X Club Symposium, January 20, 1948

X Club Symposium - 1/20/48
Rough draft. This apparently was sent to Arthur and returned with comments, (see next letter).

Philosophy of Government

I am at a great disadvantage in discussing a subject of this sort because my innate mental equipment and training is that of a stodgy engineer. {a} We have been banging away at this thing for sixteen years in this group, and 99% of the time we have been talking through our hats, I fear. But it is wholesome mental calisthenics; so here goes!

In a small way my incapacity is similar to that of Herbert Hoover. If a man who rose to the top of the heap in service to his fellowman could fail so completely as a politician, {b} who am I to dare to suggest a means of reconciling human foibles?

Even my pet basic approaches have suffered disillusionment. Good old "observation-guess-test" has served me well in my profession, and will continue to do so. But Philosopher-Mathematician Alfred North Witehead poses the question: Can we elucidate the turmoil of Europe by weighing its dictators, {c} its prime ministers and its editors of newspapers?; a single incisive deduction, he says, is worth a thousand isolated experimental results. So you and I, as what-is-it-all-about students, are obliged to forsake pure science in favor of enlightened hunches, in solving human problems by human means.

Lately we have heard much about freedom of the individual. In our country we are rather cocky about this idea, {d} because it is reasonable to suppose that the composite strength of a country is a resultant of constituent factors. If the creative instincts of individuals are fettered in any way the total results cannot help but move negatively. {e} However, human critters, even as you and I, are damned with destructive instincts also. So we get together for the common good and form a set of rules and organize cops to enforce them - all aimed at accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. That, to me, is the beginning and end of government prerogative. {f}

But history reveals a jumble of inconsistency, selfishness, tyranny, and a thousand other negations among mankind's political leaders. {g} And on the other hand, we are subject to a road to hell paved with good intentions, if we follow impractical idealisms inspired by utopian dreamers. Witness England's planned economy which keeps prices down, but housewives must queue up to purchase a medium size potato per person per day. {h} There are other factors, of course, but the fact remains that an English workman lacks incentive to work harder and earn more money to buy goods which do not exist. Therefore I object to government setting itself up as a tin god in any attempt at over-all patterns of prosperity, simply because man is not that big. Government can, and should steer the ship through the gale, but mankind must work out its own salvation as it progresses. {i}

(Two paragraphs were crossed out. Appears that he began again and restated the previous, but let's continue...)

Progress in what? Present world chaos to the contrary notwithstanding, I am guessing that the curve of acceptance of morality, {j} though subject to reversals, is in general reaching greater heights with the passing of the ages. But we immediately run into the difficulty of defining morality, for it constitutes a code of decency, accepted by society for the sake of the practical separation of what is right from what is wrong. Thus the "one world" we heard so much about during the war is in reality a sordid collection of widely differing moralities. Until these are amalgamated by the slowly-moving wheels of time and tribulation there can be no world-wide acceptance of any code. For instance, deceit and plundering are virtues in Russia {k} -- they are a part of a code which defies the teachings of Lenin, and the unbelievable obstacles to peace on earth which we have been witnessing, are entirely consistent and laudable to a large segment of humanity. Such teachings are so repugnant to our code that we naively disregard the implications and imperil our safety by petting a mad dog. {l} I assure our most fanatical pacifists would shoot a mad dog if it threatened the safety of his children. {m} The only arguments in this respect arise from distinguishing between aggression and policing. So, whereas doctrinal missionaries are unimportant to me as such - they merely multiply a discord which harasses neighbors at home - but anything which spreads the gospel of morality is an influence in the right direction for world unity. Personally I see no fundamental difference between Russia's disease (as we see it) and any other nation emerging from the dark ages. Consider the morality of a large portion of our country only a hundred years ago when we criticized Russian slave labor. {n} And those folks were pretty decent folks, too. Consider the road to justice as manifest in England today. Though far from perfect, it is utopian in contrast with the past centuries. So as a practical person, without any knowledge or pet theories of the artificiality's of politics, I submit that the number one consideration of good government is to base it on the highest moral concepts we can devise.

In the spirit of keeping the discussion on a plane which I can understand I like to classify the basic urges of the world's governments in three pigeonholes. First: Live. {o} This is the ancient and purely animal instinct of survival of the fittest. Autocracies have and do thrive because people resemble sheep, especially when in danger. History has shown that inherited autocracies - however initially beneficial they may be - invariably degenerate through human frailty. If the sheep are kept ignorant they accept the goat at his own valuation until the inevitable upheaval occurs. Then chaos. Secondly: Live and let live. Here democracy defines individual rights and creates devices for mutual protection and are emancipated from the autocrats. Flexibility enters the picture, and justice has a better chance to survive the whims of leaders which are temporary, in a historical sense. Thirdly: Live and help live. The turn of the century witnessed the evolution of democracy toward an increased compatibility with the Golden Rule. {p} We are still fussing about that and in the main we are progressing. Helping live has its dangers, though, as we are beginning to realize. For if helping involves depriving persons of responsibility then we create a new evil.

At the start of this paper I confessed to inadequacy of judgement in political matters, but from my limited point of view I propose these tests of any political faith.

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