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Indirection is the Mother of Liberty

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Tags The EntrepreneurFree MarketsMedia and Culture

08/03/2009F. R. Buckley

I have two sons, eleven months apart. They do not read Mother Goose rhymes for the political implications, yet one is a libertarian; one a socialist.

The older boy, Hunt, a three-and-a-half-year-old towhead, has a lovable personality. He wanders off by himself into the fields below my home and standing there, hip deep in wildflowers, he looks like a New World Christopher Robin.

Hearing my typewriter pound, Hunt stares at me (I cannot make out his expression at this distance). He begins to run towards me. He stops to investigate some scratchy thing at his ankle. A butterfly has sidetracked his attention, and now he is completely entranced by the swoops and loops of our barn swallows. There he goes, chasing them.

The younger boy, Job (named with calculating flattery after the richest man in the Bible), is cast from a different mold. He stays close to his mother when she is around, preferring people to nature. He is less agile, having a squat, pugilistic figure and a temperament to match. He has red hair.

If you think you know what I am going to say, do not jump at conclusions.

Yesterday, these two bundles of tax-exemption were playing with a train. It is a wooden thing, badly built and expensive to buy. The hooks and eyes that attach car to car constantly come loose. Particularly when our Chesapeake puppy mistakes the train for a snake, snatches it up by the neck (coal car) and shakes it thoroughly. They don't make these things the way they used to.

Anyhow, the hooks and eyes from several of the cars had come apart. Try as Job would, making the motion over and over again of hooking the cars to each other, the train would not assemble itself into a fascinating continuity of joints – as good trains should.

"Naughty train!"

My Boy Will Change, God Wot

When I came upon them, towhead Hunt looked up at me. He had been watching Job's efforts with a frown. Now his blue eyes shone. He had found the solution: Daddy!

Hunt jumped to his feet and brought me the refrigeration car and the caboose. "You fix," he said, with the trust of a soul in its creator.

Job did not give me more than a passing glance. It said: "I love you, Daddy, but" – he gave his head an impatient twist – "but don't bother me now. I got some real problems on my mind."

So it turns out that Job is a libertarian. My independent, nature-communing, towheaded Hunt is by temperament a Socialist.

I don't mean that he has fixed tendencies, that he is headed for a bureaucracy that sucks up liberty from the land. He may change, God wot. He may suppress a natural bent for socialism by using his head. Maybe.

But as of now, he thinks, unconsciously, like a Socialist. No sooner does he come against something difficult – like Gordian-knotted shoelaces – than he runs to me, or his mother, or his nurse. This is very touching. It is nice to play at Big Brother.

You see, in Hunt's mind, we are the State from which solutions flow like water out of the tap.

But here's a strange thing: we don't have to succeed in fixing the train. Once Hunt disavows self-reliance, the performance of the leader he turns to is beside the point.

Failure dampens his trust in me. But if I can't do it, maybe Mother can; and if Mother can't do it, nurse will surely succeed. And if nurse can't do it? Why, then it simply can't be done!

So that yesterday, if I had failed to make the eyes and hooks screw back into the cars (a probability, since as the son of a man who cannot turn on a radio, I can't master the television set), he would have walked off perfectly satisfied that it was in the nature of things that his train should cease to act as a train ought to.

That, too, makes me think that Hunt, aged 3½, leans toward socialism. He accepts our failure uncomplainingly. At least for a long period of time, he accepts the failure of authority to live up to its promises. One master may be exchanged for another, but the citizen still depends on the State.

My red-haired Job stayed with the problem. It may have been naive of him to keep trying to hook cars together that had no hooks, but biting his tongue, and scowling fiercely, he tried. And it didn't occur to him to ask me to meddle.

We're Wasting Our Time

He has, somehow, arranged his mind so that he feels most comfortable as an individualist. His failures don't shake his self-confidence. Tomorrow he will again beat his head against walls and tilt against windmills.

When he grows up, unless he changes substantially, he will look skeptically on socialism's "successes." And he will praise private action in spite of its failures.

Certainly human beings can change their characters, change themselves completely. All I want to point out is this: when we argue on the expedient level that socialism is failing, that this blue-eyed boy of our times, like Buffalo Bill, is defunct, we are wasting my time and yours. Our arguments show conclusions at which our hearts have already arrived.

That old dragon, Frank Chodorov, in a Freeman editorial, pointed out ineluctably that when A and B read the same books, they tend to come to widely diverse conclusions. Each reader is exposed to identical arguments – just as my children grow up in the same environment. And like my children, one may become a Socialist, the other, an individualist.

Bottles Were Flying

Certainly this is a logical contradiction, but that needn't bother us here. What I'm concerned about is this. Considering these unpredictable differences of temperament and character, can we get anywhere with a logical campaign against socialism?

A state of mind, for most of us, comes right down to a state of heart. This is an unsurprising truism, gravely bemoaned for centuries. But anti-Socialists give it a nod without heeding it, plunging right back into their logical arguments.

Which reminds me of a friend, who in the midst of a barroom brawl, fists flying and beer bottles crashing, hied himself up on top of a counter, raised his right hand in benediction and enjoined us:

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, please let's be reasonable, shall we?"

He was immediately cracked in the face by a flying mustard pot, and that wound up his contribution to the festivities.

This raises some rhetorical questions. Didn't the Socialists get where they are by unreason? By nonsense even? Didn't their scurrilous name-calling, slander, smears, but above all, their appeal to sentiment – heart-rending pictures of evicted widows, starving coal miners, exploited sharecroppers – work to make "reasonable" men daily approve socialism?

We might ask: have we been too sober, too academic, too poker-faced, too scholarly, in trying to remind the world that freedom is good? Can't we tell a man why freedom is good in terms of his heart? A state of heart is affected by the food he eats, the sleep he gets, the woman he mates.

Logic can wear down opposition, but the slogan revolutionizes. "Give me liberty or give me death." This I can throw at you. It will hit you harder than all the pithy weight of Human Action.

"We can't win the battle with the theory of value," Frank Chodorov said. Socialists snap our arguments like dry sticks and throw them into the cauldron of their invective. Go try our fine logic on a campus orator, a man pounding his fist from a soap box, a sophisticated columnist writing for an adult comic book; he will answer:

"What about the starving children?"

"What about the man selling apples on the corner?" Or "Down with Wall Street!"

He will give a cheer for barbarism. He will promise the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. And all the little children with socialism in their hearts will queue up for the dole.

Socialism is not a system of economics. Would that it were only that! It would then surely die of its incompetence. But it does not.

The failure of socialism has become a political cliché. In country after country, socialism has gone bankrupt. New Zealand gave it up. England has been in red-faced retrenchment. China can't meet even a one-year plan. Russia doesn't grow enough food.

Yet people persist in being Socialists; and good Republicans today enact laws Norman Thomas endorses.

So socialism can't be just a system. It must be that something else, that muddled state of heart.

Sorry, Son –

I cannot explain to Hunt why I must not always fix his toys for him. He will blink his incomprehension and ask himself why I prefer to set him to the futile exertions of his less resourceful younger brother. Self-reliance does not make sense to him. Unless I can find a way to sell it to his interior castle, all my logic will not help.

So I won't try to explain it to him. When Hunt asks my help, I will be sparing of it, and when he does something on his own, I will try to encourage him, to help him associate self-reliance with joy.

By such indirection does the desire for liberty grow.

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