All Commentary
Wednesday, November 1, 1972

You Rascal, You!

From whence come wars and fighting among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your number?                                             

James 4:1

As with all of my “original” ideas, this one turns out to be “old hat.” Upon reading the first draft, an associate remarked, “Why, that is precisely what the Bible says.” That accounts for the opening quotation. There then came to mind an essay by E. W. Dykes entitled “Big Wars from Little Errors Grow.” (The Freeman, January, 1964.) Old hat or not, the theme needs constant repetition; it is so easily forgotten.

As I view the societal scene from my modest place in it, four current phenomena are outstandingly impressive:

1. Things on the surface, at least, appear to be amiss, not only in the U.S.A. but worldwide: wars with guns, wars with words in religion, education, business, politics, brutishness on the campuses as on the streets. Never in my lifetime have the confrontations been more pronounced.

2. An amazing awakening to the fact that things are amiss: countless admissions by persons on all sides of the politico-economic argument — scholarly intellectuals, columnists, politicians, and others — many of whom have had a hand in bringing on the very calamity they now decry.

3. A frenzied search for explanations, causes, reasons — of the most diverse nature. These range from an incompetent bureaucracy to tax loopholes to inequality of income to excessive or inadequate welfarism to economic growth to lagging GNP — you name it! Never have the assigned reasons been more at odds and, as I see it, more astray.

4. A widespread acknowledgment of trouble but without any noticeable confession of personal shortcomings. Nearly every finger points at someone else; it is impressively you; there is hardly an I in the population.

Imagine! All of this rascality and not a professed rascal among us! Why? It is simply because the real evil, the cause of our waywardness, is rarely suspected. Thus, self-identification is impossible. People do not link themselves to error about which they are unaware.

What is this rascality? It is the domineering habit, the insistence that others act in accord with one’s own shadowy lights. Perhaps no one has shaken this habit completely, so common is its practice. This habit has its inception in the closest relationships, as in the family, one parent lording it over the other or both of them assuming an authoritarian as distinguished from an exemplary relationship with their children. It takes such seemingly innocent forms as do-as-I-say — a carbon copy way of life.

This tendency, once rooted, spreads by unseen degrees to neighbors, the classroom, the pulpit, and other associations. Sooner or later, it begins to grow teeth and takes the form of do-as-I-say-or-else, that is, it explodes into out-and-out coercion as in countless thousands of unprincipled governmental compulsions. When not recognized as evil and thus unchecked, it brings on dictatorships and finally reaches its apogee, its most vicious manifestation: mass slaughter.

I am unaware of any evil more pronounced than man lording it over man. Not even God does this. Indeed, He has given us a freedom so radical that we may deny our Maker or otherwise make fools of ourselves. As I see it, the domineering habit is the root of all evil1 and unless there is some realization that it is, we will continue to ascribe no reasons for our troubles and without anyone faulting himself. We will go on exclaiming, “You rascal, you!”

A Record of Failure

Enough of my theorizing. Let us reflect on an observed fact: an example cannot be found where domineering in practice — man lording it over man — has resulted in success.2 The record is failure, without exception. It has to be. A carbon copy is never as good as the imperfect original.

Markedly on the increase are the complaints I hear from fathers and mothers about the waywardness of their children. In some instances, drugs. But most of them go like this: “She is brilliant, a straight A student in college, but she has bought the whole socialistic doctrine. She won’t do as I say. How do I solve this problem?” I have yet to hear one of these do-as-I-say parents confess, “The fault is mine.” In far too many of these relationships an unsuspected domineering attitude has been substituted for parental cooperation and guidance.

Take two cases of domineering that have “teeth”: government education and the government postal service.

Government education has three forms of domineering: compulsory attendance, government dictation of the curricula, and the forcible collection of the wherewithal to pay the bills. That education in America is in a mess goes without saying. It is generally conceded, even by many educators. Show me one person who says, “The fault is mine.” Yet, it is the fault of everyone who has had any part in endorsing or supporting or practicing any form of domineering!3 The government postal service never, even remotely, matched what a free market operation would have accomplished. And it is getting worse day by day. Can you name one person during the past century who confessed the fault is his? No one makes such an admission because he does not recognize the domineering trait as the root of the failure.

The railroads have been subjected to domineering with “teeth” for decades. They are failing. Not a person takes the blame; it is now and always has been, “You rascal, you!” There is no end to the illustrations that could be given.

When Growth Ceases

As already stated, the domineering habit has its inception in the closest relationships. Correct it here and it will cease to be a menace elsewhere. Let us return, for illustration, to those parents whose children refuse to share parental views, conform to parental dictates.

True, these parents are unaware that they have been domineering and such recognition is indeed difficult. As parents, we tend to forget the growth we ourselves experienced during childhood and adolescence. By the time we reach parenthood, our own growth may have stopped. We have arrived, that is, we no longer feel that need to learn which we want our children to feel. If they would only do as we say — think as we do — that would be good enough! The insistence that our children do what we ourselves refuse to do is what destroys the proper relationships; there is no longer a learning partnership. Our failure to maintain this kinship in learning is a form of domineering. Looked at from the child’s point of view, he is a know-nothing and the parent the know-it-all. Conflict!

Teacher-Student Relations

Perhaps the best way to shed light on the proper relationship between you and me, husband and wife, parent and child — all close relationships — is to cite an actual case between a teacher and one of his students. My introduction began with a letter from the student, a stranger to me. Here it is, abbreviated:

“Sir, I am a freshman at a college in Florida. Seven short months ago I came here believing in Keynesian economics. That is what I had been taught in high school and I had accepted it without question. Since coming here I have been made aware of these fallacies, and due to my teacher… It is like I have been blind and suddenly recovered my sight.”

A few days later, the teacher, also a stranger to me and unaware of the student’s letter, wrote in part:

“I am a Social Science professor at a private, small liberal arts college. I am very much interested in the freedom point of view and, for the last few months, have spent time trying to understand the view”. (Italics mine)

Fascinated with these two letters, I invited the professor to one of our Seminars. In getting to know him, I discovered what turned the student from socialism to a free market point of view. This professor is trying to understand; he and his students are partners in the learning process. They have a common goal: enlightenment! Contrast this with the parent whose goal is to make the child a carbon copy of himself. The parent may not think of this as domineering, but he gives that impression to the youngster. In this circumstance, the parent and child are not in partnership but in conflict. This matter of posture applies in all close relationships.

If we wish to put an end to the more horrible consequences of the domineering habit such as state socialism and eventually mass murder, we can do so by nipping it in the bud. This is to say, rid ourselves of the habit where it is born, namely, in our close relationships, whatever they happen to be.

Riddance requires no more than (1) an awareness that the domineering habit — freedom’s opposite — is the root of all evil, (2) an ability to recognize domineering in ourselves and to be done with it, (3) an appreciation that learning is just as much a requirement for the parent as the child, for the teacher as the student, for me as you, as much needed at eighty as eight, and (4) a strict observance of the Golden Rule.

Once we recognize that the vicious domineering of dictators is but the political extremity of the domineering habit that lurks in the mill run of us, we should exclaim, “You rascal, you!” only to the image we see in the mirror. Breaking ourselves of a bad habit is the way to destroy its most malicious manifestation. Remove the source — that’s all.


1 This is close to the idea of Original Sin, as many theologians define it: the tendency of the creature to try to usurp the role of the Creator. That interpretation appears to be in accord with the Biblical account which describes the tempter as telling the human creature that if he will eat the forbidden fruit he can become like God. Genesis 3:5. See also Nature, Man and God by William Temple (London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1934), p. 496 ff.

2 Success is composed of gains, not losses. Sputniks, moon ventures, the Gateway Arch, and the like—ambitions of a few — are made possible by enormous losses on the part of millions of people. With justice or fairness as the premise, these are failures.

3 This is not “collective guilt” as some would have it but individual error piled high. And, critics to the contrary, each of us is to some extent shaped by the environment in which we find ourselves. In another kind of world, you and I would be in another kind of endeavor.



Aggression Is Always Wrong

“Liberals” suffer a myopia, an inability to see that aggressive force is used to build the welfare state. True, there is considerably less outright violence in tax collections for interventionism than in full-scale war. Big Government relies much more on the threat of force, rather than on its actual employment, to promote the payment of taxes. But anyone could easily witness the transformation of potential energy into kinetic energy — the threat into the reality — by trying to spend for himself the portion of his taxes which would go for, say, farm subsidies. Not surprisingly, few citizens have made this interesting experiment.


  • Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) was the founder of FEE, and the author of 29 works, including the classic parable “I, Pencil.”