William Henry Chamberlin: 1897-1969

William Henry Chamberlin 1897-1969

Readers of these pages during the past three decades have become familiar with the name of William Henry Chamberlin. Few of them, however, came to know the man.

Though he wrote nearly a score of books, he remained essentially a newspaperman. In a career that spanned half a century, he traveled extensively, meeting people, asking questions, shaping and reshaping his own views.

In 1922, at the age of 25, he went to Moscow for the Chris­tian Science Monitor. While he was at first strongly sympa­thetic toward the Soviet regime, he was soon disillusioned by Stalinism’s harsh reality.

After a dozen years the Monitor moved Mr. Chamberlin to the Far East, where he saw the rise of Japan’s militarism. In 1939 he shifted to France, leaving only after Germany’s Nazi armies occupied the country. Few men saw so much of the dark forces that were driving the world toward war.

Through it all Mr. Chamberlin remained ebullient, ever confident that man, given time and proper leadership, could find his way through the wilderness. Well past the age when most men retire, he was still plying his newspaper trade.

On a working trip to Europe he stopped for a few days in Switzerland where, while walking a mountain trail, he suf­fered the stroke that brought his death. Saddening though it is, there is solace in an exit that is so perfectly in character.

Editorial from The Wall Street Journal, September 16, 1969

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The following excerpts are from Mr. Chamberlin’s article in the May 1959 Freeman:

The Supreme Issues: The Individual Verses the State

When the State goes beyond its proper functions of maintaining law and order at home and provid­ing protection against foreign ag­gression, and starts to assume the role of a universal provider and regulator, it never knows when to stop. One arrogation of power leads to another, and the planned economy quickly develops into the totalitarian State….

Gone are the days when sturdy Grover Cleveland—rejecting a proposal to provide government compensation for farmers whose crops had been damaged by hail  —remarked, in substance, that while the people should support the gov­ernment, the government should not support the people. Now, it is no exaggeration to say that gov­ernments in many fields do under­take to support the people, or certain groups of the people. This task is very expensive, requiring taxation on a scale that formerly would have been considered fan­tastically impossible. It also neces­sitates far-reaching controls. One is reminded of Alexis de Tocque­ville’s "immense and tutelary power," which would rob the human race of all initiative and self-reliance, which would labor for their happiness, but choose to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness, which would "spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living"….

The Soviet Union, where the combination of political dictatorship and economic collectivism has prevailed consistently despite minor shifts in tactics and policy, has been a false beacon light to left-wingers in America and West­ern Europe ever since it was established in November 1917….

From the cradle to the grave the Soviet citizen is conditioned by propaganda and, through a rigidly authoritarian school system, is as­signed or directed or channeled into the work the State thinks he should take up. The horrors of forced labor under Stalin, the worst kind of slavery, have abated. This is not because his successors are more humane than the de­ceased dictator. But they realize that the former system of over­working and half-starving millions of people in Arctic slave labor camps is too wasteful in manpower for a country that is feeling the effects of tremendous war losses in its present low birth rate. How­ever, large numbers of people, if not actually kept behind barbed wire, are forcibly detained in re­mote places where they are forced to work at the tasks assigned to them.

It is a great pity and irony that just when the strength of the United States lies in being as dif­ferent from the Soviet Union as possible, in adhering firmly to the principles of the free market, con­sumer free choice, maximum op­portunity for the individual, there are voices in this country that use a mistaken fear of Soviet economic competition as an argument for driving us further along the path toward economic statism.

Apart from the threat of mili­tary attack, which is a question in itself, the only thing we need fear from the Soviet economic pattern is that we should imitate or adopt it, even in part. Only if and as we maintain in our own lives the his­toric American principles of in­dividualist opportunity in econom­ics and other fields shall we worthily fill our historic destiny as champions of the principle that the State should be the servant of its citizens, not the master of its sub­jects.