The Integrity of the Individual


By THOMAS E. DEWEY, candidate for the Republican nomination for President

Delivered at Friends University, Wichita, Kansas, April 29, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 464-466.

MAY I express my gratitude for the invitation to meet with you here tonight. It affords a most welcome opportunity to step away from the increasing demands of immediate tasks, and re-examine in proper perspective some of the fundamentals of our way of life.

Unless we do this occasionally we may find that our basic beliefs become confused and that we have lost track of our real objectives—the very objectives in terms of which our day-to-day decisions should be made.

The quest for the proper relationship between the individual and government has been the greatest concern of thinking men since the beginning of civilization. No decade in all history has produced such a confusion of theory or such uncertainty of purpose as the present. Therefore, it is most timely that tonight we should see if we may clarify our thinking and regain our sense of direction.

There can be no place more fitting for such a purpose than a meeting of Quakers. Perhaps the outstanding characteristic of the Quaker philosophy is its insistence upon the integrity of the individual. This emphasis upon the integrity of the individual transcends the immediate religious setting in which it was first enunciated. It permeates the Quaker attitude in all social and political relationships. It is not only to be observed in the individual's relationship with God, but in his relationships toward other men, either as individuals or as organized society.

Nor is this tenet a mere insistence upon the rights of the individual. I suspect that to a Quaker there would be little integrity in an individual who thought of nothing but his rights. The integrity of the individual must rest in even greater measure upon the duties which he recognizes and assumes.

It was the outward expression of this individual integrity on the part of the Quakers which led Oliver Cromwell to exclaim, "I see there is a people risen that I cannot win,either with gifts, honors, offices or places . . ." And he and his followers were to learn that the Quakers were no more to be won by threats and persecution than by gifts. Individual integrity cannot be reached by bribery; it does not yield to force.

This Quaker conception of individual integrity early found expression in this country. In 1681, William Penn, then thirty-six years of age, set up a framework for the government of Pennsylvania. This government is justly famed as one of the first charters guaranteeing religious tolerance— a remarkable thing in an age almost as intolerant as our age threatens to become. More than that, it was in other respects and to a striking degree the spiritual forerunner of the Constitution of the United States. The underlying philosophy of Penn's government was that man was the master, not the servant of government. He knew that no nation was ever made strong or worthy by laws alone. The strength of government is the strength of the individual men and women who establish and maintain that government.

There was a prophetic quality in this thoughtful Quaker, who doffed his hat to God alone. He must have sensed an inevitable trend toward paternalism in democratic government. He foresaw what we 250 years later are beginning to see—that excessive reliance upon government has the effect of weakening the individual fiber of the people. No one realized more clearly than did this founder of American Quaker civilization that no nation can prosper if it is built of weakened individuals.

When we contemplate William Penn's philosophy of government we realize how abiding is common-sense in the Quaker world. Every principle set forth by this seventeenth century pioneer is a foundation-stone of modern democracy, even more applicable and necessary to this period than to his own.

The Quakers were not only one hundred years ahead ofthe Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in their ideas of government. They were one hundred years ahead of the Emancipation Proclamation in their relationships with those unfortunate individuals who had been thrown into slavery.

The Quakers were the first upon this Continent to free their Negro slaves. It took them ten years, but it was done through reason, persuasion and prayer. And the great work was completed before the Battle of Yorktown.

Who can state the value to the future of this Quaker protest against human slavery in the United States? In a land such as ours where ideas, maturing through the decades, finally lead to widespread conviction, it is easy to grasp the significance of the "goodly tree of doctrine" planted by the Quakers. Writers in the early movement to free the slaves passed on their liberal enthusiasm to later generations.It was their teachings that Abraham Lincoln wrote into the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862.

It is one of the first articles of our political faith, as it was of William Penn's, that the unit of value in human life is the individual personality. The political and social institutions which our fathers designed and established are not ends in themselves; they are means intended to promote the healthy growth of individual character.

For over a century this conception of government and society deeply influenced the aspirations of peoples in all parts of the world. But now we are met by a resurgence of naked power politics, a political atavism of sinister import.

In too many countries the creed is proclaimed that the individual is unimportant, and in its stead nation, race or class is held up to reverence. In one nation it is a certain class, whose dominance throughout the world is the great objective. In another it is a wholly mythical conception of race which must be raised to supremacy in the world. In a third it is an historical grandeur that must be resuscitated at the cost of no matter what aggression.

The harvests of these false philosophies are now being reaped by the people in irreligion, war and the destruction of the dignity and happiness of the individual. Such are the inevitable consequences of elevating race, state, nation, or government to the position of supreme value.

Such a creed is bound to lead to war. When the power and prestige of any nation are looked upon as ends in themselves, that nation will strive for more and more power. If people are taught to believe that their supreme purpose in life is to achieve the dominance of their particular race, nation or class, strife must inevitably result. There can be no peace when any nation claims supremacy over neighboring peoples—not as long as there are free men left to resist its aggressions.

This philosophy of national dominance is the basis of the system of power politics which has been the curse of the world for many centuries. We have seen the successive rise and fall of great empires. One by one they have achieved, by force, a world dominion which could never be more than temporary. One by one they have been overthrown by the rival ambitions of other groups, who believed it their duty to achieve supremacy for themselves. Throughout these recurrent struggles humanity has been crucified.

It is equally inevitable that such a system should be destructive of true religion. Nations engaged in a struggle for power mobilize all of their resources, including the spiritual allegiance of their people. To achieve this, the state is deified and there is created a mass hysteria which identifies righteousness with the national cause. No dual allegiance is tolerated. God is either destroyed as a spiritual sovereign or identified with the personified nation. Thus we have in this world of the 20th century govern-

ments which systematically stamp out religion and propagate atheism in its place, governments which seek to reinstate tribal deities while they persecute ministers who continue to assert their loyalty to God. A religion which teaches the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men is inherently incompatible with a political philosophy which deifies a nation or a race.

Finally, such a philosophy is destructive of the individual personality. The individual ceases to be worthy of consideration. He becomes a mere instrument, to be used by those in power. His own wishes, his family relations, his hopes and aspirations are all unimportant. He becomes a slave in all but name. Like a slave he may be physically nutured and cared for by his master, the state. But this is for the sole purpose of making him more useful as a tool in the hands of those in control of the state. They manipulate him in the name of national or racial supremacy, behind which they screen their own aggrandizement.

The American people have committed many faults, but at least it can be said that we are one of the few nations which has possessed the power to make itself supreme and dominant in the world and yet has not sought to exercise that power. We have, as a nation, continued to recognize, even though inadequately, that a far loftier objective is the freedom and well-being of the individual.

On such a foundation alone can the structure of peace be built. There are many reasons for our abhorrence of war. The Quakers have been notable in exposing them, and in so doing they have exerted a profound and salutary influence. One of these reasons is that under modern conditions war cannot be effectively prosecuted without elevating the state to a status of undisputed supremacy. In war the individual is subordinated and becomes unimportant. The nation must be deified. It must have the spiritual allegiance and the willingness to sacrifice all of its citizens. Only so can a war be won.

But even if the war be won, the ravages of war are not ended. The habits of mind and of conduct which the war made inevitable tend to perpetuate themselves and create the seeds out of which new wars arise.

We entered the last war with the hope that it would be a war to end wars. But the nations which were most deeply involved in the last war emerged from it more nationalistic than before. It is easy to see in retrospect why this should have been so. For in each country the people were told that their national life was at stake; that they must fight, starve, be crippled or die for that national life; that in comparison with the life of the state their own lives were insignificant. A war could not be successfully waged on any other theory. But it is impossible to inculcate such doctrines during years of intensive fighting and then suddenly revert to a philosophy and to practices which raise the individual again to a position of value and reduce government once more to be the servant of its people.

We cannot be disinterested in the fate of the world. Nor do I believe that the United States can so isolate itself that it will not be seriously affected for better or for worse by what happens in other nations. But I am convinced that wars are partly the result and partly the cause of a false conception of the relative importance of the state and the individual. The United States is one of the few areas of the world where it is still possible to maintain a political system predicated upon the integrity of the individual as the true unit of value.

It was America which first realized the political philosophy which became, and will again become, the aspiration of the world's peoples. I would not willingly see us become entangled in any chain of events which will compel us toabandon that philosophy for one which is inherently a breeder of war, irreligion and misery.

Even though, as we all hope and expect, we remain at peace, it still behooves us to be vigilant to make our political philosophy a vital and contagious force. We must be constantly alert to prevent our thinking from being poisoned by conceptions which are destructive of a free and liberal body politic. Already the individual is threatened by forces which tend to dominate him, to destroy his independence, his initiative, the pursuit of his individual happiness, and the development of a sense of duty and responsibility to his fellow-men. Government itself is one of these threatening forces. Men are being schooled to look more and more to their government as a source from which all blessings flow.

The forms of public bribery are not always easy to detect. Sometimes the statements are sugar-coated in the speeches of propagandists. At other times, a bribery no less insidious appears in the doctrine that the government is the only source from which blessings can flow.

It is right that the government should make provision to alleviate conditions of social distress. Government must recognize its obligation to care for those who need its care. The unemployed, the sick, the aged, all have a right to call upon the government for its help and protection. And the government must respond. Our world has become so complex that private aid alone can no longer function effectively. Government is not only a desirable, but a necessary intermediary.

But government, in thus serving its people, should not be allowed to create the impression that it is itself a benevolent provider to whom all gratitude is due. The food that is

eaten, the clothing that is worn, the shelter that is provided, are all the product of the labor of some other human beings, the fellow-citizens of those for whom the government thus makes provision. The government itself creates none of all this. Government, when it renders aid, renders it as the agent for the people of the country.

We face a real danger in the opportunity which the complexities of our modern economic system give to government to secure dominance over a large section of our population. Once the relations of a government to its people become such that the people are subservient, we have laid the foundations of totalitarianism.

Government constitutes in every nation, and even here in America, a serious threat to the growth and development of the individual. There must be unremitting effort and unyielding insistence to assure the integrity of the individual. That assurance is a primary requisite to the restoration of health in our economic and political life.

So, too, it is the first requisite to restoration of peace and order among nations. How many international obligations have been solemnly undertaken, only to be lightly cast aside for the first momentary material advantage? We have seen nation after nation drawn into the costly futility of creating ever more burdensome armaments. Why? Because of the fatal lack of integrity among those who held in their hands the destinies of nations.

Without integrity among nations we can have no peace. Without integrity in government we can have no liberty. Without integrity in the business world we can have no prosperity. Without integrity in our social life we may spend our days in the pursuit of happiness, but happiness will remain beyond our reach.