The Perceptual Basis of Liberty

Mr. Elsom, an investment officer of a bank, finds time for free-lance exploration and ex­planation of the libertarian point of view.

All men desire to be free. It would be a mistake to suppose that the leftist loves freedom less than the conservative. Some men’s struggle for freedom, however, causes suffering and death while yet others come among their broth­ers as a healing balm. Why such opposite effects from the identical basic urge ?

Freedom, in human terms, has to do with two attributes: the capacity for choice and a newer attribute but recently arrived in the human gene, the moral fac­ulty. It is the latter which is de­terminative of the character of our activity. On this sense hangs the survival of the species.

If morals are conceived of as conduct born of reason and train­ing, they may be oriented at call both to the demands of a tech­nologically organized society or to a given political structure. Cus­tom and tradition may be made to order; morality will then be displayed as a relative thing, ad­justable to varying specific de­mands according to the ascendant political influences of the day. Appropriate morality for the com­mon citizen becomes but a matter of education and training of the young, with amendments of their ethical equipment to be supplied as necessary during later life by means of communication and en­tertainment media. Somehow though, this approach always brings wholesale death, imprisonment, and misery, for it involves an act of credulity difficult of achieve­ment for the thoughtful individ­ual against whom, in the end, force must be directed. He can­not go contrary to his own senses; he cannot repose confidence in the expertness and motivations of men in violation of his obser­vation and experience. Religion­ists have seldom asked of him so great an act of faith.

If, on the other hand, morality is a life-growth; if it has had an orderly biological development, then the foregoing would be re­versed: we would conform to its nature or sicken, just as our lives must accord with our anatomical structure. The formulation of ethics to support intellectually derived aims would be absurd.

Emergent Morality

There are clues which point to such a background; i. e., that the moral faculty rises naturally out of the processes of life. As a be­ginning, it is clear that the amoeba, a single celled creature, would be little perturbed by the state of right or wrong in its puddle. With many individual humans, moral acuity has attained high degree. Physical complexity, then, is a condition precedent to the perception of moral phenom­ena. If this were all, one could attribute the moral sense to the brain and nervous system. It would also put us back where we began—the erroneous concept that man’s proper conduct can be purely a product of reason. Also, we are told that man has not changed noticeably in brain or other physical characteristic in thousands of years, yet his ways and mores have developed greatly. A human being, however, is an organic whole. The brain is not insulated from the rest of his being. What happens in the liver affects the little toe; the function of the kidney has to do with heart and lungs. All exists in an organic medium, a physicochem­ical balance of blood, fluids, plas­ma, and lymph flowing through regional systems, organs and glands interchanging substances, regulating, accepting, rejecting. The organs have knowledge apart from the brain. If one kidney is removed, the other knows it and enlarges. In certain kinds of heart damage, repairs and growth offset the injury. Cicatrisation is a cooperative effort of blood, cor­puscle, and tissue.

Within the parts there is a sensing of things to come. Certain cells in the embryo aggregate to form a spleen. The brain projects a portion of itself, takes on a covering of skin which becomes transparent, then changes into lens, cornea, and proceeds to con­stitute a complete optical system for use after birth. Our exam­ples can be multiplied endlessly.

Such a range of complexity conditioned the advent of moral awareness, such complexity and something more; for not all men exhibit response to moral stimuli. As we have shown, purpose and knowledge exist in the organs and the fluids, though not in terms understood by us. They abide far below the turbulent surface of consciousness. At these depths are systems of tension and ener­gies, both physical and psychic. Modification of this inner balance by God or by Nature or by man, himself, through his will, can change what man is and what he may become. Differentiation of a portion of the species could well go unnoticed because no change of form or feature is necessary. Evolution would be subtle—slight variations of brain, nerve, or or­ganic balance, hidden glandular influences, and so forth. Moral man and his predecessor can exist side by side, presenting to the world seemingly identical anat­omy and outward appearance.

Are there clues to suggest that such developments have, in fact, occurred?

We think there are. Not labo­ratory proof, of course. One can­not compare the nervous struc­ture of a citizen of Jericho ten thousand years ago with that of a New Yorker of 1963. Nonethe­less, there are suggestive facts which may be displayed. To do so, we select but one thread from an immense skein. That one thread, we cut short.

Twelve Million Years Ago

Since the moral sense began with man, it is appropriate that we tie one end of our thread to amoral subman. Some anthropol­ogists are willing to fix our ori­gins in the Miocene period, twelve million years ago. Let us secure the knot then to Proconsul, an orthograde primate found in Miocene deposits in Lake Victoria, East Africa. Certainly not human, still he possessed brain, teeth, and body suggestive of human char­acteristics to come. Later nonman discoveries, Australopithecus af­ricanus, Plesianthropus, and Par­anthropus exhibited some of the morphology of man. They walked with his stance. The use of fire and clubs appear to be associated with these creatures. These finds are identified with the later Pleis­tocene period.

Next comes a truly debatable specimen, Pithecanthropus erec­tus, found on the island of Java in 1891. Man-like ape or ape-like man, we know not. Dr. Eugene Dubois, the discoverer, denomi­nated it a superior ape. Identical features led Sir Arthur Keith, a British authority, to the con­viction that Pithecanthropus was human.

Without exactitude as to se­quence, it seems conclusive that the threshold of humanity was crossed by Sinanthropus pekin­ensis and Homo Neanderthalensis. This would have been in the late Pliocene or early Pleistocene pe­riod, say, one million years ago. With Sinanthropoid skeletons have been found quartz tools, fire hearths, and the remains of Pleistocene animals. He killed game, dragged it to his cave, and cooked it. Neanderthals were very numerous, finds having turned up at various locations in Europe, Russia, and Middle Asia. Skele­tons are frequently accompanied by flint tools. In some instances, they buried their dead. The cra­nial capacity was above the 1,350 cubic centimeters normal to mod­ern man, but their skulls were low-crested and marked by su­praorbital ridges. They had re­ceding chins and forward hafted necks. These features give them palaeoanthropic or primitive classification.

A Recent Development

Anthropologists give little ex­planation as to why primitive humans ceased to be or how or why neanthropic or modern man came upon the scene. He appeared suddenly. Cro-Magnon and nean­thropic forms may have lived contemporaneously with palaeo­anthropic versions. This fact pro­vides clues to the moral state of both. Many Sinanthropoid skulls have the base broken out. Nean­derthal bones show knife knicks and scrape marks where the flesh had been removed. Many of the bones had been cracked and the marrow extracted. Artificial en­largements of the foramen mag­num indicate removal of the brain. It is quite possible that some other form of human, perhaps modern man, was systematically preying on these primitive indi­viduals to the point of their ex­tinction. Perhaps cannibalism was widespread. At any rate, only modern man remains and as he enters upon the stage, he is a killer; he is still burdened with bestial motivations, undiluted by moral stimulus.

How long ago was this?

A London dentist, Dr. Alvan T. Marston, digging in the gravels of Swanscombe, Kent, England, in 1935 unearthed a modern hu­man skull. Fluorine tests showed it to be about 500,000 years old.

The First Faint Sign

Here let us postulate something from our fancy—yet not alto­gether fanciful for probability forms our base. At some point in the past—no record can tell us where or when—one man, having grown from one unique egg cell, possessed for the first time in the experience of life on earth, a new faculty. It was like the rudimen­tary eye that cannot distinguish objects because its cells have at­tained only light sensitivity, not focus. Just so, the new faculty received intimations of the objects with which it was to deal, inti­mations so formless, so lacking in definition, that its possessor could not realize that he experi­enced anything at all. Yet so dis­turbing was it that it gave un­certainty to his cudgel, upraised above his guiltless brother.

Whether the club fell is imma­terial now. What is important is that the wielder of the club begat offspring. Some of these, during other sequences of pillage and despoilment, felt the same dis­quiet. It had entered the blood of the species to scatter mutants through the centuries. At last it began to leave scratchings and wedge marks on stone and clay. With the unfolding of time, some of its inheritors could descry glimmerings of its form and meaning.

Archeologists exhibit to us an oblong of light brown clay, dried by a sun that shone upon the land of Ur four thousand years ago. Scarce four inches wide, less than eight inches long, its face is about that of a common brick. It is crowded with half-obliterated characters that comprise one of the oldest records of a legal code, that of one Ur-Nammu, deputized king of Ur by Nanna, its moon-god.

They show us also a stele of dark greenstone that stands as tall as the ceiling of a modern home in suburbia. It was found near Susa on the Persian Gulf in 1901. Its inscriptions make up a preamble, a set of laws, and an epilogue. It is the imposed code of a conqueror, Hammurabi of Baby­lon, who declared that he received it of the god, Shamash, 3,700­3,800 years ago. Enlightened be­yond its time, it remained a prod­uct of conquest and self-glori­fication. Full weight was given to vengeance. There was no hes­itancy in fixing commercial rela­tionships, prices, and wages.

These writings are physical evidence of growth of the moral faculty. The idea of the benefac­tion of mankind was present. So was the idea that business deal­ings should be honest and that mere weakness did not justify pillage. True, all authority was founded on amoral conquest. True, the ego of the ruler was the con­sideration above all others. True, superstition, slavery, infanticide, and other forms of murder were sanctioned. Withal, these codes were the work of moral vision that could seek order and justice within a complex of human rights and obligations. They were light years above the bestiality of Neanderthal and early neanthropic man.

From the Land of Canaan

We fix our attention now upon the land of Canaan, otherwise Phoenicia. In the littoral at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, at Ras Shamra, two hundred miles or so north of Jerusalem, explo­rations in 1928-1929 revealed the ancient city, Ugarit. Writings dis­covered here point to a paradox in the growth of human morals.

These texts date from the latter half of the second millennium, B. C. Various languages were em­ployed including Sumerian, Baby­lonian, Hittite, Egyptian, and Phoenician or Canaanite. This variety of tongues coupled with a broad range of art objects from Babylon, Mycenae, Egypt, and other far-flung cultures points to cosmopolitan sophistication in matters of commerce, art, and morals. Thus, the Canaanites were not a backward people.

Archaic Hebrew and Phoeni­cian or Canaanite were one lan­guage. Their religious stem was the same. Canaanite writings lead directly to portions of the Bible. Daniel appears first in Canaanite literature. So do Adam and Eve. "El" or "Elohim" as a designation of God was common to both languages. Both partook of the same cultural tradition, were subject to the same con­quests, stood in the same line of moral development. Before Moses, the codes of Lipit-Ishtar, Ur­Nammu, and Hammurabi had placed limitations on murder, stealing, lying, and other infrac­tions. Sections of the Hammur­abic code were carried over into the Old Testament, parts of Ex­odus, Deuteronomy, and Leviti­cus being seeming transplants of language and substance.

Abram, or Abraham, of Gen­esis was much among the Canaan­ites and scarcely superior to them. He could permit his wife to suffer the desire of another man as a measure of his own self-preservation. The slaughter of entire peoples did not offend his senses. These thoughts and acts agreed well with the mores of the times in the land of Canaan.

Who then could distinguish Hebrew and Canaanite? How were the Chosen Ones different?

Yet as we turn the opening pages of the Old Testament, Israel and Canaan are enemies. There is revulsion against ancient familiar idols. Rituals encrusted with cen­turies of tradition are now called perverted. Israel separates herself from her heritage.

But not all Hebrews. Their bulk remained as it was. They became homesick for idolatry. When Moses left them for but forty days, they made themselves a golden calf, worshipped and sacri­ficed to it, and "rose up to play." With Moses, Joshua, and Aaron dead, the people reverted to the worship of Baal and Ashtaroth. They wearied of theocracy and asked Samuel to depose God; their preference was to have a human king as did other nations.

Was it political factors then that worked the cleavage ?

No, these were transient things of alignment and re-alignment, a continuing flow of advantage and disadvantage.

No, Israel became different in kind from her neighbors. The cul­tural stem remained, but there was a sudden increase, biologically speaking, in the vigor and acuity of the moral vision of a small group of men—the patriarchs and the prophets. The leathery old tribesmen became the new aware­ness and the conscience of the peo­ple. Their peculiarity affected the Semitic stem profoundly.

God Above Man

The thing that they saw most clearly was that man was less than he had thought himself to be. The laws of Mesopotamia, Babylon, and Sumeria were kingly imposi­tions based upon conquest. Reci­tations anent the deities of their varied pantheon served the glori­fication of the ruler, added the force of superstition to that of edict. Other kings could utilize other gods or manufacture new ones. The Hebrew patriarch saw the falsity of this. God was not servant to human policy. He was not concocted out of expediency. The injunction was, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," and "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

Moreover, they could see that the thread of life connected man with God. This being true, one’s ancestors were custodians of the vision and bearers of the seed. The generations were a sequence of flesh and spirit, each the fruit of those long since transformed to dust. The generation which hon­ored not gifts received or which despoiled posterity of its birth­right would be aborted. The spe­cies must cling to the thread of creativity in order to endure (Honor thy father and mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee).

They despised the predatory heart. The fixing of attention upon inevitable inequalities of person and possession was defined as covetousness and proscribed. A people could be secure only as its members were secure. What ex­traordinary fortune or skill could gain in righteousness, affection, office, or goods was, in the long run, to the betterment of the whole. Greed and envy could only jeopardize the entire body of so­ciety. The commandment was clear: "Thou shalt not covet."

The Prophets’ Rote

That the prophets considered their gifts as unique was inherent in their conviction that they had been chosen by a single, everlast­ing God. It is also clear that they held a narrower, more literal view of their invigorated sense as well. They adduced their knowledge as something they had seen or heard, since they knew no novel means of perception. Listen to Proverbs XXIX, 18, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Or Ha­bakkuk II, 2, "Write the vision and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." Or Jeremiah VI, 16, "Stand ye in the ways and see…." They were talking about actual sense percep­tions.

They were not reasoners as the Greeks were. They did not at­tempt to define their knowledge nor fathom its distant implica­tions. Others were to accept their vision without question—it was the will of God. It was enough that they could fix the errant one with glittering eye and drive him with lashing tongue.

Neither did their heightened special sense work much change in men themselves. The Jew re­mained as superstitious as his neighbors. He was as brutally pos­sessive of wife and child. Cruelty was common. Moses could instruct the Levites, "Go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor." More routine punishments for violations of the Law included stoning, ex­ecution by fire, and garroting. The tribes were still narrow, bigoted, savage. Hebrew thought was fecu­lent with error. Hardness of heart was ingrained and unchallenged. One must remember, however, that the biological requirement at this point in history was simply that the moral attribute be via­ble, tough enough to live in a savage environment.

The Need Was Urgent

It was none too soon. Already the beginnings of mathematics and physics had taken place with the Egyptians, Greeks, and earlier peoples. The surveyor’s stakes marking the road to E = me² were in place. Its destination was in­evitable—the extinction of man. Except for one factor. The tele­ology of life had functioned thou­sands of years earlier with the injection of moral unrest into that unknown primitive progenitor. Now it was evolved into the Law and the Prophets.

The Law and the Prophets were not enough.

They were inadequate to the ne­cessities of the world that was de­veloping. They were inadequate because their application was ex­ternal, their acceptance involun­tary. The Israelites were a bullied and frightened people. Under­standing of the significance of the Law, there was none. It was con­strictive of personality and choice because the patriarchs had not understood that they, themselves, were an outcropping of a deep in­ner life development. In Christ’s phraseology, it remained for the Law to be "fulfilled."

Beyond Reason

What was necessary?

Was it not that the newest hu­man sense be given equal, no, su­perior, status in relation to the older senses? This seems probable from Christ’s teaching method. In his words we find almost nothing of syllogism, no abstract construe­tion of theory, no laying down of a logical case. Rather, he seemed to aim at startling or surprising a dormant sense so that in a burst of unaccustomed activity it should break the surface of the subcon­scious to be seen and dealt with. He triggered unused psychic com­plexes in friend and foe—intui­tions, insights, theretofore sup­pressed emotions. Parable, im­agery, allusion, the shock of in­credible assertion—in greater or lesser degree, these would provoke the inward sentience of his au­dience. These were no move to convince the intellect, but only the application of stimuli to which a special sense could respond. His struggle was frustrating. Listen to him in John VIII, 43: "Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word." He sought those who could respond: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Later, Paul was to expand upon this fact: "… the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually dis­cerned." The phenomena had to be perceived before it could enter into the mental processes.

Inner Law

First, as Christ implied, one must see the real source of the law. Scribes and Pharisees occu­pied the position of lawgivers. Theirs was external law applied to the externals of man: his acts, his property, his outward relation­ships. Such lawmakers, "bind heavy burdens, grievous to be borne." True law is in the nature of things and in the nature of the human being (The Kingdom of God is within you). Christ knew that murder, for example, was the end product of an inner ferment; it was objectified anger or greed. So also, with adultery, theft, and the rest of the list. These were evil fruits whose roots drew sus­tenance from the older elements in man. True law would operate here, in the individual’s own faculties.

This individualism should be cultivated at whatever cost. Many would suffer but some would suc­ceed (Wide is the gate and broad is the way, that leadeth to de­struction but strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it). This was the hard fact: the destiny of the species de­pended on the toughness and wis­dom of those possessing the capa­bility of perceiving God and his creative principles of life. These were the things of God; Caesar had no proper function in them save to permit them to operate and to defend them.

Having developed this capabil­ity, men should sustain it in their consciousness, have faith in it, and be guided by it (Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind). By doing this, men could achieve freedom (Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free). But no man could be free who coerced his neighbor (Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself). Only through equality of respect for the conscience, responsibility, and volition of others could men be­come whole. Indeed, only through this sort of equality could the species be safe.

A Higher Goal

What was the reason of it all? Why the millions of years of struggle of life on earth? Its achievement of ever greater corn-plexity of tissue, organ, and sense? To what end does man, by means of his new awareness, con­sciously strain to be something other than what he has been? Once more we turn our secular gaze upon the Bible.

The answers stated there can be encompassed briefly: joy, hap­piness, well-being. In Chapter V of the Book of Matthew, Jesus, in the first eleven verses, uses the word, "blessed," meaning a be­stowal of happiness, nine times. In the twelfth, he tells us to "rejoice and be exceedingly glad." His expositor, Paul, in Ephesians, describes singing in the spirit and melody in the heart. There are many such examples, spoken in the shadow of mortal adversity. With the right sort of awareness one could see the principles of life, in­dividual and social, which could free him from the crush of his terrible heritage. Such freedom, such resonance with divine pulse, would mean joy.

Moral Emphasis in the Declaration of Independence

That the possessors of the en­livened moral faculty grew in numbers, history evidences abund­antly. The unique sense began to assert itself in "the things that are Caesar’s." We overleap seven­teen centuries to find them ex­pressing what they have seen in a political document. We hear them saying, "We hold these truths to be self-evident," that is, phe­nomena to be accepted because ex­hibited to the senses. They were deemed to be true because they were the verified content of moral perception. They believed men to be creatures of God, under equal obligation, one to the other, each to the whole, to preserve and de­fend individual human effort to survive and achieve; to hold the individual harmless in the effectu­ation of any chosen purpose not violative of the personality or property of another, safety and happiness of the citizen being the explicitly stated objectives of proper government.

Some years later they draft an agreement by which they propose to live together. In it they said that men should be free to follow their personal routines in peace (insure domestic tranquillity). They should be safe (provide for the common defense). They were to be free from the vexations and dangers attendant upon personal settlement of disputes, unjust tax­ation, monetary chicanery, and ca­price of government (establish justice, promote the general wel­fare). The generations were rec­ognized as being bound together in sacred compact (secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity).

What echoes of the patriarchs and the prophets! What magnifi­cent assent to the "fulfillment" of the Law! How spectacular and undreamed was the harvest!

Still, there are those among us, historians and sociologists, who tell us that morals are no more than custom and environment; who cite other peoples in other places who believed in other rights and wrongs and other gods; who believe that the common man may be thumped and kneaded into any sort of thing that politics and technology may require. They work much grief—they withhold the animate part of the truth. Where the moral sense has not been nourished or has been di­verted from its main direction, among great or little peoples, that nation or race has been stultified. Its exit from history has been a series of needless frustrations and pointless disasters clustered about a core of ethical error.

A Vital Attribute

The rewarding path is along the way discerned by the moral vision. It is a vital attribute even though many of our kind have not, as yet, acquired confidence in the stimuli it provides. Many of us continue to believe falsehoods which the use of this sense would destroy, even as some centuries ago some men had preposterous credulity concerning physical facts which disciplined use of their regular senses would have precluded. As a current example, many of us, evi­dently a voting majority, believe that individual wrongdoing can be transmuted into collective vir­tue; that individual sin can be purified by democratic ritual. We join together to vote ourselves ex­emption from the Decalogue, the New Testament, the Constitution, and the operations of Nature.

And because our disdain of moral principle is collective, be­cause it is implemented by tech­nology, never was human hazard greater. We have parted with the safeguards of variety, multiplicity, diversity of purpose, and limited means of ages gone. Our more sa­tanic Caesars were but pranksters when set against the scale of our Hitlers and Stalins; these, in turn, dwindle before the looming po­tential. Only the active use of the peculiar sense can be of any effect against the drift of the times. Not to rely upon it is as foolish as to forego sight or hearing. It is at fearful risk that we continue to view its promptings as romantic idealism, scarce suited to the uses of this world.

Significant Growth

Moral awareness began in the jungle in men who were mostly beast. It was viable from the be­ginning, capable of surviving the wilderness; equal to growth amid bludgeon and ignorance. It had moved against all vicissitudes be­fore history began. It stood up to stonings, crucifixions, hemlock, and the arena because it was tough. It is not weakened by sentiment. It is practical. Its goal is the wholeness of man because when man is complete, he is free.

From birth to birth, century to century, the communion spreads. Its members willingly wear the manacles of the spirit. Because they do, they cannot resort to force to thrust their knowledge upon others. They cannot rig vot­ing blocs; they cannot bilk their brother politically, economically, or intellectually. They give but to those who seek. They demon­strate only to those willing to ob­serve.

They look upon the mutilation of the earth, the poisonings of its soils, its winds, its waters, and its minds with sorrow. They can see great nations and great peo­ples sickened with the malady of centralized coercion, the symp­toms affecting every member of the social body: the family, the arts, public and private morals, education, religion.

Strangely enough, they expect all of these things to live. They believe that the moral attribute was inserted into the species long ago for two purposes: to serve as a safety mechanism, and to sense the way in which it should go. Despite the moiling of historical waters, it has been effective on both counts. Observed from primi­tive beginning to formal expres­sion in documents utilized in the founding of the greatest nation in history, the increase of the moral faculty as a factor in hu­man destiny appears considerable. In view of its source, it is not likely that it will fall short of its objective—man as a whole crea­ture.

Moral man, speaking of us all, may well join with the English Book of Common Prayer in the supplication, "Grant that the old Adam in these persons may be so buried, that the new man may be raised up in them." History points in this direction. It is the direc­tion in which the libertarian would go.



Ideas on Liberty

A Double Standard

Thievery and covetousness will persist and grow, and the basic morals of ourselves, our children, and our children’s children will continue to deteriorate unless we destroy the virus of immoral­ity that is embedded in the concept of the welfare state; unless we come to understand how the moral code of individual conduct must apply also to collective conduct, because the collective is composed solely of individuals. Moral individual conduct cannot persist in the face of collective immorality under the welfare state program. One side or the other of the double standard of morals will have to be surrendered.

F. A. HARPER, Morals and the Welfare State