The Function of the Freeman

By Hazlitt, Henry | Freeman, January/February 2006 | Go to article overview

The Function of the Freeman


Hazlitt, Henry, Freeman


On the positive side, of course, our function is to expound and apply our announced principles of traditional liberalism, voluntary cooperation, and individual freedom. On the negative side, it is to expose the errors of coercionism and collectivism of all degrees-of statism, "planning," controlism, socialism, fascism, and communism.

We seek, in other words, not only to hearten and strengthen those who already accept the principles of individual freedom, but to convert honestly confused collectivists to those principles.

A few of our friends sometimes tell us that a periodical like The Freeman is read only by those who already believe in its aims, and that therefore we believers in liberty are merely "talking to ourselves." But even if this were true, which it isn't, we would still be performing a vital function. It is imperative that those who already believe in a market economy, limited government, and individual freedom should have the constant encouragement of knowing that they do not stand alone, that there is high hope for their cause. It is imperative that all such men and women keep abreast of current developments and know their meaning in relation to the cause of freedom. It is imperative that, through constant criticism of each other's ideas, they continue to clarify, increase, and perfect their understanding. Only to the extent that they do this can they be counted upon to remain true to a libertarian philosophy, and to recognize collectivist fallacies. Only if they do this can the believers in freedom and individualism hope even to hold their ranks together, and cease constantly to lose converts, as in the past, to collectivism.

But the function of a journal of opinion like The Freeman only begins here. The defenders of freedom must do far more than hold their present ranks together. If their ideas are to triumph, they must make converts themselves from the philosophy of collectivism that dominates the world today.

A Lesson from the Enemy

They can do this only if they themselves have a deeper and clearer understanding than the collectivists, and are able not only to recognize the collectivist errors, but to refute them in such a way that the more candid collectivists will themselves recognize, acknowledge, and renounce them as errors. A friend of free enterprise is hardly worth having if he can only fume and sputter. He must know the facts; he must think; he must be articulate; he must be able to convince. On the strategy of conversion, our side can take at least one lesson from the enemy. The task of the Bolsheviks, Lenin once wrote, is "to present a patient, systematic and persistent analysis." And our own cause, the cause of freedom, can grow in strength and numbers only if it attracts and keeps adherents who in turn will become, not blind or one-eyed partisans, but enlightened and able expositors, teachers, disseminators, proselytizers.

To make this possible, it is essential that there should exist a prospering periodical with the aims of The Freeman. We must restore "conservatism" and the cause of economic freedom to intellectual repute. They have not enjoyed that repute, in the eyes of most "intellectuals," for many years-perhaps since the beginning of the twentieth century.

"We are all Socialists now," said Sir William Harcourt in 1894, and he was not joking as much as his listeners, or he himself, supposed. We must never forget that, in the long perspective of human history, "capitalism"-i.e., individualism and a free-market economy-is the newest form of economic organization. Communism is the most primitive form; it is as old as primordial man. Feudalism, a regime of status; rigid State and guild control; mercantilism; all these preceded the emergence of economic liberty. Socialism as a self-conscious "intellectual" movement came into being a century and a half ago with such writers as Saint-Simon, Owen, and Fourier. In its Marxian form it made its official debut, so to speak, in the revolutions of 1848 and in the Communist Manifesto of the same year. …

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