Liberty And Government: This view of liberty and equality lays cardinal importance upon the powers of government and the mechanisms by which they may be made to respond to the wills of those affected. I do not argue that the action of legislation can make men free and equal but unless some such conditions exist as those here urged, it is certain enough that the effect of legislation will be to keep the majority unfree and unequal.
To make the personality of the ordinary man creative, it is necessary to build the conditions within which creativeness is possible. That can only happen when ordinary men are made to feel significant, and this, in the absence of liberty and equality, we cannot hope to achieve.
Where there is in a community the absence of those factors which make the interests of men so differently considered, there is likely to be the means at hand for the development of personality. The enforcement of equality by the State has the great merit of promoting freedom by preventing the private person from the exercise of force for his own ends. By force I do not necessarily mean physical violence but the use of a differential advantage to hinder another from the opportunity to be the best he can.
But it is also important to remember that whatever adds to the power of government is always attended by contingent danger. The individual in the modern State tends to feel impotent before the vast administrative machine by which he is confronted. It seems to have absorbed all initiative towards a single center and to have deprived him of the power to make, or to share in making, responsible decisions.
That is a real difficulty. In relieving the individual from the power of his fellow, we may well seem to subject him to a collective power under which he seems hardly more free than before. That Was the danger which made Rousseau insistent that liberty is the product of the small State only, and to find in a modern Athens the area within which alone democratic initiative is possible.
We cannot adopt that view because the nature of modern economic organization makes it impossible to return to the city-State. But in States of the modern size the mere achievement of equality would be harmful without the maximum decentralization. That is the solution to the paradox by Which Rousseau was haunted. It solves the dread of constraint by making men in wider numbers the authors of the power to which they are subjected, and, through that authority, the utilization of power to liberate the creative energy which is in them.
Ultimately, at least, any laws save those which men make for themselves are devoid of meaning. But to make laws for themselves at all adequately, they must have the instruction to judge what laws they ought to make and the character to operate those laws. Someone, doubtless, they will have to trust, the artist will have no desire to scrutinise each act of the policeman.
But they must be so intimately a part of the system as to know that they can trust with safety, or, if there is abuse of confidence, to be able to apply pressure to its correction. In that sense, liberty is the organization of resistance to abuse, and the chief safeguard against the emergence of abuse is such a wide distribution of power as makes certain and effective the onset of refusal to obey.
But the utmost that the action of government can achieve will be worthless save in so far as its action is paralleled by effort on the part of individual men. Ultimately, each one of us has sufficient of the Athanasius in him to make it certain that the true liberty we build for ourselves. The State is built so certainly upon the character of men that they can only mould it to their desire by consistent devotion to its activities.
If men are indifferent or careless, if they are satisfied to withdraw from the arena, not the most ingenious mechanisms can ultimately prevent abuse of power. That was the meaning of Thoreau’s great sentence that under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also prison. Men must learn that the actions of the State are their own.
They must learn that they will realize justice only to the degree that they bend their efforts to the making of justice. Every man is essential to the State if he has a mind and will. Every man can make that State responsive to the things he needs only by making his knowledge of life accessible as a basis for its actions. He can be free, ultimately, only by Willing to be free.
No State will be governed by that reason which alone guarantees him significance save as he makes his mind a part of its possessions.
But if the individual is thus, in concert with his fellows the author of his own freedom, he cannot exert himself to build it save as he is prepared for that constructiveness. He must know what it means to find himself before he seeks the adventure. That is no easy task in a world encumbered by its traditions.
There is never likely to be an enlightened State until there is respect for individuality but, also, there will ,not be respect for individuality until there is an enlightened State. It is only the emphasis upon equality which will break this vicious circle. When the source of power is found outside of property, authority is balanced upon a principle which bases prestige on service.
At that stage, the effort of statesmanship is the elevation of the common man. A society which seeks to protect acquisition is replaced by a society which seeks to protect the spiritual heritage of the race. We cannot assure ourselves of an entrance to that heritage, but at least we can discover the pathway to the goal.