All Commentary
Friday, July 1, 1960

The Tariff Controversy: A Christian Dilemma

Mr. Ritscher is Vice-president of the Intercon­tinental Credit Corporation, a division of the Pan American Trade Development Corporation.

In dealing with economic and political issues, it is important to bear in mind that they represent merely, as it were, the visible tops of far deeper social problems. They are like the tops of icebergs. The full reality invariably involves a submerged part of the problem, and it is our task to find this hid­den aspect lest we lose our orienta­tion and fail to reach a sane solu­tion.

The tariff controversy illus­trates, perhaps better than any other example, how we can get shipwrecked intellectually if we treat social problems only with re­gard to their economic or political aspects. In the tariff controversy, both sides, free-traders as well as protectionists, indubitably believe themselves motivated by humani­tarian considerations. Both sides, no doubt, carry high proportions of individuals who think of them­selves as sincere Christians. But—if this is so—how can we, as true Christians, square the dis­criminatory treatment of foreign-domiciled groups of human beings with the basic religious tenet that all men are brothers? Where does the love of Christ end and love of country begin?

The raising of this question should not be interpreted as a slur against patriotism. On the con­trary—it is natural and healthy that we should prefer our own nation’s moral code and laws over those of other nations—which we may experience as alien and even horrible, in certain instances. It is quite proper for me to experi­ence such feelings, be it as an American, a Frenchman, a Chi­nese, or an Egyptian. This is why I am full-heartedly a member of the nation in which I live, and this is the very reason for the existence of independent nations (and the justification for their continued existence even though the world contracts technologically before our eyes). Conversely, because these feelings are experienced by individuals as a simple matter of fact, the imposition of a world government, at this moment in world history, would be experi­enced as, and perforce would have to be, a super-tyranny. However, to the extent that we are motivat­ed by patriotic feelings in taking the protectionist position in the tariff controversy, we not only commit the error of transferring into the domain of economy a feel­ing that is proper only in the do­main of political action—but also, patriotism itself thereby becomes distorted into nationalism. In eco­nomic affairs, contrary to the do­main of public law, we do deal with One World—an organism that encompasses all of humanity and the entire earth. This organ­ism is severely wounded whenever we take measures that spring from other than world-wide, su­pranational, and purely economic-utilitarian considerations, devoid of any political motivation.

In an atmosphere of truly dis­passionate deliberation, it would be very easy to prove logically that there can be no protectionist measure that, ultimately, will not be economically harmful to hu­manity. Thus, in considering the avowed purpose of protectionist measures to raise prices above the level they would normally have, are we supposed to overlook how tariffs result in the suppression of industries waiting to be born in place of the ones that cannot do without protection?

Our Emotions Impede Thought

As soon as such a question is raised, two inner obstacles immedi­ately get in the way of any sane consideration of the problem:

1. Protected industries exist physically, and we can hear with our bodily ears the screams of those who would be affected by the elimination of tariffs. Against this, we need not only a trained inner ear in order to hear the silence of the far greater industries that are waiting to spring up as soon as tariffs are eliminated; we also need the confidence that thinking can lead us to perceiving objective realities. (Are the unborn industries really there?) Con­sideration of the tariff controversy thus leads us to the question of what we must or can do in order to strengthen our individual powers of inner perception and our trust in the practical usefulness of pure thought.

2. The dispassionateness we need in order to heed logical argu­ments evaporates when the at­mosphere becomes heated with feelings that are not proper for the sphere with which we are deal­ing.

A Psychological Approach

It is not possible here to get into the tremendous chapters of hu­man education and human psy­chology opened up in citing the first of these two difficulties. (What is human education as against ultilitarian training and “group adjustment” practices? What is human psychology as against animalistic psychology? What does a commercialized and inartistic environment do to the inner man in us?… in our chil­dren?) However, with reference to the second difficulty, we can here recognize that in dealing with any social problem we have the double task of finding not only a logical but also a psychological approach to a sound solution. It is invaluable for this purpose to dis­tinguish between the economic and political aspects of a given con­troversy. Such discrimination en­ables us to determine the specific principles under which we ought to act, or want others to act, in dealing with the problem at hand—depending on whether, or to what extent, it concerns the econ­omy or the domain of political ac­tion. Obviously, the principle of utility must govern a sound econ­omy—but this is not what we seek from government as citizens of a nation. In this respect, what we want is justice—and needless to say—equal justice. Thoughts like these, once their correctness is ac­cepted, will cool down the heated feelings, and it will then be pos­sible to appreciate that it is just as right to desire “One World” economically as it is wrong con­ceptually to want it politically; or conversely, that it is politically as correct to insist on the inde­pendence of our nation as it is a mistake to be an economic nation­alist.

Once this is grasped, it is pos­sible to come to grips with the dilemma outlined initially—the contradiction between protection­ism and religious tenets—and to be both a true universal Christian and a patriot. Not is this all. Thus far, in order to defend many an economic or political measure be­fore our religious conscience, we had to develop, or at least to sup­port, the notion that religion is solely concerned with our inner world and has nothing to do with matters such as tariffs and world government. The unfortunate con­sequences which this notion has had for our individual lives and for the development of the world at large can hardly be exagger­ated. For, if we do not translate into earthly deeds what can in­spire us from higher worlds, do we then not fail in our specifically human task—to be a bridge be­tween the world of spirit and the world of matter?

By learning to discriminate in the treatment we should accord economic problems as against polit­ical ones, we are set free to come out of our defensive spiritual cor­ner and to make the healing forces of the inner world practically ef­fective on the social scene. This is, however, only part of the whole picture. It is also necessary to pro­tect the inner world from the forces of commercialism and polit­icalization in order not to suffo­cate the healing forces that em­anate from it. Not only religion, but—even more so—education, art, and science form the third domain of social life whose task, if it has any, must be to humanize the other two. Institutions of this third domain of social life, given as they are to the achievement of knowledge, insight, and wisdom, must, therefore, have the oppor­tunity to develop in full freedom from the basic influences that operate in the economy and in political life. Otherwise, principles such as utility and democracy will persist on invading (and pervert­ing) pedagogy, for example, and tend to make cleverly-trained or not-so-cleverly-trained herd ani­mals out of our children. If we complain about the poisons that are used to increase crop yields contrary to the recommendations of the Food and Drug Adminis­tration, about the billboards that blot out the beauty of our land, about the protection of gangsters when they are allied with trade unions, we deal merely with symp­toms of social diseases caused by the invasion of economic and polit­ical principles into the social domain of inner life.

A Three-Dimensional Perspective on Human Society

Once we perceive that human society consists of three differently principled domains, and once we recognize the specific significance of each of these domains for the whole social organism, we can finally begin to treat social problems sanely: that is, in accordance with their true nature, depending on whether they fall within the domain of the economy, or the do­main of political action, or the do­main of the inner life.

Thus, I am damaging human society if I use the State to treat a group of French human beings engaged in the manufacture of perfume less well than a group of our own citizens engaged in the same pursuit. I may rightfully resort to arms to prevent Soviet policemen from capturing a polit­ical fugitive who has escaped to our territory and into the protec­tion of our moral code. I commit a socially harmful act if, by chan­neling the proceeds of school taxes solely to the public schools, I put a financial penalty on parents who prefer to send their children to in­dependent schools.

Close analysis of the tariff ques­tion has led us—as it should  to the consideration of the funda­ments of human society. But ex­actly the same would have been the outcome had we thoroughly analyzed any other social problem, be it our failing public education, the decline of our national health, our inability to cope with commu­nism, our self-defeating foreign aid program, or whatever. In every instance we shall arrive at the same conclusion: that the solution of any of the social, national, and international problems that beset us rests on our recognition that human society encompasses three distinct domains and that each of these domains operates under dif­ferent principles, with which we ought to become sufficiently famil­iar to let them work unimpeded in their proper fields.



Ideas on Liberty

Private Undertakings

When a private individual meditates an undertaking, however directly connected it may be with the welfare of society, he never thinks of soliciting the cooperation of the government, but he publishes his plan, offers to execute it himself, courts the assist­ance of other individuals, and struggles manfully against all obstacles. Undoubtedly he is often less successful than the State might have been in his position; but in the end the sum of these private undertakings far exceeds all that the government could have done.

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, Democracy in America