How America Looks From Europe

A Missouri boy who took his architectural degree magna cum laude at the University of Illinois in 1931, CHARLES LUCKMANbecame President of Lever Brothers at the age of thirty-seven. One of the youngest and most outspoken of our business executives, he spent last autumn in Europe. In the course of his busy days, many of which were given to studying problems of associate companies on the Continent, he began taking note of how America with its new promise and its sense of responsibility looks to those on the other side of the big ditch.


ONE of the principal values of a journey to Europe at this critical juncture in history is that it provides such a splendid view — of America. I know, because I have recently spent several months looking at the United States from that revealing vantage point. Outwardly, I was studying the facts of life in countries from Britain to Bizonia. Inwardly, I was assessing the American facts, in terms of their impact upon the common cause of a free world.

At home the American businessman is so close to the picture, as seen from the angle of his own immediate problems and pressures, that he is likely to be obsessed by the surface cracks and blemishes. Europe provides the saving perspective. Viewed from afar in a setting where millions of people have only their belief in America to sustain them — the truly noble contours of American civilization are more easily discerned and more impressive.

Most of us feel vaguely guilty about living on an island of abundance in the world ocean of ruin and want; about enjoying an oasis of personal liberties in the spreading desert of political oppressions. But in Europe today an American begins to shed that uneasy feeling. He realizes that the very existence of his country, its strength and vitality and freedom, serves as a tonic reassurance to mankind in distress.

But far from engendering smugness, this view of our country, to judge by my own reactions, evokes a sense of solemn responsibility. Somehow the hackneyed post-war rhetoric about America as the torchbearer of freedom and the last bastion of Western civilization begins to make earnest and urgent sense.

Nowhere, I discovered, is the preponderant weight of the United States in world affairs so little appreciated and so casually treated as in the United States. Here at home we know the physical fact of our new importance, of course. We hear it repeated by rote in editorials, radio comment, and banquet oratory. But knowing is one thing and feeling is another. Somehow we miss the living essence of the fact — the awareness that to millions of men and women on other continents the United States, its wealth, its opinions, its elections, its very moods, are the stuff of their own destinies.

What are our motives?

Few Americans realize, for instance, the magnitude and intensity of the debate under way clear around the globe as to our country’s motives. Are we moved by a passion for justice and abhorrence of Communist tyranny, or by “imperialist ” greeds for profits and power? The heat of the argument on both sides is a fair measure of America’s decisive influence beyond its own frontiers. I felt, indeed, that the violent anti-American propaganda (and one feels it continually and everywhere) is itself a lefthanded compliment. The Kremlin-inspired attack betrays in every offensive adjective, in every egregious lie, in every political strike, the Communist conviction that the fate of the world is in American hands.

In Europe the hopes of the majority and the fears of a loud minority are alike focused on our country. We need a more conscious and responsible recognition of this at home. It is a towering challenge to American unity and intelligence. We did not seek the role of leadership. It has been thrust upon us. The question is not whet her we shall play that role —• we have no option in the matter — but whether we shall play it wisely and courageously.

Europe looks forward, not backward

In the countries of Western Europe which I visited for the first time in two years, I found not only tangible economic progress but evidences of psychological rehabilitation. Both of these gains are being credited in large measure to the European Recovery Program, the Marshall Plan. The very announcement of the Plan, I was told, had an electrifying elfect. It was the token of American determination to halt the march of Communism. Faith in us helped revive people’s faith in themselves and in our common heritage of civilized values.

His Holiness Pope Pius XII, who graciously received me in audience, was especially interested in discussing the Marshall Plan. Obviously he regarded it as a central element in the whole European equation. Among other things, he asked me whether the American people knew specifically what their Plan was accomplishing. The same question was put to me by other keen observers — businessmen, political leaders, ordinary folk.

The implications of that question are far-reaching. These men were suggesting that it is not enough for America to vote funds for their aid. We cannot buy absolution from responsibility. On the contrary, our involvement is heightened by the investment. It amounts to a moral commitment as big and as decisive as the one we made when we entered the war after Pearl Harbor. We must understand the nature of the new struggle, the immensity of its stakes, and above all, the need for continuity in our effort — to the point where the European economy and spirit become self-sustaining.

In pondering their question, I was obliged to reply in the negative. Americans by and large have not yet grasped the size and significance of the job on which they are launched. The improvements which I saw in Europe are real, but the forces of disruption are by no means under control. The gains can be lost, the floodgates to chaos will be reopened, if we in America waver in our determination, or if our capacity to help is cut down by domestic bickering and blundering.

Europe is still dependent on what the United States can send in the way of goods and food. We must provide more for Europe without providing less for our own children. The key to ultimate success in the conflict symbolized by the Marshall Plan is American productivity. Once again we represent the arsenal of democracy.

More productivity

I use the word productivity, which is something quite different from production, and a lot more exacting. Increased production is the sum total of larger plant, improved machinery, greater manpower, and other such factors. It is quantitative and calls for a lot of time. But productivity is a qualitative concept. It means more and better products with the plant and tools and labor already available.

In supplying the crucial margin of goods for Western Europe, time is of the essence. America’s obligation today is consequently stepped-up productivity— fuller use of available means — rather than enlarged capacity. To use a homely example, the problem is not to plant more fruit trees, but to. make the existing trees yield more fruit. In the area of industry, that implies greater output per manhour, a moratorium on wasteful industrial strife, a break with the habits of soldiering and featherbedding.

Coming from a businessman, this may sound like a reproof to labor, but I do not intend it as such. Management must accept its full share of blame for practices that have tended to hobble American productivity. In the past, unhappily, emphasis on greater output has too often meant larger returns for the employer, but only speed-up and layoff for the worker, who naturally retaliated with techniques of calculated slowdown and restraint on production. The problem today is not to apportion blame, and not to bicker, but to place the magnificent American industrial potential fully at the disposal of mankind.

Increased productivity is the major need of the moment, if we are to maintain our accustomed living standards at home while nourishing reconstruction abroad. To obtain that productivity, the resultant wealth must be equitably divided in three ways: in the form of better wages to the worker, lower prices to the consumer, and increased profits to the company. The success of our intervention on the side of freedom abroad is thus closely linked with social justice at home.

Our stimulated economy does stimulate

While I was in Europe I saw some of the miracles of physical betterment and healthier morale worked by American aid. In dozens of plants of our own company, I found not merely greater output and better living conditions but a remarkable accretion of self-confidence. This is equally true of other industries — for instance, the automotive industry.

America has every reason for pride in those achievements. But as a nation we seem curiously diffident and even apologetic in dealing with the outside world. We cringe under the propaganda barrage which portrays our free economy and political democracy as selfish, reactionary, and doomed to early collapse. While few of us actually believe this caricature, too many of us behave as if there were some truth in it. We seem more conscious of our incidental faults than of our basic virtues. This strange deficiency of faith in our system of life is especially unfortunate now that we are facing the challenge of totalitarian expansion. We have thus far taken our cues more from fear of the ideology of others than confidence in our own. The temper of our world strategy has been largely negative — not pro-democratic or even pro-American, but simply anti-totalitarian.

This attitude is obviously inadequate. It offers no invigorating alternative to mankind. By accepting the great struggle between freedom and slavery on terms chosen by the adversary, we surrender the initiative and the advantage. We should make it clear to ourselves first of all, and it will then become clear to the world, that we are not merely fighting against Communism, but for a set of cherished and inspiring values, among which the freedom and the dignity of the individual human being are central.

Events move so fast nowadays that the pre-war years already have a ring of antiquity. It takes an effort of the will to recall how many intelligent Americans detected a “wave of the future” in Hitler’s Germany. They mistook bluster, violence, and insolent slogans for portents of a new genesis, bowing to the charge that personal freedom was outmoded and democracy an effete and spineless hang-over. When the showdown came, the myth of our degeneration was exploded, along with the rest of the delusions. America mustered the moral discipline and the material might for clear-cut victory in a vast global war. Despite defects imputed to our form of society, we proved that we possessed youthful vigor. We brought into play a strength and zest that do not come from hardened arteries.

It is well to recall this now that another “wave of the future” beats against the ramparts of our civilization. Once more the legend of our senility is being spread through the world — and once more we behave as if it might have some basis in truth. That a great many people in Europe, Asia, and Latin America believe in this legend is not to be wondered at. In their poverty and bewilderment they reach out for any propaganda mirage. What surpasses understanding is that we Americans, by our defensive attitude, seem to believe in this political fantasy.

Our faith should be bigger than our fear

We know in our hearts that our system of freedom is not only worth fighting for, but has the Vitality to assure enduring victory. There is no need for statistics to prove that American life is incomparably superior to existence under any other dispensation. The facts are too big to be missed. Our material advantages are the most obvious. Not only is our aggregate wealth tremendous, but it is more widely distributed than in any other nation. By any test of human values — cultural facilities for the mass of people, equality before the law, opportunity for the individual to improve his personal lot — America stands first in the current world.

But we cannot hope to triumph unless we come thoroughly armed with confidence in the validity of our way of life. Fear, anger, and desperation are sorry substitutes for resolute faith. What we must offer to the rest of the world is not a defensive and apologetic anti-totalitarianism, but a positive, invigorating common cause. We must rally men and women everywhere to a vision of well-being in a framework of individual freedom — a vision that would command allegiance even if there were no Communist threat to underline its importance.

Let us not succumb to the hypnotism of totalitarian slogans. Their waves of the future are in truth only the backwash of the past. Glorification of the state, the sinking of the individual into some abstraction of nation or race or class, government by arbitrary edict—they are as old as Egypt and Sparta. An economic scheme which ties the peasant to the soil and the worker to the machine as the price of promised security is as old as feudalism and chattel slavery.

No matter how cynically these things are decked in the verbiage of progress and liberalism, they remain utterly reactionary. Modern history has been a process of ever greater assertion of the autonomy and dignity of the individual man and woman. The police state is therefore a throwback that cancels out centuries of progress. Its reliance on raw force and the raw lie, its derogation of the private conscience and spiritual values, are throwbacks to paganism.

No, we have no reason either in fact or in policy to concede any of the pretensions of other systems. After years of absolute authority and the sacrifice of millions of lives, they have failed to fulfill their promises of enriching human existence.

The only truly novel idea at work in the world today, as it has been for over one hundred and fifty years, is the idea of personal freedom. It is actually America that rides the crest of a wave. And measured by the yardstick of history the great American experiment in political and economic self-government is only in its infancy.

This crucial fact is somehow obscured by the very success of the endeavor. Power and plenty have been so often associated in people’s minds with conservatism that we tend to forget the essentially liberal, forward-thrusting, ground-breaking nature of our American society. Pioneering, invention, progress, opportunity, have been key words in the vocabulary of our national character; they do not rhyme with anything static and reactionary.

Tom Paine wrote: “An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot; neither the ocean, the Channel, nor the Rhine can arrest its progress; it will march on the horizon of the world, and it will conquer.” Time has justified his prophecy. In his own lifetime the “army of principles” that was mobilized in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution unseated autocracy in France and undermined its foundations elsewhere. It marched to the Pacific on our own continent, drove Spanish absolutism from this hemisphere, vanquished tyranny and economic feudalism in one region after another. There have been setbacks and local defeats, but the revolution we set in motion in men’s minds and hearts has never subsided.

Security at the cost of liberty

The most mischievous fallacy spread in our generation is that liberty and security are incompatible — that you can enlarge one only at the expense of the other. America stands as (he living refutation of that assumption. Here we have attained unmatched standards of living and expanded the frontiers of personal liberty at the same time. Without surrendering an iota of the Bill of Rights, we have achieved social legislation as liberal as any in the world, witnessed the rapid growth of labor organization, attained a wide diffusion of education, and improved standards of living.

The totalitarian ideology promises material benefits in return for abject subservience to a police state. The American ideology holds out the prospect of both plenty and freedom. I submit that this is an unbeatable package in the mart where opposing systems of life bid for popular support. Should we fail, it will not be because the competing product is superior, but because we have allowed rival claimants to get away with shady devices and unfair trade practices.

We shall regain the initiative in the world duel between democracy and despotism in the measure that we restore confidence in the American ideal here at home. Along with the acceptance of the blessings we enjoy we must have an awareness of vast horizons for growth. The fact that we have reached the limit of our geographical frontiers has encouraged the fallacy that there are no more frontiers to be conquered. Actually, we confront exciting unknown continents of science, of invention, of popular education, of greater health, waiting to be conquered by American energy and ingenuity.

In facing the tumultuous world we have no excuse for self-reproach. Having won a smashing victory over the Axis, having emerged as the strongest nation in modern times, having acquired a monopoly of the deadliest weapon, did the United States demand territory or privilege? On the contrary, it tossed strategic advantages to one of its allies and hastened to dismantle its magnificent fighting machine; then it proceeded to pour out its wealth to relieve suffering and promote economic rehabilitation clear around the globe.

It seems to me, we fail to see the dramatic quality of our contribution to the rest of the world. It was not an American journal which called our European Recovery Program “an act without peer in history,” but the London Economist. “In time of peace,”it explained, “in order to aid nations geographically remote from the Americas, at a time of great internal shortage, the United States is ready to give away five billion dollars’ worth of commodities as the first installment of a wider program, to give them for peaceful economic reconstruction and, save for minor exceptions, to give them without conditions of any kind.”

Only Americans, aware of the isolationist tradition still deep-rooted in our psychology, can savor the absurdity of “imperialist “ charges being hurled against us in malice. They know that if we had any choice we would prefer even today to snuggle up between the two oceans and live to ourselves. We thought we had such a choice after World War I and did withdraw within our shell, with disastrous results for ourselves and for the world. Our first impulse afler World War II, again, was to go home" and stay home, as witnessed by our rapid demobilization.

But destiny has intervened

This time the familiar American retreat, the flight to a wishful-thinking “normalcy,”has been blocked by events which have impelled us into the maelstrom of world affairs. We cannot renounce leadership without giving the right of way to an awesome threat to freedom which ultimately would menace our own country. Whet her we like it or not, we must give direction and motive power to man’s impulse to liberty everywhere. In the Truman Doctrine, which saved Greece and Turkey from being overrun by the Red tide; in the Marshall Plan, which has already put Communism in most of Western Europe on the defensive, we have made a beginning.

But while spearheading the drive for freedom abroad, we must apply ourselves to enlarging and fortifying democracy at home. Obviously we shall fail in our task of world leadership if we do not succeed in continually invigorating our own society. A determination to achieve reforms at home does not contradict our self-confidence; rather, it confirms it.

Our objectives

Our domestic objectives — token of the dynamic quality of American system of life—include the following:&emdah;

1. Greater social peace. — Contrary to the Marxist dogma of class struggle, all classes have prospered together in the United States. To a larger degree than in any other society, accretions of wealth and comforts have been spread to the entire population. Nowhere in the world, therefore, is the sense of “togetherness” that binds the 143 million members of the community more pervasive. It should be our conscious purpose to deepen that sense, by reducing the areas of friction between social and economic groups.

Collective bargaining in industry has been accepted in public opinion and guaranteed by law. The foundation for peace on the economic plane has thus been finally laid. The superstructure of techniques for curbing industrial strife is now in the process of building. Central to its success is a recognition by all concerned that the interests of the community cannot be sacrificed on the altar of group self-interest. A public-be-damned attitude is as reprehensible on the part of labor as on the part of business. Acceptance of social responsibility by capital and labor alike, a greater respect for the public stake in all economic quarrels — these are goals to which we are committed by our whole history.

2. Protection and extension of civil rights. — The President’s Committee on Civil Rights, of which I am a member, found much that is shocking. These lapses make us vulnerable to Communist propaganda. But t he fact that we are shocked is all to the good, as a portent of change. Deep-rooted traditional attitudes cannot be legislated out of existence — certainly not overnight. Education must set the pace for law. Yet there are large areas where rights and opportunities for all, regardless of race, color, or creed, can and should be safeguarded by the Federal and state lawmakers. Basic in this connection is the right of every American to equality in making a living, obtaining an education, and participating in the democratic political process.

3. Advancement of education. — America has gone further than any other country in the conquest of ignorance, but it has not gone far enough. We are now spending only 1 1/2 per cent of our national income for education. We can afford more—and make every dollar count for more. The teaching profession has been sadly neglected and underpaid. In thousands of communities, the educational plant — schools, equipment, and so forth — has not kept pace with progress in other departments of American life. A new emphasis on more education and better education for more Americans must be placed high in the agenda of our national life.

4. Ever higher living standards. — Though our levels of food, clothing, and shelter are the marvel of the world, they do not justify smugness. As long as there are large numbers of families living in want and squalor, we have no excuse for complacency. American productivity has been nearly doubled in a decade. Industry as a whole has recognized the wisdom of a narrow profit margin on large output rather than limited output of goods at prices inaccessible to the great mass of consumers. The malerial basis for ever higher living standards has thus been provided. Stepped-up man-hour productivity is the only genuine road to improved living conditions, whether in housing, food, clothes, or luxuries. All artificial barriers to greater availability of goods through unfair trade-union or business practices must be removed.

5. Greater security for more of our people. — The greatest scourge of our modern technological civilization is the feeling of economic insecurity. In more primitive societies the mass of people could live on the soil; today that sense of safety is gone. Our free society must therefore set aside an adequate portion of its immense income in good times to reduce the threat of insecurity in times of trouble. We have made a good beginning, but only a beginning, in lifting the load of fear from the aged, the helpless, the unemployed. Provided we muster the will to free an ever larger portion of our people from the dread of destitution, we possess the wealth to do so.

6. Support and understanding of the Marshall Plan. — Our investment in the European Recovery Program — which is at bottom an investment in peace and world normalization — requires the continuous, conscious, and enlightened backing of American public opinion. The mechanisms for bringing the living story to the people should therefore be developed. The magnitude of the financial help we are giving should be judged not in cold figures but in relation to the objectives in view — and by comparison with the costs of war. Only if America views the undertaking in this light will we preclude the danger of a disastrous reversal of the policy embodied in the Marshall Plan.

These, of course, do not exhaust the list of our objectives. They merely indicate the direction of constructive thinking. Dedication to such a program will justify the claim that America, far from being the decadent society of the totalitarian propaganda fables, is a living, growing, dynamic community. We regard every blessing today, whether in the economic or the political domain, as a pledge for tomorrow. That is the essence of the American wave of the future to which we seek to rally the allegiance of our own people and of all mankind.

This conception of America was defined and sharpened for me by viewing it in perspective — from a Europe struggling against dissolution. Because of the material sustenance and the spiritual support flowing from our country, the stricken continent has already thrown off its earlier mood of defeatism. We shall not fail those people unless we fail ourselves, unless we play false to our own history and our own amazing potential for expansion.