Democratic Ideology and Domestic Problems


By JOSEPH H. BALL, Senator from Minnesota

Delivered at the third annual dinner of Freedom House, New York City, November 28, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 138-140.

IT has been said that this great war is not primarily a war of ideologies. The overwhelming majority of us here in America reject that thesis. For us, stated simply, this is a war between democracy and tyranny, between freedom and slavery for the individual.

The allied peoples on the whole represent a philosophy of Government which stresses individual rights, opportunities and responsibilities, which seeks to guarantee liberty and equality of opportunity to all individuals, regardless of race, creed or color. It is a system which depends on a government of laws, enacted with the consent of the people for the preservation and expansion of those rights and liberties and opportunities. The fact that all nations on the allied side have not progressed to the same stage in democracy does not alter the fundamental thesis because they are on the whole moving in that direction.

On the other hand, the Axis powers and their satellites represent a philosophy of Government which holds individual rights, liberties and opportunities of no account whatever, and the state or race all-important. They stand for the arbitrary exercise of unlimited power by Government for whatever ends the leaders of that Government see fit to seek, while the Allies stand for a rule of laws applying alike to all and enacted with the consent of the people, who are sovereign.

The fact that Russia with its Communist dictatorship is a major allied power does not alter this fundamental proposition. I use democracy here in the very broadest sense, meaning economic and social as well as political democracy. While Russia admittedly has no political democracy today, she probably has as much economic and social democracy as many of her allies. We sometimes confuse the ruthless political dictatorship of Stalin with the essentially economic system of Communism. That the two are not necessarily inseparable is demonstrated by New Zealand, which today has nearly as much Socialism as Russia, but whose political democracy is unquestioned.

Almost inevitably, the Axis system glorifies war as the highest destiny of men, and preaches the doctrine that might makes right, that whatever a nation has force enough to do it may and should do, regardless of international law or justice. On the other hand, the democracies are the chief proponents of peace. Their peoples are opposed to militarism and war. In fact, the goals of democracy inevitably require peace for their full achievement.

It is for that reason fundamentally that we and our allies are seeking to establish a strong system of collective security which will prevent great wars in the future. Our objective is essentially the same as that of the statesmen who wrote the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, namely, to establish an international law preserving the rights and freedoms of nations, and the means for enforcement of that law. The whole democratic system is based on the concepts of freedom under law, and it is that concept which we are trying to apply in the international field.

The man we honor tonight, Mr. Sumner Welles, has made a great contribution both during his service in the State Department and since then by his speaking and writing, to the achievement of that goal.

For a few moments, I would like to discuss the application of the democratic ideology for which we fight here at home in the solution of our domestic problems, particularly with reference to economic security for the individual, and freedom for the individual.

I think a good start for such a discussion is this quotation from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold those truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creators with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure those rights, Governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Even today, 168 years later, that doctrine is radical political philosophy. It still represents a goal toward which we are moving, but which we have not yet achieved completely. We recognize that the authors of the Declaration were not talking about arbitrary equality of men and women because they knew that individuals are not equal in abilities or capacities. They were talking about equality of rights and opportunities for the individual.

It is significant that in the Declaration of Independence there is no mention of economic security. Unquestionably, its authors knew that economic security is sougth by every individual. But I believe they also recognized that complete economic security is to a large degree incompatible with freedom for the individual and that is why they did not emphasize it, either in the Declaration or in our Constitution.

It is my own conviction that only individuals who are strong, with trained minds and healthy bodies, can be truly free. Likewise they have the best security of all that which comes from inner confidence of their ability to meet whatever may come.

As we seek a solution to our domestic problems in the years ahead, our emphasis should be on measures and policies which will strengthen the individual and free his mind from fear by giving him knowledge, training, and health. The highest freedom of all for the individual is freedom from fear, the confidence that he can and will measure up to any test that may come and remain true to his own inner creed.

One of the great issues we must meet is that of racial discrimination. We cannot blink the fact that millions of Negroes in our country are treated as second-class citizens. They do not have equality of rights and they are not given education and training that assures them equality of opportunity.

We must, preferably by action of the states most concerned but if necessary by Federal Legislation, protect the civil rights of Negroes, their right to vote, their right to a just trial when accused of crime. We must also give them equality of opportunity, which can be done only by a tremendous improvement in health and education standards for Negroes.

I think any psychiatrist would agree that fear is at the basis of the white supremacy doctrine in the South. The whites there are afraid of what my happen to them if Negroes are given the equal rights and opportunities guaranteed them by our constitution. They are afraid they might not be able to compete. They are really insecure and their freedom is seriously curtailed because fear plays so prominent a part in determining their actions and attitudes. The only way to overcome fear of that kind is to face it squarely and beat it. The only way the white people in the South will ever prove to themselves and the world that they are free of fear is to give the Negroes real equality and see what happens.

In a broader sense, our biggest job in the years immediately ahead is to make as sure as is humanly possible that all citizens of this great democracy do start even in life, which is the only way they can have equal opportunities. That means equal educational opportunities for all, without relation to financial position, and also health standards as nearly equal for all as we can make them. Both of these objectives must be sought primarily by working with children and young people. It is a slow and almost impossible job to educate and free the mind of an adult individual who has grown up in ignorance and fear. Likewise, it is a slow and almost impossible job to give healthy bodies to adults if the foundation has not been laid in childhood.

I think one of our dangers as we try to meet and solve these problems is that there will be too much emphasis on achieving economic security for masses of people at the expense of freedom for the individual. Some of us tend to confuse economic security with freedom. Actually, the most secure individual in our society is the prisoner in a penitentiary serving a life sentence, but he is hardly free. The people of Germany in the first years of the 1930's were so intent on achieving economic security that they permitted their freedom to be liquidated without even a fight.

The easiest and perhaps the most logical way to achieve economic security for all would be for the Government to take over and operate all of our economic institutions. But certainly at this stage of human and political development such a course inevitably would mean the liquidation of individual freedoms. The great contribution which the capitalistic system and private enterprise make to freedom is that they offer the individual a choice of many thousands of different ways of making a livelihood with many thousands of potential employers.

Just as Government control of all employment would liquidate that freedom of choice, so the trend toward monopoly which is inevitable in a capitalistic system tends to drastically curtail it. That is why Government must step in and apply strict controls to stop trends toward monopoly and restore free competition and free enterprise. In a field about which I speak from experience, that of newspaper publication, the present trend toward mergers and toward chain ownership of great newspapers is a serious threat to freedom in this country. It does two things. First, it limits very seriously the choice of employers for the individual who has chosen newspaper work as his vocation. If he, for instance, finds it impossible to work with a clear conscience for one newspaper in a large chain and resigns, he is not likely to find employment with any other newspaper in that chain. His choice of employers is limited and the economic pressure for conformance regardless of conviction is increased. This concentration likewise limits the freedom of access of the people to information about what is happening in the world. No newspaper is completely objective and neither is any newspaper man. Even in the choice of what is to be printed, an editorial policy must be followed and the news which reaches the public is selected, sometimes with a large degree of objectivity and adherence to standards but often with the intention of influencing public thinking toward a specific policy. The greater the concentration of ownership of these means of communication with the public the less freedom the public has to read all sides of any given issue. That is why I believe our controls on monopoly cannot be too strict.

Another restriction on freedom of the individual who is engaged in the mangement of productive enterprise is the necessity of obtaining capital for that enterprise. If sources of capital are limited and control concentrated, enterprise is very likely to be forced to sacrifice some of its freedom of action in order to obtain funds. So one objective of Government, it seems to me, is to adopt a policy which will insure the freest possible flow of capital and particularly venture capital, preferably from the people themselves, spreading the risk over a very large number of individuals, rather than having it concentrated through some lending institution.

The role of social security in our system is important, but should be kept subordinate to our primary goal of preserving the freedoms of the individual. The role of social security, as I see it, is to adequately take care of the inevitable casualties in a competitive private enterprise economy, but not to furnish a high guaranteed standard of living to everyone regardless of the effort made by the individual.

Just as Government has had to step in and protect individual rights and opportunities against great concentrationsof economic power in management of industry, so, I believe, Government must step in and protect individuals against the concentration of economic power in great unions. It is no more right for leaders of a union arbitrarily to deprive an individual of the opportunity to work than it is right for an employer to do so, but it is being done, as we all know. The tendency in some unions to impose artificial restraints on production and to trample roughshod over minorities in their own ranks must be checked. It is destructive of individual freedom. To a large degree, union members as they become trained in the rights and responsibilities of union organization will do that job, but Government must stand ready to help.

Government cannot afford, if we really intend to preserve freedoms of the individual, to tolerate a monopoly on opportunities by either unions or industry. When and if either one occurs, Government would have to take over both the management of industry and the control of union, an eventuality which I know both groups want to avoid.

This may sound like radical doctrines to some, or reactionary doctrines to others. The fact is that the great majority of us are conformists and make many of our decisions in life under the spur of fear of economic security. To a certain degree that fear is prominent in motivating all of us and dominant in some. But there is a great danger that in striving for economic security, particularly through Government, but to a lesser degree in the policies of industry and great labor unions, we finally achieve security for all at the expense of freedom for the individual. In other words, we leave little or no opportunity for leadership, we leave no chance for the non-conformist, whether he be a crackpot or a genius. To make our democratic system work, we must have leadership—men and women who are willing to fight and risk all for new ideas and ideals. In industry, it is the non-conformist looking for a better way to do things who has contributed most to our progress. If the time ever comes when leadership, men and women who differ from the mass and have new ideas, have no alternative but conformance or starvation, then we will have lost our freedoms.

We can best guard against that eventuality by keeping our sights on our primary goal: the fuller achievement of equal rights, freedoms and opportunities for all individuals. We seek, not just jobs, any kind of jobs, for 60,000,000 Americans, but 60,000,000 job opportunities for free Americans.