By Leonard E. Read
There is nothing more terrible than ignorance in action. -GOETHE
As Victor Hugo observed, “Armies can be resisted.” Indeed, they can! But what about bad ideas, that is, ignorance? The most difficult problem facing the people of the United States today is to resist ignorance in action.
Were I a loyal Russian devoted to the U.S.S.R.-Union of Soviet Socialist Republics-and determined to overcome, subvert, and absorb the U.S.A., what would my tactic be? Drop hydrogen bombs? Probably not! That tactic would be resisted as would an invading army. What then? Would I not try to outmaneuver resistance by attractively phrasing and propagandizing the ideas of socialism? I’d play upon such themes as “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” How would I measure my success? By the extent to which the people of the United States adopted my creed, the ten points of the Communist Manifesto.
As a devotee of freedom, thus opposed to compulsory collectivism, I view with distress the extent to which Americans have embraced the ten points. Here are substantially accurate assessments:
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes-Our 78,000 governmental units-federal, state and local-own outright not less than 39 per cent of all acreage. And the remaining land in private title is only partially owned, for government may exert eminent domain over it, and no one owns that which he does not control. To public purposes? Who knows, except it is enormous!1
2. A heavy or progressive income tax-Complete acceptance!
3. Abolition of all right of inheritance-With graduated estate tax rates running as high as 70 per cent and state inheritance taxes being added on to that, the right of inheritance appears to be in the twilight zone.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels-The government’s shameful treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, on the mere suspicion that they might do something to hamper the war effort, was a breach of American standards of justice. Excused as a wartime emergency measure, the precedent nevertheless remains to haunt the nation in times of peace-the rights of people may be suspended any time on the pretext of an “emergency.”
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly-The Federal Reserve System, together with the legal tender laws, have substantially accomplished this objective.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State-The extent to which control of communication and transportation is in the F.C.C. and the I.C.C. tends to reduce the question of formal ownership to the point of insignificance. There is no ownership without control.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State, the bringing into cultivation of waste lands and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan-The postal system and the T.Y.A. are examples of moves in this direction. Government ownership of land noted in point number 1 and recent controls of all kinds applied in the name of consumer protection are others. The entire list is too extensive for coverage in the space available in this article.
8. Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture-With the federal government controlling the right to hire and fire, as well as the wages being paid, this objective has been substantially accomplished.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country-Zoning laws are already controlling land use in most of our urban areas and many rural areas as well. Population shifts are being controlled by denying sellers the right to choose their own customers.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form-We have free education in public schools and our child labor laws do, in fact, prohibit children from working in factories. Complete agreement! However, public education is far from free, in Russia or here. It is unbelievably expensive.
What an infestation of communistic ideas! In the politico-economic realm, the U.S.S.R. type of State has nothing above it, thus, the State is God. What constitutes such a State? Individuals politically exercising all-out coercive power. This is quite the opposite of the wisdom on which America’s government was founded, namely, that all men are endowed by their Creator-not by the State-with the rights to life and liberty.
There is, however, a common notion among freedom devotees that should be questioned, the notion that this urge for compulsory collectivism has its origin in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Their society is but a modern variation on primitive ways of life: serfdom, feudalism, merchantilism and the like. Their propaganda is cleverly drawn to have us believe theirs is the wave of the future.
The communist theoreticians believe their tactics are causing our slump into socialism, as do many Americans, but the belief is erroneous. Our slump, no less than theirs, is but a thrust from the primitive past-in different grammar, that’s all!
As to why communistic notions portray ignorance, our Pilgrim Fathers made the discovery during their first three years-1620-1623. During those years they practiced “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” about 2 1/2 centuries before Marx put the nonsense into words.
Why did these forefathers of ours abandon this practice? They were starving! No intelligence is required to give away food and fabric but to do so presupposes something in the warehouse. Their warehouses were too near empty to sustain life.2
What was the cure for this ignorance in action? Governor Bradford and the remaining Pilgrims turned to the wisdom of the market-private ownership, that is, to each according to his productivity. Success attended this wise move, thereby setting the stage for the American miracle!
Unfortunately, an increasing number of Americans -millions of them-have all but forgotten their remarkable heritage, a root of which was the Pilgrim awakening. It is an observed fact that these millions are becoming more and more afraid of and are running away from the American revolutionary concept. What, then, are they running toward? The Communist Manifesto, the nonsense from which, the Pilgrims escaped long before Marx advocated it: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The eventual economic by-product? Unless the trend is reversed, it must be empty warehouses!
The trend cannot be reversed unless we discover the causes that are to be avoided and the cure that is to be taken. Such discovery depends upon improved analysis and thinking.
The first cause will come as a shock to most people: “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” It is self-evident that those who pay no heed to the present trend-afflicted with complacency-are a part of the problem. They drift with the ideological tide-unknowingly. As a consequence, they vote in accord with the current tide, that is, for the planned economy and the welfare state: socialism, ignorance in action.
The second cause is a lack of awareness of the American heritage or its genesis. People observe socialism advancing and at the same time they experience increased prosperity. Jumping to a false conclusion they attribute their material well-being to the socialism-a seriously mistaken correlation. We are as prosperous as we are only because our productivity is strong enough to carry on in spite of the socialistic nonsense.3 Briefly stated, the genesis of the prosperity we still enjoy is this: The Constitution and the Bill of Rights more severely restrained government action than ever before in history, limiting government to keeping the peace and invoking a common justice. There was a minimum of organized force standing against the release of creative human energy. The result was an unprecedented outburst of creativity-the miracle!
Finally, how does one become a part of the solution? By trying to become an aristocrat as defined by Jefferson: “There is a natural aristocracy among men; it is composed of virtues and talents.”
The reason that we are witnessing such an abundance of nonsense in action is a devastating slump in virtues and talents among individuals in all walks of life-religion, education, business, labor or whatever. Nonsense runs rampant whenever the aristocratic spirit is weak and faltering; it is checked, held in abeyance, whenever virtues and talents are rising to set a glorious standard.
Your role and mine? We have no short cut except to exemplify as best we can the aristocratic spirit. Only then does each of us become a part of the solution!
1 For a further and enlightening development of this point, see “Changing Concepts of Private Property” by Bertel M. Sparks (The Freeman, October 1971).
2 See Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, edited by Harvey Wish (New York: Capricorn Books, 1962).
3 See “An American Mirage” in my book, Awake for Freedom’s Sake.