was precisely within this period that the great American achievements were made.

The efforts to grow and to achieve by millions of individual Americans over the years were multiplied into national achieve­ment in the free functioning of republican political institutions, the creation of a technology un­matched in history, and the build­ing of a more prosperous society for a larger group of people than history had ever known.

Let us grant that the growth of America was favored and aided beyond measure by the environ­ment within which it took place. There was an immense surplus of land, of raw material, and — in time — of labor and of capital. Yet, without the framework of the free economy established by the writers of the Declaration and the Con­stitution, there could not have been that added factor which made all the difference in the American achievement.

The greatest factor in our growth lay in the fact that for so many decades the ordinary Amer­ican was free to grow and to achieve right up to the limits of his ability, and that he knew he was free to do so.

It is precisely this freedom and this knowledge of freedom that has to be destroyed if socialism and the monolithic state and controlled welfare economy are to endure.

Yet the hunger for this freedom is the one thing which can never be destroyed, because it is a deep-seated and essential part of the humanity of every man. It cannot be destroyed by brainwashing or sold for a mess of pottage. To cut it away would be like amputation of the head.

To awaken consciousness of this need in any man, it is only neces­sary to ask of him, “What do you really want in your life?” The to­talitarian can never stop any man from asking himself this question. Because he is a man he must ask. And so long as he continues to ask, the totalitarian state can never prevail.

  • 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.