THE HIGHEST AIM OF A CULTURAL SOCIETY
By RALPH BRADFORD, General Manager, Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America
Delivered Before the National School Service Institute, Chicago, Ill., February 17, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 325-330.
WE are all concerned today with the post-war period —its problems and its opportunities. Some are looking at it as one problem; others are dividing it up into segments. You, I take it, are concerned with education; not that you are educators, but that you are suppliers of the paraphernalia that is used in the educational process—in the beginning of it, that is; real education starts when we leave school.
But you are doubtless concerned also with other problems that affect your particular lines of business—with taxation, with regulatory laws and agencies, with the relaxation of war-time restrictions;—and finally, with the rather crass consideration of whether you are going to continue doing business at a profit.
Well .. . . I'm not in the school supply line, and can't pretend to a knowledge of your business. Further, I'm notan educator—although it may surprise some of you to know that I used to be. At least I was a teacher; though as I look back I wonder if I taught anything at all. I doubt it. Maybe I learned a little, standing before my eager-eyed and adenoidal young hopefuls; but I seriously doubt that I gave them anything that helped equip them for the larger life—unless, indeed, I did implant one small, heretical seed that bore later fruit when I assured them that the biggest business in life was not that of making and selling, not even of teaching—but rather, the business of living.
Out of all my academic experience, that is about the only dogma that I still cling to. All our efforts to teach, to organize, to make what we call progress, are not worth much unless in some fashion they contribute toward making life a little more comfortable, more productive, more livable.
But of course that comes under the head of glittering generalities. I realize that you can't put that into your program of work—yet very deeply I feel that your program will lack something essential if it isn't based on that fundamental concept.
Well . . . . but I'm afraid I digress—or maybe everything else I shall say will be a digression 1 No matter: let's get on with our mutton:
First, and at the risk of expounding the obvious, I'd like to offer a few general observations. One has to do with our concept of time. We like to divide time off into segments, bringing certain periods to abrupt ends, and starting new periods—as though we had passed a barrier, or jumped over a wall. And so now we have set up in our minds a new wall. It represents the day of Victory; and I fear a lot of people have the idea that everything will change suddenly on that day, when we pass over that wall and enter the new compartment of time that we call the postwar period.
But there's no such thing as a division of time. Time and life are continuous. Except as a matter of convenience in the perspective of history, they can't be set off into sections. In a sense we are in the postwar right now; its problems are influencing today's decisions; and certainly the events of today will spill over into the tomorrow. That's because there is an eternal interplay of cause and effect. Years ago we prepared today's events—not by any plans that were made for today, but by what we did about yesterday's problems. The present is explicitly the result of the past, and the events of the next decade and of the next generation are today being determined—not so much by what we plan for tomorrow as by what we do about today.
But what are the common denominators? What are the questions—postwar or postponed—that affect us all?
One of these is federal finance—how much tax, what kind, where and how applied? Another is social security— not whether, but how much, how extensive, and at what cost ? A third is wartime economic controls—how long must they continue, when and how will they be removed? Another is the disposition of war plants and surpluses—how can this be accomplished with the least wrench to the economy?
These questions and a few others of like import constitute the broad issues, the determination of which will largely decide whether we are to proceed in an atmosphere of capitalism or of stateism. The other issues are relatively minor—all save one, which is perhaps the key word for them all: .employment. This, too, will depend in large measure upon correct answers being given to the major issues—and by correct answers I mean simply this: that they be answered in terms that will promote and encourage private enterprise rather than state socialism. At this point you will probably expect me to launch into a panegyric upon free enterprise or a philippic against its detractors—but I shall do neither. On the contrary, I think we who believe in free enterprise have talked too much about it already—too much, I mean, in terms of mere laudation, and not enough in terms of what free enterprise means to the average man and woman. It's a weakness of ours that we assume our own battle cry will arouse the multitude; and so we expect the man on the street and the housewife at home to share our enthusiasms. But they care little for free enterprise as a slogan, or as a system—and why should they?—unless we can show how they are a part of free enterprise and how their lives are made more comfortable by reason of its operation.
By the same token, it is not only a mistake in terms but a tactical error for us to keep on speaking of business as though it were something apart from the rest of the economy. Our hope should be to identify ourselves with the other groups. All have a common interest: survival in a good society, under a good government—which, in its essence, is a government that sets free the energies and the ambitions, as well as protects the freedom, of men.
I am not at this point going in for an argument against big government. Bigness is the new order of the day, in government as in business; and we can't, in a period of complex industrialism, get along with the simple governmental forms that sufficed for our agrarian period. But there is a danger—at any rate, a symbol of change that should give us grave concern—in the submergence of the locality within the growing shadow of the state. And the point to remember is that this is not the result of governmental ambitions alone, perhaps not even primarily. On the contrary, it has come about through the deliberate relinquishment of local rights and autonomies in exchange for federal largesse. City fathers and chamber of commerce men have worn well-beaten paths to Washington, with hats and hands extended for the federal dole. And unless we restrain ourselves, the process will be repeated in the post-war period. About the only planning a lot of towns are doing is to figure out how much money they can get from Washington for local public works as a postwar cure-all. Public works will play an important part; but they are not and never have been the answer to mass unemployment.
Historically, the financing of local public works—and I use that term as distinct from those that are obviously federal—has been a matter of local responsibility, and of local pride as well. For a good many years it has been part of my work to make public addresses in all parts of the country; and in that pursuit I have spent a good part of my time in tow by local enthusiasts, who expected me to utter appropriate exclamations of wonder and delight over the new reservoir, bridge, stadium, auditorium, or swimming pool. Incidentally, those same enthusiasts nearly always gave me a demonstration of delicious and unconscious irony by demanding, as we drove from one federally financed project to another, when the Washington politicians were going to stop their wasteful and useless spending!
Also, I might add that I used to be in local chamber of commerce work in Texas; and then it was I who took the visitors around to see our public works 1 But of course that was different. Our public works were really interesting, and really needed as a contribution to the national economy!—I speak facetiously; but in all seriousness it is that very attitude—die attitude of wanting exceptions made for my city, my business, my particular pressure group—that has led to much of our trouble.
When I was a boy in Texas, the nation's capital was far removed from the local scene. It was the seat of government, but not the center of our economy. Now all is changed. The shadow of the capital is on every American city—partly by the logic of events that have an inevitable trend toward centralization; partly because of the millions which government, by invitation, has invested in nearly every community. . . . Everything has its price; and what
we get from the federal treasury for purely local improvements, however much it may dazzle at the moment, is in! the last analysis nothing more or less than the price of local self government.
I spoke a moment ago of pressure groups—and there, it seems to me, we have one of the great problems of the present, and of the postwar. It is more than a question of short-sighted groups seeking selfish advantage; it is a matter of our very unity as a people.
In the early days of our republic we adopted a significant motto: E Pluribus Unum—one out of many.
The original reference, of course, was to the creation of a new political unit—one state out of many. But as the years went by and the sense of nationalism increased, and especially as the flood of immigration swelled, it came to signify much more. Not any longer one state out of many states, but one nation out of many people.
Upon that concept of our national character we have come growing down the decades. I would not say that our unity has ever been wholly perfect. We have had, and always will, our internal cleavages, our sectional and regional consciousness, our economic groupings, our conflicts of interest. But the ideal has always stood the test—even that of internecine war. The old motto on our shield is not merely a bombastic piece of sentimental phrase-making. By the tears of mothers and wives and by the blood of our martyrs, it has been written down as the great central fact; of America—that out of all the states, out of all the fusion of bloods and peoples, we are one, proud of our traditions, indivisible.
Such are the factors that have given truth and validity to our old motto; and in the light of its almost sacred origins, I think we may well pause for a rededication to its spirit. Today as we listen to the clamor of press and radio it almost seems that everybody is pointing the finger, shouting accusations, making allegations, not about our enemies, but about ourselves—about our fellow citizens here in America 1 Perhaps that is a natural outgrowth of the anxieties to which we are all subjected. Certainly we want to preserve the right and the practice of critical free speech. But both now and in the troubled days of the postwar we' shall need desperately to get back to a consecrated sense of national unity. The approach to all our problems must be that of the national interest. Business, industry, labor, agriculture—all the various segments of the economy
will find their places and attain their degrees of prosperity, only if the interests of all, which is to say the interests of the American public, are served. Those who would be worthy to think about the challenges of the postwar must do so first as Americans.
Well—but what, in more definite, practical terms, shall we be faced with? What are the problems and opportunities? Perhaps it can be summed up as a matter of assets and liabilities.
On the side of liabilities we have the question of a delayed reconversion of civilian production; of taxes and the national debt which I have mentioned; of uncertainty regarding international trade; the problem of sustaining investment in a high income economy; the maladjustments in the price structure—wages, farm prices, other raw material prices; the lack of unity as to future political and economic structures; the over-all problem of the absorption of our total labor supply into production; and finally, the great and serious danger of government by blocs and pressure groups rather than by representative process.
On the asset side we have the undeniable fact that there has been and continues to be a great reduction in private debts. Farms are being cleared, mortgages are being discharged, insurance loans paid up, open book accounts closed. Again there is taking place a helpful reduction of state and local debt; there is an accumulated private purchasing power—which has a liability aspect, too. Again there is an asset in the benefit rights that have accrued under unemployment compensation and, in the long run, perhaps, in the accumulations for old-age pensions—although that has its menace, too. There is a further asset in technical shifts that will require new capital, such as the fascinating study of plastics and light metals.
In spite of the burden of debt, there is great hope for the future, for we shall also be rich in accumulated savings and needs. There will he a tremendous market, both at home and throughout the world, for the manifold products of the American industry. Vast new demands will have opened to the south, with a gradual shifting of the trade lines of this hemisphere from the horizontal to the vertical—provide, of course, that we are willing to trade, and not merely accumulate cash balances.
Not only can we survive, we can flourish in the postwar period—provided we are content to trust our own genius and cling to the simple formulas that have made us great: namely, that government is the creature and not the master of its citizens; that the system of profit and loss embraced in competitive enterprise is our best economic safeguard; that individual initiative is, after all, the only way to full freedom; that social gains, so-called, are worthless unless they are grounded in an economy that will endure to support them; and that human freedom—freedom to grow, to achieve, yes, even to fail—is the highest aim of a cultural society.
Is there in all this, perhaps, a challenge to education? If we are to accept global responsibilities, as I think we most certainly must do, shall we not have a definite job of training our youth to understand our place in the world? Shall we not have the task of giving them a better understanding of the racial characteristics, the economies, the histories, the national aspirations, the languages, and the ideologies of the nations with which we are to deal? Shall we not at the same time have a greater need than ever to teach them the basis of our own political and economic ideology?
It is true, I think, that we shall have to help remould the thinking of a large part of the world. But not only abroad will re-education be needed. Several million young men and women have spent the formative period of their lives right here in America in an atmosphere of stateism. They have been taught—if not by classroom precept at least by the everyday example of our whole governmental process—that the government was supreme. They have seen billions of federal money poured out upon little-needed or wholly wasteful public works. They have heard the founders of our nation laughed at as tradesmen and smugglers. They have been promised all kinds of security at public expense. They, too, need to be re-educated—not against social gains, not against needed reforms and progress, but to an understanding of costs, a sense of values, and especially to an awareness of individual responsibility. We in the National Chamber believe that there should be
a much closer relationship than there has been between business groups and educators in planning for the public education of the future. Obviously businessmen have an interest in public education—first of all as the fathers of sons and daughters who are to be educated; and second as heads of business enterprise that-has a stake both coming and going. On the one hand, expenditures for public education are a major item in local and state tax bills; on the other, business is largely dependent upon the products of public education for its operating personnel.
If education is anything at all, it is an instrumentality for preparing young people to fit themselves most productively and most happily into the life of the community. If you prefer to use the term "community" in its larger, national sense, I shall not disagree; but as a practical matter, when I say "community" I mean Peoria, Pittsburgh, and Podunk; I mean the home town or city—for that is where most of the young people who attend schools there will pass their adult years. Public education as a matter of history, and I think as a matter of wisdom, has been locally controlled. It should continue to be so, in the interest of gearing education to community needs. If that is to be accomplished successfully, it can be done more readily through the cooperation of businessmen with educational authorities.
One great bar to intelligent cooperation between education and business has been a lack of understanding, each of the needs of the other. There has been too much disposition on the part of businessmen to look upon educators as impractical theorists who don't know the value of a dollar, and on the part of educators to regard businessmen as a bunch of penny-pinching skinflints. The whole issue was not helped when, some years ago, a bit of clumsy but perfectly friendly investigation by the National Chamber led to the charge that the Chamber was unfriendly to education. Since then large numbers of good and conscientious educators have cherished the sincere conviction that chambers of commerce generally, and the National Chamber in particular, are their natural enemies 1
Nothing, of course, could be sillier. The Chamber, representing business, has a vital interest in education. We have set up a special committee, headed by Mr. Thomas Boushall, a man who is almost devoutly convinced, not only of the important role of education, but of the need for better understanding between businessmen and educators. Our approach to the question of education is not what is it costing us? but is it doing the job? And what, in the first place, is the job?
You will agree, I think, that our educational pattern is under sharp scrutiny today, both by educators and laymen. We want to help, working cooperatively with educational leaders, in forging an educational system that will meet the needs of all Americans. Our approach is not being made from the economy point of view, in the narrow sense, but rather from the standpoint of what is best for the whole economy, including, of course, its social aspects. Our hope is to help in the development—or I should say the further development—of a broad general outline of purposeful public education to meet the expanding and changing needs of both the individual and the nation.
Education on its side will, I believe, welcome this type of interest on the part of business. Certainly education will need sympathetic help—for it faces not only a critical time of readjustment but one of real competition if ft b to get its share of a taxpayer's dollar that is also being bid for by social security, public works, foreign relief, interest charges on the national debt—and so on through a list of demands that will be insistent and powerful.
Education has, or must have if it is to serve its purpose, two great values—both necessary to American progress. From the standpoint of the individual, it equips his perceptions for greater satisfaction in the pursuit of the world's biggest business—which, as I have said, is the business of living. And from the standpoint of public investment, it has the responsibility of serving an expanding economy by progressively upgrading the productive skills and management aptitudes of the American people. Both these functions are of vital concern to American business, because they are integral with our country's welfare. Here as in other fields there is need for understanding, for mutual trust, for unity. Let's find out what needs to be done—and do it together 1
Finally, I'd like to suggest what I think is the ultimate common denominator of our interest in the postwar. It is this: that it is not enough to be concerned about dollar recovery and job insurance and industrial readjustments and educational progress. I'm not terribly concerned about all that, so long as we do not forget our freedom—not this freedom or that freedom; not several freedoms, as though liberty could be divided up into segments like a pie; but freedom, in all its implications—which is the necessary climate for the full development of men and of nations. In all our planning, let's plan to get back at war's end to the truly liberal concepts of personal freedom untrammeled by the well-meant but inevitably tyrannous philanthropies of stateism, and based upon the security of private possessions that are enjoyed under the guarantees of a state that protects but does not pamper, and that has true human liberty as its first and final aim.
Is this "reaction"—a yearning for the "good old days?" Not at all. I recall that some of the good old days were very bad; and I know that if we are to survive in the postwar period we shall not do it by disputing progress or standing in the way of necessary change. But the things I have just mentioned are the minima of freedom. I'm not talking about monopoly or privilege; not even about the departed wraith of laissez faire; but rather about the indispensable guarantees of freedom without which we cannot live in any kind of security.
Granted a reasonable assurance of those guarantees, the new horizons summon us; the new frontiers—of science, of the mind, and of the human spirit—beckon. Facing those horizons we can envisage a complex set of forces—of international and interracial pressures that tend to destroy, and of vast unifying influences as well, that exist not only in the innate pacific idealism of men of good will, but in the beneficent realities of trade, the great civilize r.
We can comprehend also the spectacle of a new world replacing the old in a physical sense with greater rapidity than ever before; for whereas in the past we changed only our models and styles, now we are changing our materials and processes—moving from an economy of fabrication to one of synthesis.
In our conquest of the sky with stratoliners and eventually with rocket ships, we shall fulfill in a material way the old promise of a new Heaven; and in our trend from fabrication to chemistry we shall behold eventually a new earth.
And keeping pace with these changes, we can understand, and plan accordingly, that the so-called human values and social benefits, which I have said can survive only in a sound economy, must nevertheless from now on be an intentional and deliberate objective rather than a satisfactory by-product!
Like any future day to any man of faith and courage, the postwar era is a lure and a challenge. Let us move forward in confidence and possess it I
And let us, in Heaven's name, do it together. For no man liveth to himself alone. He is part of the life stream. It is
true today more than ever, deeply and tragically and fatefully true—this that was written by John Donn in quaint English long ago;
"No man is an island, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the continent, a part of the main; if a
clod bee washed away by the sea, Europe is the lesse,
as well as if a promontorie were; . . . Any man's
death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankinde;
and therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls, it tolls for thee!"