The Hard Core of Freedom

While doing some internet research (for a discussion on Facebook, no less), I stumbled across this article from the Daily Oklahoman published on December 9, 1951. I felt it was worth passing along. However, the citation of one quote in the article to Alexander Tytler (1747-1813) cannot be verified.

This is the Hard Core of Freedom
By ELMER T. PETERSON

A card without identification came along with a letter to this desk a few days ago. It read:

“There is no end to the good a man can do if he does not care who gets the credit.”

This sentiment has a vital drive when applied to human relations, but if you will follow it to its logical conclusion in the field of government, you will find that it constitutes the inner essence of free democracy as well. A civic leader once said to the writer, about 25 years ago:

“If a man goes into civic work because he expects to get credit for it, or political profit, or anything else of material value, he should quit before it gets too late, because he is practically sure to be disappointed and disillusioned. If he doesn’t get a real thrill out of doing good in the world, sufficient to pay him, he has missed the point of all civic activity.”

Friendship and love of parents for children are the first and most primitive evidences of the Christian doctrine, “love thy neighbor,” and the corollary is the Golden Rule. This corollary clearly points the two-way nature of the original doctrine and it helps human beings to understand why helpfulness can bring reciprocal benefit to the doer of good deeds, even though the doer does not demand or even expect such benefit.

Out of the mutual nature of neighborliness comes the pure meaning of free democracy. Cooperation, in its best sense, as suggested in this column a week ago, cannot be compulsory. The moment it is made into a compulsory mechanism, it loses its true meaning and becomes a form of despotism—a totalitarian socialism, in which public welfare is produced by force and not by operation of conscience.

The difference between free democracy and socialism is that free democracy carries over into the field of government the voluntary will do good by free choice, where as socialism leaves the citizen no choice. He helps his neighbor—or else!

The best member of free democracy is one who doesn’t care who gets the credit for good deeds. He gets all the pay he needs out of his conscience—the inner satisfaction of knowing that “he has done what he could.”

It is becoming more and more obvious every day that the mere form of democracy is not what brings blessed government. It is the substance that counts. That substance consists of the sum of individual consciences, working for the mutual good of all. A form of democracy can be just as corrupt as the worst kind of despotism if the members of that formal democracy are actuated only by selfishness and the determination to get all possible money out of the government” or Neighbor Taxpayer.

Two centuries ago a somewhat obscure Scotsman named Tytler made this profound observation:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always voles for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.”

This ought to be a warning sign, of the times, for never before in this nation has there been such temptation to use the formal mechanism of democracy as a means for gratifying the selfish designs of the individual citizen. This applies not only to the corrupt high official who sells influence or conspires with crooks to steal money from the public. It applies, likewise, to the individual voter who seeks to profit personally by laying a heavier burden on his neighbor, through subsidies and other government gifts.

The hard core of freedom is the unselfish spirit of the citizen. Democracy cannot live long without this agency of conscience. Unselfish motivation in politics is much more than a gesture of good morality. It is a practical factor without which democracy cannot exist. In the long run nothing else will work.

About John Cox

I'm a 47 year old software engineer and father of four.
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