Sunday, July 31, 2005

Idea of Liberty


(Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1838)

by Harriet Martineau

[this is the first online edition of Martineau's "Idea of Liberty" excerpted from her pathbreaking 1838 work on the methodology of sociological research. Long before Marx, Weber and Durkheim, Martineau developed the scientific tools for studying societies. In "Idea of Liberty," she provides a perceptive and persuasive method for analyzing the level of the culture of liberty within any society. "Idea of Liberty" is as applicable today as it was in 1838.--Ken Gregg]
"He who taught man to vanquish whatsoever
can be between the cradle and the grave,
Crowned him the King of Life. O vain endeavour.
If on his own high will, a willing slave,
He has enthroned the oppression and the oppressor!
What if earth can clothe and feed
Amplest millions at their need,
And power in thought be as the tree within the seed?
Or what if Art, an ardent intercessor,
Diving on fiery wings to Nature's throne,
Checks the great mother stooping to caress her,
And cries, Give me, thy child, dominion
Over all height and depth? If Life can breed
New wants, and wealth from those who toil and groan
Rend of thy gifts and her's a thousandfold for one."

The same rule-of observing Things in preference to relying upon the Discourse of persons-holds good in the task of ascertaining the Idea of Liberty entertained and realized by any society. The Things to be observed for this purpose are those which follow.

The most obvious consideration of all is the amount of feudal arrangements which remain,--so obvious as to require only a bare mention. If people are satisfied to obey the will of a lord of the soil, to go out to hunt or to fight at his bidding, to require his consent to marriages among his dependents, and to hold whatever they have at his permission, their case is clear. They are destitute of any idea of liberty, and can be considered at best only half-civilised.-It matters little whether all this subservience is yielded to the owner of an estate, or the sovereign of the country, represented by his police or soldiery. Blind, ignorant obedience to any ruling power which the subjects had no hand in constituting, on the one part, and the enforcement of that obedience on the other, is the feudal temper.

A sleek Austrian of the middle ranks stood, of late, smoking at his door. A practical joker, who had a mind to see how far the man's deference for the police would carry him, drew towards him, and whispered in his ear, "You must dance." The Austrian stared. "Dance, I say!" repeated the stranger, with an air of authority. "Why must I dance?" asked the Austrian, when he had removed the pipe from his mouth. "Because I, an agent of the police, insist upon it." The Austrian instantly began capering, and continued his exercise till desired to stand still, assured that he had satisfied the police.-In the United States, the contrast is amusing. On occasions of public assembly, the appeal is made to the democratic sentiment of the people to preserve order. If an orator is to hold forth on an anniversary, the soldiers (most citizen-like militia) may be seen putting their arms round the necks of newly arrived listeners, in supplication that they will leave seats vacant for the band. If a piece of plate is to be presented to a statesman, and twice as many people throng to the theatre as the building will hold, harangues may be heard from the neighbouring balconies,--appeals to the gallantry and kindliness of the crowd,--which are found quite effectual in controlling the movements of the assemblage as any number of bayonets or constables' staves could be.

This leads to the mention of the Police of a country as a sure sign of the idea of liberty existing within it. Where the soldiery are the guards of social order, it makes all the difference whether they are royal troops-a destructive machinery organized against the people, --or a National Guard, springing up when needed from among the people, for the people's sake,--or a militia, like the American, mentioned above,--virtually stewards of the meeting, and nothing more. Whatever may be thought of the comparative ease of proceeding, on any given occasion, between a police like that of Paris, and a constabulary like that of the American cities, (a mockery to European rulers,) it is a striking fact that order has been generally preserved for half a century, in a country where public meetings are a hundred times as numerous as in any kingdom in Europe, by means which would in Europe be no means at all. It is clear that the idea of liberty must be elevated, and the love of social order intelligent and strong, where the peace has been kept through unanimity of will. With the exception of outrages growing out of the institution of slavery, (which require a deeper treatment than any species of constabulary can practise,) the United States, with opportunities of disturbance which have been as a hundred to one, have exhibited fewer instances of a breach of public order than any other country in the same space of time; and this order has been preserved by the popular will, in the full knowledge on all hands that no power existed to control this will. This is the fact which speaks volumes in favour of the principles, if not the policy, of the American people.

In the United States, the traveller may proceed a thousand miles in any direction, or live ten years in one place, without the idea of control, beyond that of social convenience, being once presented to his mind. Paul Louis Courier gives us the experience of an acquantance of his "Un homme que j'ai vu arrive d'Amérique. Il y est resté trios ans sans entendre parler de ce que nous appelons ici l'autorité. Il a vécu trios ans sans être gouverné, s'ennuyant à périr."-In France, he cannot go in search of the site of the Bastile without finding himself surrounded by watchers before he has stood five minutes.-In Italy, his trunks are opened to examine the books he carries, and compare them with the list of proscribed works.-In Spain, he can say nothing in public that is not likely to be known to the authorities before the day is out; or in private that is not in possession of some priest after the next period of confession.-In Switzerland, he finds that he is free to do any thing but make inquiries about the condition of the country. If he asks, as the Emperor Joseph did before him, "quells sont les revenues de votre république?" he may receive the same answer, "Ils excedent nos dépenses."-In Germany, his case is like that of the inhabitants of the cities;--his course is open and agreeable as long as he pursues inferior objects, but it is made extremely inconvenient to him to gratify his interest in politics.-In Poland, evidences of authority will meet his observation in every direction, while he will rarely hear the name of its head.-In Russia, he will find the people speaking of their despot as their father, and will perceive that it is more offensive to allude to the mortality of emperors than to talk lightly to children of the death of their parents. A gentleman in the suite of an English ambassador inquired, after having been conducted over the imperial palace at St. Petersburg, which of the rooms he had seen was that in which the Emperor Paul was killed. No answer was returned to his question, nor to his repetition of it. He imprudently persisted till some reply was necessary. His guide whispered, with white lips, "Paul was not killed. Emperors do not die; they transpire out of life."

Such are some of the relations of the people to authority which will strike the observation of the traveler in the most civilized of foreign countries. These will be further illustrated by the smallest circumstances which meet his eye that can in any way indicate what are the functions of the police, and where it has most or least authority. The Emperor Paul issued an ukase about shoestrings, which it was highly penal to disobey. His son has lately ordained the precise measurement of whiskers, and cut of the hair behind, to be observed by the officers of the army. In some regions, all men go armed; in others, it is penal to wear arms; in others, people may do as they please. In some countries, there are costumes of classes enforced by law; in others, by opinion; while fashion is the only dictator in a third. In some societies citizens must obtain leave from the authorities to move from place to place; in others, strangers alone are plagued with passports; in others, there is perfect freedom of locomotion for all.-In his observation of the workings of authority, as embodied in a police, his own experience of restraint or liberty will afford him ample material for thought, and ground of inference.

Such restraint as exists derives its character chiefly from its origin. It makes a wide difference whether the police are the creatures of a despotic sovereign who treats his subjects as property; or whether they are the agents of a representative government, appointed by responsible rulers for the public good; or whether they are the servants of a self-governing people, chosen by those among whom their work lies. It makes a wide difference whether they are in the secret pay of an irresponsible individual, or appointed by command of a parliament, or elected by a concourse of citizens. In any case, their existence and their function testify to the absence or presence of a general idea of liberty among the people; and to its nature, if present.

It is taken for granted that the traveller is informed, before he sets out, respecting the form of Government and general course of Legislation of the nation he studies. He will watch both, attending upon the administration as well as the formation of laws,--visiting, where it is allowed, the courts of justice as well as the halls of parliament. But he must remember that neither the composition of the government, nor the body of the laws, nor the administration of them, is an evidence of what the idea of liberty is at present among the people, except in a democratic republic, where the acts of the government are the result of the last expression of the national will. Every other representative system is too partial for its legislative acts to be more than the expression of the will of a party; and the great body of laws is everywhere, except in America, the work of preceding ages. Though, therefore, the observer will allow no great legislative and administrative acts to pass without his notice, he will apply himself to other sets of circumstances to ascertain what is the existing idea of liberty prevalent among the people. He will observe, from certain facts of their position, what this idea must be; and, from certain classes of their own deeds, what it actually is.

One of the most important circumstances is, whether the population is thinly sprinkled over the face of the country, or whether it is collected into neighbourly societies. This all-important condition has been alluded to so often already that it is only necessary to remind the observer never to lose sight of it. "Plus un people nombreux se rapproche," says Rousseau, "moins le gouvernerment peut usurper sur le souverain. L'avantage d'un govuvernement tyrannique est done en ceci, d'agir à grandes distances. A Paide des points d'appui qu'il se donne, sa force augmente au loin, comme celle des éviers. Celle du people, au contraire, n'agit que concentrée: elle s'évapore et se perd en s'étendant, comme l'effet de la poudre éparse à terre, et qui ne prend feu que grain à grain. Les pays les moins peoplés sont ainsi les plus propres à la tyrannie. Les bêtes féroces ne règnent que dans les déserts."

It is obvious enough that the Idea of Liberty, which can originate only in the intercourse of many minds, as the liberty itself can be wrought out only by the labours of many united hands, is not to be looked for where the people live apart, and are destitute of any knowledge of the interests and desires of the community at large.

Whether the society is divided into Two Classes, or whether there is a Gradation, is another important consideration. Where there are only two, proprietors and labourers, the Idea of Liberty is deficient or absent. The proprietory class can have no other desires on the subject than to repress the encroachments of the sovereign above them, or of the servile class below them; and in the servile class the conception of liberty is yet unformed. Only in barbarous countries, in countries where slavery subsists, and in some few strongholds of feudalism, is this decided division of society into two classes now to be found. Every where else there is more or less gradation; and in the most advanced countries the classes are least distinguishable. Below those members who, in European societies, are distinguished by birth, there is class beneath class of capitalists, though it is usual to comprehend them all, for convenience of speech, under the name of the middle class. Thus society in Great Britain, France and Germany is commonly spoken of as consisting of three classes; while the divisions of the middle class are, in fact, very numerous. The small shopkeeper is not of the same class with the landowner, or wealthy banker, or professional man; while their views of life, their political principles, and their social aspirations, are as different as those of the peer and the mechanic.

There are two pledges of the advancement of the idea of liberty in a community:--the one is the mingling of the functions of proprietor and labourer throughout the whole of a society ruled by a representative government; the other is the graduation of ranks by some other principle than hereditary succession.

In ancient times most men were proprietors and labourers too; but under despotic rule. Societies which have once come under the representative principle are not likely to retrograde to this state; while there are influences ever at work to exalt the function of labour, and to extend that of proprietorship. Whenever this mixture of functions has gone the furthest,--wherever the mechanic classes are becoming capitalists, and proprietors are liable to sink down from their ancient honour, unless they can secure respect by personal qualifications, the idea of liberty is, to a considerable degree, confirmed and elevated. In such a case, it is clear that both the power and the desire of encroachment on the part of the upper class must be lessened, and that of resistance on the part of the lower increased.-The other improvement follows upon this. Proprietorship, with its feudal influences, having lost caste, (though it has gained in true dignity,) some other ground of distinction must succeed. If we may judge by what is before our eyes in the Western world, talent is likely to be the next successor. It is to be hoped that talent will, in its turn, give way to moral worth,--the higher degrees of which imply, however, superiority of mental power. The preference of personal qualifications to those of external endowment has already begun in the world, and is fast making its way. Such distinction of ranks as there is in America originates in mental qualifications. Statesmen, who rise by their own power, rank highest; and then authors. The wealthiest capitalist give place, in the estimation of all, to a popular orator, a successful author, or an eminent clergyman.-In France, the honours of the peerage and the offices of the state are given to men of science, philosophy, and literature. The same is the case in some parts of Germany; and, even in aristocratic England, the younger members of her Upper House are unsatisfied with being merely peers, and are anxious to push their way in literature, as well as in politics.-The traveller must give earnest heed to symptoms like these, knowing that as the barriers of ranks are thrown down, and personal obtain the ascendant over hereditary qualifications, social coercion must be relaxed, and the sentiment of liberty exalted.

In close connexion with this, he must observe the condition of Servants. The treatment and conduct of domestics depend on causes which lie far deeper than the principles and tempers of particular servants and masters, as may be seen by a glance at domestic service in England, Scotland, and Ireland. In England, the old Saxon and Norman feud smoulders, (however unconscious the parties may be of the fact,) in the relation of master and servant. Domestics who never heard of either Norman or Saxon entertain a deep-rooted conviction of their masters' interests and their own being directly opposed, and are subject to a strong sense of injury. Masters who never bestow a thought on the transactions of the twelfth century, complain of a doggedness, selfishness, and case-hardened indifference in the class of domestics, which kindness cannot penetrate, or penetrates only to pervert. The relation is therefore a painful one in England. There is little satisfaction to be obtained between the extremes of servility and defiance, by which the conduct of servants is almost as distinctly marked now as when the nation was younger by seven centuries. The English housewives complain that confidence only makes their maid-servants conceited, and that indulgence spoils them.-In Ireland, the case is of the same nature, but much aggravated. The injury of having an aristocracy of foreigners forced on the country, to whom the natives are to render services, is more recent, and the impression more consciously retained. The servants are ill-treated, and they yield bad service in return. It is mournful to see the arrangement of Dublin houses. The drawing-rooms are palace-like, while the servants' apartments are dark and damp dungeons. It is wearisome to hear the complains of the dirt, falsehood, and faithlessness of Irish servants,--complaints which their mistresses have ever ready for the ear of the stranger; and it is disgusting to witness the effects in the household. It is equally sad and ludicrous to see the mistress of some families enter the breakfast-room with a loaf of bread under her arm, the butter-plate in one hand, and a bunch of keys in the other;--to see her cut from the loaf the number of slices required, and send them down to be toasted,--explaining that she is obliged to lock up the very bread from the thievery of her servants, and informing against them as if she expected them to be worthy of trust, while she daily insults them with the refusal of all trust,--even to the care of the bread-pan. In Scotland, the case is widely different. Servitude and clanship are there connected, instead of servitude and conquest. The service is willing in proportion; and the faults of domestics are not those common to the oppressed, but rather those proceeding from pride and self-will. The Scotch domestic has still the pride in the chief of the name which cherishes the self-respect of every member of a clan; and in the service of the chief there is scarcely any exertion which the humblest of his name would not make. The results are obvious. There is a better understanding between the two classes than in the other divisions of the kingdom; and Scotch masters and mistresses obtain a satisfaction from their domestics which no degree of justice and kindness in English and Irish housekeepers can secure. The dregs of an oppression of centuries cannot be purged away by the action of individual tempers, be they of the best. The causes of misunderstanding, as we have said, lie deep.

The principles which regulate the condition of domestic servants in every country form thus a deep and wide subject for the traveller's inquiries. In America, he will hear frequent complaints from the ladies of the pride of their maid-servants, and of the difficulty of settling them, while he sees that some are the most intimate friends of the families they serve; and that not a few collect books, and attend courses of scientific lectures. The fact is, that in America, a conflict is going on between opposite principles, and the consequences of the struggle show themselves chiefly in the relation between master and servant. The old European notions of the degradation of servitude survive in the minds of their American descendants, and are nourished by the presence of slavery on the same continent, and by the importation of labourers from Europe which is perpetually going on. In conflict with these notions are the democratic ideas of the honourableness of voluntary service by contract. It is found difficult, at first, to settle the bounds of the contract; and masters are liable to sin, from long habit, on the side of imperiousness, and the servants on that of captiousness and jealousy of their own rights. Such are the inconveniences of a transition state;--a state, however, upon which it should be remembered that other societies have yet to enter. In an Irish country-house, the guest sometimes finds himself desired to keep his wardrobe locked up.-In England, he perceives a restraint in the address of each class to the class above it.-In France, a washerwoman speaks with as much ease to a duchess as a duchess to a washerwoman.-In Holland, the domestics have chambers as scrupulously neat as their masters'.-In Ireland, they sleep in underground closets.-In New York, they can command their own accommodation.-In Cuba they sleep like dogs, in the passages of the family dwellings. These are some of the facts from which the observer is to draw his inferences, rather than from the manners of some individuals of the class whom he may meet. In his conclusions from such facts he can hardly be wrong, though he may chance to become acquainted with a footman of the true heroic order in Dublin, and a master in Cuba who respects his own servants, and a cringing lackey in New York.

A point of some importance is whether the provincial inhabitants depend upon the management and imitate the modes of life of the metropolis, or have principles and manners of their own. Where there is least freedom and the least desire of it, every thing centers in the metropolis. Where there is most freedom, each "city, town, and vill" thinks and acts for itself. In despotic countries, the principle of centralization actuates every thing. Orders are issued from the central authorities, and the minds of the provinces are saved all trouble of thinking for themselves. Where self-government is permitted to each assemblage of citizens, they are stimulated to improve their idea and practices of liberty, and are almost independent of metropolitan usages. The traveler will find that "Paris is France," as every body has heard, and that the government of France is carried on in half-a-dozen apartments in the capital, with little reference to the unrepresented thousands who are living some hundreds of miles off; while, if he case a glance over Norway, he may see the people on the shores of the fiords, or in the valleys between the pine-steeps, quietly making their arrangements for controlling the central authority, even abolishing the institution of hereditary nobility in opposition to the will of the king; but legally, peaceably, and in all the simplicity of determined independence,--the result of a matured idea of liberty. The observer will note whether the pursuits and amusements of the provincial inhabitants originate in the circumstances of the locality, or whether they are copies from those of the metropolis; whether the great city be spoken of with reverence, scorn, or indifference, or not spoken of at all; whether, as in a Pennsylvanian village, the society could go on if the capital were swallowed up by an earthquake; or whether, as in Prussia, the favour of the central power is as the breath of the nostrils of the people.

Newspapers are a strong evidence of the political ideas of a people;--not individual newspapers; for no two, perhaps, fully agree in principles and sentiment, and it is to be feared that none are positively honest. Not by individual newspapers must the traveller form his judgment, but by the freedom of discussion which he may find to be permitted, or the restraints upon discussion imposed. The idea of liberty must be low and feeble among a people who permit the government to maintain a severe censorship; and it must be powerful and effectual in a society which can make all its complaints through a newspaper,--be the reports of the newspapers upon the state of social affairs as dismal as they may. Whatever revilings of a tyrannical president, or of a servile congress, a traveller may meet with in any number of American journals, he may fairly conclude that both the one and the other must be nearly harmless if they are discussed in a newspaper. The very existence of the newspapers he sees testifies to the prevalence of a habit of reading, and consequently of education-to the wide diffusion of political power-and to the probably safety and permanence of a government which is founded on so broad a basis, and can afford to indulge so large a license. Whatever he may be told of the patriotism of a sovereign, let him give it to the winds if he finds a space in a newspaper made blank by the pen of a censor. The tameness of the Austrian journals tells as plain a tale as if no censor had ever suppressed a syllable;--as much so as the small size of a New Orleans paper compared with one of New York, or as the fiercest bluster of a Cincinnati Daily or Weekly, on the eve of the election of a president.

In countries where there is any Free Education, the traveller must observe its nature; and especially whether the subjects of it are distinguished by any sort of badge. The practice of badging, otherwise than by mutual consent, is usually bad; it is always suspicious. The traveller will note whether free education is conferred by charitable bequest, (a practice originating in times when the doctrine of expiation was prevalent, and continued to this day by its union with charity,) or whether it is framed at the will of the sovereign, that his young subjects may be trained to his own purpose,--as in the case of the Emperor of Russia and his young Polish victims; or whether it arises from the union of such a desire with a more enlightened object,--as may be witnessed in Prussia; or whether it is provided by the sovereign people,--by universal consent, as the right of every individual born into the community, and as the necessary qualification for the enjoyment of social privileges,--as in the United States. The English Christ Hospital boys are badged; Napoleon's Polytechnic pupils were badged; so are the Czar's orphan charge. Wherever the meddling ostentatious charity of antique times is in existence,--times when the idea of liberty was low and confined,--this badging is to be looked for; and also wherever it is necessary to the purposes of the potentate to keep a register of the young subjects who may become his instruments or his foes;--but where education is absolutely universal, where any citizen has a right to put every child, not otherwise educated, into the school-house of his township, and where the rising generation are destined to take care of themselves, and legislate after their own will, no badging will be found. This apparently trifling fact is worth the attention of the observer.

The extent of popular education is a fact of the deepest significance. Under despotisms there will be the smallest amount of it; and in proportion to the national idea of the dignity and importance of man,--idea of liberty, in short,--will be its extent, both in regard to the number it comprehends, and to the enlargement of their studies. The universality of education is inseparably connected with a lofty idea of liberty; and till the idea is realized in a constantly expanding system of national education, the observer may profitably note for reflection the facts whether he is surrounded on a frontier by a crowd of whining young beggars, or whether he sees a parade of charity scholars,--these all in blue caps and yellow stockings, and those all in white tippets and green aprons; or whether he falls in with an annual or quarterly assembly of teachers, met to confer on the best principles and methods of carrying on an education which is itself a matter of course.

In countries where there is any popular Idea of Liberty, the universities are considered its stronghold, from their being the places where the young, active, hopeful, and aspiring meet,--the youths who are soon to be citizens, and who have here the means of daily communication of their ideas, for many years together. It would be an interesting inquiry how many revolutions warlike or bloodless, have issued from seats of learning; and yet more how many have been planned for which the existing powers, or the habits of society, have been too strong. If the universities are not so constituted as to admit of this fostering of free principles, they are pretty sure to retain the antique notions in accordance with which they were instituted, and to fall into the rear of society in morals and manners. It is the traveller's business to observe the characteristics of these institutions, and to reflect whether they are likely to aid or to retard the progress of the nation in which they stand.

There are universities in almost every country; but they are as little like one another as the costumes that are found in Switzerland and India; and the one speak as plainly of morals and manners as the other of climate. It is needless to point out that countries which contain only aristocratic halls of learning, or schools otherwise devoid of an elastic principle, must be in a state of comparative barbarism; because, in such case, learning (so called there) must be confined to a few, and probably to the few who can make the least practical use of it. Where the universities are on such a plan as that, preserving their primary form, they can admit increasing numbers, the state of intellect is likely to be a more advanced one. But a more favourable symptom is where seats of learning are multiplied as society enlarges, modified in their principles as new departments of knowledge open, and as new classes arise who wish to learn. That country is in a state of transition-of progression-where the ancient universities are honoured for as much as they can give, while new schools arise to supply their deficiencies, and Mechanics' Institutes, or some kindred establishments, flourish by the side of both. This state of things, this variety in the pursuit of knowledge, can exist only where there is a freedom of thought, and consequent diversity of opinion, which argues a vigorous idea of liberty.

The observer must not, however, rest satisfied with ascertaining the proportion of the means of education to the people who have to be educated. He must mark the objects for which learning is pursued. The two most strongly contrasted cases which can be found are probably those of Germany and (once more) the United States. In the United States, it is well known, a provision of university education is made as ample as that of schools for an earlier stage; yet no one pretends that a highly finished education is to be looked for in that country. The cause is obvious. In a young nation, the great common objects of life are entered upon earlier, and every preparatory process is gone through in a more superficial manner. Seats of learning are numerous and fully attended, both in Germany and America, and they testify in each to a pervading desire of knowledge. Here the agreement ends. The German student may, without being singular, remain within the walls of his college till time silvers his hairs; or he has even been known to pass eighteen years among his books, without once crossing the threshold of his study. The young American, meanwhile, satisfied at the end of three years that he knows as much as his neighbors, settles in a home, engages in farming or commerce, and plunges into what alone he considers the business of life. Each of these pursues his appropriate objects; each is right in his own way; but the difference of pursuit indicates a wider difference of sentiment between the two countries than the abundance of the means of learning in each indicates a resemblance. The observer must therefore mark, not only what and how many are the seats of learning, but who frequent them; whether there are many, past the season of youth, who make study the business of their lives; or whether all are of that class who regard study merely as a part of the preparation which they are ordained to make for the accomplishment of the commonest aims of life. He can scarcely take his evening walk in the precincts of a university without observing a difference so wide as this.

The great importance of the fact lies in this,--that increase of knowledge is necessary to the secure enlargement of freedom. Germany may not, it is true, require learning in her youth for political purposes, but because learning has become the taste, the characteristic honour of the nation; but this knowledge will infallibly work out, sooner or later, her political regeneration. America requires knowledge in her sons because her political existence itself depends upon their mental competency. The two countries will probably approximate gradually towards a sympathy which is at present out of the question. As America becomes more fully peopled, a literature will grow up within her, and study will assume its place among the chief objects of life. The great ideas which are the employment of the best minds of Germany must work their way out into action; and new and immediately practical kinds of knowledge will mingle themselves, more and more largely, with those to which she has been, in times past, devoted. The two countries may thus fall into a sympathetic correspondence on the mighty subjects of human government and human learning, and the grand idea of liberty may be made more manifest in the one, and disciplined and enriched in the other.

One great subject of observation and speculation remains-the objects and form of Persecution for opinion in each country. Persecution for opinion is always going on among a people enlightened enough to entertain any opinions at all. There must always be, in such a nation, some who have gone further in research than others, and who, in making such an advance, have overstepped the boundaries of popular sympathy. The existence and suffering of such are not to be denied because there are no fires at the stake, and no organized and authorized Inquisition, and because formal excommunication is going out of fashion. Persecution puts on other forms as ages elapse; but it is not extinct. It can be inflicted out of the province of law, as well as through it; by a neighbourhood as well as from the Vatican. A wise and honest man may be wounded through his social affections, and in his domestic relations, as effectually as by flames, fetters, and public ignominy. There are wise and good persons in every civilized country who are undergoing persecution in one form or another every day.

Is it for precocity in science? or for certain opinions in politics? or for a peculiar mode of belief in the Christian religion, or unbelief of it? or for championship of an oppressed class? or for new views in morals? or for fresh inventions in the arts, apparently interfering with old-established interests? or for bold philosophical speculation? Who suffers arbitrary infliction, in short, and how, for any mode of thinking, and of faithful action upon thought? An observer would reject whatever he might be told of the paternal government of a prince, if he saw upon a height a fortress in which men were suffering carcere duro for political opinions. In like manner, whatever a nation may tell him of his love of liberty should go for little if he sees a virtuous man's children taken from him on the ground of his holding an unusual religious belief; or citizens mobbed for asserting the rights of Negroes; or moralists treated with public scorn for carrying out allowed principles to their ultimate issues; or scholars oppressed for throwing new light into the sacred text; or philosophers denounced for bringing fresh facts to the surface of human knowledge, whether they seem to agree or not with long-established suppositions.

The kind and degree of infliction for opinion which is possible, and is practiced in the time and place, will indicate to the observer the degree of imperfection in the popular idea of liberty. This is a kind of fact easy to ascertain, and worthier of all attention.

CLASSical Liberalism

Thursday, July 28, 2005

"I'd Push the Button"

Richard Ebeling, in the June 2005 issue of The Freeman, concurs with Leonard Read's "I'd Push The Button" essay published in April, 1946. This is a statement of quite a radical nature and is an important point to consider.

Read explained this in his Elements of Libertarian Leadership (and Murray Rothbard continued in "Why Be Libertarian?") thus:
Following World War II and prior to the relaxation of wartime wage and price controls, I made a speech entitled "I'd Push the Button." This title was taken from the first sentence, "If there were a button on this rostrum, the pressing of which would instantaneously release all wage and price controls, I'd put my finger on it and push."

This was regarded as a radical notion, radical in the sense of being so thoroughgoing that few persons shared it. However, if an act is morally wrong or economically unsound, the quicker it is abolished the better.

Many people seem to hold the view that the beneficiary of special privilege acquires a vested interest in his unique position and should not be deprived of it all of a sudden. They give little thought to the many persons from whom the plunder has been taken. It makes no difference what example of wage or price control one takes--rent control is as good as any. Under this control people have been permitted to occupy someone else's property at less than the free market would allow. By reason of this fact renters have been privileged to buy more tobacco or vacations, or some other good or service than would otherwise be the case. The landlord has been deprived of the fruits of his own labor. Yet, when it comes to the matter of restoring justice, most people will think of the disadvantages suddenly falling upon the renters rather than the accrued damage done to the owner.

Imagine a habitual and successful thief. For years he has been robbing everybody in the community without their knowledge. He has a fine home, cars, servants, and is a pillar of society. Upon discovering his fraud, should his robbery be diminished gradually or should justice be restored to the community at once? The answer appears too obvious to deserve further comment.

People, when contemplating the removal of authoritarianism, seem to fear that a sudden restoration of justice would too severely disrupt the economy. The fear is groundless. During the early days of our New Deal we were the victims of the NIRA, the National Industrial Recovery Act, a system of wage floors, price ceilings, and production quotas. Originally, it was accepted with enthusiasm by most of the business community. Slowly, the fallacy of this nefarious program was realized. Thoughtful business leaders agreed it had to be repealed. But, many of them argued that the repeal would have to be gradual. To remove it at once would throw the economy into a tailspin. Then, one afternoon the Supreme Court ruled that NIRA was unconstitutional. As of that moment all of its regulations and controls ceased to exist. Did this shake our economy? There wasn't a noticeable quiver except that all indices of prosperity showed improvement.

The fallacy of the theory of gradualism can be illustrated thus: A big, burly ruffian has me on my back, holding me down. My friends, observing my sad plight, agree that the ruffian must be removed. But, believing in the theory of gradualism, they contend that the ruffian must be removed gradually. They fail to see that the only result of the ruffian's removal would be my going to work suddenly!

There is nothing to fear by any nation of people in the removal of restrictions to creative and productive effort except the release of creative and productive effort. And why should they fear that which they so ardently desire?

Truly an important point to consider

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Before Bricker

Before the Bricker Amendment, U.S.M.C. Major General Smedley Butler (7/30/1881-6/21/40) published his own recommendation for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a Peace Amendment, (among others). Originally in the September 1936 issue of Woman's Home Companion, comprised of three articles as follows:
1. The removal of members of the land armed forces from within the continental limits of the United States and the Panama Canal Zone for any cause whatsoever is prohibited.

2. The vessels of the United State Navy, or of the other branches of the armed service, are hereby prohibited from steaming, for any reason whatsoever except on an errand of mercy, more than five hundred iles from our coast.

3. Aircraft of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps is hereby prohibited from flying, for any reason whatsoever, more than seven hundred and fifty miles beyond the coast of the United States.

Thomas Woods, who has written on the Bricker Amendment said:
Today the treaty power poses as grave a threat to self-government as ever before. The voices that speak for American independence are few and far between. As the twentieth century comes to a close, post-Cold War America awaits its John Bricker.

I prefer its Smedley Butler, who understands that war is a racket.

Just a thought.
Just Ken

cross-posted at Liberty & Power Blog
CLASSical Liberalism

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Henry David Thoreau (7/12/1817-5/6/1862) is regarded as the prototypical American Individualist, leaving civilization to "simplify, simplify" in a cabin alongside Walden Pond, refusing to pay a poll tax to protest slavery and the war with Mexico, and authoring the libertarian classic, Civil Disobedience (originally published as Resistance to Civil Government).

Civil Disobedience begins with his Jeffersonian statement of faith:
"I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto,—"That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient."

Thoreau was willing to accept a government which
"must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual."

Walden, or Life in the Woods is a testament to nature, to humanity and to self-discovery, as is his essay, Life Without Principle. Thoreau had a natural affinity for the land, and working as a surveyor fit his personality, for it allowed him the opportunity and time to explore nature. What it would bring to him, and to those who would read Walden (1854), Walking (1862) The Maine Woods (1864) and Cape Cod (1867) would be an abiding love of the natural wonders of the land.

Why do Thoreau's ideas continue to echo throughout the radical community? As Laurence Rosenwald commented:
"...Thoreau also sees what Emerson does not, namely, that with regard to paying taxes, it is impossible not to act, in one way or another. One can pay the tax, and thereby support the state, or refuse the tax, and defy the state. Thoreau's civil disobedience, then, is the choice he makes when he has no choice but to act; it is not only action, but necessary action, unwilling action, action that is thrust upon the actor. The tax collector comes to the door, and Thoreau has to choose whether to pay. What he does has much in common with what Rosa Parks did in 1955, when she refused to give up her seat to a white bus rider in Montgomery, Alabama... Rosa Parks... committed civil disobedience without going a single step out of her way; in fact, she committed it precisely by trying to proceed along her way, seeking not to be arrested but simply to go home."

Thoreau, although supporting non-violent action, was not a complete pacifist and supported John Brown's actions:
"It was [Brown's] peculiar doctrine that a man has a perfect right to interfere by force with the slaveholder, in order to rescue the slave. I agree with him... I do not wish to kill nor to be killed, but I can foresee circumstances in which both these things would be by me unavoidable." ("A Plea for Captain John Brown," Reform Papers (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1973. pp. 132-3)

Thoreau has been an icon for environmentalists and ecologists of all stripes, for libertarians and anarchists of all stripes, and for all of humanity. His writings and ideas will outlast us all. We are certainly the richer for it.

Just a thought.
Just Ken

cross-posted at Liberty & Power Blog
CLASSical Liberalism

Thursday, July 07, 2005

RAH RAH RAH 98 Down, 2 to Centennial!

Robert Anson Heinlein (b.7/7/1907-d. 5/8/88) was known as the "Dean of Science Fiction Writers." Heinlein won four Hugos for best novel with Double Star (1956); Starship Troopers (1960); Stranger in a Strange Land (1962) and the libertarian classic, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, five years later.

Before writing SF, Heinlein attended the University of Missouri and the Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating in 1929. He served five years in the Navy, retiring from active duty after contracting tuberculosis (illnesses would follow him throughout his life). After his Naval discharge (as a lieutenant), he studied physics and mathematics at UCLA.

His first story, "Life-Line", appeared in the August, 1939 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. Heinlein would write stories in large quantity, often using pseudonyms in order to prevent two stories from the "same" author being published in the same edition of a magazine.

Heinlein's work possessed three essentials: well-designed plots, vivid characters and good scientific arguments. He was scientifically precise, and he mixed hard and soft SF and fantasy in various doses, showing that he could create good stories in any area of speculative fiction.

During the WWII, Heinlein temporarily abandoned SF, working on research for high-altitude pressure suits (much like space suits) and radar at the Navy Experimental Air Station in Philadelphia.

Following the war's end, he devoted himself exclusively to writing. From 1948 to 1962 he wrote fourteen "juvenile" SF novels. The last of the Heinlein juveniles holds special interest; Podkayne of Mars (1962) shows a Venus colonized principally by Brazilians, a planet of capitalism carried to an extreme, where, in order to get anything, one has to grease a lot of palms.

Along with the juveniles, Heinlein wrote several adult novels during the 1950s that can be considered veritable gems of "Golden Age" of science fiction, such as The Puppet Masters (1951); Double Star (1956) and The Door into Summer (1957).

One of the juveniles, Space Cadet (1948) was made into a television series, shown between 1951 and 1956; while Rocketship Galileo (1947) served as inspiration for the film Destination Moon (1950), the first film to deal scientifically with the problems of space travel and which influenced many adolescents who would become--years later--the scientists and engineers of NASA. For this and other works, he was posthumously awarded the NASA Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) was adopted by many in the 1960's as an integral part of the "flower" generation. With the incredible and unexpected success of Stranger in a Strange Land (it became the best-selling book in SF history), Heinlein had essentially a free hand to write whatever he wanted to.

He revisited his Future History universe and described the "lives" and loves of Lazarus Long (perhaps most prominent of cult-figure characters among Heinlein's fans) in Time Enough for Love (1973). He "invented" inter-universe travel and the concept of "World-as-Myth" (each fictional universe runs parallel to and is as real as our own, and our own universe is a fiction created by an author from another universe). These concepts allowed the meeting of characters from several of his books (universes) and from those of other authors in the novel Number of the Beast (1980). Heinlein analyzed these themes in his final The Cat Who Walks through Walls (1985) and To Sail beyond the Sunset (1987).

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1967), is considered his greatest libertarian work, with intelligent computers, an anarchist professor, Bernardo de la Paz (loosely based on Robert LeFevre), a revolution on the Moon, radical individualism and libertarian themes influenced many libertarians (myself included) in the 1960's-80's. TANSTAAFL, a term from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, became a libertarian watchword--"There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch."

Just a thought.
Just Ken

cross-posted at Liberty & Power Blog
CLASSical Liberalism

Monday, July 04, 2005

Wall of Separation Between Church and State

Benjamin Franklin's friend, the radical James Burgh, used the phrase "wall of separation" in his writings prior to Jefferson's, but isn't usually credited for it. If you have a chance, he's quite an interesting person to read. Quite strong on the subject of free speech. His 3 vol. POLITICAL DISQUISITIONS: OR, An ENQUIRY into public ERRORS, DEFECTS, and ABUSES. Illustrated by, and established upon FACTS and REMARKS extracted from a Variety of AUTHORS, ancient and modern. CALCULATED To draw the timely ATTENTION of GOVERNMENT and PEOPLE to a due Consideration of the Necessity, and the Means, of REFORMING those ERRORS, DEFECTS, and ABUSES; of RESTORING the CONSTITUTION, and SAVING the STATE. (London, 1774--75, available in an expensive reprint) is a masterpiece.

In Crito (1766, 1767. 2 Vols. Pp 92-3), Burgh proposed building "an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred and civil":
"I will fairly tell you what will be the consequences of your setting up such a mixed-mungrel-spiritual-temporal-secular-ecclesiastical establishment. You will make the dispensers of religion despicable and odious to all men of sense, and will destroy the spirituality, in which consists the: whole value, of religion..."

"Shew yourselves superior to all these follies and knaveries. Put into the hands of the people the clerical emoluments; and let them give them to whom they will; choosing their public teachers, and maintaining them decently, but moderately, as becomes their spiritual character. We have in our times a proof from the conduct of some among us, in respect of the appointment of their public administrators of religion, that such a scheme will answer all the necessary purposes, and prevent infinite corruption;--ecclesiastical corruption; the most odious of all corruption."

"Build an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred and civil. Do not send a graceless officer, reeking from the anus of his trull, to the performance of a holy rite of religion, as a test for his holding the command of a regiment. To profane, in such a manner, a religion, which you pretend to reverence, is an impiety sufficient to bring down upon your heads, the roof of the sacred building you thus defile."

Burgh is known for his explication of many issues, not only church-state separation and freedom of speech, but also gun ownership (2nd Amendment), standing armies (3rd) and rhetoric. Would love to see his Political Disquisitions, Crito, The Dignity of Human Nature (1754) and The Art of Speaking (1761) in print.

Just a thought.
Just Ken

cross-posted at Liberty & Power Blog
CLASSical Liberalism

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Power of Blog

W. Caleb McDaniel, one of the Cliopatria bloggers, has an interesting article on Blogging in the Early Republic on the latest Common-Place. His example of one of my favorite abolitionists, the anarcho-pacifist Henry Clarke Wright, author of Man-Killing by Individuals and Nations Wrong (Boston, 1841), A Kiss for a Blow (London, 1843, 1866), Defensive War proved to be a Denial of Christianity (1846), Human Life Illustrated (Boston, 1849--his autobiography), Marriage and Parentage (1854) and The Living Present and the Dead Past (1865), caught my attention.

Wright was one of many reformers involved in other causes as well: feminism, mesmerism, nonviolence and a host of other -isms. He and a large number of other abolitionists were involved in spiritualism. As he said in the July, 19, 1853 issue of The Liberator:
"Modern spiritualism is what the church and the priesthood know not how to deal with. They are, in many localities throughout the country, at their wits’ end. If they deny the possibility that spirits can communicate with us, they strike a death-blow at all arbitrary revelation; if they admit its possibility, they must admit that these communications, often, at least, do come from spirits that were once in the body, or deny the foundation of their faith in the Bible. In either case, their religious experience and practices must experience an entire revolution. These spirits, be they what or whom they may, are fast tipping, rapping, writing and talking old ideas out of men’s heads, and new ones into them. These spirits, be they good or evil, are casting the spirit of war, slavery, drunkenness, sectarianism, patriotism, and hosts of bad spirits out of men’s hearts, and breathing into them the spirit of peace, of love, anti-slavery, total abstinence even from the disgusting weed, tobacco, (the spirits out of the body, all go against tobacco—would that all spirits in the body had decency and good sense enough to do the same,) and of human brotherhood."

Always found the political dimension of the Spiritualist Movement quite interesting, and more than a little surprising. The dead must be quite capable of learning all about the vices of war, slavery, alcohol--even tobacco! Amazing!

The political dimensions of later similar movements have only lightly been touched upon. Even today, New Age politics is rarely considered, although worthy of consideration.

Just a note: There are articles on Paine's iron bridge, Richard Allen and a recent work on Jefferson in the Common-Place as well.

Just a thought.
Just Ken

cross-posted at Liberty & Power Blog
CLASSical Liberalism