freedom & responsibilty

August 16th, 2006

Stumbled across this speech from 1950 that contains a few things to think about and a few things you may disagree with (Controversy? We need controversy!):

The constitutions of former American slave states generally specified that the masters must provide their slaves with adequate housing, food, medical care, and old-age benefits. The Mississippi constitution contained this following additional sentence: “The legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves . . . [except] where the slave shall have rendered the State some distinguished service.”

The highest honor that Mississippi could offer a man for distinguished service to his country was personal responsibility for his own welfare! His reward was freedom to find his own job and to have his own earnings, freedom to be responsible for his own housing, freedom to arrange for his own medical care, freedom to save for his own old age. In short, his reward was the individual opportunities-and the personal responsibilities-that have always distinguished a free man from a dependent.

What higher honor can any government offer?

But many present-day Americans are trying to avoid this personal responsibility that is freedom. They are voting for men who promise to install a system of compulsory, government-guaranteed “security”-a partial return to the old slave laws of Georgia that guaranteed to all slaves “the right to food and raiment, to kind attention when sick, to maintenance in old age. . . .” And the arguments used to defend this present-day trend toward the bondage of a welfare state are essentially the same arguments that were formerly used to defend the bondage of outright slavery.

For example, many of the slave-holders claimed that they knew what was “best for the slaves.” After all, hadn’t the masters “rescued” the slaves from a life of savagery? The advocates of government-guaranteed “security” also claim that they know what is best for the people. Many of them argue in this fashion: “After all, haven’t the American people conclusively shown that they are incapable of handling the responsibility for their own welfare?”

Many of the slave-holders sincerely believed that the “dumb, ignorant slaves” would starve to death unless their welfare was guaranteed by the masters.

And the advocates of compulsory “security” frequently say: “Are you in favor of letting people starve?”

But as proof of the fact that personal responsibility for one’s own welfare brings increased material well-being, consider the emancipated slaves. Among them, there were old and crippled and sick people. They had no homes, no jobs, and little education. But-most precious of all-the former slaves were responsible for their own welfare. They were free . They had the privilege of finding their own security. . . .

The advocates of this compulsory “security” honestly seem to believe that most Americans . . . are too ignorant, or lazy, or worthless to be trusted with their own destiny; that they will literally starve in the streets unless their welfare is guaranteed by a “benevolent” government. However good their intentions may be, these disciples of a relief state are demanding that they be given the power to force mankind to follow their plans. In the name of liberty they advocate bondage!

This is true because the persons who receive support from the state are thereby led to expect-and then to demand-more support from the state. They become dependents. Thus they enter into a form of bondage. They lose their individual freedom of choice to whatever extent the state assumes responsibility for their personal welfare. In time, as is now the case in the welfare state of Russia, the people become completely subservient to the state. In effect, they become slaves of the “benevolent” government that has promised to solve all of their personal problems for them!

Admittedly, this is not the intent of the planners. Apparently, most of the advocates of government paternalism really believe that they are able to know and to do what is “best” for all of the people. Most of them may honestly desire to help the people. But their efforts always result in some form of bondage. . . .

In Russia we find another example of the fact that good intentions are no guarantee of freedom. For instance, in the beginning Lenin and Stalin probably had no desire whatever to bring slavery to Russia. Their announced plan was to free the Russian people from the slavery of an all-powerful government. But look what happened!


[The American Revoltionaries] knew that the main purpose of government should be to protect whatever security the people were able to attain individually or in voluntary cooperation. They knew that electing or appointing a man to public office cannot endow him with wisdom; it can endow him only with power . Thus they took no chances on this power of government being used to encroach upon their individual liberties and their personal responsibilities. In advance, they put positive restrictions on all officeholders. And as a final guarantee of freedom, they specified that any powers not expressly given to the federal officials were to remain with the individual citizens and their local governments.


And just as the Russians are enslaved to a welfare state, so this country is being carried into bondage by accepting the same false principle. Just as force is used in Russia to make the people conform to the security laws designed “for their own good,” so we also are now forced to submit to American security laws designed “for our own good.” And just as the Russian state punishes any objector, so the American state will now imprison us if we refuse to conform.

If you doubt that compulsory socialism has gone to that extreme in this country, just test it, for instance, by refusing to pay the social security tax that is taken from your salary. The government will do the same thing to you that it did to the owner of a small battery shop in Pennsylvania who balked at the idea of compulsory social security. First, the state confiscated his property. Still he refused to obey. Then the state preferred criminal charges against him. And in January of 1943, the government gave him the choice of conforming or going to prison as a criminal-an enemy of the state because he refused to pay social security! He paid. And his six-months prison sentence was suspended. . . .


Before choosing, however, consider this: When one chooses freedom-that is, personal responsibility-he should understand that his decision will not meet with popular approval. It is almost certain that he will be called vile names when he tries to explain that compulsory government “security”-jobs, medicine, housing, and all the rest-is bad in principle and in its total effect; it saps character and strength by encouraging greed and weakness; it destroys the individual’s God-given responsibility for self-help, respect, compassion, and charity; in some degree, it automatically turns all who accept it into wards of the government; it will eventually turn a proud and responsible people into cringing dependence upon the whims of an all-powerful state; it is the primrose path to serfdom.

No, the choice is not an easy one. But then, the choice of freedom never has been easy. It never will be easy. Since this capacity for personal responsibility-freedom-is God’s most precious gift to mankind, it requires the highest form of understanding and courage.

Dean Russell was a member of the staff at The Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, when he delivered this speech in 1950.

Interesting, especially if you update the meaning of security to cover what our governments are legislating against and consider the shifting of the focus of personal responsibility from empowering the individual to informing the State that the National Identity Register, Automatic Number Plate Recognition schemes (etc.) embody.

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