All Commentary
Monday, January 1, 1968

To Be Different – and Free

From Remarks by Admiral Moreell among friends gathered on his seventieth birthday in 1967, “to rejoice in his rich and full years of service to God and Country.“

Each of us begins life with cer­tain inherited physical, mental, and moral characteristics, some of which are as unique as one’s fin­gerprints. As we grow older, the variations at birth are expanded by differences in environment, education, training, associations, and experiences, and by the influ­ence of our studies, meditations, and such Divine guidance as we are able to invoke. These diversi­ties bring about differences in ma­terial possessions and in the status achieved in the professions, the arts, and other areas of human en­deavor.

All this is the natural resultant of the law of human variation, a law of such transcendent importance to the progress and well­being of mankind that it must surely be Divinely authored! “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time,” Jeffer­son observed. I would presume to add, “And He made us all differ­ent, each one from every other one.”

With such a powerful force acting to induce diverse judg­ments, it is truly remarkable that we can achieve pragmatic working agreement on most of the crucial issues which confront our nation. We do so only as we develop a broad tolerance for the opinions of others, a tolerance essential for arriving at workable solutions which attract the support of pub­lic opinion.

Alexander Hamilton advanced this thought in a plea for ratification of the Constitution. He wrote, in the first Federalist Paper, “So numerous, indeed, and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we see… wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of ques­tions of the first magnitude to so­ciety. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a les­son of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy.”

It is in light of the foregoing that, over the years, I have tried earnestly, but not always with success, to avoid impugning the motives, the patriotism, or the in­tegrity of those with whom I have differed on important questions….

Freedom of Choice Essential to Individual Growth and Development

In order that each person might have full scope for the develop­ment and use of his talents, he must have maximum freedom of choice which should be limited only by the requirement that he may not thereby impair the free­doms of any other person. This re­quires a free market for goods, services, and ideas into which gov­ernment would intrude only to perform the functions allocated to it specifically by the Constitution.

Under this system, each person may use his dollars as ballots to promote those goods and services which satisfy his wants best. This is the essence of the world’s most productive economy, our own free market system, which offers in­centives to venture, rewards for success, and penalties for failure, all commensurate with the values delivered to the market place as these are determined by willing buyers and willing sellers.

To deprive a person of his rights is to violate a natural law. This will call forth its own penal­ties, as does defiance of any natu­ral law, moral or physical. If I jump from a high building, I am defying the law of gravity; and I am penalized. In like manner, when we defy the law of human variation by trying to equalize the social, economic, or cultural status of individuals by resort to the co­ercive force of government, thus restricting free choice and im­peding creative energies, we suffer the penalties.

A corollary is that there is no moral sanction for any man to im­pair the rights of his posterity. Just as he may not sell them into slavery, so may he not deprive them of their economic or politi­cal freedom. Jefferson held that the act of deferring payment on the public debt, thus imposing this burden on future generations, is tantamount to enslaving them..

Inner Restraints  Law and Order

In 1776, George Mason wrote this statement into the Virginia Declaration of Rights:

No free government or the bless­ings of liberty can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by fre­quent recurrence to fundamental principles.

What principles did he have in mind? They were, broadly speak­ing, religious principles; not the doctrines and creeds which set off one group from another but rath­er the belief in a just and merciful God which they share. It was a basic American principle to sep­arate church and state, not be­cause of any hostility to religion; quite the contrary. The state was to be secular in order that religion might be free to teach our people the inner restraints of self-disci­pline. The latter, in turn, would reduce or eliminate those infringe­ments on individual rights which so often accompany forceful meas­ures taken by government to es­tablish and maintain public order.

Edmund Burke said:

Society cannot exist unless a con­trolling power on the will and appe­tite is placed somewhere; and the less there is within, the more there must be of it without.

The American tradition holds that a free society is possible only if it consists, predominantly, of spiritually conscious, self-disci­plined individuals. This is evident in both the Declaration of Inde­pendence and the Constitution. The framers of those documents believed they were transcribing “the laws of Nature and of Na­ture’s God.” The supremacy of the Constitution was believed to stem from its correspondence to a law superior to the will of human rulers.

Utopian Lures

In recent decades we have veered away from that design for a great and devout nation, whose basic tenet was an economically independent citizenry, supporting and controlling a government which is the servant of the people, not their master! Instead, we have moved sharply toward the seduc­tive idea of a socialist “utopia,” which reverses the American pat­tern, enslaving the people by hav­ing the government support them! This is the same false “utopia” from which many of our people, or their forebears, escaped in order to seek freedom and opportunity in America!

To know the ailment is the first step toward finding the cure. We can escape from our current con­fusion; but it will not be by political legerdemain. Rather, it will be by a rehabilitation of those spir­itual and moral values which made our nation great!

America and Moral Leadership

I am no prophet of doom. While I hold that disaster lies ahead un­less we change course, I believe that the world is now on the threshold of what could be such a dynamic expansion of spiritual understanding and material pro­ductivity as to tax the capacities of all mankind! The world looks to America for moral leadership. The great French philosopher, Jacques Maritain, said:

What the world expects from America is that she keep alive, in human history, a fraternal recogni­tion of the dignity of man… the terrestrial hope of men in the Gospel!

We can provide that moral lead­ership if each of us will dedicate himself to “justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and frequent recurrence to funda­mental principles.” This task must be undertaken by each one, acting individually. Our success will then be evidenced by the wise actions of our elected lawmakers—and by those who execute the laws they enact. This is the way we can make our liberty secure!

  • 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.