Meditations on Freedom
Perfect communication presupposes the perfect sayer and the perfect hearer, neither one of whom ever existed. Worlds apart? Not necessarily! Many are only words apart. Patience!
A basic premise—one’s fundamental point of reference—is essential to right thinking and consistency. Expanding consciousness seems to be man’s earthly purpose: hatching, emergence, development, evolution. Accept ideas which harmonize with and reject those which thwart this fundamental purpose.
For the better part of my adult life I have worked, as best I know how, to advance liberty. It is not that the free society has ever needed me; instead, it is I who need the free society in order to grow, emerge, develop, evolve.
One’s world enlarges precisely as one’s consciousness expands: the mystery increases and awe replaces know-it-all-ness.1
As one acquires an awareness of how little he knows, humility replaces arrogance; this tends to improve a person’s nature and sense of humor.
If one would improve the perception of others, then let him look to his own performance. “It is light that brings forth the eye.”
As light prevails over darkness, so does ignorance give way to enlightenment. Forget the ignorance of others and attend, instead, to one’s own lights. There is nothing to be gained by beating down a misguided soul.
Name calling is a psychotic ailment. The surest way to divert a person from one’s good idea is to disparage him; he will link the good idea to the disparagement—the psychosis—and have nothing to do with it. No bad idea is ever overcome by attacking the persons who believe it.
For me to try to change your mind is futile; it is an inversion of the educational or educative process. It is the other way around: you reach for me and then only if I have something you consider worth reaching for. A good rule: Go only where called but do everything within one’s power to qualify to be called.
On philosophical and ideological matters, dialogue is appropriate if the mutual goal is enlightenment. Otherwise, each is engaged in useless talk!
On hearing a fallacy, seek the truth to displace it. Argument sheds no light, but only hardens each to his position. Resistance affords footing for the adversary. Do not argue, just present a better idea.
Gloat not over the failure of an adversary; exultation should be reserved for achievement.
Fret not over what is beyond one’s power to correct. Worry diminishes the individual and his creativity.
I am the only person among all who live that I have been commissioned to reform and improve; and this is the biggest project on earth.
Exemplary behavior, more than instruction, accounts for increased observation of the virtues. These are more caught than taught.
Leaders in politics, education, religion, business have lowered their standards. When the standards were high, bizarre notions were held in abeyance; people do not deliberately flaunt their foolishness in the presence of those whom they respect. But when those in leadership positions forsake virtue, crazy schemes come out of men’s heads as fungus from a muck heap. Needed is a new aristocracy—men of virtue and talents—toward which each of us should strive.
The more worthy the objective, the better must the method be. To destroy a free society, low-grade methods suffice. But for any creative purpose, the method must be of the highest order: attraction, that magnetic force which causes others to seek one’s tutorship. Growing in awareness, perception, consciousness energizes this magnetic quality in individuals. The man who has ceased to grow exerts no magnetism.2
There is magic in believing. The person of little faith will fail, where a believer might succeed. The devotee of freedom who throws in the sponge because he cannot imagine how our societal Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again is no help to the cause. Look rather to the man with the faith and the will to prevail.
Superior teachers seek truth rather than followers. They count it success when their fellow seekers—students—eventually surpass them.
The case for freedom is not a selling but a learning problem. Some of the so-called friends of freedom with their antagonisms and inept performances provoke many unfavorable responses.
My counsel was unsolicited; but I did so want to set him straight. He heard me not. Sometime later, he raised the question with another who gave a view identical to mine; he heard it and agreed. It is only when one is in an inquiring mood that his doors of perception are opened.
Many who have pronounced views on politico-economic matters, fearing that others will not find them out, resort to bell clanging: propaganda designed to “reach the masses.” Those who think for themselves and are in search of truth—the few on whom any turn for the better depends—are as much repulsed by this noise as they are drawn to light.
The tendency to put ourselves and others into politico-economic pigeonholes—socialist, liberal, conservative, libertarian, and so on—is a mischievous habit. If asked where I stand, I shall say I have in mind an ideal: no man-concocted restraints against the release of creative energy. Better to examine each other’s ideas than to pin false labels on ourselves.
Children should learn to complete their transactions: if you drop something, pick it up; if you open a door, close it; if you make a promise, keep it; if you borrow anything, pay it back; if you trade this for that, say “thank you,” and so on. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22: 6). Nor will the teacher!
Freedom has the case but not the votes. But this does not warrant despair. Every movement in history—good or bad—has been led by a few. Not even simple matters have ever had mass understanding.
Instead of shushing authoritarians, encourage them to talk. Let their fallacies be brought into the open where they can be exposed and displaced.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men—government compulsion—cannot make me think; indeed, force stifles thought. Once this point is comprehended, it becomes apparent that “government education” is a contradiction in terms.
In working with others—whether it be a family project, operating a college or chamber of commerce or a business, or administering a governmental function—always delegate an authority equal to the responsibility. This is the first law of organization, the key to balanced relationships and maximum achievement.
Lending one’s name to an “Advisory Committee ” is all responsibility and no authority. By consenting to this, one vouches for the positions taken without any control over what they are.
Freedom and self-responsibility are interchangeable terms. Self-responsibility is impossible unless one be free and one cannot be free if not self-responsible.
While self-improvement—learning the freedom philosophy and how to explain it—is generally conceded to be the sound approach, it is often rejected as being too slow. “We have to act now; time is of the essence.” Caution! Premature action is pointless at best, and to hurry with anything but the sound approach may be damaging. If I am working as intelligently, diligently, and rapidly on my own improvement as is within my power, the balance of the problem is in the hand of God. He did not commission me to manage the world, or the United States of America, or my neighbor. Further, I am unaware that any person has been so endowed or empowered.
Becoming—life’s purpose—is achieved by overcoming. Devolutionary periods in history—such as ours—are overcome or they overrun. If we overcome we become; if not, evolution awaits a stouter tribe.
Integrity—an accurate reflection in word and deed of what one’s highest conscience dictates as right—may not in fact be right but is as close to truth as lies within one’s reach.
To paraphrase Matthew 6:33: But seek ye first Truth and Righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Keep the eye on the performance and the dividend follows as a matter of course. But reverse the priorities and there will be neither truth nor dividends.
People who hurry from one triviality to another complain that there is no time for serious study and reflection. They are right, for time is of one’s own making. Time is fantastically elastic and accommodates itself precisely to one’s mental and intellectual alacrity. Never blame the lack of personal growth to the want of time. The problem is to arrange one’s priorities; there is always time for what is most important.
“The infant mortality of newborn ideas is enormous,” wrote Russell Dicks. Often, instead of invading the conscious mind, they whisk by, gone in a second. Commit them to writing, instantly, or they are gone, possibly forever.
Newborn ideas are as raw ore—useless unless refined, thought through, developed. The sooner this is done the better; for it often happens that a question arises from some inquiring soul to which the recent refinement is a thoughtful answer.
The latest idea that comes to a person is the most important to him at the time—or else he would be thinking of nothing or something else! Actually, each good idea is a facet of truth and is an integral part of the whole. Thus, as with spokes in a wheel, the dependency is as much on one as on any of the others. We grasp only one truth at a time and at that moment the single truth is indeed the most important.
Each person is at once a broadcasting station and a receiving set. Over the past three thousand years there have been and there are today a select few who receive and broadcast great truths. Most of us have not attained such heights because our sets are not functioning properly. Perhaps they are not turned on, or not tuned in to the better wave lengths, or the amplification is too weak to convey the messages. The correction, if any, is a do-it-yourself project.
Effective broadcasting does not begin with an audience in mind. It originates in expanding the consciousness—the enlarging of one’s own world. Take a question to which you have no answer, think it through, and let yourself be led along whatever paths honest search reveals. Have no predetermined conclusion in mind, and do not make other people the target of your efforts.
Thinking things through—finding answers to knotty problems—is perhaps best done in writing. Refinement demands that we visualize what is in the mind. Whatever cannot be made clear in writing probably is not clear in the mind. Clarity is a product of attentive practice and reflection.
Regardless of position, wealth, or age attained, keep going. To retire from active effort is to dig one’s own grave. Short of effective compulsions to the contrary, I propose to ride my bicycle until I fall off.
“Bend, you fool!”
Drawing by C.E.M.; © 1971
The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.
Politicians generally are burdened with being “practical” and, thus, they tend to compromise, more or less. I venture the thought that government might soon rise to its principled and useful role were politicians to stand ramrod straight. But this for certain, politicians will never so behave short of some exemplars among the citizenry.
Man tends to follow the lines of least resistance to satisfy his desires. He will stoop for the property of others if the government encourages him, and will stoop for power over the lives of others if the government grants him that special privilege. Remove these appeals to man’s avarice and, having nothing to stoop for, he will stand upright.
Except in the entertainment business, an audience is that which one seeks with another. The best audience is one—one at a time.
To test my proficiency in the freedom philosophy, I merely observe how many seek an audience with me. If none, I can draw my own conclusions.
A wealthy man assumes he is honest because he never steals. We think of ourselves as righteous and upright in the absence of anything to stoop for. But, suppose ourselves reduced to the status of Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean. Would we steal a loaf of bread to keep our sister’s children from starving? Or run to the governmental trough? Virtues can never be claimed until they are thoroughly tested. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Any personal action is of questionable merit which would prove disastrous if it became common practice.
Any activity which is not joyous should be examined for its propriety—perhaps abandoned.
Share rather than monopolize good ideas. Giving is the precedent to receiving. The more one shares, the more one receives, whether intuitively or from others. This is the nature of intellectual and spiritual energy.
No one can do his best thinking amidst junk piles—things unfinished—of the desk and the mind. True, the road is better than the inn, but not if it becomes one great detour. Get the chores into the past tense as quickly as possible!
Ideas grace the mind as intuitive flashes served to us by some unseen hand. Strange to tell, they show up precisely when one needs and is ready for them. The price, however, is alertness, eagerness to be so graced, and readiness!
If one finds that growing numbers “hang on his every word,” he simultaneously acquires a moral obligation to be ever more circumspect in what he says or writes. The more his counsel is sought, the more strictly must this obligation be honored; and especially so if the only honest answer is: “I do not know.”
Everything that happens to one—good or bad—contains useful instruction. Figure out what it is!
There is no such thing as a short-range gain that does injury in the long run. Every act should be judged as if it had to be lived with forever.
Philosophy, as I define it, is the art of finding truths and bringing them home in clarity. Striving to become this kind of a philosopher is among the noblest of aims.
Moral philosophy is the study of right and wrong. Economics is a branch of moral philosophy, the study of what is right and wrong in coping with scarcity.
When freedom in transactions prevails, each person gains. All winners, no losers! When transactions are coercively imposed, the one who is deprived loses his property; the looter loses the very essence of his being: responsibility for self. All losers, no winners!
The practice of free market principles leads to wealth—material affluence. Wealth frees people from the slavery which abject poverty imposes; it makes possible the discovery of one’s unique capabilities. If used to escape or to retire from life, wealth leads to decadence. But if used to pursue one’s uniqueness, it leads to a growth of the faculties: emergence.
The more an economy advances, the more is it featured by specialization and exchange—each dependent upon others. An advanced economy cannot endure without a general observance of the Golden Rule.
It is impossible for one to help another without a return greater than the gift. When the free market prevails, each performs his minor specialization and the return is often a hundredfold or more. Similar returns flow from every thoughtful and generous deed.
The free market is so little trusted because so few are aware of what it is. Thinking of ourselves as if we were a free people leads us mistakenly to conclude that our present hodgepodge of intervention is a manifestation of the free market. Consequently, we imagine that a free and self-responsible people would behave no better than do the majority of us today.
The free market is amoral and accommodates individuals whatever their level of morality. However, the free market does have a moralizing influence; its brings out the best in people for the simple reason that they prosper most who do their best. It does not pay to be a skinflint or charlatan or quack; men who are free and self-responsible avoid such people as they would the plague.
Once any activity has been pre-empted by government—welfare, mail delivery, or whatever—the free market alternative is rarely considered. Why? Most individuals rightly see that they do not know how to deliver mail to a nation’s people day in and day out and wrongly conclude that mail delivery is a governmental rather than a market function. They do not see that the market possesses a wisdom unimaginably greater than that of any individual. I need not know how an objective can be accomplished to have a deep and abiding faith that it would be done—if left to the free market!
Man is at once an individualistic and a social being, and finding out how better to harmonize with others ranks with improving one’s own mind and peace of soul. Self-interest, when rightly assessed, demands attention to our relationships with others. There may be no better way to assure human progress than to gain an ever-improving interpretation of self-interest.
Managing one’s own life is complex enough; managing the lives of others is impossible. So, leave each to his own choosing so long as he does not infringe upon the rights of his fellowmen. This is the whole case for the free market.
In gratitude that God, not the government, controls the weather, why not enjoy each day, rain or shine! And in gratitude that there is still more freedom than authoritarianism, why not delight in everyone’s creative actions, whatever they are! Were such contentment to prevail, there would be a slowdown in government’s attempt to control the weather—and youl
Our variations in talents, aspirations, thoughts are natural blessings. Were everyone precisely like me, all would perish. Nothing more is needed for harmonious relationships than the restraint of destructive actions. Then such creativity as is within us may freely flow. Nothing is more harmonious than creativity freely flowing.
Cooperation is impossible without peaceful competition. Competition among bakers, for instance, affords me a choice as to whose bread I eat, that is, with whom I shall exchange and, thus, cooperate. Unless we are free to compete for private ownership of scarce resources, we may expect strife rather than cooperation.
“Thou shalt not steal” presupposes private ownership. Sharing ideas suggests having ideas to share. Charity is possible only if one has something to give. Plainly, the excellence of our performance as social beings stems from private ownership of our labor and its fruits, whether material, moral, intellectual, or spiritual.
Legislatures, laws, courts, constabularies, bureaucracies can do little more than exert a mild influence along lines consistent with the current consensus. The consensus moves this way or that in accord with its content; it rises when filled with truths and virtues and sinks when bogged down with nonsense. So, what I can do about the government depends upon the quality of the ideas I feed into the consensus. This defines both my limitation and my potentiality.
“More powerful than armies,” thought Victor Hugo, “is an idea whose time has come.” And more powerful, I would add, than political action or any other form of pseudo-suasion! Only ideas can reverse the present trend toward all-out statism.
Socialism is the state ownership and control of the means of production [the planned economy) and/or the state ownership and control of the results of production [the welfare state).
One is wise and civilized who favors freedom over socialism—being his own man instead of someone else’s.
Businessmen who ask for tariffs, quotas, and other barriers to free entry and competition cannot logically criticize strikers who threaten or use force to keep others from jobs the strikers have vacated. The latter claim ownership of those jobs, whereas, protectionists among businessmen claim the ownership of customers and their trade. There is no difference in principle; coercion is employed in either case. Each restricts our freedom to exchange goods and services.
Were a majority to follow either you or me, socialism would not thus be overcome. Freedom can never be secured by followers but only by an understanding and practice of the principles of freedom.
A principle cannot be compromised but only adhered to or surrendered. Honesty is as much abandoned by the theft of a dime as of a dollar.
A majority can “throw its weight around.” Members of a minority have nothing to throw at anyone; happily, their only choice is to grow.
Whoever or whatever shows forth on the political horizon is but a reflection or echoing of the preponderant leadership thinking of the time. All we can do to put more good men in office is to look to our thinking.
Attempting to improve the political situation by working to reform others is like trying to improve one’s image by touching up the mirror. There is no reason to expect more growth in others than one is willing to attempt for himself. What you or I make of ourselves is what paces the world.
No politician can rise higher in office than he stood to get there. Expect nothing better than he promised—and even that, he may fail to deliver.
Inflation is a device for siphoning private property into the coffers of government. Successful hedging would require finding a form of property that cannot be confiscated. It does not exist! Pare government back to size; that is the only way to protect private property against government confiscation.
When rationing is really enforced—by fines, imprisonment, execution—the total state has arrived. Clearly, the antecedent of rationing is wage and price control; and the antecedents of such control are in this order: inflation, excessive governmental expenditures, the habit of looking to government for security, welfare, prosperity. The remedy? Look to the free market, private ownership, limited government way of life.
The use or the threat of force to keep others from taking the employment opportunities that have been vacated by strikers finds no sanction in either morals or economics. When the government—whose job is to inhibit violence—legalizes such actions, it initiates and extends violence, thus tearing the economy to shreds.
The essential nature of government is organized force, and government must always obey its nature. It can restrain, inhibit, penalize; it is not and cannot be a creative force. To ask oneself, in all good conscience, which actions of men should be restrained, inhibited, penalized is to determine as best one can the proper limitations of government. My own deduction: Leave all creative actions to men acting freely, privately, voluntarily, competitively, cooperatively.
Creative action is always spiritual. It originates in the spirit of inquiry, invention, discovery, intuition, insight, think-of-thats. This is why it is so important that creative action be not restrained, inhibited, penalized.
An enlightened student of political economy understands the theory of socialism better than do commissars—Russian or domestic—who are motivated by ambition and the lust for power. Regardless of theoretical pretensions, socialism is nothing but the application of dictatorial power.
As we become ever more specialized and increasingly interdependent, we tend to shift the responsibility for questionable actions from self to countless collectives. St. Peter has no collectives on his list—just individuals. Each man is responsible for every action he advocates or condones and is not absolved by hanging it on a mob, committee, or any other collective.
Sound theory and common sense are needed especially in time of crisis. The sensible individual adheres to his concept of what is right against all odds—even if he finds himself standing alone.
Governments—assuming a proper limitation of their activities—are necessary and not evil. Their evil begins when they step out of bounds. The necessity is that their evil actions be discontinued.
If one would but count his numerous blessings rather than fret about an occasional misfortune, he might rid himself of covetousness—the root of social evil.
Never concede to a friend any more power over the lives of others than you would to your worst enemy!
Rampaging governmental debt is often excused by the claim that we owe it to ourselves. However, “ourselves” to whom it is owed are not the “we” who owe it.
Anticapitalistic ideas are on the rampage. Some seek to stem this menacing tide by offering half-way measures—a policy of gradualism: “. . . to lead them our way a step at a time. Think how upsetting it would be to go all the way at once.” This gradualist approach has at least two flaws:  the case for freedom, presented only in part, is thereby compromised and  the correction, if it comes at all, will be far too gradual! Stand for what is right—the ideal, all the way—and never fear the practice of righteousness all at once.
Never pass a law to help anyone at the expense of another.
An individual favors a war only if he will volunteer to risk his own life in it. He favors going to the moon only if he would freely invest in the venture. He favors paying farmers not to farm only if he would make such payments out of his own pocket. Otherwise, pay no heed to what anyone says he favors; it is double talk!
I believe in the defense of life and property, and not in the use of force to plunder peaceful persons. Let government be symbolized by the policeman, an agent who can stand guard, protecting us from thievery and other forms of marauding: the defensive use of force. The policeman can, on the other hand, enter our homes, take our possessions, and dispose of them as he pleases. This is the aggressive use of force, which I deplore.
The common complaint among many who oppose socialism, “We are only talking to ourselves,” implies a “we” who are saved, and a “they” who have lost their way. An elite such as this is a fiction—a mere figment of the ego. It has no names on its roster, for its membership is zero.
Our Constitution reflected the statesmanship of its period. There can be no return to that reflection unless there is first a return to statesmanship. Social remedies are not to be found by writing a new Constitution, by amending the present one, or by adding laws upon laws.
Were we to write a new Constitution today, it would resemble the original in only one respect. It would be but a recording of the current way of living and thinking. And were we afterward to upgrade our way of living and thinking, the new Constitution would have no power whatsoever to restore our present waywardness.
The idea of freedom must grow weak in the hearts of men before it can be killed at the hands of tyrants.
Freedom is not an end in itself. Instead, it is the indispensable means to human destiny: individual growth in awareness, perception, consciousness.
This truism by Emerson: “Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed.” If we would attain more lofty goals, we must learn how they are to be gained—in a word, look to the means and the ends will take care of themselves.
Cause underlies cause ad infinitum and, thus, the deeper we probe into causation the less we see. Hindsight, as foresight, is limited. Nonetheless, the method is clear: delve into our own motivations—not those of others—as deeply as we can. Even cursory probing will take us back to our individual selves and the question, why is our behavior not better than it is?
Find out the cause of this effect, or rather say, the cause of this defect, for this effect defective comes by cause.
—Hamlet, Act II, Sc. 2.
1 There are no shortcuts such as LSD and other psychedelic drugs. These something-for-nothing devices expand not consciousness but illusions.
2The rebuttal that millions are drawn to dictators is erroneous. They do not turn to them for enlightenment. Dictators place themselves, coercively, in the vanguard of mass ignorance. The millions are mere tag-alongs, not seekers after truth.