by C. E. M. Joad
[Dutton, $1.50]
‘THE struggle of reason against authority has ended in what appears now to be a decisive and permanent victory for liberty. In the most civilized and progressive countries, freedom of discussion is recognized as a fundamental principle.’ That was the conclusion readied by Professor Bury in A History of Freedom of Thought, published in 1913. ’Well,’said Lytton Strachey at the time, ‘that is very’ nice, very nice indeed - if it is true.’
To what extent has it turned out to be true since 1913, in the tumultuous days of a great war and preparation for a greater war? That question is the central theme of Liberty Today, a book by Professor C. E. M. Joad, of the University of London. So uncomfortably sound in its logic is this little book, and so irritating in its manifest bearing on the current, crisis in the United States, that millions of Americans would be start let! out of their complacency if they could be induced to read it. Instead. they will listen to more radio tirades of the Long and Coughlin types, unaware of the curse of the demagogue — unaware that only a few years ago, as Professor Joad points out, Germany appeared to be much safer from a Hitler type of dictatorship than America appears to he today.
Commenting on the ‘permanent victory’ for liberty,’ Professor Joad says that in ‘two-thirds of the so-called civilized world today, men’s minds have been sent to prison and their rulers hold the keys of their cells.’ Germany, he says, with Teutonic thoroughness has carried the suppression of liberty to ils greatest length. Genius and dictatorship are ill bedfellows: Germany is not big enough to hold both Hitler and Einstein. Wherever democracy declines, liberty declines with it. In fact, the object of dictatorship is to substitute deference for difference. To give men the power of gods tends to make them behave like beasts.
Without referring to our own Public Radio Enemy Number One, Professor Joad does observe that in critical times the ordinary man, always ready for a change, adopts the ’Gawd-saking’ attitude. ‘For Gawd’s sake,’he exclaims, ‘let us get something done — anything, in fact, rather than nothing.’ And he shouts for a dictator who tit least promises him action. The more critical the times, the less critical the voters. They embrace proposals for ending poverty with a fervor which is inversely proportional to their worth. The only proposal which they reject with scorn and fury is the proposal to let things alone. They are bent on going somewhere — almost, anywhere, as long as it is not going back to where they were. (Republican papers please copy.)
The cause of liberty, says Professor Joad, cannot stand still: it must either advance or retreat. And when it retreats, it carries with it all that makes life most worth living. ‘It is easy for Shaw to belittle political liberty, easy precisely because lie has it; for it is only in a land where liberty is enjoyed that the phenomenon of Shaw could occur. . . . Mussolini or Hitler would give short shrift to Shaw.’ Or Long or Coughlin, we might add; or, for that matter, Hearst or Fish; or the American Legion proponents of patriotism (and greenbacks) who are now deciding what teachers shall be allowed to think. Now, as in every age, ‘the greater the alarm, the greater the demand for uniformity, and the greater the need to withstand it.‘
Happily, says the author, we shall succeed in withstanding it. If history is any guide, reason will stage her accustomed ‘comeback. And with reason will come tolerance. Then will subside what the author calls ’the crime of psychological assault’; what H. G. Wells calls ’the revolt of the clumsy lout against civilization.’