The Real Liberal Philosophy
[Reprinted from Land & Liberty,
IN HIS PROFOUND and thought-compelling book, Freedom - The Only
End, Mr. McEachran, after a review of some outstanding nineteenth
century philosophers, remarks: "The philosopher who really
understands economics has not yet been born." After reading it,
the present reviewer would venture the opinion that the book refutes
this remark. It is essentially a philosophic work; it gives a clear
outline of economic law and it reveals the basic importance of this to
any comprehension of the whole scheme of things, of which philosophy
is the study.
This book is both universal and up-to-date. It faces the eternal
questions of personal and social life (which are inseparable), and in
doing so brings to bear an impressive grasp of earlier experience and
contributions to knowledge together with the discoveries of modern
science and the speculations of contemporary thought. Its readability
should help to give it the circulation it deserves. The reader is not
overwhelmed with detail or puzzled by obscure terms. Neither need he
be deterred by lack of philosophic knowledge. The essentials only are
presented, in brief compass and in clear language. Here is a genuine
scholar writing not for other scholars only but for any sincere person
seeking the truth of the matter.
Mr. McEachran says some surprising things about the concept of the
state, and those writers whose investigations of an idea stop short as
soon as they can give it a familiar label might cite him as an
anarchist. But those who, deliberately or instinctively, strive to
harmonise their reasoning with the innate urge to be free, will find
the strongest evidence to sustain them against the prevailing forces
now herding us towards the collectivist prison. Those called
Georgeists should be especially grateful. Labels, though inevitable,
are never satisfactory. Georgeists can be presented by superficial
critics as persons with one-track minds anchored to the conceptions of
a tax reformer bounded in his ideas by his own time and place.
Land-value taxation with free trade can stand on its own merits as a
practical proposition, but its advocates, including those before and
others independent of Henry George, would never have laboured so
persistently if they had not seen it as an indispensable step towards
human liberation. Tolstoy, with all the sincerity of his deeply
religious approach, emphasised this. Now comes Mr. McEachran from a
perhaps more universal angle and with the authority of later
The author emphasises that men, ever since the existence of organised
governments, have been affected in their development by compulsions
that obscure perception of their essential environment and pervert the
course of their thought and actions. Philosophers examining mankind
only when subjected to government or enforced cooperation have failed
to notice that there are natural, instinctive laws of human
co-operation governing all man's actions; for man is a social animal
and could not exist in isolation. These laws govern not only his
production and exchange, his revenue, personal and social, but also
his higher development; for he is at once a physical, mental and
spiritual being, all these elements acting and reacting upon each
other. Mankind has not reached its present stage of development by
being organised but by the extent to which natural instincts have been
allowed free play. These instincts can never be permanently
suppressed, although the efforts to do so may pervert them; they will
always struggle to reassert themselves.
Therefore if we are concerned with man's evolution to a higher and
happier condition, the question is not how people in any society
should be organised but how they can be left to develop themselves
under natural law. This is not anarchy but obedience to a wiser law
than any group of rulers, whatever their motives, could devise. The
popular, emotional appeal of world government as a panacea leads in
the wrong direction. It would close the gates now sometimes open to
escape from a greater to a lesser tyranny and prevent comparison
between one type of organisation and another.
"I would remind the emotionalists of today," says Mr.
McEachran, "of an old ideal to which, from time immemorial,
emotion of the purest kind has been linked. This is the ideal of
liberty, which throughout the centuries has inspired so much devoted
action on the part of men. Liberty is more than just the song of poets
and the words of statesmen, even though in these it is already noble.
It is the meaning of evolution, the mainspring of biological
development, the real aim of life.
Only when we realise that
individualism and not collectivism can produce real co-operation shall
we regain the freedom that is lost. And to do this we must ground the
individual in everlasting law."
The author pursues his theme through all the major spheres of debate,
both the old, ever-recurring questions, and those of immediate bearing
on modern life such as the impact of science and technology. He
examines the doctrine of original sin, the individual and the state,
morality and freedom, power in all its aspects, nationalism and
culture, economics in relation to psychology and religion, the Church,
sovereignty, change in economic structure, etc. His ideas of how
science and technology might be applied in a genuinely free society
suggest some consolation to those who feel overwhelmed by the brash,
noisy, ugly effects we see today.
Like the Greeks, who eschewed humbug, Mr. McEachran does not assume
that "truth will prevail" whatever we do or neglect to do;
and he is prepared for a long period of collectivist control to
descend on the Western world, although any such control must
eventually be broken by the everlasting forces inherent in man's
This view might prove too pessimistic. No tyranny, mental and
physical, has ever been nearer the absolute than that of the Communist
party in Russia. And it has enjoyed an advantage which no previous
tyranny has possessed: the resources afforded by modern science that
enable the rulers to present as their own work the miracle of
comparative affluence the Russian masses now enjoy. And yet, after
fifty years of material progress there is significant evidence of
rebellion against the mental and spiritual control, and sheer
necessity has forced the state planners to relax some of the economic
controls. It is difficult to see how the impetus can be arrested, and
if it continues it is bound to affect the West by its example.
But, whatever the future, the personal obligation remains. We may not
all claim much knowledge of philosophy, but every intelligent reader
can easily grasp the central truth this philosopher points out, and
appreciate the evidence he brings from great thinkers to support it;
and we may use this to convince others.
"It is, in fact," says Mr. McEachran, "a harder and
nobler sacrifice to help on the slow movement of history, which offers
no immediate glory, than to seek the pseudo-splendour of the romantic
death or the tinsel sublimity of the surface cause.
sin of all is to see the truth and to thwart it, the 'sin against the
Holy Ghost' which Goethe embodied in the figure of Mephistopheles."