The New Americanism: To Fight against Collectivism, Citizens Must Fight for a New Americanism: A Philosophy of Freedom That Actively Seeks Less Government and More Personal Responsibility. (Opinion Past)
Welch, Robert, The New American
Mr. Welch delivered this speech at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1957, the year before founding the John Birch Society. He articulated a body of timeless principles for ordered liberty that he called "the new americanism." Those principles, already largely ignored by our elected officials in Washington, are almost completely forgotten today In fact, in the ensuing 46 years the contrasting "philosophies" between the typical conservative Republican and liberal Democrat have become more a matter of nuance than substance. Yet if the principles in "the new americanism" were relearned and reapplied, the political debate would shift dramatically and America would be on the road to greatness once again.
Seven hundred years ago Alfonso of Castile said: "Had I been present at the creation, 1 would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe." Alfonso was referring specifically to the rather absurd Ptolemaic explanation of our astronomical system. But his intriguing thought of personally taking a hand in remaking the world has been an obsession with man since our ancestors began establishing squatter's rights to the most attractive caves. And forty years ago, when I was the age of you young men, I used to quote Omar:
Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would we not shatter it to bits -- and then Remold it nearer to the Heart's desire!
What each of us has in mind, of course, in making the world over, is not some cosmological purpose in which man is only incidental, but the dreams of man as the center of all consideration. And neither Alfonso nor Omar was thinking of changing man to fit better into the framework of his existence; but of changing that framework, of "improving" the universe, so that it would be better suited to human beings and their desires.
So let's suppose this morning that an all-powerful Creator has said to you or to me: "All right, here is the very wand of omnipotence, so far as your little universe is concerned. Remake it to suit yourself." What would we do?
Well, let's hope that we would immediately become conscious of the awesome and incredible responsibility; and that before decreeing a morning to break eternal, bright, and fair we would remind ourselves that there are men who like cold climates and some who like the rain. Let's hope we would be seized by such a care for the wishes and beliefs of other men as to constitute an almost infinite sense of noblesse oblige. We would then soon decide that before bringing about any changes in this scheme of things we needed the opinions and advice of a lot of our fellow human beings. And we would finally come to the conclusion that the total desires of the whole human race had to be considered before we should try to make everything for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Our first solicitude, therefore, before we started flashing the lightnings or rolling the suns, would have to be over man's sociological organizations on this planet. We would need to arrive at, or to see established, a system of government or governments that would be most responsive to man's most carefully and deliberately indicated wishes; that would offer each man the best opportunity to get out of his own life the most possible of what he himself believed to be most worthwhile; and that would enable the whole race of men to decide wisely, or at least fairly, what changes should be made in their physical environment. Our very first job would be to determine the kind, the quality, and the quantity of government that best serves man's needs for the present and aspirations for the future. This would have to be done, and such government or governments provided, before we could, in good conscience, make a single move with our wand towards otherwise reordering the universe nearer to man's desire.
So our supposing has now brought us to the task of writing or planning a Utopia. Since it is simpler and safer to deal with one variable at a time in any equation, this Utopia should be planned for our physical universe as it now is. From this start, if and as changes in the physical setting were to be made later, we could then consider the adjustment in our sociological pattern called for by such changes. And in designing the first stage of this Utopia, therefore, for earth and mankind as they now are, we should certainly make the best possible use of man's past experience.
Now we are quite aware of Hegel's generalization that we learn nothing from history except that we learn nothing from history. We have often quoted Santayana's deduction from that lament, that those who will learn nothing from history are condemned to repeat it. But why? Why must we, as a race, close our eyes to all or so much that experience can teach us, or to all the mistakes of the past, and go on making those same mistakes as if our civilization had come into existence only yesterday? It seems to me that this is an unnecessary absurdity; that there is no biological compulsion for us to be so stupid; and that the very first barrier man must cross, in order to travel towards a Utopia, is this unwillingness to be guided by the clear lessons of his own past. To assume that either man or his environment has changed so much during his recorded history that these lessons of the past no longer apply, is not only unrealistic; it is a childish fantasy that gives a fairy-tale quality to our most labored thoughts.
The Nature of Government
On the basis of all known past human experience, therefore, are there any general conclusions with regard to societal organization which can be postulated with confidence? It seems to me that there certainly are.
1. First, government is necessary -- some degree of government -- in any civilized society. There are believers in the possibility and desirability of a governmentless anarchy as a practicable form of human association. But the number of these advocates is comparatively very small, there is no evidence within human historical experience to support their thesis, and there is considerable evidence indicating otherwise.
2. Second, while government is necessary, it is basically a nonproductive expense, an overhead cost supported by the productive economy. And like all overhead items, it always has a tendency to expand faster than the productive base which supports it.
3. Third, government is frequently evil. And we do not mean by this that they (governments) are merely dishonest. For all governments, with very rare exceptions indeed, are thoroughly dishonest. We made the statement in print, a few months ago, that there has never in the history of the world been a government (and this generalization includes our present one) that maintained honesty in the handling of a "managed" irredeemable currency. A few weeks later one of America's ablest and best known economists quoted that statement with full approval.
But what we are talking about here is something far worse than dishonesty. This past December Professor Sorokin of Harvard -- after quoting Lord Acton that great men, in the political arena, are almost always bad men -- went on to reveal the results of his own survey of the criminality of rulers. This survey of the monarchs of various countries and the heads of various republics and democracies, in a selection large enough to constitute a very fair sample, revealed that there was an average of one murderer to every four of these rulers. "In other words," says Professor Sorokin, "the rulers of the states are the most criminal group in a respective population. With a limitation of their power their criminality tends to decrease; but it still remains exceptionally high in all nations."
An obvious reason for this is the greater temptation to criminality on the part of those who control or influence the police power of a nation, of which they would otherwise stand in more fear. Another is that ambitious men with criminal tendencies naturally gravitate into government because of this very prospect of doing, or helping to do, the policing over themselves. A third reason is that so many apologists can always be found, for criminal acts of governments, on the grounds that such acts ultimately contribute to the public good and that therefore the criminal means are justified by the righteous ends. Kautilya wrote his Arthashastra in about 300 B.C. Machiavelli wrote his II Principe in about 1500 A.D. And the arguments of both, that it is a virtue in a ruler to be unscrupulous for the good of his state, are heard in every age.
4. Fourth, government is always and inevitably an enemy of individual freedom. It seems rather strange that it was Woodrow Wilson, who more than any other one man started this nation on its present road towards totalitarianism, who also said that the history of human liberty is a history of the limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it. But Wilson could have boasted, as did Charles II of England, that he said only wise things even though he did only foolish ones. It is self-evident that government, by its very nature, must be an enemy of freedom, edging always towards a restriction of the individual's rights and responsibilities.
5. Whatever must be done by governments will always cost more than if it could be done by individuals or smaller groups. And the larger the government, the more disproportionate will be the cost. Letting a government do anything, therefore, which such individuals or smaller groups could properly do, is serious economic wastefulness. It is also contrary to the philosophy of the proper function of government that is derived from the whole body of past experiments.
6. Government, by its size, its momentum, and its authority, will not only perpetuate errors of doctrine or of policy longer than they would otherwise retain acceptance, but it will multiply their effect on a geometric scale, as against the arithmetically cumulative effect of those errors if confined to individuals or smaller groups. The errors of tens of thousands of individuals, all thinking and probing in different directions and moved by different impulses, tend to cancel themselves out or to be softened by the attrition of doubt and disagreement. But let any one error become sanctified by government, and thus crystalized as truth, and little short of a revolution can discredit it or cause it to be discarded.
An easy illustration of this principle is the witchcraft terror in the early days of the colonial government of Massachusetts. If there had been no governmental power to give phantasmagoria the semblance of reality by official decree, the common sense of a majority of the citizens would have kept this manifestation of fanaticism from ever having such widespread support and cruel results. But once government had authoritatively said, "This is truth," then the hitherto doubting citizen was willing to join others like himself in accepting it as truth. And we have at least a dozen idiocies, equally repugnant to man's common sense and sound experience, being perpetuated by our government in Washington today. But it would take as long a book to convince most people of the absurdity and harmfulness of any one of them as it would have taken to convince the citizens of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, of the nonsense of their belief in witchcraft, once government had guaranteed the wisdom of that belief.
7. As any society becomes reasonably settled, and shakes down into a semi-permanent pattern of economic and political life, and as some degree of leisure on the part of its citizens becomes both possible and visible, the drive always begins to have government become the management of the social enterprise rather than merely its agent for certain clear purposes. Government is then increasingly allowed, invited, and even urged to do planning for, and exercise control over, the total economy of the nation. Next, it is pushed, and pushes itself, more and more into planning and control of the separate activities of the citizens and groups of citizens that make up the economic life of the nation. And in doing such planning and exercising such controls the government must assume more and more of the responsibility for the success of the economy and the welfare of its citizens.
Of course no government, short of being omniscient, can ever plan the specialized division of labor and the beneficial interchange of the various products of human effort, or can ever appraise the impact of changing circumstances and changing desires on the infinite ramifications of interrelated human activity, one half as well as the planning, appraisal, and resulting corrections will be accomplished by a completely free market if given the opportunity. For the free market automatically weighs, measures, and integrates into its decisions increments of need, of difficulty, and of motivation that are too small, too numerous, and too hidden for the planners ever to discover them. And the equations to be dealt with are too infinite to be resolved by any human brain or committee of human brains, even if all the variables and constants could be accurately set forth in such equations.
A government trying to step in and improve the workings of a free market is exactly like a man who takes a lantern outdoors at noon of a bright June day to show you the sun. But a government's answer to any criticism as to the inadequacy of the lantern is always to bring more lanterns and then more lanterns -- until eventually the smoke and glare of the lanterns so seriously interfere with and shut off the light of the sun that everybody actually has to work mainly by lantern light.
It is interesting to note, too, that in any society the government, and its allies who want to use the lanterns, always claim the justification that the society's economy is more complex than those which have preceded it. They insist that therefore the lanterns of planning and control are necessary and helpful now, no matter how futile and harmful they have been shown to be in the past. Of course exactly the opposite is true. The more complex the economic life of a nation becomes; the more nearly infinite the shades and grades of impulse which determine the proper interchanges and relationships between its components become; then the more impossible and ridiculous is any undertaking to plan and control those relationships, and the more the automatic working of a completely free market is needed.
8. As a government increases in power, and as a means of increasing its power, it always has a tendency to squeeze out the middle class; to destroy or weaken the middle for the benefit of the top and the bottom. Even where there is no conscious alliance for this purpose, such as formed the basis for Bismarck's beginning of the socialization of Germany or Franklin Roosevelt's beginning of the socialization of America, the forces to that end are always at work -- as they have been in England for 50 years. In the nations that the gods would destroy, they first make the middle class helpless through insidious but irresistible government pressures.
9. The form of government is not nearly so important as its quality. Justice and a lack of arbitrariness, for instance, are two characteristics of a government that are most important to the welfare and happiness of a people. They are as likely to be found -- or more accurately, as little likely to be found -- under any one form of government as another. Rampant interference with personal lives is the most obnoxious characteristic of any government, and that is found just as readily under elected officials as under hereditary monarchs. In fact, as the Greeks pointed out, as has been well known to careful students of history ever since, and as the founding fathers of our own republic were well aware, when an elected government succeeds in attracting and maintaining an overwhelming majority behind it for any length of time, its mob instincts make it the most tyrannical of all forms of social organization.
10. Which brings us to the last, the most overlooked, and in my opinion the most important, of these basic generalizations concerning government. Thomas Jefferson expressed part of it in his famous dictum that that government is best which governs least. But Jefferson was thinking of the extent of a government's power more than of the extensiveness of the government itself. And our tenth point is that neither the form of government nor its quality is as important as its quantity. A thoroughly foul government, like that of Nero, which still did not reach its tentacles too far into the daily lives and doings of its subjects, was far better for the Roman Empire in the long run than the intentionally benevolent government of Diocletian or of Constantine, whose bureaucratic agents were everywhere. Let's dramatize this fact -- or opinion -- by bringing it closer to home. And your speaker would like to have it understood that he does not condone dishonesty in the slightest degree. Yet I had rather have for America, and I am convinced America would be better off with, a government of three hundred thousand officials and agents, every single one of them a thief, than a government of three million agents with every single one of them an honest, honorable, public servant. For the first group would only steal from the American economic and political system; the second group would be bound in time to destroy it. The increasing quantity of government, in all nations, has constituted the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century.
Let's spotlight just one particular result of this tragic development which has occurred in connection with man's age-old worry -- war. That result is the frequency, the length, the extensiveness, the horrible destructiveness, and the totality of impact on the population, of the wars of the twentieth century. In the physical sciences we are accustomed to using combined measurements, such as foot-pounds, kilowatt-hours or man-days. Let's invent such a phrase for the measurement of war, and call it the day-number-horror unit. In the use of that three-way calculation we multiply the days of suffering by the number of people who suffer by the depth of the suffering, to arrive at an appraisal. Then I believe you will find that pretty generally throughout history -- despite other factors causing occasional exceptions -- and very definitely throughout recent centuries, the day-number-horrors measure of any war has been proportional to the contemporary extensiveness of government. In fact and specifically, it has be en directly proportional to the product of the quantities of government in the nations involved at the time a war was fought.
Also, you will find that it is the huge quantity of government which, more than anything else, makes these tremendously destructive wars not only possible, but unavoidable. One illustration should make this statement too clear for argument. Do you want to fight the Russian people? Do you think the Russian people have the least desire to fight us? Do you think there would be the slightest chance of the American people and the Russian people fighting each other, with millions to be killed on both sides and great parts of both countries probably to be utterly destroyed, if there were only one-tenth as much government in each country as now exists? Stop and think about it for a minute. It is not only that governments carry their peoples into horrible and utterly unnecessary wars, but it takes a very huge quantity of government to carry its people into the totalitarian struggle which war has now been made by this same quantity of government. Reduce all the governments of all the nations of the world to one-third of their present size -- not one-third of their power, note, nor are we referring to their quality, but just to one-third of their bureaucratic numbers, their extensiveness, their meddling in the lives of their subjects -- and you would immediately accomplish two things. You would reduce the likelihood of war between hostile nations to at most one-ninth of its present probability, and the destructiveness of any wars that did take place in the same proportion.
The greatest enemy of man is, and always has been, government. And the larger, the more extensive that government, the greater the enemy.
Americanism on the Offensive
Now, you may well be asking, what on earth does all of this have to do with the announced subject of my speech, "The New Americanism"? But I hope that the connection will soon become clear.
For Americanism, as either a phrase or a force on the contemporary world scene, has been eroded into something negative and defeatist. It has come to represent merely a delaying action against the victorious march of its enemy, collectivism. The air is full of clarion calls to Americans to organize, in order better to fight against socialism, communism, or some vanguard of their forces. Twice each day the mail brings to my desk pleas for me to contribute money, or effort, or moral support, or all three, to some group which is battling to hold back some particular advance of collectivist storm troops. Even those organizations or activities which bear a positive label are motivated by negative thinking. An association for the Bricker amendment is, in reality, an association against the intervention of international socialist forces in the control of our domestic lives. Americanism has become primarily a denial of something else, rather than an assertion of itself. And there are many of us who think that this s hould be true no longer. We think that Americanism should again come to mean, and to be, a positive, forward-looking philosophy; a design and example of social organization which boldly and confidently offers leadership along the one hard but sure road to a better world. And it was necessary to explore and emphasize these fundamental truths about government as a background to any discussion of "The New Americanism."
It is not just in the United States, of course, that all the aggressiveness is on the side of the socialist-communist allies. In the worldwide ideological struggle which divides mankind today, we conservatives fight always on the defensive. The very name by which we identify ourselves defines our objective. It is to conserve as much as we can, out of all we have inherited that is worthwhile, from the encroachments and destructiveness of this advancing collectivism. We build no more icons to freedom; we merely try to fend off the iconoclast.
Such has been the pattern during the whole first half of the twentieth century. From the bright plateaux of individual freedom and individual responsibility which man had precariously attained there has been a steady falling back towards the dark valleys of dependence and serfdom. But this ignominious retreat has been just as true of Americans, the heirs of a strong new society, as of the tired residual legatees of an old and enfeebled European civilization. During this long and forced retreat we have fought only a rearguard and sometimes delaying action. We have never been rallied to counterattack, to break through the enemy or rout him, and to climb again beyond our highest previous gains. And in the unending skirmishes, to hold as much as possible of the ground currently occupied, we have lost all sight of the higher tablelands of freedom which once were our recognized goals. I for one, and many others like me, am no longer willing to consider only when to retreat and how far. There is a braver and a wise r course.
If we heirs of all the ages are to find a turning point in this rapid and sometimes stampeding descent, in which we are abandoning instead of improving our inheritance; if the last half of the twentieth century is to see the curve that measures individual dignity tum upward; if the men who really wish to be free and self-reliant are to begin climbing back up the mountainside; then the goal must be known, and the purpose of aggressive offense must replace defensive defeatism as the banner under which we march. It is fatal to be merely against losing ground, for then there is no way to go but back. We have to be for something; we must know what that something is; and we must believe it is worth a fight to obtain. And a great deal of what we are for can be summarized as simply increasing freedom from the tentacles of government.
There are many of us who want America and Americans to take the lead in this fight so vigorously, and to establish so clearly as their goal those new heights of personal freedom never before reached, that the whole worldwide positive forward movement can be identified and will be identified as americanism. We want the very word americanism, with a little "a," to come to mean not the jingoistic and provincial outlook of a certain geographical area, but a philosophy of freedom to which the courageous and the self-reliant everywhere can subscribe. We want "an americanist" to come to mean any man, no matter in what country he lives, who believes in and supports this philosophy. Although Russia is the alma mater of communism, and a large percentage of all communists are inhabitants of Russia, the word communist may designate a citizen of any other country just as readily as a Russian. We should like to see Americans earn the right and the glory to have the true anti-communists everywhere designate themselves as a mericanists. Due to the tremendous momentum given us by our hardworking, ambitious, and individualistic forefathers, our nation is still by far the most dynamic in the world in its productive processes, and in its influences on the whole world's standard of living. We must again become equally dynamic in our spiritual influence; in our positive leadership and example to provide a governmental environment in which individual man can make the most of his life in whatever way he -- and not his government -- wishes to use it.
There are many stages of welfarism, socialism, and collectivism in general, but communism is the ultimate stage of them all, and they all lead inevitably in that direction. In this final stage, communism, you have a society in which class distinctions are greater than in any other, but where position in these classes is determined solely by demagogic political skill and ruthless cunning. You have a society in which all those traits which have helped to make man civilized, and which our multiple faiths have classified as virtues, are now discarded as vices -- while exactly their opposites are glorified. And you have a society in which every fault of government that we have discussed above is held to be a benefit and a desirable part of the framework of life.
But there is an exactly opposite direction. It leads towards a society in which brotherhood and kindliness and tolerance and honesty and self-reliance and the integrity of the human personality are considered virtues; a society which venerates those traits exactly because they have helped the human animal to achieve some degree of humanitarian civilization, and are the common denominators of all our great religions. This direction leads towards a governmental environment for human life founded on the basis of long experience with government; on experience which shows government to be a necessary evil, but a continuous brake on all progress and the ultimate enemy of all freedom. It is the forward direction, the upward direction -- and americanism, I hope, shall become its name.
Learning From the Past
For this brings us back, Gentlemen, to our game of supposing; to the wand of omnipotence hypothetically handed to us at the beginning of this speech. And now I can explain, if you did not already guess it, that this is no day dream, and the wand I had in mind is not imaginary. It is very real, and we already have it. Man is already able to create heat where there was cold and cold where there was heat; rain where there was drought and desert where there was swamp; valleys where there were mountains and mountains where there were valleys. He has already reached the point that he could create islands to run around the northern hemisphere, above the clouds and at seven hundred miles per hour -- the same speed at which the earth's surface turns under the sun. This means that those who inhabited such islands could dwell in a perpetual sunrise, or actually live in a morning that breaks eternal, bright, and fair -- if they so desired. Man already has the physical power and the scientific knowledge to convert this wh ole planet into a garden, or to blow it to smithereens. Which he does will depend largely on you, and other young people like you. And that is why I am here this morning.
While this short talk may strengthen the resolution of the comparatively few among you who are already americanists -- whether you accept the term or not -- it is not likely to make any converts among those whom I can almost hear object; who are now scornfully formulating in their own minds their disbelief and disagreement with regard to all that I have said. I do not expect it to do so. I hope only to stir a questioning among you, a willingness to search for the truth more objectively and more independently than you may perhaps have searched in the past.
For among this generation of students there has been a tragic loss of the honest spirit of intellectual inquisitiveness. Where on earth is, what has happened to, the so-called rebelliousness of youth, especially in our colleges? What I am saying now may not apply so much to you at Dickinson, as elsewhere. I hope and believe that it does not. But on the whole, throughout the classrooms of a thousand American campuses the college youth of today are willing to accept almost without question, abide by, and militantly support, the most deadly intellectual conformity that has ever been imposed on similar numbers of men and women of similar intelligence and opportunity. And the fact that the stale blanket of collectivist doctrine is conspicuously labeled "revolutionary" while it is being spread blindingly over their minds is no justification for their meek acquiescence. The dwellers in our colleges and universities for centuries past have always been, or have been supposed to be, independent, curious, skeptical, cou rageous seekers after truth; not indifferent mental softies, herded like a bunch of sheep into a corral of conformity just by the trick of putting a false sign on the gate.
So I am saying to you simply this. Find out for yourselves. You don't have to accept my beliefs, my interpretation of history, nor my ideas of what should be done to put the human race in the best position to use its wand of near-omnipotence. But for goodness' sake do not meekly or lazily accept the ideas, slants, and conclusions of the collectivist conformists either. And above all, do not ignore the experience accumulated by two hundred generations of your ancestors. Study the past, analyze the present, and dream the future for yourselves. By the time you discover that communism is just a new version of Spartan fascism, even to the cunning and cruelty by which it is maintained; that modem collectivist theory is just warmed-over Plato; that time after time men have abandoned all home ties and migrated to new lands just to escape the very tyranny of too much government that is now closing in on us again; and that man's progress, spiritual as well as material, has almost always been inversely proportional to t he amount of government control over his actions; by the time you find out these things for yourself -- as you surely will if you study history diligently and objectively enough -- I think you will join that rising force of americanists who are determined that americanism shall again become a beacon for mankind.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The New Americanism: To Fight against Collectivism, Citizens Must Fight for a New Americanism: A Philosophy of Freedom That Actively Seeks Less Government and More Personal Responsibility. (Opinion Past). Contributors: Welch, Robert - Author. Magazine title: The New American. Volume: 19. Issue: 2 Publication date: January 27, 2003. Page number: 28+. © 2009 American Opinion Publishing, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.