Making Liberty


By KENNETH IRVING BROWN, President, Denison University, Granville, Ohio

Delivered at the Commencement Exercises of Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, July 28, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 717-720.

A LETTER from a navy friend in service recently brought me a new phrase: "I'm making liberty Saturday night with two fellow Denisonians." "Making liberty": I know, of course, the practice of servicemen of calling free time "liberty"; a service man gets his "week-end liberty." But my friend said he was "making liberty."

I know what my correspondent meant: he was spending his leisure time with some friends. But the phrase "making liberty" has additional implications. I have heard often of the "right to liberty," of "fighting for liberty," of "winning liberty"—all of them common enough expressions suggesting that liberty is something complete, an entity; you either have it or you don't have it. But "making liberty" suggests that liberty may be something to be built, to be constructed, painstakingly and laboriously and lovingly something to finish. And so it is, I am coming to believe.

Liberty is essentially opportunity, opportunity of two kinds. The first is the opportunity to make the second. The first is the kind of liberty which unties shackled hands or. releases the bound captive and whispers the magic word, "freedom." The captive released is given something very real and very, very precious, but it is only the first of the two liberties. But this freedom alone is not enough.* It is essentially the opportunity to make the second, and the second—how shall we define it? The second is the opportunity "to become," both for ourselves as individuals to become, and for our nation as a great political body to become, and our world of mankind to become. That, too, is liberty, very precious liberty, but for us all it is not a liberty to be given, but a liberty to be made.

Jacques Maritain has written in his little book, Education at the Crossroads', "Our chief duty consists in becoming who we are; nothing is more important for each of us or more difficult than to become a man."

The first liberty is a liberty we are given: it may be won by conquest of arms or granted by legislation or achieved as a social reform. The second liberty is a liberty we make, for ourselves and our nation, by persistent effort and courageous insight and forthright dedication.

Let me illustrate: Let us call the first liberty "freedom" and the second, "liberty."

By the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln gave the American black man his freedom to "make his liberty"—gave him his initial freedom which was to be his opportunity to become the best and most complete individual and race the black man was capable of becoming. That job is far from done; it is one of the early items on the agenda for peace days. The black race needs the finest leadership of its own ranks and the generous help of his white brother in the gigantic task of making liberty.

Again, in 1917-18 we fought a war to regain our freedom to make our liberty. We gained the first—our freedom—but we grossly neglected the second, the job of making liberty for ourselves and our allies.

In 1941 we turned back history and again took arms against our sea of trouble. And the word that comes from our battle-fronts is encouraging, but we dare not minimize the colossal endeavor or the bitter price of life and blood which must still be paid. There is confidence in our hearts that military victory will some day belong again to the United Nations. Again our freedom will be won—our freedom to make liberty. And only the historians of a later day will know how well we worked as "makers."

Liberty becomes a reality as we take the opportunity it presents and mold it into something useful for human welfare. It may be the opportunity of time, and as time is well used, a new liberty is made. It may be the opportunity of ability, and as ability is properly applied and developed, there is a larger liberty which is born. It may be the opportunity of energy, and as that human energy is applied for human welfare, there comes both to the human individual and to those working with htm a new liberty of action.

Liberty is more than environment, even more than an environment of the good life. Liberty itself becomes an ingredient of the good life, and to the extent that we make liberty—wise and righteous liberty—we are moving in the direction of the good life

Yet, in using the phrase, makers of liberty, I wonder if I am adding to confusion by seeming to suggest that liberty is something material to be built like a stone wall. For it is also true that liberty is a seed to be planted and nourished with care. Liberty is an experience to be sought and when found, to be cherished and enriched. Liberty is an insight into life which, when one gathers, one protects as one protects a treasure and uses with gratitude.


To all lovers of liberty there comes the demand for a clearer sense of direction. This is our need—we who hold in our hands the task of making liberty.

War brings so unmistakably its arrows of direction: this we must do; this we must achieve. And the people follow. Then when the victory is won, and peace comes, the voices are strident and in conflict: Lo there, lo here. And that sense of direction, so certain during war, is lost.

For a man and for a nation, liberty is not made without a clear and accepted understanding of direction.

One thing is certain, and that is that in the days ahead, the days of making liberty, we must recover the respect for a man's word. For truth, as always, has been a casualty in war. Hitler has pointed the way by insisting with convincing evidence that a people will believe any lie if you make it big enough and tell it often enough. And most of the countries of the world have afforded illustration. And today, not alone do we turn skeptical ears to the statements of our enemies, but we are hesitant to believe our allies—we distrust England; we can't believe Russia; we are resentful of France; and they in turn are just as uncertain of our veracity. It is a terrifying state of affairs when a man or a nation finds its word habitually doubted, I think I know the reason. It lies in a damnable doctrine that it is all right for a man and a nation to have principles, but actually life is guided most frequently by the demand of expediency; that when principles are in conflict with expediency, expediency wins.

To be sure, expediency has won too often, at a high cost for our generation, and expediency wins most often when the sense of direction is blurred—that is, the sense of long-time, historic direction. Expediency is a common way for securing what you want today, not caring if you lose what you want tomorrow.

David Lawrence in a newspaper column recently wrote: "Expediency is that poison that eats into the character of men in public life and makes them accept compromise of principle and conviction with respect to their own careers and ambitions. Expediency is the poison that also eats into the character of governments all over the world and makes them unwilling to face the truth of their obligations to their fellow men in other countries as well as their own. And therein lies one reason why we have wars."

A clearer sense of direction will also bring us a more fearsome awareness of our need for unity. In war that awareness is upon us; when peace comes, the awareness fades, and we are tempted to go our own separate ways. In war, we must unite to fight so we shall not be conquered; in peace, when peace comes, perhaps we shall have learned that only as the peace-loving nations of the world work in solid unity, can lasting liberty be made.

But unity ought not to be desired solely for its value as a means to world security. As the national families of the earth are able to see their common purposes in unity of vision, prosperity and health will come in greater measure to them all. The common bonds of life, when recognized, will draw us with compelling purpose and intelligence to. work for the perfecting of our existing societies.

As our eyes see more clearly the arrows of direction, there will come to us, furthermore, a demanding knowledge of the value of peace. That is not to say that even at the cost of war, there may not be higher values than peace. For history reports how days came when nations had to choose between peace and something higher than peace. But too often nations for selfish advantage and nationalistic greed have chosen between peace and something less than peace; and the choice was the lower and the means was war.

If, in the days after armistice, the peoples of the world can hold emotionally and in reason, the high value of peace, perhaps we shall be willing to work more ardently for it, as well as live more sacrificially for it. But the danger is that in the days of peace, peace shall be seen as a daily article of only ordinary worth and men shall forget what they learned under the stress of war.

The makers of liberty must move into the future with a clearer sense of direction which can come only from well understood purposes and highly esteemed values.


Moreover, the task of making liberty calls for a sturdy and dependable dynamic, that something inside a man or a nation that keeps him going along his accepted direction.

PM is responsible for bringing to us a quotation from a German short-wave broadcast a few days before Pearl Harbor, prepared by Dr. Goebbels, propagandists shortly after the German defeat at Rostov:

"A serious problem has been created for the High Command by the Russians' inability to understand that they were defeated. The Soviets continued to fight even when it was impossible for them to do so without being destroyed."

Watch Russia. No country in the world today is charged with a sturdier dynamic. No country in the past twenty years has achieved such remarkable internal developments. No country has given our world an exhibition of greater military might, in the name of the people. Watch Russia, and I think you will find in that people so close to the soil an aspect of social concern, within high nationalistic barriers, to be sure, which is hard to duplicate. They feel a oneness within their more than twenty republics; they arc aware of the bonds that tie them into a single great, gigantic country.

There are two quite contradictory social habits in our country which the war has greatly strengthened: the one is the act of voluntarism. We have been thrilled by the response of our country to the needs which they were capable of fulfilling, responses made without any expectation of money or reward—nurses' aids, Red Cross workers, blood donors—the list is long. At the same time, there has been a growth, contradictory though it appear, in the expectation that one moves only when reaching for compensation: the man who makes "a good thing" out of the war, the woman whose services are available for a fee. This latter tendency has been encouraged, understandably perhaps, by government spending.

Let me speak a word of caution regarding our sons and brothers in the service. We have done much for them—as indeed we should. And I am sure that no one of us regrets the generous provisions which have been made for them upon their demobilization. But we are by that very act. making a cleavage in our social body which will some day have to be sewn together with social surgery, for we are setting apart as the class to do for, those who have worn uniforms, and we are making the rest, those who have not worn uniforms, a class to do the doing.

When our veterans return—God grant it be soon—in some way we must help them to catch the spirit that we are one, those who have worked in uniforms and those who have worked in overall and jumper and sack-coat; that being one people we have a common need, and that as citizens of that need, there is service to be given, generously, freely, and many times without remuneration.

What I have in mind is suggested by the report of a volunteer worker in one of our army hospitals. She was trained in handicraft and was teaching the wounded soldiers new skills. Her first week was particularly difficult, for the men were demanding and they expected their whims to be responded to like a general's orders. Finally, when she could stand it no longer, she announced to her group: "I'm very glad to give my services to you to teach you what I can, but I don't like to be ordered around as if you had the right to command my services. Do you understand?"

The group was abashed. "Gee, Lady, we didn't know. We thought you were paid for coming to us. Gosh, we wouldn't do what you're doing without getting dough for it. The government's lousy with money. Tell them you won't do it unless they pay you. And anyway, we're sorry."

A soldier's right—we shall hear the phrase. Put by it a citizen's duty. We shall not want to ignore that soldier's right, but equally important is the citizen's duty. A young navy lieutenant friend wrote from the South Pacific:

"The government and the world won't owe the veteran a thing when this job is done. The reward for services rendered is greater than any nation or person could ever pay. It's a bank account of freedom and opportunity upon which the nations of tomorrow can draw relentlessly." And then he adds, "But there are among us those who will look to every institution, every individual, and every group for token reward for what they call in their more reflective moments, 'their sacrifice.' "

The sturdy dynamic for the making of liberty will be that hungry concern for the welfare of others, that dream for the good of a nation, that faith in the social movement of our day—those same drives which have brought life to the Red Cross and scores of other great philanthropic organizations.

In that thoroughly delightful biography of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, A Yankee From Olympus, there is this sentence about the Justice's grandfather, the Reverend Abiel Holmes: "Abiel had a warm pride in his country—and a Calvinist conscience that translated pride quickly into a sense of debt. When you were proud of something, you got out and worked for it." Pride in your college—you work for it. Pride in your country—you serve it. Pride in liberty—you work for the making of it. Herein lies the dynamic for the making of liberty.


There is a third demand made upon the makers of liberty, that they have in addition to their clear direction and a sturdy dynamic, an ever-increasing, inclusive sympathy. Men do not make liberty successfully in a community where bitterness and hatred, greed and strife are the accepted order of living. Neither will nations make liberty, when the freedom to make that liberty has been won, if bitterness and hatred, greed and strife are the order of the day in that community of nations.

So easy to say: I know. So difficult to achieve: I know. And yet, it needs to be said in these days when some are cautioning that Germany and Japan must be beaten to the ground, pulverized and given no chance to resume a national life in the days after the war. It was Burke who said in that address so many of us were required to study during

high school days: "You can't indict a nation." No, neither can you destroy a great nation like Germany or Japan without sowing seeds of future conflagrations.

George Bernard Shaw, that literary bad boy of the English world was recently interviewed. He gave pungent answers to the questions posed him, answers with which many Americans will not agree; and yet they are worth consideration:

When Shaw was asked, "What should be Germany's post-war relationship to the rest of the world," he answered, "If Germany is defeated, her relations to her conquerors will be that of a wounded prisoner of war to his captors. When we take such a prisoner, we give him every care and attention until he is cured, exactly as if he were one of our own soldiers. That is how we shall treat Germany if we have any sense. She cannot be treated as a criminal—at least not lawfully—because war is not a crime by the law of nations. If we let loose our vilest passions and indulge in an orgy of plunder and revenge, we shall pay for it and be sorry after."

When finally he was asked that question in so many of our minds, "How do you think Germany can best be prevented from springing at the throat of Europe?" Shaw answered: "Treat Germany decently. Then she will not want to serins: at our throats."

I am aware that for some this is the softest of sentimentality. But it would appear to be one clear choice of two possible alternatives: this or a militarily imposed dictation of German life and German government so complete that the will to rebel is smothered. And surely for few of us is this a happy, solution, for by its imposition we are likely to find ourselves militarized to a degree that we shall accept that which we sought to destroy. I fear, however, that our difficulty will lie in our inability or our refusal to choose clearly and candidly one of these two policies—to treat Germany decently and with kindness or to treat Germany as a subject nation to be dominated by the conqueror's control. I think we are likely to fall between the two stools and adopt some compromise position which will produce all the bitterness and hatred that the full policy of domination would achieve, and yet actually administer the domination with an amount of decency which will win no respect or acceptance from the conquered people. We have a way of doing that, we Americans, of blanketing our sympathies in an armor of hostility, which brings us only the reward of hostility.

The making of liberty demands of us all a larger effort at understanding. There is upon the world today, and the demand will be increased in the day of peace, a compulsion that we shall understand one another. Our ways may continue to differ, but there shall be understanding of those differences. Our standards, growing out of tradition and experience, may not be the same, but we shall accept those differences with understanding, even while we cling tenaciously to our own.

"Can two walk together except they be agreed?" The answer is still: They shall not walk in complete harmony except they agree; but there is a spirit of understanding and of differences within that understanding that allows for walking together, where agreement is not complete.

And the next step beyond understanding shall be reconciliation. When peace comes, and we undertake with new zest our task of making liberty, we shall need to turn our hands and our hearts to the jobs—joint jobs—of reconstruction and reconciliation. Europe will not thank us for rebuilding their cities unless they are convinced that we do it in the spirit of mutual pride and trust. If we give, no natter how generously, and turn our faces away in anger,

our giving shall fail, for it will breed contempt in the hearts of those who accept.

Reconciliation is not the act of taking an unregenerate enemy into the councils of friendship; that were hypocrisy, not reconciliation. But reconciliation is the belief that to humanity without exception there is the possibility of repentance. And repentance opens a door as wide as the heart is wide; and through that door men and women, and nations, pass.

In the emotions of war we are trying to persuade ourselves that our enemies, both those in the West an those in the East, are of a sub-human breed to whom the Creator has denied the opportunity of regret and repentance. Dangerously like the war-cry of "the superior race" is our contempt. "God hath made of one blood all nations of the earth": even in war the words are truth. And in the days of peace, when liberties must be made for a new world, there will be need for reconciliation, built solidly upon broad, friendly understandings, and a repentance for things past. And shall there be any nation who shall stand outside that need for repentance?

The Greater Brotherhood is still the ideal, and as an ideal must be inclusive of all peoples. Nations may voluntarily or involuntarily exclude themselves, but admission must be theirs when they come seeking admission in the spirit of that Brotherhood.

War is a costly job; so is the job of making the liberty which will be ours to make when freedom comes.

War is a job of tremendous planning; so will be the making of liberty and education's part must be large and demanding.

War is a job wherein men are called to give their lives; even so is the making of liberty, for hazards are there, too, and dangers to be risked and sacrifices to be made.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Ronald Coleman read over the NBC network a poem which had been written for the day. It was called Poem and Prayer for an Invading Army. The author was the celebrated poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay.

"Oh Lord, all through the night,
all through the day,
keep watch over our brave and dear,
so far away.

Make us more worthy of
their valor; and Thy love.

"Say that the Victory is ours—then say—
and each man search his heart in true humility—|
'Lord! Father! Who are we,|
that we should wield so great a weapon
for the rights
and rehabilitation of Thy creature Man?

Lo, from all corners of the Earth we ask
all great and noble to come forth—converge
upon this errand and this task with generous
and gigantic plan:

"'Hold high this Torch who will.
Lift up this Sword, who can!'"

This prayer with which Miss Millay concludes that poem is an appropriate word for a war-time commencement, for we have gathered, mindful of our brave living and our brave dead. It is also appropriate for the theme of the making of liberty. Only as we take the freedom which success in war can bring us and use it wisely and constructively and persistently for the making of liberty, liberty for the individual man, liberty for the individual nation, liberty for a world to become in fullest measure id best and most complete self—only then will we be worthy of those who have at tremendous cost won for us our historic opportunity.

*For further development of this idea, see "Freedom Alone is Not Enough," Vital Speeches, March 1, 1944.