The Conservative (Nebraska City, Neb.) 1898-1902, October 06, 1898, Page 4, Image 4

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A free man , a free country , liberty ,
and equality are terms of constant use
among us. They are employed as watch
words as soon as any social questions
come into discussion. It is right that
they should be so used. They ought to
contain the broadest convictions and
most positive faiths of the nation , and
.so they ought to be available for the
decision of questions of detail.
In order , however , that they may be
.so employed successfully and correctly
it is essential that the terms should be
correctly defined , and that their popular
use should conform to correct definitions.
No doubt it is generally believed that
the terms are easily understood , and
present no diflicnlty. Probably the
popular notion is , that liberty means
doing as one has a mind to , and that it
is a metaphysical or sentimental good.
A little observation shows that there is
no such thing in this world as doing as
one has a mind to. There is no man ,
from the tramp up to the president , the
pope , or the czar , who can do as he has
a mind to. There never has been any
man , from the primitive barbarian up tea
a Humboldt or a Darwin , who could do
as he had a mind to. The "Bohemian"
who determines to realize some sort of
liberty of this kind accomplishes his
purpose only by sacrificing most of the
rights and turning his back on most of
tl'e duties of a civilized man , while
filching as much as he can of the ad
vantages of living in a civilized state.
Moreover , liberty is not a metaphysical
or sentimental thing at all. It is posi
tive , practical , and actual. It is pro
duced and maintained by law and insti
tutions , and is , therefore , concrete and
historical. Sometimes we speak dis
tinctively of civil history ; but if there
be any liberty other than civil liberty
that is , liberty xinder law it is a mere
fiction of the schoolmen , which they
may be left to discuss.
Even as I write , however , I find in a
leading review the following definition
of liberty : "Civil
liberty is the re
sult of the restraint exercised by the
sovereign people on the more powerful
individuals and classes of the comnmu-
ity , preventing them from availing
themselves of the excess of their power
to the detriment of the other classes. "
This definition lays the foundation for
the result which it is apparently desired
to reach , that "a government by the
people can in no case become a paternal
government , since its law-makers are
its mandatories and servants carrying
out its will , and not its fathers or its
masters. " Hero wo have the most mis
chievous fallacy under the general topic
which I am discussing distinctly formu
lated. In the definition of liberty it
will be noticed that liberty is construed
us the act of the sovereign people against
somebody who imist , of course , bo dif
ferentiated from the sovereign people.
Whenever "people" is used in this sense
for anything less than the total popula
tion , man , woman , child and baby , and
whenever the great dogmas which con
tain the word "people" are construed
under the limited definition of ' 'people , "
there is always fallacy.
History is only a tiresome repetition
of one story. Persons and classes have
sought to win possession of the power of
the state in order to live luxuriously out
of the earnings of others. Autocracies ,
aristocracies , theocracies , and all other
organizations for holding political
power , have exhibited only the same
line of action. It is the extreme of po
litical error to say that if political power
is only taken away from generals ,
nobles , priests , millionaires , and schol
ars , and given to artisans and peasants ,
these latter may be trusted to do only
right and justice , and never to abuse
the power ; that they will repress all
excess in others and commit none them
selves. They will commit abuse if they
can and dare , just as others have done.
The reason for the excesses of the old
governing classes lies in the vices and
passions of human nature cupidity ,
lust , vindictiveness , ambition , and van
ity. These vices are confined to no na
tion , class or age. They appear in the
church , the academy , the workshop and
the hovel , as well as in the army or the
palace. They have appeared in auto
cracies , aristocracies , democracies , and
ochlocracies , all alike. The only thing
which has ever restrained these vices of
human nature in those who had politi
cal power is law sustained by impersonal
institutions. If political power bo given
to the masses who have not hitherto had
it , nothing will stop them from abusing
it but laws and institutions. To say
that a popular government cannot be
paternal is to give it a charter that it
can do no wrong. The trouble is that a
democratic government is in greater
danger than any other of becoming pa
ternal , for it is sure of itself , and ready
to undertake anything , and its power is
excessive and pitiless against dissen
What history shows is , that rights are
safe only when guaranteed against all
arbitrary po w e r ,
nnd all dass nml
snows. personal interest.
Around an autocrat there has grown up
an oligarchy of priests and soldiers. In
time a class of nobles has been devel
oped , who have broken into the olig
archy and made an aristrocracy. Later
the dfinox , rising into independent de
velopment , has assumed power and
made a democracy. Then the mob of a
capital city has overwhelmed the demo
cracy in an ochlocracy. Then the "idol
of the people , " or the military "savior
of society , " or both in one , has made
himself autocrat , and the same old vic
ious round has recommenced. Where
in nil this is liberty ? There hns been
110 liberty nt all , save where n state hns
known how to break out , once for all ,
from this delusive round ; to set barriers
to selfishness , cupidity , envy and lust ,
in all classes , from highest to lowest , by
laws and institutions ; and to create
great organs of civil life which can elim
inate , as far as possible , arbitrary and
personal elements from the adjustment
of interests and the definition of rights.
Liberty is an affair of laws and institu
tions which bring rights and duties into
equilibrium. It is not at all an affair of
selecting the proper class to rule.
The notion of a free state is entirely
modern. It has been developed with
the development of the middle class ,
and with the growth of a commercial
and industrial civilization. Horror at
human slavery is not a century old as a
common sentiment in a civilized state.
The idea of the "free "
man , as we un
derstand it , is the product of a revolt
against mediscval and feudal ideas ; and
our notion of equalitywhen it is true and
practical , can be explained only by that
revolt. It was in England that the
modern idea found birth. It has been
strengthened by the industrial and com
mercial development of that country.
It has been inherited by all the Eng
lish-speaking nations , who have made
liberty real because they have inherited
it , not as a notion but as a body of
institutions. It has been borrowed and
imitated by the military and police
states of the European continent so fast
as they have felt the influence of the
expanding industrial civilization ; but
they have realized it only imperfectly ,
because they have no body of local insti
tutions or traditions , and it remains for
them as yet too much a matter of "d-ec
larations" and m'onuiiciamentoes.
The notion of
wo have inherited is that of n xtutus created
for the individual bij laws and inxtitutiuHH ,
the effect of which is Unit each man is
guaranteed Hie UKK of all his own power *
exclusively for hix own welfare. It is not
at all a matter of elections , or universal
suffrage or democracy. All institutions
are to be tested by the degree to which
they guarantee liberty. It is not to bo
admitted for a moment that liberty is a
means to social ends , and that it may bo
impaired for major considerations. Any
one who so argues has lost the bearing
and relation of all the facts and factors
in a free state. A human being has a
life to live , a career to run. Ho is a
center of powers to work , and of capa
cities to suffer. What his powers may bo
whether they can carry him far or not ;
what his chances may be , whether wide
or restricted ; what his fortune may bo ,
whether to suffer much or little are
questions of his personal destiny which
he must work out and endure as he can ;
but for all that concerns the bearing of
the society and its institutions upon
that man , and upon the sum of happi-