Both Opinion and Quip Showed Justice Stevens in Fine Form

February 22nd, 2015

retired-Justice John Paul Stevens (right) at University of Florida, 2015-01-20 (credit: Julian Pinilla/UF Law School)
Over his career, Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens became known for a humble, respectful manner, and for clear, well-founded judicial opinions. We can see those qualities in the infamous Bush v. Gore case, in which the majority stopped Florida's count of machine-rejected ballots and effectively handed the presidency to George W. Bush. Though the majority's ruling was blatantly political, Stevens kept to his standard of always taking a fellow judge's opinion to be honestly held. The famous wrap-up to his dissenting opinion ...
Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.
... does not (as I had thought) refer to the majority's political ruling, but to its cynical lack of confidence in state judges. Reading from the top of that last paragraph:
What must underlie petitioners' entire federal assault on the Florida election procedures is an unstated lack of confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make the critical decisions if the vote count were to proceed. Otherwise, their position is wholly without merit. The endorsement of that position by the majority of this Court can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges throughout the land. It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law.

In 2010, upon the announcement of his retirement from the Court, The New York Times published an article of reminiscences by six of Stevens's law clerks. We can also see Stevens's qualities through each of these reminiscences. But my favorite also ends with a quip:

ONE of Justice Stevens’s trademarks is the courteousness with which he treats the lawyers who appear before the Supreme Court. When he wants to elicit information or make a point during oral argument, he typically interrupts the lawyer with the gentle preface, “May I ask you a question?”

During William Rehnquist’s tenure as chief justice, a lawyer was arguing in the court for the first time. When asked a question by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the nervous lawyer started her response with, “Well, Judge — ”

Chief Justice Rehnquist interrupted her. “That’s Justice Kennedy,” he said.

Shaken, the lawyer continued. A few minutes later, she responded to Justice David Souter by saying, “Yes, Judge.” Chief Justice Rehnquist corrected her again: “That’s Justice Souter.” A couple of minutes later, she called Chief Justice Rehnquist himself a judge.

The chief justice leaned forward, his deep voice now at its sternest, to say, “Counsel is admonished that this court is composed of justices, not judges.”

Before the lawyer could say anything, Justice Stevens interjected: “It’s O.K., Counsel. The Constitution makes the same mistake.”

JEFFREY L. FISHER, associate professor [when this was written] at Stanford Law School, and clerk from 1998 to 1999

Checking the Constitution, we find that Stevens is right -- the Supreme Court is to be composed of judges:

[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint ... Judges of the supreme Court ... [Article II, Section 2]
And ...
The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour ... [Article III, Section 1]


Since his retirement, Stevens, now 94, has kept active. He has written two books -- "Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir," and last year's "Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution." And just last month, he appeared on stage for a conversation at the University of Florida.


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Justice Stevens Pens Six Amendments to Tune-Up Constitution

January 28th, 2015

Since William Rehnquist joined the Supreme Court, it has made several rulings that have knocked the U.S. Constitution out of whack. Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who deliberated on most of those rulings, has written six amendments to fix the damage and tune-up the Constitution. Stevens published his proposed amendments last year in the book "Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution." The amendments are terse, surgical fixes, which seem to fit the Constitution's style of saying much with few words. The book gives a good history and description of each problem. Here is a brief rundown with the text of each amendment:

1. The "Anti-Commandeering" Rule: In 1997, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court, created an "anti-commandeering" rule, which bans Congress from ordering state officials to carry out federal duties. The case was brought by two county sheriffs, who did not want to do background checks for firearm sales as ordered by the Brady Act. The new rule led to holes in the database that would allow persons prone to violence, like the killer in the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, to get firearms. Stevens notes that the "anti-commandeering" rule could also cripple other Congressional acts, from routine administration of federal programs to emergency responses to national catastrophes or acts of terror. His fix adds four words (in bold below) to the Constitution's Supremacy Clause:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges and other public officials in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

2. Political Gerrymandering: Given that he has not heard one word in favor of political gerrymandering from any federal judge, Stevens believes that his amendment addressing it should sail through into law. He points out that, in addition to making legislative districts less representative and less competitive, political gerrymandering tends to give us candidates with more extreme positions. In 1986 the Supreme Court made it practically impossible to challenge gerrymanders by setting a lofty and cloudy standard: "[A] finding of unconstitutionality must [show] continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters or effective denial to a minority of the voters of a fair chance to influence the political process." Stevens takes a simpler view: "Just as a controlling political party may not use public funds to pay its campaign expenses, it is also quite wrong to use public power for the sole purpose of enhancing the political strength of the majority party." He would ban that abuse of power with this new amendment:

Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historic boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.

3. Campaign Finance: We have gone far down the road to corruption since 1907, when Congress passed a law banning all corporate contributions to political candidates, and many states enacted, outside of narrow lobbying rules, a total ban of corporate activity to influence public policy. In 2010, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, produced the infamous Citizens United ruling giving corporations the unlimited right to finance campaign speech. And last year, by the same 5-4 vote, the Roberts Court struck down any limit on total donations a person could make to candidates, giving rich persons the right to spend millions in a single election. The strongest proposed amendment addressing this problem states that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Stevens' amendment states neither, but he believes it would eliminate "the most serious consequences" of Citizens United:

Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.

4. Sovereign Immunity: The Eleventh Amendment, banning a citizen of one state from suing another state in federal court, was prompted by states that wanted to dodge their war debts. Their reasoning leaned on "sovereign immunity," a principle that holds the "sovereign," any of the individual states in this case, above the law, shielding it from court action. Stevens says that this doctrine "should never have been adopted in a democracy." He notes an argument against it from the famous Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: "It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was so laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past." Since the arrival of Rehnquist, the Supreme Court has made a series of rulings that stretched sovereign immunity and weakened state compliance with national law. For example, in 1974 a Rehnquist opinion let Illinois skate on paying damages for past non-compliance with a federal law for aiding aged, blind and disabled persons. And in 1999 the Rehnquist Court, citing an unwritten state sovereignty rule imagined to be in the "plan of the [Constitutional] Convention," forbade Congress to authorize suing a state for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. To Stevens, striking down the sovereign immunity doctrine is a matter of simple justice. A state-owned hospital, school, or police force should not have a defense to federal claims that a private one does not. To right this wrong Stevens adds an amendment:

Neither the Tenth Amendment, the Eleventh Amendment, nor any other provision of this Constitution, shall be construed to provide any state, state agency, or state officer with an immunity from liability for violating any act of Congress, or any provision of this Constitution.

5. The Death Penalty: Stevens points out the main arguments for the death penalty: that it keeps the murderer from murdering again; that it deters murder; and that it gives revenge for society's outrage. But there are good counter-arguments: that a sentence of life without parole also keeps the murderer from murdering again; that it would as well deter murder; and that society has evolved away from vengeance, as shown by its concern that death sentence execution be painless. Another strong argument is that the death penalty is final, yet fallible. Especially with the rise of DNA testing technology, many cases of false convictions have come to light. Under Chief Justice John Roberts, two Supreme Court rulings, including one upholding a judge's instruction to a jury to choose death when the evidence for and against it is balanced, have made the death penalty a bit more likely. To Stevens, the "final, yet fallible" argument is reason enough to abolish the death penalty, which he would do by adding five words to the Eighth Amendment:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.

6. Gun Control: For more than two hundred years, federal judges have, according to Stevens, uniformly understood the Second Amendment to be limited in two ways. One, that it applies only for military purposes, and two, that, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not limit the power of state or local governments to regulate ownership or use of firearms. Thus, in 1939 the Court ruled unanimously that Congress could ban possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to "a well regulated Militia." But the Roberts Court has twice ruled against governments trying to tamp down gun violence. In 2008, a 5-4 majority, citing the Second Amendment, threw out a Washington, D.C., law and created a new Constitutional right for a civilian in D.C. to keep an enabled handgun at home for self-defense. And in 2010, the same 5-4 Court, citing the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, threw out a Chicago handgun ban, and extended the Court's newly-created Constitutional right to the states. To restore the Second Amendment to its original meaning, and to return the power of regulating firearms to state and local governments, Stevens adds five words to the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia, shall not be infringed.

Putting Stevens' amendments through looks like a long row to hoe. But, as Bertrand Russell once said of his own proposal for political change, "[T]he difficulty ... does not diminish the desirability of such a change." And Stevens is undaunted:
As time passes, I am confident that the soundness of each of my proposals will become more and more evident, and that ultimately each will be adopted. The purpose of this book is to expedite that process and to avoid future crises before they occur.

List of Supreme Court Cases Referenced

  • Printz v. United States: 1997. 5-4 ruling. Created an "anti-comandeering" rule, banning Congress from ordering state officials to carry out federal duties. Holding: Scalia, Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy, Thomas ; Dissenting: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Bryer.
  • Davis v. Bandemer: 1986. 7-2 ruling. Adopted a lofty and cloudy standard for unconstitutional gerrymandering. Holding: White, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Burger, O'Connor, Rehnquist; Dissenting: Powell, Stevens.
  • Citizens United v. FEC: 2010. 5-4 ruling. Gave corporations the unlimited right to finance campaign speech. Holding: Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas; Dissenting: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor.
  • McCutcheon v. FEC: 2014. 5-4 ruling. Gave individual persons the right to spend millions in a single election. Holding: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas; Dissenting: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan.
  • Edelman v. Jordan: 1974. 5-4 ruling. Let Illinois skate on paying damages for past non-compliance with a federal law for aiding aged, blind and disabled persons. Holding: Rehnquist, Burger, Stewart, White, Powell; Dissenting: Douglas, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun.
  • Alden v. Maine: 1999. 5-4 ruling. Citing an unwritten state sovereignty rule imagined to be in the "plan of the [Constitutional] Convention," forbade Congress to authorize suing a state for violations of Fair Labor Standards Act. Holding: Kennedy, Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia, Thomas; Dissenting: Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer.
  • Baze v. Rees: 2008. 7-2 ruling. Held that Kentucky's three-drug death penalty system was not "cruel and unusual." Holding: Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Breyer, Thomas, Scalia, Stevens; Dissenting: Ginsburg, Souter. Stevens said that though he has concluded that the death penalty is unconstitutional, that "does not ... justify a refusal to respect precedents that remain a part of our law."
  • Kansas v. Marsh: 2006. 5-4 ruling. Allowed a judge's jury instruction to choose the death penalty when aggravating and mitigating evidence were equal in weight. Holding: Thomas, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito; Dissenting: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.
  • United States v. Miller: 1939. 8-0 ruling. Held that Congress could ban possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to "a well regulated Militia." Holding: McReynolds wrote unanimous opinion; Not Involved: William O. Douglas.
  • District of Columbia v. Heller: 2008. 5-4 ruling. Threw out a Washington, D.C., law and created a new Constitutional right for a civilian in D.C. to keep an enabled handgun at home for self-defense. Holding: Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito; Dissenting: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.
  • McDonald v. Chicago: 2010. 5-4 ruling. Threw out a Chicago handgun ban, and extended the Court's newly-created Constitutional right for a civilian to keep a handgun to the states. Holding: Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas; Dissenting: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Stevens.


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“It Came upon the Midnight Clear” Tells Tale of World Peace

December 24th, 2014

"It Came upon the Midnight Clear" has become my favorite Christmas carol. Though familiar with the song for many years, it was just in the past year or two that I found the lyrics, three verses long, in my mother's song book. Those three verses tell a nice little story, which I read as follows. In the first verse, the angels come down near earth to give humanity a song of peace and goodwill -- a message from "heaven's all-gracious King." In the second, more and more angels come, until the song resonates continually around the "weary world," even over its "Babel sounds." In the last verse, humanity has finally picked up on the angels' song, and the foretold golden age of peace sets in.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I have learned that in 1849 Edmund Sears, a pastor of a Unitarian church, wrote the lyrics to "It Came upon the Midnight Clear" in five verses. There are another two verses between the second and the last. The third verse beseeches humanity to silence its noise of war, and hear the "love-song." The fourth verse beseeches the overworked laborer to take some "glad and golden hours" of rest in the angels' song. I think these two verses enrich the song, but, to my memory, I have never heard them sung.

Here are the original lyrics for all five verses:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Of the several versions of the song that I found on YouTube, I most like Ella Fitzgerald's from 1967. To me, she does the three verses simply and sincerely:


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Bertrand Russell’s Message to Future Yields Two Watchwords

December 19th, 2014

This is my second recent post about Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher, mathematician, Nobel laureate in literature, and champion of peace. The first post is long -- a 21-question pretend interview, where the answers all come from Russell's book, "Political Ideals," published in 1917. The present post is short -- based on one question and answer taken from an actual interview on the BBC's "Face to Face" television program in 1959. The interviewer asked Russell what he would like to say to a future generation. Russell's answer boils down to two watchwords:

  1. Facts
  2. Love
Just two, one-syllable watchwords that any of us can keep and carry forward.

The video and transcript of the question and answer follow: Final question of Bertrand Russell interview on BBC's "Face to Face" on 4 March 1959


One last question: Suppose, Lord Russell, this film were to be looked at by our descendants like a Dead Sea scroll in a thousand years' time. What would you think it's worth telling that generation about the life you've lived and the lessons you've learned from it?

Bertrand Russell:

I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral.

The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only, "What are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out?" Never let yourself be diverted, either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only and solely at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple. I should say, "Love is wise; hatred is foolish." In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don't like. We can only live together in that way. And if we are to live together, and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.


To view the full episode of "Face to Face" with the Bertrand Russell interview, click HERE.


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Bertrand Russell’s Plan for World Peace and Progress: Maximize Individual Liberty, Abolish Capitalism

December 14th, 2014

"In dark days, men need a clear faith and a well-grounded hope; and as the outcome of these, the calm courage which takes no account of hardships by the way."

Thus begins "Political Ideals," a short book by the famous British philosopher and champion of peace Bertrand Russell. Written during the depth of World War I, when it was starkly clear that the old politics had failed, Russell sketches a plan for a new political and economic system of the world. Today, as we roll along towards climate catastrophe, it is again starkly clear that our politics is failing. And, just as Russell sketched out, we have the basic problem of rapacious capitalism, and the possible solution of real democracy steering for individual liberty. So, let's follow Russell's thought from 97 years ago, and imagine that he is speaking to us today.

What is the goal of a political system?

The aim of politics should be to make the lives of individuals as good as possible. There is nothing for the politician to consider outside or above the various men, women, and children who compose the world.

What is the individual good?

To begin with, we do not want all men to be alike. We do not want to lay down a pattern or type to which men of all sorts are to be made by some means or another to approximate.


But ... although we cannot say, for instance, that all men ought to be industrious, or self-sacrificing, or fond of music—there are some broad principles ...

What are the broad principles for the individual good?

There are goods in regard to which individual possession is possible, and there are goods in which all can share alike. The food and clothing of one man is not the food and clothing of another; if the supply is insufficient, what one man has is obtained at the expense of some other man. This applies to material goods generally, and therefore to the greater part of the present economic life of the world. On the other hand, mental and spiritual goods do not belong to one man to the exclusion of another. If one man knows a science, that does not prevent others from knowing it; on the contrary, it helps them to acquire the knowledge. If one man is a great artist or poet, that does not prevent others from painting pictures or writing poems, but helps to create the atmosphere in which such things are possible. If one man is full of good-will toward others, that does not mean that there is less good-will to be shared among the rest; the more good-will one man has, the more he is likely to create among others.

What further principles?

... There are possessive impulses, which aim at acquiring or retaining private goods that cannot be shared; these center in the impulse of property. And there are creative or constructive impulses, which aim at bringing into the world or making available for use the kind of goods in which there is no privacy and no possession.

The best life is the one in which the creative impulses play the largest part and the possessive impulses the smallest. This is no new discovery. The Gospel says: "Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" The thought we give to these things is taken away from matters of more importance. And what is worse, the habit of mind engendered by thinking of these things is a bad one; it leads to competition, envy, domination, cruelty, and almost all the moral evils that infest the world. In particular, it leads to the predatory use of force. ...

How should we judge a political system?

A certain kind of self-respect or native pride is necessary to a good life; a man must not have a sense of utter inward defeat if he is to remain whole, but must feel the courage and the hope and the will to live by the best that is in him, whatever outward or inward obstacles it may encounter. So far as it lies in a man's own power, his life will realize its best possibilities if it has three things: creative rather than possessive impulses, reverence for others, and respect for the fundamental [creative] impulse in himself.

Political and social institutions are to be judged by the good or harm that they do to individuals. Do they encourage creativeness rather than possessiveness? Do they embody or promote a spirit of reverence between human beings? Do they preserve self-respect?

Why would we want a new economic system?

We may distinguish four purposes at which an economic system may aim: first, it may aim at the greatest possible production of goods and at facilitating technical progress; second, it may aim at securing distributive justice; third, it may aim at giving security against destitution; and, fourth, it may aim at liberating creative impulses and diminishing possessive impulses.

Of these four purposes the last is the most important. Security is chiefly important as a means to it. State socialism, though it might give material security and more justice than we have at present, would probably fail to liberate creative impulses or produce a progressive society.

Our present system fails in all four purposes. It is chiefly defended on the ground that it achieves the first of the four purposes, namely, the greatest possible production of material goods, but it only does this in a very short-sighted way, by methods which are wasteful in the long run both of human material and of natural resources.

Capitalistic enterprise involves a ruthless belief in the importance of increasing material production to the utmost possible extent now and in the immediate future. In obedience to this belief, new portions of the earth's surface are continually brought under the sway of industrialism.

What place does capitalism have in our new economic system?

Capitalism and the wage system must be abolished; they are twin monsters which are eating up the life of the world.

Among the many obvious evils of capitalism and the wage system, none are more glaring than that they encourage predatory instincts, that they allow economic injustice, and that they give great scope to the tyranny of the employer.

What about state socialism?

The most dangerous aspect of the tyranny of the employer is the power which it gives him of interfering with men's activities outside their working hours. A man may be dismissed because the employer dislikes his religion or his politics, or chooses to think his private life immoral. ... This evil would not be remedied, but rather intensified, under state socialism, because, where the State is the only employer, there is no refuge from its prejudices such as may now accidentally arise through the differing opinions of different men. The State would be able to enforce any system of beliefs it happened to like, and it is almost certain that it would do so. Freedom of thought would be penalized, and all independence of spirit would die out.

... [N]o one ought to be allowed to suffer destitution so long as he or she is willing to work. And no kind of inquiry ought to be made into opinion or private life. It is only on this basis that it is possible to build up an economic system not founded upon tyranny and terror.

What "ism" would help?

[O]rdinary work should, as far as possible, afford interest and independence and scope for initiative. These things are more important than income, as soon as a certain minimum has been reached. They can be secured by guild socialism, by industrial self-government subject to state control as regards the relations of a trade to the rest of the community. So far as I know, they cannot be secured in any other way.


The economic system we should ultimately wish to see would be one in which the state would be the sole recipient of economic rent, while private capitalistic enterprises should be replaced by self-governing combinations of those who actually do the work. ...

The workers in a given industry should all be combined in one autonomous unit, and their work should not be subject to any outside control. The state should fix the price at which they produce, but should leave the industry self-governing in all other respects. In fixing prices, the state should, as far as possible, allow each industry to profit by any improvements which it might introduce into its own processes, but should endeavor to prevent undeserved loss or gain through changes in external economic conditions. In this way there would be every incentive to progress, with the least possible danger of unmerited destitution. And although large economic organizations will continue, as they are bound to do, there will be a diffusion of power which will take away the sense of individual impotence from which men and women suffer at present.

How should we deal with big government and big business?

Vast organizations are an inevitable element in modern life, and it is useless to aim at their abolition ... It is true that they make the preservation of individuality more difficult, but what is needed is a way of combining them with the greatest possible scope for individual initiative.

One very important step toward this end would be to render democratic the government of every organization. ...


Another measure which would do much to increase liberty would be an increase of self-government for subordinate groups, whether geographical or economic or defined by some common belief, like religious sects. ... By a share in the control of smaller bodies, a man might regain some of that sense of personal opportunity and responsibility which belonged to the citizen of a city-state in ancient Greece or medieval Italy.

What should we do about education?

... The whole spirit in which education is conducted needs to be changed, in order that children may be encouraged to think and feel for themselves, not to acquiesce passively in the thoughts and feelings of others. It is not rewards after the event that will produce initiative, but a certain mental atmosphere. ...


The state is justified in insisting that children shall be educated, but it is not justified in forcing their education to proceed on a uniform plan and to be directed to the production of a dead level of glib uniformity. Education, and the life of the mind generally, is a matter in which individual initiative is the chief thing needed; the function of the state should begin and end with insistence on some kind of education, and, if possible, a kind which promotes mental individualism ...


... The object of education ought not to be to make all men think alike, but to make each think in the way which is the fullest expression of his own personality. ...

How can we stop the tyranny of the employer?

[A]bove all we need a system which will destroy the tyranny of the employer, by making men at the same time secure against destitution and able to find scope for individual initiative in the control of the industry by which they live.


The tyranny of the employer, which at present robs the greater part of most men's lives of all liberty and all initiative, is unavoidable so long as the employer retains the right of dismissal with consequent loss of pay. This right is supposed to be essential in order that men may have an incentive to work thoroughly. But as men grow more civilized, incentives based on hope become increasingly preferable to those that are based on fear. It would be far better that men should be rewarded for working well than that they should be punished for working badly. This system is already in operation in the civil service ... Sufficient pay to ensure a livelihood ought to be given to every person who is willing to work ...

What other types of tyranny must we watch out for?

The tyranny of the majority is a very real danger. ... Wherever divergent action by different groups is possible without anarchy, it ought to be permitted. In such cases it will be found by those who consider past history that, whenever any new fundamental issue arises, the majority are in the wrong, because they are guided by prejudice and habit. Progress comes through the gradual effect of a minority in converting opinion and altering custom. ... [I]t is of the utmost importance that the majority should refrain from imposing its will as regards matters in which uniformity is not absolutely necessary.

How should we balance labor and capital?

British trade-unionism, it seems to me, has erred in conceiving labor and capital as both permanent forces, which were to be brought to some equality of strength by the organization of labor. This seems to me too modest an ideal. The ideal which I should wish to substitute involves the conquest of democracy and self-government in the economic sphere as in the political sphere, and the total abolition of the power now wielded by the capitalist.

What trouble might we have in abolishing capitalism and the power of capital?

Unfortunately the distinction between the proletariat and the capitalist is not so sharp as it was in the minds of socialist theorizers. Trade-unions have funds in various securities; friendly societies are large capitalists; and many individuals eke out their wages by invested savings. All this increases the difficulty of any clear-cut radical change in our economic system. But it does not diminish the desirability of such a change.

How can we resolve conflicts between democratic groups?

... Liberty demands self-government, but not the right to interfere with others. The greatest degree of liberty is not secured by anarchy. The reconciliation of liberty with government is a difficult problem, but it is one which any political theory must face.


[A]lthough individuals and societies should have the utmost freedom as regards their own affairs, they ought not to have complete freedom as regards their dealings with others. To give freedom to the strong to oppress the weak is not the way to secure the greatest possible amount of freedom in the world. This is the basis of the socialist revolt against the kind of freedom which used to be advocated by laissez-faire economists.

How long should the work day be?

... By a few hours a day of manual work, a man can produce as much as is necessary for his own subsistence; and if he is willing to forgo luxuries, that is all that the community has a right to demand of him. It ought to be open to all who so desire to do short hours of work for little pay, and devote their leisure to whatever pursuit happens to attract them. No doubt the great majority of those who chose this course would spend their time in mere amusement, as most of the rich do at present. But it could not be said, in such a society, that they were parasites upon the labor of others. And there would be a minority who would give their hours of nominal idleness to science or art or literature, or some other pursuit out of which fundamental progress may come. In all such matters, organization and system can only do harm. The one thing that can be done is to provide opportunity, without repining at the waste that results from most men failing to make good use of the opportunity.

What types of activity should government regulate and discourage?

The whole realm of the possessive impulses, and of the use of force to which they give rise, stands in need of control by a public neutral authority, in the interests of liberty no less than of justice. Within a nation, this public authority will naturally be the state; in relations between nations, if the present anarchy is to cease, it will have to be some international parliament.

What types of activity should government protect and encourage?

[T]he creative part of a man's activity ought to be as free as possible from all public control, in order that it may remain spontaneous and full of vigor. The only function of the state in regard to this part of the individual life should be to do everything possible toward providing outlets and opportunities.

How can society make progress?

[T]hose who actually achieve much ... have ... something in their nature which inclines them to choose a certain kind of work as the road which they must travel if their ambition is to be satisfied. This artist's impulse, as it may be called, is a thing of infinite value to the individual, and often to the world; to respect it in oneself and in others makes up nine tenths of the good life. ...

... In a human being, provided he has not been crushed by an economic or governmental machine, there is ... something distinctive without which no man or woman can achieve much of importance, or retain the full dignity which is native to human beings. ... Any society which crushes this quality, whether intentionally or by accident, must soon become utterly lifeless and traditional, without hope of progress and without any purpose in its being. To preserve and strengthen the impulse that makes individuality should be the foremost object of all political institutions.

How can we make this radical change?

[I]t is perfectly possible to proceed step by step towards economic freedom and industrial self-government. It is not true that there is any outward difficulty in creating the kind of institutions that we have been considering. If organized labor wishes to create them, nothing could stand in its way. The difficulty involved is merely the difficulty of inspiring men with hope, of giving them enough imagination to see that the evils from which they suffer are unnecessary, and enough thought to understand how the evils are to be cured. This is a difficulty which can be overcome by time and energy. But it will not be overcome if the leaders of organized labor have no breadth of outlook, no vision, no hopes beyond some slight superficial improvement within the framework of the existing system. Revolutionary action may be unnecessary, but revolutionary thought is indispensable, and, as the outcome of thought, a rational and constructive hope.


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