Personal Liberty and the Modern State; featuring Lawrence Dennis

9:14 AM Justin Bread 0 Comments

Howard Lee McBain -Professor of Constitutional Law, Columbia University.
Lena Madesin Phillips - International Federation of Business and Professional Women
Roger Baldwin - One of the founders of the American Civil Liberties League
Henry Pratt Fairchild - New York University
Lawrence Dennis - American Fascist

28:40 Lawrence Dennis

Dennis: Mister moderator and Mr. Baldwin, I think in this discussion, we have found extraordinary unanimity of opinion as to the fundamental question at issue, namely we are agreed that the old concepts of liberty are not applicable to the situation of today. That is to say we have imposed upon us today a social discipline in the interest of order and welfare and efficiency and, of course, justice.

29:13 Broadcast interruption.

29:54 Lawrence Dennis

Dennis: As I was saying, we are faced now with a problem of developing new techniques and a new philosophy of social discipline and that means that we have necessarily to scrap some of these old concepts of liberty but I think that we're all attached to the many of the values of liberty that even men like Mr. [Herbert] Hoover who, as usual, was very much behind the times. It took him four years to find out there was a depression. But even he will find out very soon that the philosophy and theory of liberty that we have had is not applicable to modern conditions. But I do believe that we have got to develop an adequate philosophy and technique for developing liberty.

Now I suggest that the basis of our new philosophy of liberty must be trying to make as large an area of things that people can choose their occupations or choose their tastes or choose their various exercises as possible. I think in Germany and in Italy and in Russia and in all the countries where you have extreme collectivism today, they have gone much too far in narrowing the area of safe things to do and enlarging the area of unsafe things. I think that the thing we must aim at in this country is to have as large an area of safe acts and safe opinions and safe indulgences and safe activities.

Baldwin: What's safe, Mr. Dennis?

Dennis: What isn't consistent with the demands of your social order, whatever your social order may be, and the way to do that is to recognize, as Professor Fairchild said, there is no liberty independent of a social order. In other words, a man has liberty to do what is good for the social scheme and he has not liberty to do what is bad for it. Now that is the philosophy that can enable us to develop a large measure of liberty.

The basis of giving liberty of choice should be recognition of the differences in human personality. Everybody doesn't want to read Elinor Glyn, and everybody doesn't want to read Proust. Everybody doesn't like opera and everybody doesn't like certain types of movie entertainment. Everybody doesn't like a Unitarian service, and everybody doesn't appreciate the spirituals of some of the Evangelical cults. There should be a wide divergence of cultural, of recreational, of literary indulgences and activities, and a wide choice in the matter of careers. But the ruling principal must not be that a man is free to worship, to play, to engage in business as he wants because even we can not admit that liberty under the Constitution.

Baldwin: Are you talking of Fascism?

Dennis: I am talking for a collectivism, call it by any name you will, that will meet the demands of public order in the present situation.

Baldwin: And the individual is to be a servant of this state?

Dennis: The individual must be a servant of the collective order in any state.

Baldwin: And the state may be a one-party state? A dictatorship?

Dennis: Well, any scheme of order is unique. You can not have order with everybody talking at once or with everybody acting according to his own ideas.

Baldwin: And you think a Fascist State on the whole is preferable, now that laissez faire capitalism and political democracy is on the skids? I've heard you say that before.

Dennis: Well, I think we have a choice today between expropriation of private property, or Communism, and a formula of disciplined social control of our economic life, which most people call Fascism. I think we either have to accept communism with expropriation of private property or else  a system which recognizes private property and does not expropriate but adequately disciplines the use of the productive

Phillips: Who will discipline?


Dennis: Well Miss Philips, the state always has to exercise the disciplinary functions in any order. The trouble today is that the disciplinary function is not exercised by anyone with social responsibility in many situations. In other words, a big bank or a big trust can discipline you as a small business man and how they can do it. Now the trouble with that is not that it's discipline, because we must have discipline, the trouble with the discipline of so many powerful corporations, just as Dean McBain has suggested in his paper, . . .

Phillips: Is that there isn't any?

Dennis: . . . is that it is irresponsible. Oh, yes. I think there is. I think the big corporations do discipline. They do tell you what to do and make you do it and if you don't do it it's too bad for you. Now that is discipline. The trouble with it is that it is not a national discipline. It's not conceived and applied in the interest of the nation. It

Fairchild: Mr. Dennis, doesn't it finally boil down to this, isn't this fundamental, the question whether or not the individual in the exercise of his own personal freedom, as far as that's possible, participate either in the discipline or participate directly in the selection of those who shall exercise the discipline. I don't like the word "discipline," I'm too much of a school teacher I suppose to like the word "discipline." But let's call it "regimentation" if you like or organization. Or efficient.

It's a question whether or not the individual and all individual's, in the broad sense of the word, people of maturity, of ordinary intelligence, can exercise their own personal will in, as I say, either participating in the direction itself or in selecting those on a democratic basis who shall exercise the direction.

Dennis: Why, Professor Fairchild, I think it is the intention of every political system in operation the world today to represent the people.

Fairchild: I didn't say represent, I said the individual has the chance to help select.

Dennis: Well, I think even there that it is the intention of every system to permit every individual to express a selection, but of course the trouble of course is, with the statement of your position, is that you have to find a formula for enabling the individual to express a choice or selection.

Fairchild: Don't you equally have to find a formula?

Dennis: Of course.

Phillips: Who will find it?

Dennis: Well, it's found the same way it's found under any political system. You have a chamber of representation and you have elections of selections of delegates.

Baldwin: For one party.

Dennis: Now you are raising the question of whether you should have one party or many parties. Now that is really the question. You're raising the question of whether you should have an alternation or rotation of parties or whether you should have a unique party. Now both Fascism and Communism are single parties or a unique party system. Now if that is what you are attacking then that is ground for a long discussion.

Fairchild: Now, aren't you mixing up the political aspect and the economic aspect?

Dennis: I see no difference between the two.

Fairchild: Well, the rest of us do. A lot of difference.

Baldwin: Do you see a difference between capitalism and socialism?

Dennis: Oh, yes.

Fairchild: If people have got the right kind of attitude, if people recognize the necessity of integration and coordination, you can operate your economic system with only one party. You don't have to have conflict of parties in operating an economic system that everyone has agreed on.

Dennis: In operating that though, you will do it as a political system.

Fairchild: No, I—maybe you will, but not I.

Dennis: I think that there is no other way of operating it. As a matter of fact, you assume that the court and the enforcement of law is not the function of a state. You would have no operation of your economic system without the exercise of the coercive functions of government.

Fairchild: Not at all. You've got to have the court an the state there as an agency of recourse when things go wrong in your economic system.

Dennis: Well, things are going wrong all the time. Your courts are clogged with the judicial processes for the enforcement of contracts and for the collection of damages and so on and so on. You cannot operate any economic system without the constant intervention and coercion of the state. So I cannot accept any compartmentalization of our activities. That is why I believe in a totalitarian philosophy and scheme of government.

Fairchild: Do you mind defining that term?

Dennis: No, not at all. I believe that that simply means an all-embracing social or national scheme. In other words . . .

Fairchild: That sounds like Communism to me.

Dennis: Communism is quite as totalitarianism as Fascism.

Fairchild: And what kind of totalitarianism do you like?

Dennis: Well, I prefer the Fascist because it doesn't expropriate private property and doesn't go out with a class war.


Phillips: Are you going to have a job for everybody too in that new totalitarian state?

Dennis: Well, if you don't have a job for everybody, it won't be a success as a totalitarian state. The idea implies that everybody is provided for and has a function and a place and is doing his bit.

Phillips: I suppose it wouldn't be fair to ask you if you'd have a job for women too, particularly the old maids?

Dennis: Well, there shouldn't be too many old maids. We would have jobs for the rest of the women as wives.

Phillips: I agree with you on that but there shouldn't be too many old maids.

Dennis: We would discourage old maids as much as possible.

Phillips: That's the first real argument you've made for your case.

Dennis: Thank you.

At around 43:50, the discussion turns into a question and answer session with the audience.


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