Of Freedom and Union
If you would be freer than all that has been before, come listen to me ...|
swear I begin to see the meaning of these things ...
I swear nothing is
good to me now that ignores individuals,
The American compact is altogether
The only government is that which makes minute of
The whole theory of the universe is directed unerringly to one
single individual -- namely to You ...
I am for those that have never
For men and women whose tempers have never been master'd,
those whom laws, theories, conventions, can never master.
I am for
those who walk abreast with the whole earth,
Who inaugurate one to
I will not be outfaced by irrational things,
penetrate what it is in them that is sarcastic upon me,
I will make cities
and civilizations defer to me,
This is what I have learnt from America -- it
is the amount, and it I teach again.
Whitman, By Blue Ontario's Shore.
One can not repeat it too often: There is nothing so fertile in marvels as
the art of being free. -- De Tocqueville.
We have too petty a notion of freedom. We are bound to, since freedom is so
great and growing. And yet our understanding of it need not be so petty.
We talk as if freedom of trade were simply a problem for the legislator and
economist, a matter of freeing trade from this or that tariff or other legal or
theoretical barrier. We talk as if neither the steamship that freed man from the
accident of wind and the accident of calm, nor the express train that freed the
producers of perishable foods from the tyranny of time and northern tables from
the monotony of winter, had done anything to free trade. We forget the
air-driven drill and the dynamite that enables us, when a mountain bars our
road, to take a short cut through it. We forget a host of things that free us
from the limitations of tongue and ear and eye, and let seller and buyer find
each other swiftly anywhere on earth. Yet trade can lose its statutory freedom
and be encumbered by politicians and economic experts with all sorts of man-made
barriers, and still grow greater because other men have been freeing it from
more stifling natural barriers.
As it is with trade, so it is with everything. The story of the freedom of
man, of the freeing of man by man, is the whole story of man. It is the story of
the invention of language, of the freeing of man's tongue to tell his thoughts
to his neighbor and of the freeing of his ear to understand his neighbor's
thoughts, of the freeing of his thoughts from space and time and the tricks of
memory and death by the invention of writing. It is the story of the freeing of
his tongue, ear, eye, mind by the invention of grammar, and still more by the
invention of paper, and still more by the invention of printing, and still more
by the discovery of America and of electricity and rubber, and by such political
inventions as the freedom of the press and democracy and Union and such
mechanical inventions as the steam engine and the locomotive and the high speed
newspaper press, and the telegraph, photograph, phonograph, and the telephone,
airplane, moving picture, wireless, talking picture and television.
This is not even a meagre outline of the freeing of man (insofar as he is
free) in respect of his mind and thoughts and tongue and ear and eye. There is
no word in this about the freeing of the eye to peer into the worlds of microbes
and of stars, nor the freeing of the ear to the harmonies of music, nor the
freeing of the mind from error thanks to logic and from terror thanks to the
accumulated experience of generations, nor the freeing of the mind to think
honestly about anything regardless of the taboos of society or the self-interest
of the body. And when we have outlined this vast field we have only begun.
We have still to tell of the freeing of the power in the arm of man from the
time he extended it with a club or rock on through to where he extends it with a
bullet or electric button, the freeing of his lungs until he can cross the ocean
in a submarine, the freeing of his skin from cold and heat, of his stomach from
famine, of his body and mind from disease, -- and when we have told all this our
tale of the freeing of man by man remains a fragment. It is a tale that can
never be told. This is not only because of its vast range and the intricate
inter-relation of every detail to the others and to the whole. It can never be
told because in the telling it is growing; somewhere, wittingly, unwittingly,
some of the two billion of men and women are at work freeing man, adding to a
glorious tale new glories that men will not be free enough to recognize or use,
perhaps, for a hundred years to come.
It is a myriad-sided, never-ending task and tale and joy, the freeing of man
by man; and it is the myriad-sided, neverending variety among individual men and
women, the rich resources given mankind by the fact that no two individuals are
precisely the same, that each forms a distinct combination of character, talent,
knowledge, skill, tastes, curiosity, heredity, environment and physical, moral
and mental strength, -- it is this that allows the task to be advanced and the
tale to be faintly imagined and the joy enjoyed. It is because the democratic
principle of the equality and rights of man allows mankind to free all this
power it has in men, and to let men enjoy themselves freeing mankind still more,
that it is the most fertile and powerful political, economic, social, and
philosophical principle that men have ever discovered.
The power in this principle lies in its guarantee by society to the
individual of the right to do freely that which most interests him, and its
guarantee to all other men of their right to judge freely his work.
Government of gasoline and electricity by the people does not consist in
every man being able to build an automobile or dynamo, any more than the
government of microbes by men consists in every one of us having a thorough
medical and scientific knowledge. Hardly more does government of the people by
the people consist in every man interesting himself deeply in political problems
and trying to work them out himself.
We govern the power in gasoline, first, by insuring any man who is
interested in the problem of governing that power the freedom to tackle it as
hard as he pleases, and, secondly, by remaining free to pass judgment broadly on
One of these engineer-minded men has it clear in his mind that gasoline can
be so governed as to run a wagon, but he can not make it clear to the rest of us
who are not so engineer-minded. And so to make it clear he makes us the first
automobile. When we see it running we then see clearly that he was right. But it
still is not at all clear to most of us that his automobile is safer than a
horse, or cheaper, simpler. better. The more engineer-minded men, however, see
that all this is true, too; in a widening circle they become interested in the
problem of man governing gasoline. They fight out among themselves the technical
questions, and when and as long as they all agree, we readily follow them. No
buyer demands solid tires on a pleasure car, now when all engineers favor
But when these men of technical sense disagree they come to us, the men of
common sense, and ask us not to solve their problems, but to pass judgment on
their different solutions. And through purchase we accord our highest prize in
the long run to the engineer who has solved the problem most clearly -- for that
means he has solved it in a way that those of us who are least mechanically
endowed can understand is the best solution.
The government of gasoline by man began with a contraption so simple in its
structure that one could see or hear its every organ, but so complicated in its
operation that even the genius who contrived it could never be sure of getting
home without a horse. Then by the democratic process of freedom mankind
developed a machine so amazing that it makes the gasoline not only drive it far
faster than a mile a minute but light its way at night, herald its arrival, and
stop it shortly, -- a machine so complicated structurally that no one genius
could ever have developed it and so simple to run that a child can run it.
Gasoline is being governed by the people when any man without engineering
knowledge can make it take him where he wants to go with a touch of the finger,
a touch of the foot, and a few simple rules.
The thing to note is that the human freedom that government of gasoline by
the people brings is achieved, first, by freeing all engineer-minded men to
tackle this problem, and second, by keeping the rest of mankind free to pass
judgment on their work. This system discourages the engineer from turning to the
best engineer as his supreme judge. It forces the best engineer to make himself
so clear that a moron can see his solution is the best. It insures him that the
greater his technical achievement is, the more he will gain the votes of the
This is noteworthy because this system is the one through which government
by the people for the people has been established, insofar as it is established,
over everything they govern, whether it be gasoline, electricity, microbes,
animals, music, fire, water, wind, earth or light. It is, too, the system
whereby government of the people by the people for the people has been or is
being established. This last is the most difficult and the most productive of
man's problems in government. It means the government of the most powerful of
the elements by the most marvelous and unaccountable among them, the government
of man himself by man himself for man himself.
The way to solve this problem of self-government is to follow these free
principles, while carefully avoiding an error, tricked out as truth, on which
despotism, benevolent or malevolent, is based.
So well hidden is this trap that Plato himself fell victim to it. In his
argument for government of all men by the wisest men, Plato seems to base his
reasoning on the government of sheep by men. The statesman, he said, is the
shepherd of the human flock, and since it would be absurd to reason that the
sheep should elect and direct the shepherd, the conclusion seems to follow that
the democratic theory is absurd. And so Plato divided his ideal state into three
specialized classes, -- rulers, fighters and farmers. He thought out elaborate
machinery to make sure that the human shepherds shall never be responsible to
the human sheep but only to other shepherds, -- that the philosophers need
answer only to the philosophers. And so men less wise and generous defend the
principle of government through dictatorship by a single autocrat, or by an
hereditary despot, or by some single class of men, whether the propertied or the
proletariat the oldest families or the giovinezza, the chosen Aryans or
the chosen Jews.
The error in all this is the same. There is a difference between the
shepherd and the statesman, a fundamental difference. The shepherd is a man
governing, for men, a different animal, the sheep. The statesman is a man
governing, for men, these same men.
The fact that in all cases, except that of man himself, the government by
man of whatever he seeks to govern, whether sheep or gasoline, is invariably
marked by his refusal to obey the governed, does not make this refusal the sine
qua non or cause of success; it makes it simply a worse trap for human
reason. It is not this negative detail that the shepherd and engineer are not
answerable to the sheep and gasoline that is essential, but the positive
principle that the shepherds and engineers are answerable to other men, -- in
last analysis to all other men, and not simply to shepherds and sheep-owners, or
to engineers and owners of oil wells. Under this principle the supreme judges of
the specialists are not the best of specialized minds but the commonest of lay
minds. It results that the specialists must bring the government of sheep and
gasoline by men to that point of perfection where a child can govern them. Thus
does this principle lead to success.
The way, then, to solve the great central problem of freedom, -- that of
government of the people by the people for the people,-is neither to depend on
the bulk of men to work out the solution, nor to make those who are the best
political engineers or philosophers, or statesmen or rulers, answerable only to
themselves, but to insure man, alone and in society, equally the rights of man.
This means allowing any one who is politically-minded to devote himself freely
to political problems, while allowing the rest of men, -- the engineer-minded,
farmer-minded, artistic-, financial-, economic-, business-, doctor-, research-,
artisan-, manual-, and other-minded men, the right of passing judgment freely
and frequently on his work.
These men do not want to think out their political problems for themselves
any more than the man with a bend for governing men wants to work out for
himself the problem of the automobile. The man who delights in making the soil
grow two ears of corn where one grew before does not want to stop and fumble
with the problem of how to distribute the extra ear, or of how to make his own
body cease growing a cancer. The cry for leadership in politics is simply the
demand by us all that our political inventors and explorers invent and discover
for us as all our other inventors and explorers are doing -- as each of us who
is following his natural bent is doing. We are tired of seeing politicians blame
our stupidity when we reject their truths, we want them to get down to their
business of making their political truths so clear that a child can understand
They need not worry then about our verdict. They need only fear that we will
vote so overwhelmingly for their truth as either to handicap by our gratitude
their further search for truth, or to cause us to overreach their truth and fall
again into error. When our vote is expressed by purchase we vote so readily for
the man who makes his truth most clear in automobiles, or oil, or steel, or
other things, that we load him now with a tremendous fortune liable to give him
a diseased idea of his own importance, or dull his children's enterprise. Or we
force them to leave the thing he can best do and try to solve a problem for
which he may have no aptitude, -- the problem of the distribution of wealth, of
making the most of it to bring more freedom to himself and children and everyone
by encouraging art, scholarship, medicine, industry, men. When the vote is by
applause instead of purchase we give our Lindberghs so much applause that we
deprive them of that freedom to live and act as simple folk which allowed them
to do their greatest work.
When a Washington's firm grasp of truth liberates us our gratitude is such
that, to show our pious respect, we make it heresy to follow his example and
meet the problems of our time so boldly as to rebel against the "thus far
and no farther" of the past. When a Lincoln makes the equality and rights
of man clearer, we are so grateful that we make a myth of a man who was proud of
being common; we forget that in so doing we fall into the very fault from which
he sought to save us -- that of disprizing or dishonoring members of our own
species. What Jesus rebuked the Jews for doing to Abraham, the Christians soon
were doing to Jesus, and for the same reason, to show their gratitude.
We are so ready to admit any man's truth if it is only made clear enough, so
grateful to those who make it clear and so cursed with an inferiority complex
about our species, that great teachers and liberators who seek to bring men to a
truer concept of the equal dignity and rights of man need to guard against our
deifying them more or less, or otherwise emotionally clouding over their central
truth, -- that Man, as Paine said, is Man's "high and only title, and a
higher cannot be given him."
There is no more effective way than this democratic way for each of us to
free ourselves from the tyranny of poverty, and disease, and ignorance, and
matter, and time. There is no simpler, safer, cheaper way. No elaborate
machinery is required: This is simply a question of freeing men so that their
nature can most naturally take its own course. Everyone wants to do what gives
him joy, and everyone is doing best his share in society when he is doing that
which gives him the most joy.
The profit motive? True, it exists, and it is a mistake to rail at it or try
to remove it. Whether he measures it in money, power, or whatnot, man will seek
profit, and he should, for it is the fuel that moves perhaps the greatest force
on earth, individual enterprise. Profit is but the surplus difference between
what one puts into a thing and what he gets out of it, and nothing living grows
except by getting back all it expends and something more. It is not profit we
need weed out but the three evils too much profit. too little profit, and dead
loss, -- for each of these dulls or kills individual enterprise. Provide a
condition of freedom and security for the individual to develop his natural
talent, and let him profit enough materially from his work to live fairly well,
and usually he needs little or no further encouragement to bring us the best he
has. When he is really bringing us his best, he is not working for money beyond,
what he needs to live comfortably and do his work.
The proof is that when he finds some way of further freeing us we cannot
keep him silent with bribes or even with comforts. He will do without comfort,
spend all his money borrow all he can, slave through day and night, wear himself
out, risk his life; he will do anything he needs to do simply to solve a problem
he has freely set for himself and force us by our common sense to agree that he
is right, -- that we can free ourselves from malaria by killing a
certain mosquito, that we can free ourselves from earth and fly. We do
not need to encourage with millions in money men who are doing what they can do
best; we can not contrive to discourage the men who are doing what they were
made to do.
Every revolution, every great human crisis invariably shows that there is
far more talent scattered through our species, and in the most unexpected
places, than we imagine. There seems to be no limit to the power of individual
enterprise, and there is no resource in which we are richer than individual men
and women, and none we use less or waste so appallingly.
All manner of means for freeing men are to be found widespread among men. We
had no way of divining that the man who could give us paper would be born in
China, that an Arab would bring it to us, an Englishwoman would give us a Turk's
idea of vaccinating against smallpox, an Italian would give us wireless, a
German Jew would find the cure of syphilis with the help of a Japanese, and that
Negroes instead of white men would be the first slaves to establish an enduring
republic of self-freed slaves. No one could have predicted that a Pole would be
the writer who would bring; the salt of the sea best in English to the English,
or that a Dutch dry-goods merchant would be the man to make the lens that freed
our eyes to discover the microscopic world. We can no more tell today what
bargeman on what river will rise to steer our freedom through a dangerous
conflict than our great-grandfathers could tell that a lanky Mississippi
raftsman would be the man to save the first great union of the free.
We have no way of telling from what family, nation, race or class our future
liberators will come, or from what farm, village, city, country, empire. We have
no way of knowing that our cook will never change one day into a poet, our
miller into a chemist, our farmer into a flier.
Yet there are some things we know, for they have been proved a million
times. We know that men will not stay put, that great changes are continually
happening in them, that the liberating genius of man is concentrated in no
family or place but is scattered generously through the whole species. We know a
ray of it was here yesterday, there today. We can divine only that it may be
somewhere else tomorrow. We know that not even one beam of it is the monopoly of
We know that out greatest liberators are those who make their liberating
truth most clear to all of us. Their greatness is in proportion to the speed
with which they can get us voluntarily to absorb and assimilate their truth as
fully as they have themselves. The sooner they can free us from the need of
their expert services, the more they allow us to build further on the top brick
they have laid, until that top brick becomes indistinguishable from all the
bricks above and below and around it.
We are beholden the least to those who seek to maintain themselves longest
in a position of superiority to us and convert a truth they have found into a
permanent source of tribute to themselves. Our true benefactors never seek to
impose themselves or their children on us, never seek in any field, political or
other, to be answerable to us only once for all time, or to alienate in the
slightest those inalienable rights of man that allowed them to do themselves
whatever they have done. The mark of the spurious liberator, of the autocrat in
every field, is the desire to make oneself more indispensable to mankind. We
know that our true liberator frees us more and more from dependence on him and
seeks only to enable others to outstrip him, -- he is a man of the great, proud
line of Whitman:
I am the teacher of athletes;
He that by me spreads a wider breast than
my own proves the width of my own;
He most honors my style who learns under
it to destroy the teacher.
We know all this, and in our hearts we know, too, that for each of us to
gain the most freedom we must all keep all the doors to life forever freely open
to every man and woman.
At the heart of our freedom, then, lies the democratic principle of the
equality and rights of man, the freedom of the individual to follow his natural
bent and to bring his findings to mankind for judgment, and to pass judgment on
the findings of his fellows. And at the heart of the rights of man lies the
freedom of speech and of the press. Do you still think that freedom of speech
and of the press is concerned simply with politics and words? Read then this
letter written by the School Board of Lancaster, Ohio, in 1826 and unearthed in
1920 by the Cleveland Press:
You are welcome to use the schoolhouse to debate all proper questions in,
but such things as railroads are impossibilities and rank infidelity. There is
nothing in the Word of God about them. lf God designed that His intelligent
creatures should travel at the frightful speed of 15 miles an hour by steam, He
would have clearly foretold it through His holy prophets. It is a device to lead
immortal souls down to hell.
The glory of Elizabethan England to me is Peter Wentworth. He was the one
who reminded the House of the rumors of what the Queen would do to those who
opposed certain bills, and of her messages commanding Parliament not to consider
certain measures, and who then spoke out: "I would to God, Mr. Speaker,
that these two were buried in hell, I mean rumors and messages." For this
the House itself sent him to the Tower. When he came back a year later he spoke
again for the right to speak freely in at least the House of Speech, and again
he was sent to the Tower.
The glory of Elizabethan England is likewise John Stubbs and his printer,
and those who stood with them. John Stubbs wrote a pamphlet protesting against
Elizabeth's proposed marriage with Alenšon, and for this he and his
printer were condemned to have their right hands cut off. The lawyers and judges
who protested were put in the Tower, and the right hands of John Stubbs and his
printer were cut off at the wrist by a knife driven through with a mallet. With
his left hand John Stubbs then waved his hat and cried, "God save the
Queen!" And though her Star Chamber might a little while continue to assert
the need of limiting "the excessive multitude of printers," her
cruelty shocked and his fortitude encouraged people, and their children rose up
in one hundred years and made the first king subject to the first Bill of the
Rights of Man.
And now their children's children and all of us may go freely to the
National Portrait Gallery in London and find one small room on the top floor big
enough not only for Elizabeth and the great men of her time (not Wentworth, not
Stubbs), but also for Henry VIII and the greater of those whose heads he had cut
off. But as we go on down chronologically through the rooms and centuries, and
the crude absolutist method of men governing men by cutting off their heads and
hands gradually gives way to men governing men by the free speech principles of
the Wentworths, and by the free press principles of the Stubbses, and by the
other rights of man they led to, the scene changes.
Where there were only a few portraits for each reign, and these, mainly of
rulers, generals, priests, the number and the variety of portraits grows more
and more, until on the ground floor we find the nineteenth century needing room
after room to house the great of England. There the rulers, generals and priests
become a minority amid the Shelleys and Jane Austens and Butlers, the Disraelis
and Gladstones, the Benthams and Mills, the Stephensons and Faradays and Listers
and Huxleys and Darwins.
Such is the great flowering of the genius of man that every people has
enjoyed and is enjoying as they have enjoyed and are enjoying equally the rights
In another gallery I looked at Leonardo's works after coming up through the
centuries at the Italian Art Exposition in Paris in 1935, and it dawned on me
that before his century the best eyes in Italy had been blind to the beauty in
the play of light, blind to shadow. I walked back then through the centuries
seeking shadow: Cimabue, Giotto, blind to shadow; Uccello discovering
perspective but ignoring shadow; then here and there a painting with here and
there a shadow, -- the shell in Botticelli's Birth of Venus casting a
shadow, but not Venus nor any of the figures nor the trees, no real perception
of shadow there. Shadow always everywhere, and everyone blind to it until
somehow one man saw shadow clearly, and then everyone thereafter seeing shadow.
Why did we need so long to make the simple, invaluable wheel? Could man ever
help but see the circular? Nature is all curves. It would seem that man must
have made the wheel long before achieving that miracle of abstract reason, the
brick. For men could not see so easily the square, cube, or straight line in
Nature. These man created. Yet America knew the square before Columbus came, but
not the wheel. Ages before mentioning the wheel, the Bible celebrates in the
tale of Babel not only the confusion of tongues but the discovery of how to "make
brick" and all it meant to men. To understand what a marvel the common
brick is, one needs to read the Bible afresh: Since "this they begin to do
... now nothing will be restrained from them" while "the people is one"
and "have all one language," -- not even the achievement of the great
ideal that mankind then at once magnificently set out for: The building of "a
city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven."
The wheel, despite all Nature's hints, also required a miracle of pure
reason. To turn the first natural disk into the first wheel one had to see
something that was there no more and no less than the straight line. Something
invisible, abstract, yet so tangibly there that one needed only to put finger
and thumb on it to make all men see -- the axis, and wheels everywhere.
The marvelous thing about us is not simply that it took so many men for one
to see the axis. It is perhaps even more marvelous that it took only one to see
it and demonstrate it clearly for each of us to see it at once, and for all of
us to keep it forever after. It is this marvelous power in our species that
democracy harnesses through its equal interest in and equal freedom for every
Underlying alike the brick and the wheel is a greater miracle -- Man's
creation of the straight line. How could it have taken us eras to see a truth so
simple and precious as the straight line? How many simple things of truth, of
beauty, of priceless value, lie today around us all, unseen, awaiting the marvel
of sight by some one becoming sight by all?
Surely in such a world we can not fail to keep building on the simple truth
of which we have had such proof: That Man's vast future lies in the democratic
philosophy that would give every one an equal chance, an equal freedom to tell
us all whatever truth he alone has seen or believes that he has seen, an equal
obligation to express his truth with that clarity and simplicity that makes us
all see it and thereby proves it true, and an equal right to refuse to accept
whatever one alone still doubts is true, an equal veto against whatever one
alone believes is false.
Of Cain and Abel, Socrates, Jesus and Mohammed
To understand is what is hard. Once one understands, action is easy. -- Sun
We learn to understand the new by studying the old. -- Confucius.
We shall now combine our individual power into one great power which is this
confederacy and we shall therefore symbolize the union of these powers by each
nation contributing one arrow, which we shall tie up together in a bundle which,
when it is made and completely bound together, no one can bend or break ... This
bundle of arrows signifies that all the lords and all the warriors and all the
women of the Confederacy have become united as one person. -- Laws of the
Confederacy of the Five Nations, or Iroquois Indians.
Man's freedom began with men uniting. Both love of kin and love of country
have served our species as a means of freeing man by uniting men. Blood
patriotism built the family into the nomad tribe and allowed man, through the
taming of the horse, sheep and cow, to free himself from some of his natural
limitations. As he freed himself from subjection to the accidents of the hunt,
he settled down and land patriotism rose to free him and his beasts from
Winter's hunger and cold and from the accidents to which the hunter and nomad
herdsman are prey. It grew through blood barriers, brought tribes together, tied
the nomads not only to the land but packed them together and built the City. It
grew through centuries of warfare between nomad and husbandman, which (as I
learned from George Cram Cook one day in the ruined temple of the Delphic
oracle) are compressed in the tale of Cain and Abel.
Cain was the first man known to love his country. Before his time there was
no fatherland. There was only father. The nomad patriot abhorred the thought of
being bound to the land where he happened to be born. He roamed the earth. Love
of a common father and common aversion to the land held together the nomad
tribe. Then came Cain.
Cain settled down. "Cain was a tiller of the ground." He brought
to the Lord Judge the fruits of the soils as his offering. But Abel remained "a
keeper of sheep," and "brought of the firstlings of his flock and of
the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But
unto Cain and to his' offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth."
Neither the Judge who in favoring the conservative had promised the innovator, "If
thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and ... thou shalt rule over him,"
nor the tribal bond of blood could prevent the conflict. "Cain rose up
against his brother, and slew him ... and builded a city."
The city united more men in a closer compass than the flock or farm, and
with it rose great empires, Nineveh, Babylon, spreading through mankind the
fruits of the city's work in freeing man from his limitations. So it was that
human wisdom grew strong and brave enough in Athens to take "Know thyself"
for motto and to begin to think and talk in terms of individual freedom and
universal union. It looked upon the slaves tilling the earth and revolted
against the dogma that man's freedom must remain bound to the soil. It
questioned the love of country on which the city's civilization was based, and
asked, as did the philosophers whose horrified countrymen called them Cynics,
dogs, "Why should I be proud of belonging to the soil of Attica with the
worms and slugs?" And it realized primitively, as Plutarch said of
Alexander, "the Cynic ideal on its political side by the foundation of
"The Cynics," says Professor Barker, "were descended from
Socrates; and the Cynics were cosmopolitans, who found their own reason and
knowledge sufficient for their needs, and, craving no guidance or instruction
from any city, took the world to be their home." With them, as he points
out, "two new ideas are entering the world, both destined to a long history
-- the idea that all men are naturally equal, and the idea that they are all by
nature brothers in a single human society."
Then came Jesus teaching men to render unto Caesar the things that are
Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's, -- to decide each in his own
conscience which things are Caesar's and which things are God's, to decide each
for himself what he owes to the gods of other men and what he owes to the god
Jesus went unto the mount of Olives ... saying, I am the light of the world:
he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of
The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy
record is not true.
Jesus answered ... Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true ...
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any
man: how sayest thou Ye shall be made free?
Jesus answered them, ... I speak that which I have seen with my Father; and
ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
They answered ... Abraham is our father.
Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works
of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth which
I have heard of God: this did not Abraham ... Your father Abraham rejoiced to
see my day.
Then said the Jews ... Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen
Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I
Then came Mohammed to be hailed too as a liberator, and first by the slaves,
and first of all by woman. He came into a society where a man inherited his
mother as part of his father's property, wore sackcloth and ashes when a
girl-child was born, and buried alive in the sand the sex that brought
poverty-ridden men more mouths to feed. Mohammed stood out against that society
"in the name of the Compassionate, the Merciful, the most Beneficient, who
hath taught the use of the pen." He freed the girl-child from burial alive,
and her mother from slavery, and through him tens of millions of women received
economic rights that Christendom did not allow until modern times. He freed not
only man from the myth that he was made of earth but woman from the myth that
she was made of man. Mohammed rationally taught, "He hath created the
sexes, male and female, from the diffused germs of life," and he preached a
single standard of morality for man and woman.
The truth that Jesus brought to make men free was so misunderstood that his
followers soon converted one of the most liberating of doctrines into an
authoritarian institution and a dogma that has kept many men and women from
striving after and enjoying truer and freer lives by promising them paradise
when they die if only they suffer till then the evils of this world. The freedom
Mohammed brought was corrupted until Mohammedan came to connote the seclusion of
woman, and Islam, which means "to make peace," came to connote Holy
Yet the teaching of Jesus with its appeal to the individual and to all
mankind, instead of to the rulers of men, or to this or that tribe or nation of
men, survived to do great service to human freedom. So, too, with the teachings
of Mohammed: They led to the wisdom of many of the Cynic and other Greek
philosophers being saved from the Christians and to the printed Bible being made
possible by the bringing of paper from China to the West, and to Voltaire
pointing to the Turks, when he wrote his Essay on Tolerance, as an
example for the world to follow.
Like the means of uniting men that preceded it the modern dogma of
nationalism is but an idea of men, no more, no less. It is a combination of the
patriotism of blood and patriotism of land, of the ideas of jus sanguinis
and jus soli as the lawyers who try to separate them say, -- a confused
and confusing mixture of our throwback to the nomad bound to his beasts and to
the peasant bound to the Soil.
It is historically a parvenu. It was not known in the time of Jesus
nor during the long centuries when what a European believed about God mattered
more than his blood or land As for the Moslem world, until the Turkish Republic
was established Islam asked the traveler for his religious belief rather than
his nationality; it organized men politically in its empires by religions and
not by nations. There was so little nationalist patriotism in the great century
of discovery that scarce an important explorer sailed under the flag of his
birth, and a Portuguese captain, Magellan, angry when refused an increase in pay
in Portugal, went over to Charles V of Spain, and, to prove to him that the
Spice Islands were not in the zone the Pope had given Portugal, set out on the
voyage that proved the world is round.
Nationalism really began to flourish only in the nineteenth century when it
did for freedom the great service of uniting the numerous petty states of Italy
and Germany into two great peoples. It rose as a means of securing those wider
and stronger political organizations which the steam engine and other inventions
were making more and more necessary. It rose too as a democratic offshoot, as a
lever for supplanting absolute royal sovereignty with popular sovereignty, and
alien rule with home rule.
Nationalism reached its crest early in our century when the major nations
were united to the point where further application of this principle was bound,
because of the multiplicity of small nations in such states as Austria, Russia
and Turkey, to begin dividing the world more into small compartments than
integrating it on the greater scale that the gasoline engine and electrical and
other inventions were making increasingly necessary. Since nationalism united
men by making all-important, not Man's need of union, but things separating one
group from others, it could not possibly unite into one state the groups it had
united as nations, except by the imperialist methods to which the greater
nations turned. Its stress on points of difference between nations, once this
stress had brought most of their nationals together, could only keep mankind
divided and make for greater misunderstandings, quarrels and wars.
Nationalism's main positive, constructive, integrating work being done, all
the human force and sentiment and gratitude which its liberating work had
gathered behind it could only pour into and operate the negative, destructive,
disintegrating principles inherent in it from the start. And so we had the World
War of Nations, for the place in the sun of big nations, for the rights of small
nations to independence and self-determination, and, as the need of organizing
the world to prevent a return of this nationalist inferno grew more imperious,
for a league of nations.
This period of transition was marked, as all such periods must be, by both
the forces involved, by the one ending and by the one beginning. The
constructive, liberating side of nationalism in its death agony served human
freedom by creating in the League and International Labor Organization and Court
and Bank the first such world institutions to live, and by thus preparing the
way for The Union of free men.
It served human freedom in other ways too. It replaced the remaining
hereditary autocracies in the West -- Russian, German, Austrian and Turkish --
with more democratic governments. It restored to the human equality and dignity
that all men crave such peoples as the Poles and Czechs, whose position became
intolerably inferior once the theory of nationalism succeeded religion and
dynasty as the basis of politics and the popular criterion of liberty. It gave
new life to other peoples such as the Chinese and Turks and made them a better
medium for their own westernization than imperialism could possibly have been.
But when all is said, it remains true that in our generation nationalism
reached its logical limits, its constructive elements began to wane and its
destructive ones to wax, until its spiral definitely turned downward. It is
operating less and less to bring men together and more and more to keep men
apart. It has turned against both society and the individual, it has changed
masters and quit serving the freedom of man to serve the freedom of the state --
as was shown so strikingly when 3,000,000 Sudetens were deprived of their
individual freedom and delivered to autocracy in the name of democratic
self-determination. Like everything that has outlived its usefulness nationalism
has changed from a beneficent into a maleficent force.
The political theories which the tribesman and the countryman and the
nationalist represent have the same motive and method. They seek to free men
from the tyranny of accident by uniting them, and they try to unite men by
subjecting them to the accident of how or where they happened to be born. They
make this accident the all-determining tyrant for each individual by circling it
with magic or mysticism.
Nationalism was saved for a while from its basic irrationalism by its early
connections with democratic rationalism. Its rapid degeneration now may be seen
from the way it is galloping back behind Guide Hitler to the nomad's belief in
the superiority of the tribal blood and tribal gods. Such priestcraft may still
be necessary among the more backward peoples -- and it is for each people to say
for itself through its institutions and its leaders how politically backward it
But while nationalism was growing, there was also growing up another means
of uniting men, democratic Union. It stemmed from Socrates and Jesus rather than
from Cain and Abel. It grew out of the Renaissance of that democratic appeal to
reason that produced Greek philosophy and made Athens great in the days when
Pericles said, "These things are made for men, not men for them." It
rose too from the Reformation that sent the individual back from authority to
the Word itself, to its doctrine that "the sabbath was made for man, and
not man for the sabbath," and its insistence on the equality of the soul of
man and the importance of the humblest person.
It came up with the English and the American and the French Revolutions to
unite men for their Bill of Rights, for the principle that all men are created
equal, for the ideals of LibertÚ, EgalitÚ, FraternitÚ. The
men it has freed no longer need mysticism to keep them together. They need only
Union now to bring them all together to free mankind still more. They have now
enough experience behind them and intelligence in them to understand that
freedom lies in free men freely uniting, trusting in each other and depending on
each other. They are mature enough to understand that the way to man's freedom
can not possibly lie in worshiping the accident of birth. They know that freedom
for each can lie only in men freeing all the billion possibilities that the
billions of men can alone supply for the billion-sided task of freeing man from
accident's arbitrary rule. They know that to free man from the accident of death
they must begin by freeing his mind from the accident of birth.
Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable. -- Webster.
There never was an independent man, or nation, or empire, and there never
will be. To think these possible is foolish. It is worse to believe that one has
achieved them, to glory proudly in one's independence or his nation's. It is
There is no shame in admitting one's dependence on his fellows, and the
dependence of one's nation on one's species -- dependence not only on the living
but on the billions and billions of men who have brought us painfully up. We
need not blush to remember that in the sweat of arms like ours was paved the
path on which we stroll, that through a human patience perhaps surpassing ours
our enemy the wolf was made our friend the dog, that we owe much to the boldness
of Xerxes in defying the gods by throwing the first bridge across the
Hellespont, and to the courage of the Spartans at Thermopylae, and to the wisdom
that Socrates by his way of dying carried far beyond the grave.
We need not hang out heads in recognizing that minds and hands like ours are
somewhere in nearly everything we see, and are protectingly around us wherever
we may be, that they discovered the microbes that cling to fingers and made the
waxed paper and invented the machines to put it round the food we announce "no
human hand has touched." There is no shame in being mindful of our
dependence on the men who today are tapping the rubber tree in the tropics,
braving the explosive gas of the coal mine, feeding the hungry silkworm,
watching the whirring spindles, cleaning the streets and the surgeons' lances,
tracking storm to its Arctic lair and fever to its African marsh, guarding the
thoroughfare we crowd and the lonely reef that lies in ambush for us.
The shame lies instead in forgetting all we owe our species, exaggerating
what little mankind owes to us, combining ingratitude, conceit and usurpation to
make a patriotic virtue and profess that we are self-made and independent. The
shameful thing is for a man to think that mankind is in his debt when the
balance is struck between what mankind has done and is doing every day for him,
and what he has done to make his species freer and happier. It is still more
shameful to act as if mankind were so much in his debt as to justify his
receiving, and his children and his children's children receiving, millions more
than other men, or political, social or other title and position whose
possession needs no further justification -- no matter how many other
benefactions other men confer thereafter on society. The shame is not lessened
when such delusions of grandeur are enjoyed by masses of men instead of by
individuals, when a whole nation assumes that it has given more than it has
received, that there is something naturally superior and peculiarly sacred in
it, that it is the Elect of God or the Chosen People that it was meant to be the
lord of others. These are the things that are shameful in men, and they are
shameful because they are so tawdry and false and unworthy of a species whose
name gives us the adjective, manly.
The freedom of man goes hand in hand with the interdependence of men,
whether organized or tacit. This is true in every field, it has always been
true, and the more our freedom and self-reliance have grown, the more
inter-dependent we have become, and the more we have needed union with more men.
It is a common thing to find a man who treats all the rest of us as stupid,
as obstacles in his path from which he longs to be free. Each of us has
sometimes felt that way about some, or all, of the rest of us. It is natural
that each man should always be ready to indict the mass of mankind as stupid. We
are all ignorant and awkward and stupid in far more ways than we are skilled and
wise. That makes us esteem more our own wisdom where we have it. The fewer the
things in which we are wise, the more value we set, of course, on our wisdom,
and the more irritating becomes the stupidity of our fellows in the field where
we are wise.
But the interesting side of this is the other side of the medal, for it is
the positive side. Though a man may be stupid in no matter how many things, he
is almost certainly more skilled or wiser than most of us in some few things, or
at least in some one thing. "In every god there is something divine,"
Anatole France remarked, and we can add that in every man there is some of Man.
I once had a cook who I thought was a hopeless moron until one day she made an
apple pie. It was the one thing she knew how to do, it was her specialty, but
she could do it so succulently well that one forgave her a heap of other things.
The man who was no good at piemaking would be a fool not to depend on her
for apple pies, and the one who could make pies, but not so well, would be a
fool not to depend on her for instruction. This example being typical, we can
smile while minorities of different experts nearly 2,000,000,000 strong accuse
our (and their) species of a hundred million stupidities. We can be sure our
species will survive and each of us will grow richer, wiser, freer, so long as
we enjoy this wealth in minorities of experts -- and are not so stupid as to try
to be independent of any of them.
Put in other terms, the wildest reactionary is never 100 per cent
conservative, and the wildest revolutionary is never 100 per cent rebel. Our
Neville Chamberlains are the first to rebel at the cut-and-dried methods of
diplomacy, our Lenins are conservative not only in their habit of dress but in a
host of other things. Conservatism and radicalism partly result from men
differing in the velocity of their adaptability to change, and from this
standpoint the most hide-bound among us would appear a flighty revolutionist to
his own great-grandfather. Some of course in every generation welcome change in
general relatively more than others, but usually we are each conservative about
many things and actively rebellious against only a few.
But the result of our division into conservatives and rebels is that we each
can depend absolutely on our species never lacking plenty of men either to rebel
against every conceivable obstacle to the freedom of man, or to conserve every
bit of the freedom won by yesterday's rebels until those of today prove the new
bit of freedom that they bring is really worthy of acceptance. This may not
conduce to our independence, but can we have a better way than this to free
It is not our greatest men who think it beneath them to acknowledge their
dependence on others. They teach us not to depend on ourselves alone if we would
free what is individual in us, but to study diligently other men who are
masters, for, as Sir Joshua Reynolds said, "The more extensive your
acquaintance with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will
be your powers of invention ... and what may appear still more like a paradox,
the more original will be your conceptions."
As it is with those lonely venturers, our great men in every field, so it is
with those who are pioneers in the narrower sense of the word. If any man can be
called independent it is the pioneer who goes out into the wilderness and carves
out his home, the man of the type of Mr. Bulow, the Connecticut farmer who took
Brillat-Savarin on a turkey hunt in 1794 in the forest near Hartford....
These pioneers of Connecticut were among the first to sacrifice the
sovereignty of the state and ratify the Constitution of the United States, Their
forebears, the first men to pioneer in Connecticut, Lord Acton notes, "possessed
so finished a system of self-government in the towns, that it served as a model
for the federal Constitution."
It was precisely in these conditions, when in the American wilderness
civilized man was thrown most upon his own resources, that his dependence on his
fellows was most driven home to him, and men came to realize that their freedom
lay in trusting in each other, in uniting freely on the basis of the equal
rights and dignity of each of them. It was in these pioneering conditions that
the men of these American colonies, before they constituted their Union, united
under state constitutions that form the first written constitutions in history
superior to and limiting the government and alterable only by the people
As the pioneers moved westward for 200 years men had to depend on women to
do not only a woman's work but a man's work too, -- to seize the reins and drive
the covered wagon while the man stood off the Indians, to take his rifle and
defend the children when he fell or was away. Pioneering conditions made so
clear the dependence of men and women on each other that there finally began in
the Rocky Mountains the liberation of half the human race. There never were men
more independent than the cowmen and prospectors and homesteaders of Wyoming in
1868, and they were the first to recognize and extend their dependence on women
by giving them the vote.
Our freedom has always been inseparably bound to our faith in our fellows,
and the more of them we have trusted, and the more implicitly, blindly, we have
depended on each of our fellow-men -- no matter what race, nation, class or sex
-- the more we have been rewarded with freedom. Truly of the stuff of dreams is
our species made.
Two hundred, one hundred, fifty years ago one finds everywhere in every
field far less dependence of men upon each other, and far less freedom. Then
perhaps ten or a dozen men entrusted themselves for fifty miles to a stage-coach
driver with four or six horses, after making inquiry, and scrutinizing their man
Now a thousand men rush into a train and are whisked off sixty miles in an hour.
They may do it twice a day through every year or they may cross a continent
without ever going up to the locomotive to see what manner of man is there with
his hand on the reins of hundreds of horses, with his eye now on his watch and
soon searching vigilantly through the mist for the signal lamps.
They may do this all year without it once occurring to them that they are
all trusting their lives to a man at the throttle, and to the unknown men who
made his watch, and to the man at the throttle of the train hurtling toward
them, and to the maker of his watch, and to distant train dispatchers and their
watches and clocks, and to the signal men, and to the brakemen, and to the long
line of men who made the brakes and the wheels and the cars and the locomotives,
and to the men who made and inspected and laid the rails, and to the section
hands, and track-walkers, the bridge-builders, the tunnel-makers. We can not
enjoy the freedom from the horse's limitations that a train gives without
trusting our lives blindly to the good faith of thousands of unknown men.
And they, in turn, have to trust in millions of passengers having faith
enough in the railway to use it. The Great Eastern, that forerunner of
our Atlantic liners, failed not from lack of room for passengers, -- she was
longer than nearly all the ocean greyhounds afloat sixty years later, -- but
because she lacked passengers. She failed because ocean travelers in 1857 lacked
faith in steamships, in their makers and their crews and in men generally.
The train and the ocean liner are two of many wonders that are possible only
through the willingness of men to depend utterly on their fellow-men. Wherever
we go, whatever we do, we need but keep our eyes open to see the same phenomenon
of freedom for each marl through faith in every man.
It is in every item in our newspaper as it is in every bed in our hospital.
Our newspapers, now that they reach to the ends of the earth for men who are
interested in and need to know everything on earth, require for their
functioning far more confidence all round than ever before, far more faith in
unknown men. The statesman, the banker, the businessman who closes his door on
the press, who impatiently tries to dodge when the newsmen surround him may not
realize, when he suppresses or distorts or falsifies to them the news of what he
has been doing, that he is hurting most himself. Yet, however important he may
be, he has only a few items of news to give compared to all those he needs to
get, and the more he handicaps the newsmen in their work of accurately and
quickly reporting the essentials in every field to everyone, the more he
contributes to a condition that poisons the air which he himself must breathe.
Our great-grandfathers rarely trusted their lives to men they did not know,
our grandfathers did so only sparingly, but we are doing it all the time, many
of us nonchalantly many times a day. Yet it is now, and especially among the
more trusting peoples, which is to say the freer peoples, that the death rate is
far lower and the span of life is growing. We eat and drink almost anywhere on
earth without the fear that man once had that strangers might poison him. We
pile into elevators and go dizzily down, we dodge through streets crowded with
cars more powerful than the monsters of antiquity, we jump into taxicabs without
worrying whether the driver may possibly be drunk -- and we never suffer half
the qualms that grandfather did.
In his time there were never on the roads nearly so many horse-drawn
vehicles as there are now horseless ones. When he was out driving in the buggy
he did not need to trust that the men driving the few buggies he met would keep
to their side of the road and not run into him and kill him. He could depend on
the other man's horse and his own horse not colliding even if both drivers went
to sleep, and he could be reasonably sure that an accident would not be fatal.
Paradoxically, the more that men depend upon machines, the more they must
depend on men, and on more men. The number of slaves who labored up the Great
Pyramid is small compared to the world-scattered, ungeneralled army of free men
who now help bring each tourist to see that work of autocrats and slaves.
The doing of a book may seem an independent enterprise, one requiring few
hands compared to those needed to bridge the Golden Gate. Yet I would sooner try
to count the hair of my head than the men and women who have lent a hand merely
on the mechanical side of the writing of this book: The men who felled the
trees, who brought them to the paper mill, and mined and smelted its minerals
and provided it with chemicals and fuel and grease, who loaned the money to
build the mill and provide the machinery for it, who ran the mill and
distributed the sheet of paper on which these words are now being written by a
typewriter, -- and all the world-scattered men who put that typewriter on this
desk among them far away natives who helped bring it bits of rubber and provided
its inked ribbon (we must count in, too, the cotton-pickers).
And then there is the host of men behind this desk, this chair, this house,
this fountain pen, this ink, and behind the universal postal system that carries
this "manuscript," and the machines that set in type every letter in
it, and the presses that print that type, -- and the tale is neither finished
nor complete as far as it goes.
And when we have finished with the mechanical side there would remain the
substance of the book. That seems to be something independent, personal, but the
book is studded with allusions to only some of those who have lent me a hand. If
I sought merely to list all the men and women, great and obscure, known and
unknown to me, whom I thank for encouraging me and helping give this book what
substance it has, there would be no space left in it. Even to express my thanks
I must depend on Lincoln who solved the problem so well when he wrote in his
letter to Conkling and the "unconditional Union men" of 1863:
Thanks to all -- for the great Republic, for the principle it lives by
and keeps alive, for man's vast future, -- thanks to all.
I can not even number the individuals, living and dead upon whom I have had
to depend, and upon whom I am glad to depend to bring before your eyes these
Let us then all keep clearly in our minds and tightly in our hearts that in
Union there is freedom, and that each shall be the freer and happier the more we
all recognize our dependence on the individual, on each other and on all our
species. We are all the losers when one of us is not doing the work that is joy
for him. we are all the gainers when he is doing what he loves to do, for he is
then doing his share best. The more deliberately and fully and trustingly we
unite with each other and depend upon each other for our freedom the more we
shall solve the problem of so arranging our society that each lives in it more
happily and freely. For freedom is like love, the more of it we give, the more
of it we can enjoy, and love is like union, too. True love can not do without
union, nor can there be full union without love, nor freedom without either, nor
either without freedom.
We have too long forgot that freedom and love were born together, and we
have yet to learn that they can not live and grow without each other. As a child
sometimes sees deeper than a man, so Man, when he was making words for those
ethereal solid things that he has never touched and always reached for, saw into
them more deeply than we do and he made his word for love his word for
free. We have too long forgot that we began to free with the
Gothic frijon and the Sanskrit pri, which means, to love;
we have yet to learn that not simply through the Gothic frijonds up from
the Sanskrit priyon for beloved but from the very nature of
things stem together friend and freedom.
Man has on earth no one but Man to help him, and what a mighty, what a
generous, what a kindly and abiding and dependable friend and liberator is Man
to Man. Man has already wrought miracles of Man by Man for Man. These are great,
and they are but a hint of those that will be done when our Union opens Man's
vast future as each Man pledges each:
Thy freedom is my freedom as is my freedom thine.
Contents -- Chapter XII