I am no admirer of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His approach to resolving the Great Depression compounded the damage to the Constitution that Abraham Lincoln began, and the events of 1913 worsened. However, as with Abraham Lincoln, President Roosevelt made some valid observations about the conditions in the country in 1933, which apply to us as well. The following is a large excerpt from his first inaugural address:
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.
Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers
her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated.
Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.*
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must
be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men. Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.
Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the speech outlines the approach he would use – further centralization of power – which has come to exacerbate the very problems President Roosevelt was purporting to resolve.
His diagnosis of the problem, however, is spot on. We are afraid. We have been manipulated into fear by those who have built a mighty military and the foundations for a future police state, scaring us with ghosts of their own making. Through materialism, they have made us dependent on that which can never satisfy, and they expand their power by threatening to take our stuff and our savings away from us. The threat is not idle. Within the next year, a hyperinflation is likely to begin that will reduce our life's savings to almost nothing. If you do not now hold any gold or silver, buy some now, even if you have to sell something to get it!
We have lost our sense of thrill in creative effort and in our relationships with our communities. Deep down, most of us are lonely and unhappy, and don't understand why. Part of our unhappiness is the spiritual void I discussed last Thursday, but the roots of our discontent are much broader than that.
We are beginning to realize that, like Esau in the Bible, we have traded our birthright for a bowl of soup.** We have traded our essential liberties for a little temporary safety,*** and now, finally, we see that we've been had. The Nation asks for action, and action now; but Washington is so corrupt that they no longer care what action we want; and the game is so fixed that it doesn't matter whether the winners du jour are Democrats or Republicans.
Our nation has already educated a generation to be compliant slaves to the collectivist handlers, and is refining its techniques to further enslave the following generation, even to the point of burdening college graduates with debts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, at a time when they are least able to pay them back. In so doing, we have committed adultery: not only in the usual sense of sexually corrupting ourselves and our families; but by accepting adulterated food and debased money. We have replaced education – learning how to think – with indoctrination – teaching what to think. We have even allowed science, once the bedrock of independent inquiry, to become a prostitute to service the favored political classes.
In an earlier day, we could have relied on a free press to expose this corruption and advocate for reform – but today's purveyors of mass media have bought into the corrupt system. Oh, a few brave souls continue to speak out – the Glenn Becks, the Mark Levins, the Lou Dobbs; and on the Internet the Lew Rockwells, but the corrupted easily persuade the compliant that those who speak the truth are rightist wingnuts.
Is there really no way out? Has the circle closed around us? In 1974, Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn asked himself the same question. He diagnosed his problem, and our problem, as a willingness to participate in lies. He reached deeply within himself to discover that those who will take the risks to stand out and expose those lies will eventually destroy them. If you have not read his essay "Live Not by Lies," I urge you to do so! The tone of the essay is gloomy, but the end is inspiring:
A great people of Europe, the Czechoslovaks, whom [the Soviets] betrayed and deceived: Haven't they shown us how a vulnerable breast can stand up even against tanks if there is a worthy heart within it? [Solzhenitsyn is referring to the Soviet invasion ending the "Prague Spring," August 21, 1968.]
You say it will not be easy [to live the truth]? But it will be easiest of all possible resources. It will not be an easy choice for a body, but it is only one for a soul. No, it is not an easy path. But there are already people, even dozens of them, who over the years have maintained all these points and live by the truth.
So you will not be the first to take this path, but will join those who have already taken it. This path will be easier and shorter for all of us if we take it by mutual efforts and in close rank. If there are thousands of us, they will not be able to do anything with us. If there are tens of thousands of us, then we would not even recognize our country.
If we are too frightened, then we should stop complaining that someone is suffocating us. We ourselves are doing it. Let us then bow down even more, let us wait, and our
brothers the biologists will help to bring nearer the day when they are able to read [that] our thoughts are worthless and hopeless.
And if we get cold feet, even taking this step, then we are worthless and hopeless, and the scorn of [Russian poet Alexander] Pushkin should be directed to us:
"Why should cattle have the gifts of freedom? Their heritage from generation to generation is the belled yoke and the lash."
In Part 2 on Wednesday, I shall discuss the challenge facing the liberty movement.
* Proverbs 29:15 – one of my favorite Bible verses.
** Genesis 25:29-34.
*** "Those who would exchange essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." – Thomas Jefferson.