We fight today the revolutionary onslaught of an industrial despotism which has its roots in the failure of the basically pre-industrial nineteenth century system to develop a functioning industrial society. To overcome the totalitarian revolution we must overcome this basic weakness of the old order; we must answer the industrial despotism of “Wehrwirtschaft” with an industrial society that is both functioning and free. And we must develop this new free society in a non-revolutionary way; out of the tradition of freedom which we defend, without a break in historical continuity, and on the basis of our existing social and political institutions.
Our task is a conservative one. We must be bold to the point of radicalism in our diagnosis of the ills and weaknesses of our society; but we must be conservative to the extreme in our methods and actions. We cannot restore what is gone. But we must try to bring out all the constructive forces in our society, in our institutions, and in our beliefs.
Any attempt to fight the revolution of the Nazis by opposing it with an equally absolutist, equally despotic revolutionary creed of our own, could only lead to the substitution of one totalitarian despotism by another. What we need today is a courageous, a radical, and yet a fundamentally conservative program.
Any approach to such a program must start with the problem of freedom. For freedom is the central point in the conservative’s creed. It rests upon his basic beliefs regarding the nature of man. And his creed of freedom, in turn, determines his views on government and society, on institutions and methods.
Shortly before the United States entered this war, the City of New York staged a “freedom rally” under the slogan: “It’s fun to be free.” It is unlikely that the choice of this slogan was dictated by anything more profound than the conviction of those great thinkers, our modern advertising and propaganda sages, that a “consumers’ demand” and a “market” can be created for ideas in the same way, by the same means, and to the same end as for lipstick. But as a symptom the incident was important. It illustrates the confusion and the loss of political sense and understanding which is the greatest weakness of the free countries today. To say that it is fun to be free comes close to a repudiation of the real freedom.
Freedom is not fun. It is not the same as individual happiness, nor is it security or peace and progress. It is not the state in which the arts and sciences flourish. It is not good, clean government or the greatest welfare of the greatest number. This is not to say that freedom is inherently incompatible with all or any of these values, though it may be and sometimes will be. But the essence of freedom lies elsewhere. It is responsible choice. Freedom is not so much a right as a duty. Real freedom is not freedom from something ; that would be license. It is freedom to choose between doing or not doing something, to act one way or another, to hold one belief or the opposite. It is never a release and always a responsibility. It is not “fun” but the heaviest burden laid on man: to decide his own individual conduct as well as the conduct of society and to be responsible for both decisions.
The only basis of freedom is the Christian concept of man’s nature: imperfect, weak, a sinner, and dust destined unto dust; yet made in God’s image and responsible for his actions. Only if man is conceived as basically and immutably imperfect and impermanent is freedom philosophically both natural and necessary. And only if he is seen as basically and inescapably responsible for his acts and decisions, in spite of his imperfection and impermanence, is freedom politically possible as well as required. Any philosophy which claims perfection for human beings denies freedom; and so does a philosophy that renounces ethical responsibility.
It may be said that freedom is only possible on the assumption that in a conflict on fundamentals either side is likely to be wrong and certain to be at least partially wrong. If one side is assumed to be likely to be right, there can be no freedom. The other side could not demand a right to advocate an opinion which dissents from what is presumed to be the truth. It would not even have a right to have such an opposing view. Also, in order to have freedom, it must be assumed that there is absolute truth and absolute reason— though forever beyond man’s grasp. Otherwise there could be no responsibility; without responsibility there would be no reason other than material interests to have any opinion at all, and no right to voice it except the right of the stronger.
Freedom is the strength arising out of inherent human weakness. It is the scepticism based upon profound faith. If one man were perfectly good there could be no freedom, as he would be entitled to absolute rule. And if one man were perfectly evil he would inevitably possess himself of absolute rule. If all men were perfectly good or perfectly evil there need be no freedom, since there never would be any doubt about any decision. It is only because no man is perfectly good or perfectly evil that there is a justification of freedom. And only because it is everybody’s personal duty to strive for the good is there a need for freedom.
Freedom, as we understand it, is inconceivable outside and before the Christian era. The Greeks had no concept of freedom. Their entire political discussion centered on the methods to discover the perfect ruler, the perfect society, the perfect citizen. The history of freedom does not begin with Plato or Aristotle. Neither could have visualized any right of the individual against society, though Aristotle came closer than any man in the pre-Christian era to the creed that man is inherently imperfect and impermanent. Nor does the history of freedom begin with those Athenian “totalitarian liberals,” the Sophists who denied all responsibility of the individual because they denied the existence of absolutes. The roots of freedom are in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Epistles of St. Paul; the first flower of the tree of liberty was St. Augustine.
On this conservative theory of freedom are based all the demands and rides which we customarily mean when we talk of a “free government”: the demand that government be limited; that it be responsible and controllable; that it follow definite methods of procedure and submit to judicial review of its acts; that minorities be protected and dissenters respected ; that the freedom of the individual to think, speak, and print his beliefs be safeguarded. And above all there is the demand that government be self-government in which the individual citizen participates in carrying the burden of the responsibilities and of the decisions of government.
To these traditional demands—most of them go back to the first great period of popular government in Europe, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—the last century added a new and perhaps the most important rule: that in a free society political government and social rule have to be separated. In so far as laissez faire was taken to mean that there should be no organized rule in the social sphere, it was nonsense politically. But laissez faire never meant that outside of textbooks. It was a command to the political government not to interfere in economic life; and this command was made effective by the development of autonomous social institutions in the economic sphere, such as the stock and commodity exchanges, the independent banking system, the corporation as a generally accessible form of organization, the Gold Standard, etc. But the economic sphere—the socially constitutive sphere of nineteenth century society—had a social rule and organization of its own: the market rule based on individual property.
The nineteenth century system accepted the consent of the majority of the governed as the legitimate basis of political government. But the great political thinkers of the generation of 1776, to whom we owe whatever freedom there has been in the Western world since, took as their starting point that this principle of political rule had to be limited and balanced by a competing principle in the socially constitutive economic sphere. The great innovation of Madison, Jefferson, Burke, and Hamilton was the thesis that any one ethical principle of power will become an absolutist, i.e., a tyrannical principle unless checked, controlled, and limited by a competing principle. Constitutional safeguards on which the past had always relied are not good enough. They have always been overthrown. A monist basis of power must become an absolutist one. Because it is exclusive, it must come to be accepted as perfect—and as soon as this happens freedom is impossible. Freedom will only endure if the free government in the political sphere and the free rule in the socially constitutive sphere balance and check each other.
Popular government is not only compatible with this conservative theory of freedom, but actually the system that more than any other makes possible the realization of freedom. But can there be freedom under majority rule?
Consciously or unconsciously almost all modern doctrines of popular government start from the premise that the majority decides what is right or wrong, or that its decision creates right. Even as moderate a majoritarian as C. J, Friedrich holds the many more likely to be in possession of reason and truth than the few. In other words, there is an assumption that the numerical majority is either perfection or nearer to perfection than the minority. In a more extreme—and more usual—form the majority is simply identified with the absolute truth and absolute right. What the majority decides to be right is right because the majority decides it is. Further appeal is impossible; indeed, this maxim has been proclaimed as an axiom and as incontrovertible.
We are not interested here in the logical, philosophical, or metaphysical implications of a theory which bases a quality, truth, upon a quantity, majority. We are only concerned with the question of practical politics: is such a theory of majority rule compatible with a free government and a free society? The answer is undoubtedly: No. The majority principle as it is commonly accepted today is a despotic, a tyrannical, an unfree principle.
There could be no right of opposition against the majority if the majority either finds or creates right, truth, or goodness. The majority is the law if it is assumed to be either perfect or closer to perfection than the minority. As soon as it has been determined what fifty-one per cent of the people want, the other forty-nine per cent would have the moral duty to climb on the bandwagon and join the majority. It may be theoretically possible under the majoritarian assumption to use free discussion, free speech, and other forms of doubt and dissent before the majority has spoken. But once the will of the majority has been established, there could not be a justification even for the expression of a doubt or of dissent. And in reality not even the limited freedom before majority decision is practically possible under the majoritarian assumption. The absolute majority of today will at once perpetuate itself and will lay down final rules for all time to come. And how could it be stopped? If the majority has reason or right by virtue of being a majority, how and why should it be limited?
The mistaken identification of unlimited majority rule and free government is at the bottom of a great many of the troubles which beset our society today. The answer is of course not to throw out popular government in favor of the rule of that minority known today as the elite; for the assumption of the elite, a minority deemed to be perfect, is just as absolutist as the assumption of the perfect majority. Actually, we must strengthen popular government by making the majority principle again into an instrument to limit and to control the government and to realize that truly responsible self-government without which democracy becomes mob rule. And above all, we must learn again that in a free society the majority principle in the political sphere must be balanced and limited by a competing principle in the social sphere.
It is almost an axiom in contemporary political and historical literature that our freedom has its roots in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. So general is this belief, so complete its acceptance that the descendants of the eighteenth century rationalists have pre-empted for themselves the very name of Liberty in their designation as liberals.
It cannot be denied that the Enlightenment and the French Revolution contributed to the freedom of the nine-teenth century. But their contribution was entirely negative : they were the dynamite that blew away the debris of the old structure. In no way, however, did they contribute to the foundation of the new structure of freedom on which the nineteenth century order was built. On the contrary, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and their successors down to the rationalism of our days are in irreconcilable opposition to freedom. Every totalitarian movement during i i
the last two hundred years of Western history has grown out of the rationalism of its time.
The great discovery of the Enlightenment was that human reason is absolute. On this discovery were based not only all subsequent rationalist creeds but also all subsequent totalitarian creeds from Rousseau on. It was no accident that Robespierre installed a Goddess of Reason; his symbolism was cruder than that of the later revolutionaries but not 1 really very different. Nor was it an accident that the French Revolution chose a living person to act the role of Goddess of Reason. The whole point of the rationalist philosophy is that it attributes to actual living men the perfection of absolute reason. The symbols and slogans have changed. Where the “scientific philosopher” was supreme in 1750, the sociologist with his economic utilitarianism and the “pleasure- I pain calculus” assumed supremacy a hundred years later, j Today it is the “scientific psycho-biologist” with his determinism of race and propaganda. But we fight today bas- 1 ically the same totalitarian absolutism that first was formulated by the Enlighteners and Encyclopedists, the rationalists of 1750, and that first led to a revolutionary tyranny in the Terror of 1793. There is a straight line from Rousseau to Hitler—a line that takes in Robespierre, Marx, and Stalin. 1
Wherever the rationalist has come to power, he has always, failed. The fate of Kerenski’s Liberal government in Russia, which collapsed into Bolshevism after half a year of political paralysis, is only the most obvious case. The German Social Democrats were equally incapable of political 1 action when they came to power in 1918. What is amazing is not that they failed but that they lasted as long as they did. For by 1922 or 1923 they had become completely bankrupt. The same is true of French Radicals, of Italian Liberals, or of Spam’s democrats. And the “reformer” in the United States also normally ends in frustration. The history of every city government in America shows the political ineffectiveness of these well-meaning rationalists.
It is impossible to try to explain so extraordinary and consistent a record of failure as one of circumstances and accidents. The real reason is that rationalist liberalism is by its very nature condemned to political sterility. It lives in constant conflict with itself. It is based on two principles which exclude each other. It can only deny; it cannot act.
On the one hand, the rationalist liberal cannot compromise. His is a perfectionist creed which allows of no concession. Anyone who refuses to see the light is an unmitigated blackguard with whom political relations are impossible. On the other hand, the rationalist cannot fight or suppress enemies. He cannot admit their existence. There can only be misjudged or misinformed people who, of necessity, will see reason when the incontrovertible evidence of the rational truth is presented to them. The rationalist liberal is caught between holy wrath at conspiracies and educational zeal for the misinformed. He always knows what is right, necessary, and good—and it always is simple and easy. But he can never do it. For he can neither compromise for power nor fight for it. He is always paralyzed politically; strong in opposition and helpless in power, right on paper but incapable in politics.
It is the tragedy of the rationalist that there is only one way to political effectiveness from his position: totalitarianism. His subjectively sincere belief in freedom can objectively lead only to tyranny. For there is only one way out of the political sterility of the rationalist liberal: to drop the rationalism and to become openly totalitarian, absolutist, and revolutionary.
When the Enlightenment was threatened with collapse, Rousseau replaced its rationally attainable perfection with the irrational and even mystic “general will” which made possible Robespierre and the Terror. When the post-Napoleonic rationalism of the utilitarians and orthodox economists had collapsed in the abortive revolutions of 1848, Marx replaced their rationalist absolutes with the irrational perfection of the proletariat and the inevitability of the classless society. And when the rationalist psycho-biological determinism of modern science, of Darwin, Freud, and the Be-haviorists collapsed under the impact of World War and the Depression, Hitler proclaimed the principles of the biologists and psychologists in the irrationalism of race and propaganda.
To these irrational absolutes totalitarianism owes its appeal to a people disillusioned by rationalism. To them it owes its revolutionary force and the fanaticism which it inspires. And to them it also owes its absolute denial of all freedom and the inevitable emergence of a dictator who claims perfection.
It follows from this analysis that the rationalist liberal cannot fight totalitarianism effectively. He is always in the position of that first great rationalist liberal, Socrates. Like that greatest and wisest of pre-Christian thinkers he believes that the Good can be ascertained infallibly by man. Like Socrates he also believes that it can be taught rationally and that to understand the Good is to be good. By denying the possibility of Evil—for man can only err through lack of information; he can never sin—he denies responsibility, without which there can be no meaningful choice, i.e., no freedom. But he, like Socrates, can never translate this belief in absolutism into political action because he believes his absolutism to be rational—which means effective by its mere existence without any organization of power or any realization in institutions.
The revolutionary totalitarianism of today cannot be overcome either by the revolutionary totalitarianism of yesterday, Marxism, or by the totalitarianism of the rationalist liberals with their belief in biological, psychological, or economic determinism. Actually, both the Marxist and the rationalist liberal add to the strength of the revolutionary totalitarianism, however sincerely they oppose it. Their opposition is politically completely ineffective. But their latent absolutism makes the masses ready for the politically effective absolutism of the revolutionary totalitarian.
Just as popular and just as fallacious as the belief that the Enlightenment fathered nineteenth century freedom is the belief that the American Revolution was based on the same principles as the French Revolution, and that it was actually its forerunner. Every history book in the United States or in Europe says so; and not a few of the chief actors both in the American and French Revolutions shared the belief. Yet it is a complete distortion of all facts. The American Revolution was based on principles completely contrary to those of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. In intention and effect it was a successful counter-movement against the very rationalist despotism of the Enlightenment which provided the political foundation for the French Revolution. Though the French Revolution happened later in time, it had politically and philosophically been anticipated by the American Revolution. The Conservatives of 1776 and 1787 fought and overcame the spirit of the French Revolution so that the American development actually represents a more advanced stage in history than the Etats Generaux, the Terror, and Napoleon. Far from being a revolt against the old tyranny of feudalism, the American Revolution was a conservative counter-revolution in the name of freedom against the new tyranny of rationalist liberalism and enlightened despotism.
The liberal totalitarianism of the Enlightenment and the revolutionary totalitarianism of the French Revolution could only destroy the ancien regime. At best they might have been able to put in the place of the old, hopelessly collapsed pre-mercantile society a functioning but despotic mercantile society. Even that is most doubtful, as Robespierre’s Permanent Revolution and Napoleon’s Permanent War were hardly more successful as the bases of a functioning society than Hitler’s creed. In contrast, the American Revolution succeeded in building not only a functioning but a free society.
The common fallacy regarding the nature and effects of the American Revolution has been greatly aided by the conventional departmentalization of historical writing which has erected almost watertight bulkheads between American | and European history. The American Revolution is thus treated as an event of exclusive or primary American importance. Actually, the American Revolution was as much a European as an American event. It may even be said to have been more important as a European than as an American development, if the importance of historical events is to be measured by the extent to which they introduce new and unexpected factors. The thirteen colonies would sooner or later have become independent as one nation. The best thinkers in England—especially Burke—fully realized that the colonists had outgrown the old dependence. The American Revolution was only the concrete point at which the foreseeable and foreseen event of independence took place.
But as a European event the American Revolution was not foreseeable and foreseen. It reversed, first in England and then in the rest of Europe, a trend which had appeared to be inevitable, natural, and unchangeable. It defeated the rationalist liberals and their pupils, the enlightened despots, who had seemingly been irresistible and within an inch of complete and final victory. The American Revolution brought victory and power to a group which in Europe had been almost completely defeated and which was apparently dying out rapidly: the anti-centralist, anti-totalitarian conservatives with their hostility to absolute and centralized government and their distrust of any ruler claiming perfection. | It saved the autonomous common law from submersion under perfect law codes; and it re-established independent law courts. Above all, it re-asserted the belief in the imperfection of man as basis of freedom.
The American Revolution was the event which marked the turning of the absolutist and rationalist tide. Prior to 1776 English society, the society of 1688, had been disintegrating rapidly into a kingly despotism. The society which Hogarth drew, Laurence Sterne described, and Swift and Dr. Johnson castigated was not a healthy and hardly a functioning society. True, there were no serfs in England as there were on the Continent. But there was an army of dispossessed: victims of the Enclosure Laws, victims of early industrialization, victims of rent-racking and of urban poverty. Nowhere on the Continent was there anything comparable to the misery or squalor of the London slums with their Gin Alleys, or to the horror of the child-labor in Manchester. Indeed, one of England’s most popular economic and political writers of the time, Arthur Young, was convinced—probably rightly—that the French peasant with all his feudal burdens was much better off than the English small-holder or landless laborer.
In 1770 everything in England was moving increasingly fast toward enlightened despotism, but by 1780 the anti-totalitarian forces were in the saddle. The King had lost, never to regain, the chance for absolute power. And the revolutionary competitors of the King, the totalitarian followers of Rousseau, who wanted to establish their tyranny, their absolutism, their centralized government in the place of royal tyranny and royal centralized government, had lost out too. Neither the absolutism of the King nor that of the masses survived.
The American and English Conservatives of 1776 and 1787 shared not only the principles but also the method which was used to develop a functioning society on a free basis. The method is just as important for us today as the principles—perhaps even more so. A good many political writers and thinkers today believe that principles are everything and that no such thing as method is required. This is a basic misunderstanding of the nature of politics and of political action which the generation of 1776 would never have made. They knew that principles without institutional realization are just as ineffective politically—and as vicious for the social order —as institutions without principles. Accordingly, method was as important to them as principles, and their success was just as much due to it.
In the first place, while conservative, they did not restore nor intend to restore. They did not idealize the past nor did they have any illusions about the present in which they lived. They knew that the social reality had changed. They would never have conceived their task as anything but the integration of the new society on the basis of the old principles; never would they have countenanced any attempt to undo what had happened.
The Founding Fathers in America and the radical conservatives in England were thus conservatives of the present and future, rather than conservatives of the past. They knew that their social reality was that of a mercantile system, while their social institutions were pre-mercantile. Their method was to start with this fact and to develop a free and functioning mercantile society. They wanted to solve the future, not the past; to overcome the next and not the last revolution.
The second basic characteristic of their method was that they did not believe in blueprints or panaceas. They believed in a broad frame of general principles; and there they admitted of no compromise. But they knew that an institutional solution is acceptable only if it solves an actual social problem. They also knew that practically every concrete institutional tool can be made to serve practically every ideal aim. They were doctrinaire in their dogmas, but extremely pragmatic in their day-to-day politics. They did not try to erect an ideal or a complete structure; they were even willing to contradict themselves in the details of actual solutions. All they wanted was a solution that would do the job in hand, provided it could be fitted into the broad frame of principles.
The wisdom of this approach can be amply proved by the actual experience of the generation of 1776. There were at least three men of unusual foresight and of exceptional ability to see into the future. Jefferson was the only man in the America of 1800 who had a dim foreboding of the westward push which was to carry white settlement across the continent in less than a century. His political ideas were based on a faint vision of the great Inland Empire on the upper Mississippi that was to rise fifty years later. Yet he completely and utterly failed to see the rising tide of industrialization, though the railroad was the very thing which made his rural vision come true. Hamilton, on the other hand, only saw industrialization. He was not only the one American, he was the only man of his generation—and of the next—who had an industrial vision. Yet he saw America forever bordered by the Appalachians and confined to the immediate hinterland of the great trading cities on the Atlantic seaboard. Burke realized that international trade was going to be the basis of England’s prosperity in the future. But he did not see that industry would be the basis of this trade, or that English agriculture would have to be sacrificed to it.
The generation of 1776 and 1787 was just as unable to foresee what was to become of their solutions. Burke himself believed that the English Constitution and English freedom rested on the juxtaposition of House of Commons, House of Lords, and the Crown. He would have said that the collapse of the independent political power of the Lords and of the Crown, both substantially completed with the Reform Bill of 1832, would have meant the end of English freedom. He was in favor of a legal system under which the common law would override parliamentary acts; that is, a system under which the courts could have declared Acts of Parliament unconstitutional. In reality Parliament became the supreme law giver. The irony of the situation lies in the fact that the real safeguards of English freedom in the nineteenth century, the two-party system, the Civil Service, and the responsible Cabinet under a Prime Minister, all trace back to Burke, who fathered the first two and assisted in the birth of the third. Yet he never saw their basic importance.
The final point in the method of the conservative counterrevolution is what Burke called “prescription.” That has nothing to do with the “sacredness of tradition.” Burke himself ruthlessly discarded traditions and precedents when they did not work. Prescription is the expression in the field of political method of the principle of human imperfection. It simply says that man cannot foresee the future. He does not know where he goes. The only thing he can possibly know and understand is the actual society which has grown historically. Hence he must take existing social and political reality rather than an ideal society, as the basis for his political and social activities. Man can never invent perfect institutional tools. Hence he had better rely upon old tools than try to invent new ones to do an ideal job. We know how an old tool works, what it can do and what it cannot do, how to use it, and how far to trust it. And not only do we not know anything about the new tools; if they are hawked around as perfect tools, we can be reasonably certain that they will work less well than the old ones which nobody expected or claimed to be perfect.
The great practitioners of this principle were not so much the English as the American Founding Fathers of the Constitution. A vast amount of research has been done to show how completely they depended upon the institutions that had proved workable and dependable in colonial government and administration, upon past experience and tried tools. A good deal of this research has been done in a “debunking” mood with the object of showing that the makers of the Constitution were too dull and narrow to invent anything. This is, of course, as untenable as the proud belief of past generations that the America of 1789 had sprung fully armed out of the brains of the members of the Constitutional Convention. Actually, the caution with which the Founding Fathers avoided new and untried institutional constructions at a time of great stress and crisis is one of their greatest claims to wisdom and to our gratitude. They knew that they could only use what they had; and they also knew that the future has always started in the past, and that it is the job of the statesman to decide which part of an imperfect past to stretch into a better future rather than to try to find the secret of perpetual political motion—or rather, of perpetual political standstill.
The rise of an industrial system which cannot be organized socially by the pre-industrial mercantile society of the nineteenth century has destroyed or at least seriously weakened many of the most important parts of the achievements of 1776 and 1787. The nineteenth century separation of political government and social rule, the great new safeguard of freedom, is almost gone. It is not being destroyed by a conspiracy or by mistakes. It has not failed because modern society is too “complex.” It has been disappearing because the institutions of the mercantile society cannot organize the power in the industrial system. There must be a functioning legitimate rule in the socially constitutive sphere. But the market cannot supply it for the modern industrial corporation. Hence central government has been moving in by default. And as a consequence today we see everywhere the rise of the centralized, uncontrollable, absolute bureaucracy which to the conservatives of 1776 was the supreme danger.
At the same time and for the same reason self-government has been degenerating. It has almost disappeared. Popular government, instead of being the vehicle to realize self-government, the institutional form for the individual’s responsible decision, has largely become the means by which the individual escapes responsibility and decision. It has become the mechanism through which the individual shifts responsibility and decision from his own shoulders to those of people “paid to do the job”—the experts, the bureaucracy, finally a Fuehrer. Instead of self-government, today we have largely majority rule. Unless we create new institutions of self government, we shall have the rule of the masses tomorrow; and the masses can only rule through, and be governed by, the tyrant.
The conservative counter-revolution of 1776 and 1787 achieved what has probably never been achieved before in Western history: the development of a new society with new values, new beliefs, new powers, and a new social integration without social revolution, without decades of civil war, without totalitarian tyranny. It overcame the totalitarian revolution by offering a free and functioning social and political alternative. It developed this alternative without itself becoming entangled in totalitarianism and absolutism. It built so well that its mercantile society could for a hundred years contain an evergrowing industrial system which was opposed to everything the mercantile society stood for and depended upon. Our task today may seem bigger and more difficult than that of the generation of 1776, though we probably tend to underestimate their difficulties since we know the answers, and to overestimate our own difficulties, since we do not know what is going to happen. But it is certain that we can only hope to achieve our task if we base ourselves on the principles and depend upon the method which the generation of 1776 bequeathed to us.
The preparation for the post-war future requires an approach similar to that of a General Staff to a future war. The most efficient General Staff is not the one which does the least, but that which does the largest amount of “unnecessary” work. For it is expected to be able to have for every conceivable situation a solution which will satisfy the basic principles of strategy, which in their way are just as fixed as are the basic principles of freedom.
Only by preparing for everything that may happen can we hope to prepare ourselves for the one thing that will happen. Even so, only too often we shall find that the actual event lies far outside anything we have considered possible. But at least by having planned for a great many alternatives and even conflicting possibilities, we shall have learned enough of the technique and of the practical problems involved to master even the unexpected.
The first requirement for such an approach is that we understand the principles which must govern our preparations and plans. At the same time we must understand as much as possible of the reality which we shall have to master and to organize according to our principles. The central part of this reality is the social system in which we live, but there are other facts hardly less important. Even before the outbreak of the war the international power-relations and the international economic system had changed so completely as to make impossible any comparison with 1914 or 1918, and of course the war is changing the very basis of these spheres. Yet even the apparently boldest of the blueprints is really based on a desire to restore 1913 or to write a better Versailles Peace; however radical on the surface, it is actually outmoded and unimaginative. Before we can even talk about the future we must know the reality of the present.
For we must start with the present. We can only build with what we have and we cannot begin by inventing what we would like to have. Our first duty is to use our present institutions as much and as well as possible. Only in so far as they cannot be used to constructive purpose, even after alterations and repairs, are we entitled to replace them with new solutions of our own invention. Even with the most conservative approach there will still be enough to build and to construct, enough to prune and to cut to keep an entire generation busy. We shall have to be bold, but never for boldness’ sake. We shall have to be radical in our factual analysis and dogmatic in our principles, yet conservative in our methods and pragmatic in our policies. We shall have to prevent a centralized bureaucratic society by building a genuine local self-government in the industrial sphere. Above all, we shall have to base our new free society on the old doctrine of the imperfectibility of man and the ethical responsibility of the individual.