For numberless centuries society accepted the proposition that certain men were created to be slaves. Their natural function was to serve priests, kings and nobles, men of substance and property who were appointed slave-masters by almighty God. This system was reinforced by the established doctrine that all men and women were owned ‘in mind’ by the church and ‘in body’ by the state. This convenient situation was supported by the authority of social morality, religion and even philosophy.
Against this doctrine, some two hundred years ago, rose the most astonishing heresy the world has yet seen; the principle of liberalism. In essence this principle stated that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights which belong to every man as his birthright. This idea appealed to certain intractable spirits — heretics, atheists and revolutionaries — and has since made some headway in spite of the opposition of the majority of organized society. As a slogan, however, it has become so popular that it is rendered unwilling lip-service by all the major states and yet it is still so distasteful to persons in authority that it is nowhere embodied as a fundamental law and is continually violated in letter and in spirit by every trick of bigotry and reaction. Further, absolutist and totalitarian groups of the most vicious nature use liberalism as a cloak under which they move to re-establish tyrannies and to extinguish the liberty of all who oppose them.
Thus religious groups seek to abrogate freedom of art, speech and the press; reactionaries move to suppress labor, communists to establish dictatorships — and all in the name of ‘freedom’. Because of the peculiar definitions of freedom used by some of these camouflaged tyrants, it seems necessary to redefine Freedom in the terms understood by Voltaire, Paine, Washington, Jefferson and Emerson.
Freedom is a two-edged sword of which one edge is liberty and the other, responsibility. Both edges are exceedingly sharp and the weapon is not suited to casual, cowardly or treacherous hands.
Since all tyrannies are based on dogma and since all dogmas are based on lies, it behooves us to look beyond them for truth and freedom will both be far away. And yet the Truth is that we know nothing…
…Objectively, we know nothing at all. Any system of intellectual thought, whether it be science, logic, religion or philosophy, is based on certain fundamental ideas or axioms which are assumed but which cannot be proven. This is the grave of all positivism. We assume but we do not know that there is a real and objective world outside our own mind. Ultimately we do not know what we are or what the world is. Further, if there is a real world apart from ourselves we cannot know what it really is; all we know is what we perceive it to be. All that we perceive is conveyed by our senses and interpreted by our brain. However fine, exact or delicate our scientific instruments may be, their data is still filtered through our senses and interpreted by our brain. However useful, spectacular or necessary our ideas and experiments may be, they still have little to do with absolute truth. Such a thing can only exist for the individual according to his whim or his inner perception of his own truth-in-being.
The witches and devils of the middle ages were real by our own standards; reputable and responsible persons believed in them. They were seen, their effects observed and they accounted for a large body of otherwise inexplicable phenomenon. Their existence was accepted without question by the majority of men, great and humble. From this majority there was not and still is not any appeal. Yet we do not believe in these things today. We believe in other things similarly explaining the same phenomenon. Tomorrow we will believe in still other things We believe but we do not know.
All of our deductions, for example the theory of gravitation, are based on observed statistics, on tendencies observed to occur in a certain way. Even if our observations are correct, we still do not know why these things happen. Our theories are only assumptions, however reasonable they may seem.
There is a type of truth that is based on experience: we know that we feel hot or hungry or in love. These feelings cannot be conveyed to anyone who has not experienced them. We can describe them in terms of similar feelings experienced by someone else, analyzing their cause-and-effect according to mutually acceptable theories but that someone else will never really know what your feeling is like.
The above may be negative considerations but within their limits we can deduce positive principles:
1) Whatever the universe is, we are either all or part of it by virtue of our consciousness but we do not know which.
2) No philosophy, scientific theory, religion or system of thought can be absolute and infallible. They are relative only. One man’s opinion is just as good as another’s.
3) There is no absolute justification for emphasizing one individual theory or way of life over another.
4) Every man has the right to his own opinion and his own way of life. There is no system of human thought which can successfully refute this thesis.
So much for positivism but other problems still remain. There is necessity, expediency and convenience. If these are illusions they are very popular and it is usual to consider them. We might say that politics is concerned with necessity and expediency whereas science is concerned with convenience. This is not intended to discredit science and reason in their proper spheres. Reason is one of our greatest gifts, the power that differentiates us from the animals, and science is our greatest tool, our best hope for building a genuine civilization. (It is curious that this modern truism appears, in this system of reasoning, as a concession.)
In spite of its inestimable value, science is a tool and has nothing to do with ultimate truth. Herein is the danger of science. As a tool it is so valuable, so useful and so irresistible that we incline to regard it as the arbiter of the absolute, giving final and irrefutable pronouncement on all things. This is exactly the position that the pedant, the dogmatist and the dialectical materialist would have us take. Then, posing as a “scientist” or propounding “Scientific” doctrines, he can persuade us to accept his values and obey his orders. Today’s science must forever be free to overthrow its yesterdays, otherwise it will degenerate into ancestor worship.
It is necessary that we defend freedom unless we all wish to be slaves. It is expedient that we achieve brotherhood unless we desire destruction and it is convenient that we grant others the right to their own opinions and life-styles in order to maintain our own.
The intelligent individual will not base his conduct on an arbitrary or absolute concept of right and wrong. It may be argued that all motives and all actions are selfish since they are intended to satisfy some requirement of the ego. Perhaps this is true of self-sacrifice, abnegation and the highest altruism. We engage in them in order to satisfy ourselves by attaining some object however intangible it may be.
The ego can be very broad. A man may include the whole world as a part of his ego and thus set out to redeem or save it for no other reason than the pleasure of personal accomplishment. Such a man, far from being unselfish, is extremely egotistical. The artist devoted to the production of pure beauty is so dedicated because of his need and his nature; at least such egotism is not petty. Motives of family-love and patriotism are rooted in bigotry. This does not necessarily detract from such actions and motives.
Everything in nature is beautiful and it is no less beautiful because it is understood. However, the unenlightened man will assign arbitrary values to all things in order to protect and justify his own position. His morals are based on things he wishes were true or which someone else wishes were true. His philosophy pays no attention to relative facts or realities and yet in his life he must deal with them. He is consequently involved in a constant round of pretenses and evasions.
The enlightened liberal needs no such justification. He will realize and accept his inherent selfishness and the inherent selfishness of all men. He will understand living as a technique, the technique of getting what he wants on the terms he wants.
Such is the case with freedom. If we abrogate another’s freedom to gain our own ends, our own freedom is thereby jeopardized. That is the cost. If we wish to assure our own freedom, we must assure all mens’ freedom. That is the technique.
If a liberal were to develop two personalities and one of these personalities were to establish a benevolent dictatorship while the other continued his liberal activities it would only be a matter of time before he killed himself. The restriction of others freedom is ultimately self-enslavement and suicide. The dictator is the most abject of all slaves.
These simple considerations are the logical basis of the philosophy of liberalism. From such considerations and from many more the fundamental principles of liberalism arose as a code of rights, basic in nature and clear beyond misconception. This code must be the Law beyond the law, an ultimate expression of the dignity and inviolability of the individual. It must be above compromise by courts and lawyers, beyond the whim of the populace and the treachery of demagogues. It must be the epitome of man’s aspertion toward liberty and self-determination, a canon so sacred that its violation by a state, a group or an individual is treason and sacrilege. The Bill of Rights in the American Constitution was a step in the right direction and its study will indicate further development. In a world so threatened by positivism and paternalism this doctrine is limited in both scope and application. It permits such violations of liberty as the late National Prohibition Act, the Draft Law, the closed shop, the Mann Act, censorship laws, anti-firearms laws and racial discrimination.
It has been said, with justification, that the Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means. A document so fundamental as a Bill of Rights cannot be jeopardized by arbitrary interpretations. It should need no interpretations. It must apply equally to the national state, the federated states, counties, municipalities, official agencies and the private citizen within their province. It must apply in such a way that the individual or minority needs no recourse to elaborate, lengthy and costly proceedings in order to protect these rights. It is the duty of the state to provide this recourse to all alike.
Freedom cannot be subject to arbitrary interpretation and misinterpretation. It must plainly include freedom from persecution on moral, political, economic, racial, social or religious grounds. No man, no group and no nation has the right to any man’s individual freedom. No matter how pure the motive, how great the emergency, how high the principle, such action is tyranny and is never justified.
The question is, are we able to face the consequences of democracy? It is not sufficient that freedom be assured by purely negative means. Freedom is meaningless where its expression is controlled by powerful groups such as the press, the radio, the motion picture industry, churches, politicians and capitalists. Freedom must be insured.
It can only be insured by the allegiance to the principle that man has certain inalienable rights; among which are the rights:
• To live his private life, insofar as it concerns only himself, as he sees fit.
• To eat and drink, to dress, live and travel as, where and he will.
• To express himself; to speak, write, print, experiment and otherwise create as he desires.
• To work as he chooses, when he chooses and where he chooses at a reasonable and commensurate wage.
• To purchase his food, shelter, medical and social needs and all other services and commodities necessary to his existence and self expression at a reasonable and commensurate price.
• To have a decent environment and upbringing during his childhood until he reaches a responsible majority.
• To love as he desires, where, how and with whom he chooses, in accordance only with the desires of himself and of his partner.
• To the positive opportunity to enjoy these rights as he sees fit, without obstruction on the one hand or compulsion on the other.
• Finally, in order to protect his person, his property and his rights, he should have the right to kill an aggressor if necessary. This is the purpose of the right to keep and bear arms.
These rights must be counterbalanced by certain responsibilities. The liberal accepting them must guarantee these rights to all others at all times, regardless of his personal feelings or interests. He must work to establish and protect them, live in a manner commensurate with them and be prepared to defend them with his life. He must refuse allegiance to any state or organization which denies these rights and he should aid and encourage all who, without qualification or equivocation, endorse them. He must refuse to compromise these principles on any issue or for any reason. Nothing short of such a commitment will assure the survival of liberty, or democracy of society itself. Liberalism is not only a code for individuals and their state, it is the only possible basis for a future international civilization. However, these principles will be only rhetoric unless they are revered and protected by those to whom they apply. They must be interpreted and applied with understanding and sympathy, with humor and tolerance. Pretentiousness, sentimentality or hysterics are not needed in their application or their defense.
Insufferable demagogues of “high principle” are sufficiently numerous as it is.
It must also be understood that we cannot force man’s rights upon him. Man has a right to be a slave if he so desires. If he does not assert and defend his rights he deserves slavery. The person who is tyrannized by his family, his peers, by public opinion or slave morality, providing he is free to leave their influence or to challenge it, is worthy of his condition. His protestations are those of the hypocrite.
Freedom, like charity, begins at home. No man is worthy to fight in the cause of freedom unless he has conquered his internal drives. He must learn to control and discipline the disastrous passions that would lead him to folly and ruin. He must conquer inordinate vanity and anger, self deception, fear and inhibition. These are the crude ores of his being.
He must smelt these ores in the fire of life; forge his own sword, temper it and sharpen it against the hard abrasive of experience. Only then is he fit to bear arms in the larger battle. There is no substitute for courage and the victory is to the high hearted. He will have nothing to do with asceticism or the excesses of weakness. Self expression will be his watchword, a self expression tempered keen and strong. First he must know how to rule himself. Only then can he cope with the economic pressures which are employed by institutions and corporations or the political pressures employed by demagogues.
He may then find himself in a difficult predicament. If he calls himself a liberal, he discovers that he is supposedly committed to a policy of accommodation with the Russian Government. If he opposes a pro-Soviet policy he is welcome to the camp of the Catholic Church and the Manufacturer’s Association. If he eschews both camps, he is condemned for lack of principle. If he should support the rights of the workingman or minority and racial groups, he is a Red. If at the same time he believes in Constitutional Government and individual rights, he is also a Fascist.
Many liberals are familiar with this situation but few seem to have deduced the conclusion. The difficulty lies in the confusion of the rights of the individual in relation to the responsibilities of the state. It is a sad comment on our mentality that the social reformer subscribes to total regimentation while the alleged individualist propagandizes for total irresponsibility. The rights of the individual can be clearly defined. His responsibilities vis-a-vis the responsibilities of the state can be clearly defined. The individual’s rights end where the next man’s begin. It is the function of the state to ensure equal rights to all. But, in the absence of a social devotion to the true principles of liberalism, positivists have usurped its name and even its phrases in order to propagandize for their various totalitarianisms. This process has been aided by that faction of pseudo-liberalism which believes that all opinion contrary to its own must be suppressed.
As I write, allegedly liberal groups are agitating for the denial of public forums to those they call fascist. Americanism societies are striving for the suppression of communist or “red” literature and speech. Religious groups, backed by a publicity conscious press, are constantly campaigning for the prohibition of art and literature which, as if by divine prerogative, they term “indecent”, immoral or dangerous.
It would seem that all these organizations are devoted to one common purpose, the suppression of freedom. Their sincerity is no excuse. History is a bloody testament that sincerity can achieve atrocities which cynicism could hardly conceive of. Each of these groups is engaged in a frantic struggle to sell out, betray or destroy the freedom which was their birthright and which alone assured their present existence.
Freedom is a two-edged sword. He who believes that the absolute rightness of his belief is an authority to suppress the rights and opinions of his fellows cannot be a liberal.
Liberalism cannot exist where it violates its own principles. It cannot exist where the emergency monger or the utopia salesman can obtain a suspension of rights, whether temporary or permanent. Liberty cannot be suppressed in order to defend liberalism.
If we are to achieve a democracy, the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of states must be openly defined and ardently defended. It is inconceivable that men who fought and died in a war against totalitarianism did not know what they fought for. It seems a fantastic joke that the institutions they believed in and defended have turned, like a nightmare, into home-grown tyrannies. A generation went down in blood and agony to make the world “safe” but the evil that makes the world “unsafe” still goes undefeated, plotting new sacrifices of misery and blood. The guilt lies not entirely with the warmongers, plutocrats and demagogues. If a people permit exploitation and regimentation in any name, they deserve their slavery. A tyrant does not make his tyranny. It is made possible by his people and not otherwise.
Much of our modern thought is characterized by pretenses and evasions, by appeals to ultimate authorities which are non- liberal, superstitious and reactionary. Often we are not aware of these thought processes. We accept ideas, authorities, catch- phrases and conditions without troubling to think or investigate and yet these things may conceal terrible traps. We accept them as right because they have a surface-level agreement with the things in which we believe. We welcome the man who is for liberalism, against communism, without troubling to inquire what else he is for or against. In our blindness we leave ourselves open to exploitation, regimentation and war.
Tumultuous developments in science and society demand a new clarity of thought, a reexamination and a restatement of principles. It is not sufficient that a principle is sacred because it is time-worn. It must be examined, tried and tested in the crucible of our present needs.
In our law, in our social and international relations, we are guilty of a myriad of barbarisms and superstitions. These injustices continue and proliferate because we have become used to them. We have lost our freedom through tolerance and inertia.
The principle we have developed herein is simple: the liberty of the individual is the foundation of civilization. No true civilization is possible without this liberty and no state, national or international, is stable in its absence. The proper relation between individual liberty on the one hand and social responsibility on the other is the balance which will assure a stable society. The only other road to social equilibrium demands the total annihilation of individuality. There is not further evasion of nature’s immemorial ultimatum: change or perish but the choice of change is ours.