What do we American People want?

We want liberty and economic security.

Democracy, to me, is liberty plus economic security. To put it in plain language, we Americans want to talk, pray, think as we please—and eat regular.

I say this because there is a lot of nonsense in talk about liberty. I have said before that abstract liberty is meaningless. You cannot fill the baby's bottle with liberty. Here is what I would consider a Charter or Chart of True Liberty:


Our job is to put some such chart into effect—to have a country whose economic machine works, and whose "ancient freedoms" are protected.

Already the people of many nations have traded in their freedom for temporary security. I say "traded" because liberty never just disappears. When the people of Italy and Germany lost their trade-unions and their political parties—lost their economic power, that is, to the small group of financial overlords and their dictators—they lost their liberty. Many of them got jobs (such as they were) in return—jobs in war and allied industries—jobs building roads and fortresses. But this trade-in for economic security of a sort is almost certain to lead to the most terrible of all losses—the suffering, hardship and death of war.

It is unquestionably true that the rise of dictatorship and the destruction of democracy has been based on one thing—unemployment. In Austria and the Sudeten region, Hitler was able to win the support of certain sections of the people who hoped to get jobs. They were tired of a democracy that gave them no work.

The problem before the American people is how to win economic security without giving up their democratic self-government to the dictators and war-makers.

Throughout the country I find practically no people who will say that they favor any kind of dictatorship. There is, indeed, genuine fear of dictatorship. This fear, however, leads to a weaker and weaker government, which seems to me to be the surest road to dictatorship.

Historically, Americans have had an open, avowed suspicion of "government." They have actually had an aversion for it. Such an attitude certainly renders government ineffective. We elect, say, a governor or President, and then to show our independence, we elect for the new governor or President a whole crew of his enemies. In that way we think we keep him from being a dictator—at least we keep him "checked and balanced." The trouble is we do such a good job that we balance the poor fellow off and check him out—and check ourselves with ineffective government in the bargain. Our idea of democratic government is to elect somebody and then dog him to death. A powerful people must have a powerful government; and if a government is representative, and democratic, and responsible to the people, the people need not worry about dictatorship.

It has been said that there is nothing new in the world. It is simply not true. We unquestionably face essentially new problems today—problems never before faced in the world. They are the problems which have grown out of machine mass production and scientific advance.

We have utterly failed to adapt our economic and political machinery to the complete technical revolution in industrial and agricultural production.

The important thing is for the people to realize this—to know it—and then figure out what to do about it.

One thing certain—greater government (whether democratic or dictatorial) participation in the daily life of the people is an inevitable necessity. Many conservative businessmen, even, are aware of this. Sidney Baer, great department store owner in St. Louis, says:

The masses desire greater federal control and a more vigorous policy on the part of government. . . . Many people may not like this transition, but it seems to me it would be well for them to reconcile themselves to it, and recognize that further centralization of power is inevitable.

And Fortune magazine (whose clientele is composed of the wealthiest and most conservative people in America), noting that there had been a nation-wide swing toward favoring greater government participation in economic affairs and private enterprise, had this to say:

If the principles of democracy and of private enterprise are to be preserved, it is evident that private enterprise must admit into its affairs, as representative of the people, a government profoundly concerned with the successful operation of the economic system.

It should in the future be the object of business, not to obstruct Government intervention at any cost, but to see to it that the intervening Government is enlightened in economic matters.

We no longer have new and virgin lands with heavy immigration and a rapidly increasing population—lands on which the hustling American could always find new opportunities. It was then good sense to talk of independence, individuality, and "making good." But now that we have a heavily populated industrial nation and the lands all owned and pre-empted, it is nonsense to attack our problems from the pioneer agrarian viewpoint.

Our forefathers had sense enough to break away from their forefathers, and if we are not to chinafy ourselves, we had better look at things with an open mind. Unlike our forefathers, we can still use ballots instead of bullets to attain liberty and security—if we are not too stupid and apathetic. But in a mass production age, we have to realize that the adaption must be made on a mass basis and paid for by the wealth accumulated by mass production itself.

At the assembly of all branches of government at the Capitol, March 4, 1939, Mr. Chief Justice Hughes said:

With respect to the influences which shape public opinion, we live in a new world. Never have these influences operated more directly, or with such variety of facile instruments, or with such overwhelming force. We have mass production in opinion as well in goods. The grasp of tradition and of sectional prejudgment is loosened. Postulates of the past must show cause. Our institutions will not be preserved by veneration of what is old, if that is simply expressed in the formal ritual of a shrine. The American people are eager and responsive.

Already, under the Roosevelt Administration, the people have succeeded in getting enacted laws which constitute a great economic, social and political advance—laws which represent, for the mass of people, more security than they had and more control over the tremendous power of concentrated wealth. Few believe these laws ought to be repealed. Some of them will undoubtedly be strengthened or greatly expanded; none of any importance will be kicked out entirely. The most conservative American knows that we will never go back to the so-called "good old days of rugged individualism."

I do not advocate that government take over "business." I simply want to emphasize the absolute necessity for the people through their government to assume a greater degree of control over the affairs that directly affect their lives. This means the real cooperation through government of businessmen, workers, and farmers, not as separate and rival interest-groups, but as organic parts of the whole American economy.