It Won't Work Itself
IT IS DICTATORSHIP, ALL THE WAY, OR IT IS LIBERALISM. WHICH?
By W. W. WAYMACK, Editor, Des Moines, Iowa, Register and Tribune
Commencement Address at Morningside College, June 6, 1939
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 35-41
THIS is a college of Liberal Arts, primarily. You are being graduated from such a college. The very existence of Liberal Arts colleges implies an emphasis on the humanities, reflects a conviction that things broader and deeper than materially "getting ahead" are vital for the realization of human destiny. The Liberal Arts college is a product and a facet of Liberalism. And Liberalism, especially your stake in it and your responsibility for it is what I shall speak about.
Fundamentally Liberalism is a theory about human nature, which says there is something sacred about the individual person, that he has certain rights to self development and self expression which may not justly be denied him. It asserts that he has not only the right but the capacity to think; that there is in him both the urge and the power to progress; that the line of his progress is toward and not away from spiritual freedom; and that institutions created by man must serve this central purpose.
Human nature, Liberalism concedes, does not change appreciably in the centuries. Men of Egypt in its days of greatness were little different from men of today. But aspirations are inherent. Knowledge increases. Concepts broaden. Environments change. Man extends his mastery of physical environment. First vaguely and then more clearly he recognizes the great goal to be freedom—freedom from want, freedom from ignorance, freedom from oppression, Freedom!
Liberalism recognizes the need of institutions. It perceives man to be both an individual, who must not be annihilated in the interest of the tribe, and a social creature, who must find his freedom in ordered relations. Liberalism excludes anarchy, which negatives freedom on the left, and autocracy, which repudiates it on the right. Liberalism is the middle way. Most importantly, it is a WAY. There must be government. It must be self-government. Men are ultimately capable of that. The mechanism of Liberalism is democracy, always necessarily imperfect. Men may fail for the moment, recoil, sink back, seem to welcome defeat—but inexorably, for it is of their essence, distinguishing them from the beasts,they will struggle back to the great aspiration, they will courageously renew the experiment. It is their destiny, and they will win.
That is Liberalism.
Liberalism is an optimistic philosophy. It sees the two-sideness of man—the individualist and the social creature, the thinking being and the animal origin, the aspect of greed and the aspect of benevolence, the principle of evil and the principle of good, the Force we call God and the Force we call Satan. It believes that the very existence of this conscious creature, this probing and loving and hoping and perpetually dissatisfied being on this little ball in this vast universe is not without significance, not without purpose; and it believes that the purpose is greater and finer than a mere jungle struggle—that man is mysteriously but portentously more important than an amoeba, better than a wolf.
There is also the pessimistic philosophy. It is sometimes thoroughgoing, fatalistic, completely defeatist. It rejects the concept of progress. It sees human social life as but a cycle without meaning and without hope. Germination, flowering and decay, for civilizations as well as for individual man, as well as for a shrub. It is sometimes less than thoroughgoing, concedes the importance of evolution, finds ultimate truth and the realization of divinity in some particular state of development and stops with finality there. Beyond that, nothing.
Life, says Hegel, is struggle. That is the whole of it. Every idea meets a contrary idea. Thesis and antithesis. They wrestle and synthesis comes. That is God's method. That, indeed, IS God. It is in the creation of institutions that the process comes to its climax. The greatest of institutions is the modern national state—a particular kind of national state, resting on instinctive recognition of the limits of attainable unity.
"The state (says Hegel) is the manifestation of God on earth. It is absolute. There is nothing beyond it. It conforms to no rules of conduct. It recognizes no right but its own. It is without sin and beyond criticism. The state is atotality. It is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth. It is its own end. Individuals in the state are like cells in the human body. All the worth which a human being possesses, all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the state." And, further:
"To require the state to define its mission or to limit its activities in relation to other states is to ask the impossible. By its nature and divine inspiration it is dynamic. The moment objectives are reached, a new national purpose is born, and the state goes forward to achieve it. If it fails to do so, it begins to die. Satisfied states are dying states. It is true that there have been periods of peace and happiness in the history of the world, but these are the blank pages of history."
In short, neither internally nor externally can the purpose of this institution, the state, be defined or limited. Synthesis ends here. The individual is as nothing. The state must be"ueber alles."
This insistence on the complete dominance of Something over the human individual, and therefore of the individual's inconsequentially, and this associating of the dominant Something with Divinity itself, is as old as human existence, and, in its essence, older than that.
It goes back to the battling stag which rules the herd by force.
It goes back, less far, to all forms of despotism, in family, tribe, clan.
It goes back to Caesarism.
It is reflected today in the so-called "leader" principle.
It is the task of statesmen in each age, said Talleyrand, to invent new names for things that had grown discredited under the old ones.
Man has a right to be free, says Liberalism, and institutions exist for him. Man has no right at all to freedom, says its opposite, and institutions must be his master.
Reason and ethics and humaneness, says Liberalism, may be united illimitably in human affairs for the providing of a way for the progressive realization of man's rights and his destiny.
"Nonsense," says anti-Liberalism; "And that is the end of the matter."
So much on the philosophy. I know that to college students of today in America that is merely a refresher and that you will make allowances for its sketchiness.
What now of the present status in the world of this Liberal philosophy and of its mechanism, Democracy? What, also, of the historic record, which it may be important to have in mind.
Only a short time ago—-when, for instance, I was sitting where you are—it definitely seemed that all was secure for Liberalism at least in America, and that as to all the rest of the world the Liberal idea was marching. The period of the American and French revolutions had seemed determining. Everywhere Democracy was gaining. Its sweep seemed sure. We could look ahead confidently to its virtually universal triumph. There was nothing to worry about. The Fathers had attended to things.
Even the Great War appeared to wise students to be essentially a furthering of the process. The really significant result appeared to lie in the wiping out of Romanoff, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties—a sort of completion of the work of the revolutions a little over a century before.
And the great sweep of political and social Liberalism had coincided with the so-called industrial revolution. Modern politics and modern economics seemed natural Liberal partners. The Liberal philosophy was extended to economics. Freedom became the principle and the catchword there. It paid the world enormously in terms of wealth productionand diffusion. Increasing and prosperity went along with the advance and entrenchment of democracy.
New states set up after the war were all, save the Soviet state, democratic—and the Soviet state in its philosophy aimed at relatively early democratization.
You are all aware of the reversal. The passions of war, producing the blunders of statesmen, in the Versailles peace and after, led to the undermining of the new Liberalisms and eventually to the jeopardizing of even the old. The "peace system"—the international order of law as a means to progressive achievement of justice, through the league and world court—even the arms limitations, have collapsed. Nationalism of the rabid sort envisaged by Hegel was enormously stimulated. Illiberal regimes, ruthless in the domestic sphere and truculent in the international, have arisen, grown powerful, spread. The sweep is not toward democracy; it is ominously away from it. The new autocratic regimes have not only replaced democracy; they repudiate it, deny the validity of Liberalism, have themselves become international. Partly because of genuine grievances, but partly also because of the nature of the new regimes acting on the old autocratic philosophy, we see substituted again for the concept of international order under law the concept of international anarchy —and its inevitable product, a precarious balance of armed power, heading toward general war.
Liberalism and democracy since about 1929 have been in retreat. They seem almost to be beaten. The trend is the other way.
We could readily become quite discouraged.
But let us remember that human history, though brief in relation to creation, has been long in terms of generations.
The ebbs and flows of the great human aspiration are no unique phenomenon.
To go no farther back than that, I could quote from Herodotus, the Greek, a most interesting debate between three ancient Persians as to the merits and demerits of the several forms of government—democracy, oligarchy, monarchy. The arguments are the same as those that are made today.
I could cite the rise and fall of Athenian democracy, and stress its magnificent flowering.
We should certainly not fail to remember, primarily as a warning, the breakdown of the Roman Republic, the coming of Caesarism, and the eventual decay of that.
The warning lies in the fact that a magnificent civilization, marred only by the slave and half-slave classes at the bottom, was built up by Rome. It was magnificent, in a political, particularly in an administrative sense. It was magnificent in its creation of a long "Roman peace." It was magnificent in its development of trade, credit, industry. It was magnificent in its systems of communications—as good and as expeditious as anything the modern world knew until the coming of steam power so short a time ago. It was magnificent in its law, which still is the basis of much of modern law. It was magnificent in many of its material creations. Aqueducts built by the Romans still in some cases carry water supplies. Bridges still exist. New pipe lines and motor roads and rails in the Near East parallel or crisscross the relics of Roman highways. Britain, which was a Roman province longer than the time from Plymouth Rock to today, had more of central heating under the Caesars than today. The Roman society was well regulated. Trucking on Rome was limited to hours of night, as on our Iowa concrete today.
All this mighty civilization was as impressive, seemed as permanent, as what we have since developed.
Yet it did all fail. It fell, significantly enough, gradually, insidiously, by decay. The limited kind of democracy that was the Roman Republic failed because of internal weakness,at the bottom, and because of its inability to handle, through the machinery of a city-state, the problems of expanded empire. But its traditions were tenacious. And the new regime had become a complete autocracy long before forms of traditional self-government were abandoned. Augustus had his
puppet senate, to which he paid punctilious respect, even as Hitler has his reichstag, and employs his plebiscites. Augustus based his despotism on simply absorbing the titles and powers of the historic Republican agents, just as modern despots have done.
When Liberalism and Democracy are overturned, it is always with the pretense that truer and more effective democracy is what is being substituted.
And after Rome fell, after the last flickerings of the torch of freedom lighted in Hellas had ceased, civilization retreated into the long Dark Ages. From Augustus to the Reformation all Liberalism was in retreat. From the later Roman emperors to 1600, for approximately a thousand years, even the spark of liberal speculation seemed extinct throughout the world.
Dark Ages could happen. Presumably they still can. That is the warning. The record can be interpreted entirely in ways of gloom.
But let us approach from another side. The Liberal idea, refined in each experiment, IS old, it is persistent, it refused to die, it reappears.
Lest we be unduly dismayed by the strains and cracks, by the backsets and calamities that our modern experiment is manifesting, let us reflect that we moderns, too, have been engaged in this business but briefly. We have only been trying to MAKE Liberalism work a relatively little while.
Bear in mind that the nation state is itself very young. Representative institutions in nation states are still newer. The theories of individualism and natural rights on which our own set of representative institutions rest are, at least in their politically potent form, newer yet.
The earliest roots of the Liberal system, so called, in England are traced back but six centuries. The Reformation, with its incidental stimulus to individualism and its emphasis on the rights of people, was a phenomenon of the Sixteenth Century. The period of ferment that produced our and the French revolution was a phenomenon of the later Eighteenth. When the Nineteenth Century opened a few Swiss cantons represented the democratic idea in practice, with the American republic struggling to be born and the British monarchy evolving into a working democracy. Europe was still, despite the French cataclysm, in the monarchic, dynastic, autocratic stage in which the national state, emerging from feudalism, first took form.
Not until the Twentieth Century did Asia begin seriously to modify the autocratic idea. It would be an optimist who should say that it has made much progress.
Only one of the first class powers of continental Europe was a working democracy when the world war came. Italy, then but a power of the second class, or third, had only achieved unity and temporary constitutionalism toward the end of the Nineteenth Century. Half the population of England was excluded from participation in the democratic function until 1918, and of the United States until 1920.
Let us not forget the newness, the brief and limited experience, of modern democracy.
Yet it has produced enormous values. If preserved it can multiply them. The great question is whether this modern flowering of Liberal greatness and Liberal values shall, like the one of Periclean Greece, prove to be but a historic episode—a brief moment of richness and human growth and relative happiness, to be followed by another subsidence into that which the alternative is.
Now, superfluous though it be, I want to tie all this down to America and to you.
So far, I have asked what Liberalism is, and I have tried to answer the question. I have talked of its current status in our Twentieth Century world, and glanced back at the remoter past. I have hoped that this would bring the problem from the realm of speculative philosophy to the realm of practical concerns. Lest in any degree I may have failed, let me be direct and blunt and personal. Let me ask the forthright question, "What would the failure to preserve Liberalism mean to you, you lads and lassies, rather than to any generalization like 'Humanity' or 'The World' or even 'The United States'?"
I might of course mention also those who will come after you. But I say to you, having in mind the pace of events, that in all probability either Liberalism will be made reasonably secure again for a considerable historic period or it will wink out during the lives of most of you collegians here. It is fair and pertinent therefore to think in terms of your ideals, your interests, your new-blossoming lives.
It is not any mere idealistic abstraction that I am talking to you about. For the alternative to Liberalism is clear, stark, concrete, and it exists. It spreads. It menaces. It is not remote but imminent. And it can be seen, examined, measured, assessed and understood.
The alternative is Illiberalism. There can be no other. And the substance of Illiberalism is not in the least vague.
If Liberalism goes, it means you, and you, and you a complete denial of the right of access to information, knowledge, except such poisoned information as bigoted Masters choose from time to time to permit you to have.
It means that YOU will not be allowed to have newspapers that tell facts, even approximately, about any issue of consequence—nor magazines—nor books.
It means that YOU will not be allowed to see movies or hear broadcasts that present anything at all save that which your Masters want you to get.
It means that you will not be allowed forming of opinions on the basis of a free flow of information and a free flow of interpretation—of argument, of debate. It means that you will be told what opinions you must hold, what things you may say, what convictions you may seek to communicate.
It means that you will, all of you, be herded—regimented mentally and spiritually and physically—that you will wheel right in your thinking as well as in your physical bodies, when the command comes, "Wheel right!"—that you will wheel left in body and soul when overnight that becomes the order. It means that you will take your religion, like your politics, in the solution and from the spigot that a grim "fuehrer" or a despotic clique arbitrarily directs.
It means that you will cling to any shred of individual self-respect and dignity, any fragment of devotion to Freedom, that you will covertly read a pamphlet printed in some cellar or listen to a short-wave radio from abroad, or whisper any kind of dissent in any kind of group, at your peril, at your deadly peril.
It means that if you actually dare to be a man or a woman, not a mere herded beast, you will find yourself in a concentration camp—or before a firing squad.
It means that some fanatic who "thinks with his blood," which means with his prejudices and passions, chooses to surmise that you have whispered dissent, or manifested by some casual action that dissent lurks in your mind—it means even that if malice moves some person to denounce you for such things, you may stand before some tribunal which also "thinks with its blood" and have your life disposed of by that kind of tribunal.
It means that you will be able to trust no one, not even your close-of-kin, and that no one will dare trust you.
It means militarization and a depressed economy—lowered living standards.
It means guns ahead of butter, and all which that implies.
It means the end of "free enterprise," private initiative in all phases of your vocation.
It means that, if you want to live, you will either become a skulking creature, secretly opposed to the regime but heiling and cheering the more loudly, so as to conceal your inner reactions, or you will yourselves "come to think with your blood," that you will yourselves accept the conditions of an illiberal life, and become as ants in a termitary.
You will be slaves voluntary or involuntary. That, and no less, is what it means to YOU.
* * *
A nation, like an individual, has its two-sided nature and its two-sided responsibility.
There is the domestic side for the organized group, corresponding to the individualist side of Man.
But just as The Man is also social—a herd animal, if you wish—any organized group of men has its essential relations to the larger group—and the Nation State has them to all the nations collectively—that is to say, to the world.
The international relations are complex, intimate, inescapable—and bedeviled.
If the basic Liberal philosophy is right, and if therefore the preservation of Liberalism is the greatest human duty, we must consider the menaces to it that are domestic and the menaces that are external. First, as to the domestic.
Let us consider therefore in the broadest way the history of this nation.
The American Republic was born in a period of deep thinking, of intense concern about the philosophies of human nature, of the most probing speculation about forms of government. Forms of government were studied and debated with respect to one central thing—What kind of governmental organization is best calculated for the long run to preserve and fortify the right kind of human society, a free kind of society? This study of social fundamentals had been going on in Europe and the American colonies for something like a century with intensity, with sharp focusing. It was definitely a time of social planning, and our Founding Fathers were social planners. They differed among themselves as to means but they were united, in a broad sense, as to the sort of conditions, the kind of society that they wanted to guarantee. They were capable of subordinating their differences of judgment and of reaching compromises, all to the end of creating, and giving the maximum chance of permanence to, a workable scheme of self-government a. genuinely Liberal society.
They devised a written constitution, aiming to protect the basic Liberties of the individual against other individuals and of the individual against the encroachments of government.
Bear in mind that no governmental constitution ever was or ever could be set up, whether written or unwritten, except to achieve certain purposes and to preserve certain values. A constitution has simply got to be long range planning.
Ours was that; and the planning was based on a full appreciation of the meaning of phrases that were used, slogans that were adopted, shibboleths that were dynamic. Experience with Illiberalism had made the word Liberalism vital. Experience with past oppression had made Liberty a practical value. Experience with despotic forms had put meaning into Democracy. No one used such words in those days carelessly.
But, thanks to our exceptionally fortunate conditions, in the sense of geography, of continued resources, and the power and momentum of the early tradition, we moved into a century and a half of development during which, with fluctuations, the general curve of well-being was steadily upward and during which there appeared few challenges of real seriousness to our Liberal philosophy. Even the Civil War was not such a challenge. It did threaten national unity. But if the South had won that war, there was no purpose to set up in the two halves other than a Democratic order.
Our resources seemed exhaustless. Relatively sparse population and the chance to expand westward postponed most social problems. We gradually, and quite naturally, came as a people to take it for granted that essential Liberalism was secure, that the Fathers had seen to that, that we need not really be much concerned, that the task of the new generations was simply to build an increasing prosperity of the foundations permanently laid. And Liberty, Freedom, Democracy became decreasingly meaningful. They were words in our history books, vague terms for orators to use, things that command cheers as the flag does, quite as mystic as the flag. We mouthed the words, but we did not think about them. They became egg shells from which the substance had seeped. Their significance belonged to the past. We were smug. We could quarrel about details. As a people we need not concern ourselves about things basic And those who proposed that we concern ourselves were looked upon with suspicion.
Then the population grew. The country filled up. The western frontier disappeared. We industrialized at the gallop. Complexity and intricacy in our society increased. From an essentially rural we shifted to an essentially urban civilization. Wealth production and distribution were organized on the corporate plan. Rugged individualism became more difficult. Giantism in industry and finance brought giantism in economic power, which reflected itself in political. Every group and class became increasingly dependent on each other group and class. The farm family, for illustration, no longer grew all its food, raised and spun its fiber for clothing, sold little and bought less. The "independent" farmer of subsistence-farming days became a dependent producer of things for distant markets, a dependent market for things that industry made. We were all, in this new world, part of a great economic machine.
Meantime, we became aware that some of our natural resources were not inexhaustible. We were forced to begin looking ahead to the preservation of some of them for the benefit of generations coming. We became social planners again.
It was perceived that national policies of one kind and another, adopted under pressure of organized groups, affected other groups adversely. So all great groups began progressively to organize. We came into what is now called "the pressure group age." And the organized groups inevitably seek the protection of their interests through legislative action —through use of the sovereign political powers exercised by a government of representatives.
And it began to be apparent that not only could inanimate resources such as oil and soil be lost, if no thought were given to conserving, but that also some of our animate resources, our resources in terms of people, could deteriorate disastrously. In the last few years we have started to become concerned about some of the masses in our South, white as well as black, and about the sliding of our great middle-class backleg of capitalist farmers into declining levels of tenancy. Social problems have caught up with us. We have to take account of them. And the general problem of preserving Liberalism is conditioned by all these others.
We in this country for many years thought that Liberalism would work itself, that its preservation, regardless of changes, was automatic in our society.
We have gradually been learning otherwise. We are bewildered about what to do, but we know we must do something—that we must do many somethings, and must relate them to the broad purpose. We must recapture our vision, re-identify our aim, modify and adapt our policies. We must make Liberalism work—we, in our generation, not the Fathers on our behalf.
And how shall we do it? By what means shall we of America revitalize our Liberal philosophy and re-invigorate our democratic processes? I can only suggest, with humility, for your consideration a few things. Obviously I cannot develop them fully.
1. We must not only recapture our understanding of what the terms and slogans of Liberalism mean; we must also engage in and stimulate others to engage in "conscious activity" on behalf of democracy.
2. We must recognize continuously that conservatism and liberalism, in their narrower, contrasted sense, are both implements of broad liberalism. The concept embodied in the British phrase, His Majesty's opposition, meaning that the party out-of-power is part of the mechanism of working democracy, needs always to be remembered. But we must recognize the respective roles of what we call conservatism and its counter-agent, "small-l" Liberalism. Constructive conservatism is merely a brake, an emphasis on prudence and soundness, on not biting off more at a given moment than we can chew, on not endangering progress by progressing too fast. When conservatism gets stiffer than that, when it becomes a mere resistance to all progress, when it rests on the assumption that all change is of the past, that all evolution has taken place in order to bring about today's final stage, when it denies that there are problems, when it looks longingly back to some dim yesterday as a day that can be completely recaptured, then conservatism becomes absurd. Bear in mind that this type of conservatism, this type of conservative, is always wrong. For mountains do continue to sink. Ocean beds do continue to rise, carrying with them fish bones to be discovered as fossils by future scientists on future mountain tops. And human conditions and institutions move at more than the geologic rate. Remember that of 1,000 radicals, 999 are likely to be wrong, but the 1000th is sure to be right. Be not too intolerant of the dissenter. It is not enough to cheer orations about heroic, long-dead dissenters. It is necessary to respect dissent today. It is necessary to recognize that even the least ingratiating of dissenters may have, under an ugly crust, a sound and legitimate grievance that makes his cause dynamic. If we do not ourselves imprudently follow every new disturbing apostle of every new concept, let us also be not too zealous to be in at the kill.
3. Beware of letting epithets, platitudinous generalizations, "polarized words," take the place of thinking. Do not be fooled by the tendency of some to attach the label "communist" to every labor struggle or the label "fascist" to every conscientious conservative. When there is a move of protest, ask "Why?" and find out why.
4. Beware of accepting scapegoats as means of escape from problems. Whether it be "the bankers," "the Jews" or any other class, beware of accepting scapegoats. Remember that we have in America, too, this predisposition. Remember that we have racial, religious and other prejudices capable of being most mischievous. Remember Marian Anderson, and General Mosely. Remember our Ku Klux Klan and other of our historic waves of dangerous intolerance.
5. Beware of acquiescing in violations of the Bill of Rights, in gag laws, in letting the camel's nose of censorship getinserted under democracy's tent. For the right to think, speak and assemble freely has its whole point in its application to minorities. Deny it to minorities, you being in the majority today, and you deny it to yourselves tomorrow, when you may be of the minority.
6. Resist the pressure that time will bring on you to think steadily more in terms of your immediate, selfish interest, steadily less in terms of the broad interest of all. It has been said that if a young man is not liberal, something is wrong with his heart; but that if an old man is not conservative, there is something wrong with his head. That is good up to a point. Do not let age, success, acquisition of property, dim your vision entirely, weaken your humane-ness, foster a skepticism of the value of democracy, and make all your attitudes mere emotional reactions to the Things you have managed to accumulate. Be not like the lady, who, when she got into a warm place, concluded that the climate had certainly moderated, so she need no longer have sympathy for those outside.
7. Remember, on the other hand, the moral values of property, especially the ownership of productive property, especially land. Remember the importance to democracy—at least of the only kind that has ever "worked" for any considerable period—of an economic middle class, of whom the small capitalist farmer is the most significant example. Remember that if this middle class be destroyed, by any process of attrition, the extremes will face each other—on the one side a minority of "Haves," on the other a majority of "Have nots," and the problems of accommodation and justice will become perhaps insoluble.
8. Remember that all possession of power in a democratic society must carry the obligations of trusteeship. This is as true of economic as it is of political power. Concentrated economic power, says Herbert Hoover, must have its checks and balances, just as concentrated political power. There must be regulation. Society through government must be an umpire in its own interest, in its own defense. Lord Lothian, whom Britain is sending to us as her new ambassador, has pointed out correctly that neither Communism, nor Fascism nor completely unregulated capitalism is compatible with democracy. Completely unregulated capitalism leads into state capitalism, and that, we have reason to fear, into such constrictions of the area of freedom as to leave little at all. It is not enough to yell for preserving "free enterprise" while at the same time undermining and sabotaging its reality. The old notion of laissez-faire, remember, gave us a dream world of "automatic correctives," which would have been perfect if it had been so. Psychologically it was the counterpart of lazy South Sea islanders resting under trees and depending on nature to drop fruit in their laps, with no need of personally seeing to it that the fruit came or that it was good. That was a Utopia, purely, in that "natural law" was our benevolent guardian and saw to it that all was well—an opium eaters' paradise, so far as social problems were concerned.
9. Recognize that we must find a workable balance between individualism and collectivism—for many things do have to be done collectively—and that the job is to preserve the democratic principle and values in the new workable balance.
10. Recognize that in social regulation we must eradicate the shadowland of futility between the central government and the states—that it is useless to scream about state rights unless we are capable of making them mean something effective. The values of local self-government, of our federal system, are still immeasurable. If we want to preserve them we ourselves must do the preserving.
11. Recognize that class, group or sectional stratification is a danger to be avoided. But merely deploring is no good. Sectional injustices must be cured—and we have some of
these, notably as to the South. Class consciousness cannot be confined to any particular class. Here, again, the only solvent is the holding open of opportunity. The forces making for closure of doors must be perceived and counteracted. Somebody has to see to it that mischief does not happen.
12. Be aware, I beg of you, of the necessity of creating, maintaining fortifying real bases of national unity. The civil war and the railroads did not forever deal with that. National unity must be of the spirit. Lord Acton has said that America has been held together primarily by its democratic traditions and devotion. I see no other force that can safely replace that. But this means using the democratic ideal of good will and justice and tolerance, through the devices of education, debate, and new channels of inter-communication between regions and economic groups, to achieve workable because approximately fair constant accommodations of interest. Let me underline this. The danger of compartmentalization of our economic groups—of industry and finance, of organized agriculture and of labor, to cite the major ones—is real. It has tended to increase. The need of opening channels of understanding, of re-creating contacts other than the contacts of battle between them, is real and very urgent. There is need of such things as cross-section committees trying to study things through, toward the broad and general objectives that all groups really have. Moreover, this is possible. In Detroit, for example, throughout last winter there met for such study a committee in which some top automobile magnates, a Catholic archbishop, some energetic labor leaders, and others in between discussed national interests together, with a fine cross-fertilization of minds, with an encouraging amicability. The same thing is being done in various ways in other places. The thing IS feasible. It points toward reason in inter-group relations, it points away from force.
13. Remember that democracy in our industrial age has to regain somehow, part of the satisfying organic quality that feudalism in theory possessed—that democracy has to spread out of the purely political field of periodically electing jobholders and into wider ranges of life. A large part of the appeal, especially to youth, of the totalitarian regimes is in the unifying of peoples behind a perhaps vague but nevertheless appealing general purpose.
14. Remember that the most biting thing the totalitarians say about the democratic system is that it represents but "the anonymous tyranny of vested interests"—an oligarchy ruling for its own benefit behind a facade of pretended equal opportunity. That is unfair, to be sure. It magnifies an admitted problem of democracy, an admitted imperfection of a system that, unlike totalitarianism, rejects the idea of being perfect -—it magnifies that into the thing of first significance. The answer is to make democracy more effective, to prove that democracy in even this age can keep approaching its goal.
15. Remember that concepts of education have changed. You are not now educated, and no more am I. Education does not end with Commencement. Commencement signalizes just that—a commencement, no more. Do not shrink from new facts as they present themselves to you. If you fear new knowledge, as the years roll on, your four years here have assuredly been wasted.
16. Remember the anecdote of the wise Chinese, quoted by Lin Yu Tang, who, when told of the greatness of America in that she had produced a man who ran a mile in 4 minutes and 6 seconds, asked, "And where was he going." It is not only speed, also it is direction and the goal that count.
* * *
And now to the world phase.
We must make democracy work in America. It is equally essential that we see and acknowledge and act upon our appreciation of international obligations.
I preach no holy war against Illiberal national regimes. But I do preach the doctrine that notions of isolation for this greatest of the Liberal nations are unrealizable illusions.
Great are the problems of international accommodation. They are not to be solved by wars between nations or wars between "isms." The prospect of attempts to solve them thus is all too obvious. If any majestic potential force for solving them other than by war (and I mean America) is immobilized by fantastic dreams of moral and economic and political secession from the planet, the attempts at solution by war are sure to be made.
We cannot escape the consequences of war by any imaginable isolationism. We cannot, in my judgment, even escape actual involvement if general war comes. The risks of pressing for other solutions than war are minor compared to the risks of not doing that. And clearly the Liberal answer is along lines of economic opportunity for all nations of the world, precisely as, in the domestic field, it is along that line.
We cannot have a world organized for unending economic war without having eventually a world engaged in military war. Moreover, a world organized for permanent economic war, involving denial of the right to prosperity—creating exchange of goods, inevitable must force upon even us more and graver domestic problems, more and greater domestic regimentation, more and greater interventions by government to deal with internal imbalances. We are not immune from these world influences. They can crush us, crush our Liberal system, if they be not themselves reversed.
The ultimate solvent of the problem of peace and of the inextricably related problem of mutually advantaging trade is still what it used to be—not totalitarianism but democratic processes; not economic autarchy but workable freedom of exchange; not passionate national tribalism but intelligent modification of the dogma of jealous sovereignty; not a backward trek to the self-sufficiency of a tribe whose horizons are a range of hills and a river too deep to wade, but an evolving recognition of the world community.
Every timid retreat WE make from international co-operation find us shortly dragged back by the destiny of mankind. Americans fleeing from all "entanglements" whose purpose is to mitigate nationalist frictions adopt the most certain way of entangling America in foreign affairs at the worst possible time and in the worst possible way, with the worst possible results for us and the world.
Group accommodations cannot really be made internationally, any more than domestically, on the basis of pure anarchy, on the basis of naked force.
Force belongs, as Norman Angell has said, behind the law, not the litigant.
Yes, it is the same human nature that it has been for many centuries. The same nature substantially. What cannot be done through it is the same. But what CAN be done is also no less than history has shown it capable of. Every achievement can be repeated. Every clear evolutionary trend is possible of being extended.
The extension of law and order as the basis of the approach to justice and the real securing of Freedom over wider and wider areas and larger and larger groups has been the real measure of progress. It is Liberalism's way.
It is more than the poet's fantasy, that we move toward the distant parliament of man; it is the only choice we have save the collapse of civilization.
* * *
Now I have not made the kind of commencement address that in my undergraduate days was common. I have not tried to talk to you as the old-style football coach used to talk to his team in the gymnasium. I have avoided the Billy Sunday type of evangelistic fervor, which might give you an emotion-
ally uplift and a species of exalted moral confidence and courage for a week or two, to be followed by a sag. I have talked to you soberly of problems facing you, the nation and the race. I have meant to give the impression that they are great and grave and difficult. I advise you that you come on in one of the world's crisis periods, when vast things are at stake, and vast achievements are needed. I have told you of the complexity and urgency of problems in America and of the complexity and urgency of problems involved in America's relation to the world. I have minimized nothing.
That was not in my day considered Hoyle in talking to a college graduating class.
But I believe the times and conditions call for objectivity, candor, bluntness, a realistic appraisal of the tasks that are ahead.
Perhaps this is all discouraging. Perhaps I have misjudged you.
But I have a certain creed, and part of it is confidence in you, as part of Young America.
I believe it is not only possible but preferable to talk to you about very serious things in a very serious way.
I believe that you believe, along with me, that Man did not quit the jungle and the tree-tops for no purpose at all—that the marvelous assembling and co-ordinating of some 12 billion cells in the human brain did not happen with no relation of destiny to the grand scheme of creation—that a race which has produced its Platos, Leonardos, Goethes, its Newtons, Shakespeares and Lincolns, will not find its real leaders forever in the persons of bull-necked primitives, wearing special gaudy uniforms, rattling their sabers for music, preaching and practicing terror at home and abroad as the ultimate human technique.
I believe you recognize that all that is vital in what you have enjoyed—the advantages of science put to kindly ends, the solace and inspiration of religion that is basically Liberalsince it dares, in the face of the God-State, to put its emphasis on the sacredness of the individual human soul—that all this and more has come to you, unearned, because your Fathers had the vision, the understanding, the zeal and the courage to bequeath to you Liberalism.
I have spoken here of science. Do you think that science can be national, can be totalitarian, can be associated with Illiberalism? It ceases to be science when it is so subordinated.
I have spoken of religion. Do not forget that religion, as truly as the human individual, becomes a slave when Illiberalism triumphs.
It is dictatorship, all the way, or it is Liberalism. Which?
Liberalism is not the easier. On the contrary it is the harder. But it is the philosophy, and democracy is the plan, that puts the greatest faith in the common man, as well as in the uncommon; which offers richnesses of living which in no other way can be got.
I do not think that you young men and you young women will be terrified by the problems, palsied by the difficulties.
I believe you will be challenged by them.
It is not enough, I repeat, to revere the august Fathers. It is necessary for us, for you, to build again as they built, in an age more comparable to theirs than any other we have experienced.
Liberalism, says Ortega, is "the noblest cry that ever has resounded on this planet."
As against the barbaric din of the sabers, you and I can hear, clear as ever today, that which the Irish bard defined when the sages in various ways had answered with blunted understanding.
"What is the most beautiful music in the world?" the bard softly repeated. "For the man who has an open soul, and ears to hear, it is the song of everything that happens in a free nation!"