Norman Cousins, George N. Schuster
The Meaning of Freedom, America 1957
VTR Date: July 7, 1957
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GUESTS: DOCTOR GEORGE N. SHUSTER, NORMAN COUSINS
ANNOUNCER: The Open Mind, free to examine, to question, to disagree. Our subject today, “The Meaning of Freedom, America 1957.” Your host on The Open Mind is Richard D. Heffner, Author and Historian.
MR. HEFFNER: Our program today, our program subject, is quite appropriate to the fact that this is the Fourth of July weekend. We are not concerned with the use of the subject, The Meaning of Freedom, America 1957, as necessarily just a patriotic gesture ,though maybe in the larger sense a concern for freedom would be the most patriotic thing we could involve ourselves with these days.
We are concerned with the broader question of freedom in America today, the meaning of freedom in our own times as contrasted with the meaning of freedom at the time that the Declaration of Independence was written back many years ago.
Now my guests today are two gentlemen who have given a great deal of thought to this subject, and let me intro¬duce them now. My first guest is Dr. George N. Shuster. Dr. Shuster is the President of Hunter College here in New York City, My second guest is Mr. Norman Cousins. Mr. Cousins is the Editor of the Saturday Review. Now gentlemen, I think it might be most appro¬priate to begin our discussion of the nature or the meaning of freedom in America 1957 by, well, turning to you, Dr. Shuster, You are a member of the board of directors of the Fund for the Republic, and the Fund is beginning now a survey of the meaning of freedom; and I suppose the question that occurs to me is whether you gentlemen in examining the meaning of freedom have come up with the thought that it may mean different things today from what it meant at the time of Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Suppose I start off by asking you that question.
DR. SHUSTER: Mr. Heffner, the question is very good indeed. I suppose that the most famous Fourth of July address in our history was delivered at Gettysburg a number of years ago; and you will recall that it committed our nation and our people to a new birth of freedom,
We feel, those of us who have been working with the program of the Fund for the Republic, that this emphasis on new needs to be explored at the present time. It is very probable that freedoms as they were defined in a relatively primitive agricultural society have to be reinterpreted in terms of the complexities midst which we now live, domestically, the corporation, the union, et cetera; the problem of security, and then of of course in a broader context, the meaning of freedom in international life, These are questions which the Fund hopes to explore6 We have no definitive answers as yet and of course we are modest enough to admit that the replies that we do get to the questions we ask ourselves may not be earth-shattering. We merely pray that possibly some light may come. MR. HEFFNER: Mr, Cousins?
MR. COUSINS: I wonder whether Dr. Shuster would agree that though the problems today are new that the principles are exactly the same as the ones that were defined very carefully by the men at Philadelphia in 1787, and earlier than that by Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, because here you had a group of men who were concerned with the problem of freedom in its broadest sense. How does freedom survive? What does freedom require? What is the relationship of the individual to his government? Now they could not anticipate all the specific problems that would come up, but what they could do would be to define the broad principles, the means by which a free people might approach these problems, and in that sense I think that the discussion of freedom may in a very large sense be the same as it was in l776
DR. SHUSTER: Mr. Cousins, I would agree that in so far as a discussion of principle is concerned that anybody who begins with the assumption that human beings are free and that therefore they have every right to expect a recognition of that freedom will not find the vanishing of time a barrier to dis¬cussion, Merely that you enter into new relationships, one with the other.
MR. COUSINS: That’s right.
DR. SHUSTER: As you do for example in the union or the corporation, and that these relationships have to be reinterpreted in terms of a basic philosophy. I of course agree that the basic philosophy is the same.
MR. HEFFNER: Suppose I raise the question though as to whether the basic philosophy can be the same. You gentlemen say that this is a matter of relationships to a con¬siderable extent. We did not have the giant corporation, the union, in Jefferson’s time, so that our concern is the relationship of the individual and freedom to these other forces in 1957* But suppose one thought that the very concept of freedom was peculiar to the agrarian community in which Jefferson and the founding fathers lived? Wouldn’t you have to assume then the possibility that freedom was peculiar to 1776 and not 1957?
MR. COUSINS: Well, I think that when you go through the Constitutional Debates from 1787 to 1789 the most fascinating thing that emerges from a reading of those Constitutional Debates, is that these men were concerned with history and not merely with their own agrarian society. They wanted to find out how it is that tyranny comes into being, what goes wrong in government, What is it that causes some governments to deteriorate, degenerate into oppression? And so they were looking beyond their awn time. They were looking back but they were also looking forward to find out whether it might be possible to devise a structure of society, a government not of men but of laws, a government that would enable people to meet new problems, because they were concerned with change* They did not think that history was going to remain exactly as it was at that time. I do not think that Jefferson or later at the Constitutional Convention that Madison or Hamilton or Jay felt necessarily that the agrarian society that they knew so well would last. The thing that concerned them was to create — again I say — a structure of economics and balances by which no man could commit an error in secret, and it is this business of keeping the errors out in the open and maintaining the right of the people to change that represents to me the peculiar con¬tribution that was made at that time.
DR. SHUSTER: Mr. Cousins, T agree; but I would like to point out if I may that between the Founding Fathers and ourselves there lie certain historic areas of definition of freedom which now plague us. For instance; the idea that free enterprise means that you are free to do anything you can get by with, and as a matter of fact the Founding Fathers had nothing else in mind except this sort of predatory freedom. And then you have another whole area which think has corrupted modern civilization as a whole, and this was the area of the assumption of non-freedom.
We were all the victims of a heredity and environment and anytime_ we made up our mind to do something we were merely deluding ourselves. This very prevalent conception of the individual’s helplessness in the face of history now of course is here to startle us because we have rediscovered freedom.
MR. HEFFNER: In what respect Dr. Shuster? What do you mean we have rediscovered it?
DR. SHUSTER: I think what has happened to us is this: Science has placed into our hands magnificent instruments for good, and terrible instruments for woe, and we know that we can use these or not use them, That is “we,” it may not be possible for the individual to decide, but we collectively can do this. Now then if that is so then the individual is also free to decide to do certain things over which he has control, and in my judgment we join the Founding Fathers at a moment when our basic conception of our own ethical responsibility is the same as theirs, and not until that time.
MR. COUSINS: Yes, I agree completely. The thing that bothered the Founding Fathers was the ease with which good men can become bad if given unchecked power, Lord Acton’s famous aphorism comes to mine, and at that time-
DR. SHUSTER: All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
MR. HEFFNER: Tends to corrupt, and tends to corrupt absolutely; and maybe that is one of the things we have forgotten. the Founding Fathers, the fact that you could have good men, but you put them under certain circumstances where they can become the judge of what they themselves do and also can shield their actions ffom the public by deciding what is to be known and what is not to be known. You put a man in that position and that tends to corrupt that particular man.
MR. HEFFNER: But Mr. Cousins, they were talking about government then, weren’t they? They were concerned about those in government who might exercise tyranny over the freedom of men. But we seem to have come to a time when, well, the study of the Fund is concerned not so much — well, I do not know whether it is concerned very much with government, but certaitly it is concerned with the corporation and with the union. What about all these other factors that have now come up to limit freedom, to limit access to information, and to limit our capacity to make a choice?
MR. COUSINS: But here the point that Dr. Shuster made it seems to me is very basic, which is that we grew up with the feeling that it was impossible for the individual to change the world around him, The ideas of the determinism, political determinism, collective determinist.. You had as a matter of fact a political philosophy, and a rather dangerous one, based on the idea of such determinism.
Well now, we grew up with these ideas, but now we discover that if the individual does not act in behalf of freedom no one will, that government by itself cannot preserve freedom unless the people as individuals are determined that it
shall be preserved; and more than that, know how it is to be preserved.
DR. SHUSTER: Mr. Cousins, I was very much interested in observing the situation that I found in Germany recently. Of course I have been there off and on, as you know, and just have come. back. One of the curious phenomena is that the philosophy of determinism, which Marxism assentially is completely. dead. Theraarent 47 more Marxists, not even in the Social Democratic Party, but nobody has as yet come up with anything to take its place. In other words, you have an outlook on the major questions of political and democratic responsibility but no center round which to focus these things, which is once more I think a reason why we should be grateful to you for having called our attention again to the focusing point that we do have in our tradition, and it is a magnificent thing. We do have the Declaration; Ve have the Preamble; we have t he greatest figures in our history who are committed to these things, and when you look at our situation from abroad you say how fortunate we ought to feel and how certain that in these things we have our greatest treasure, but we do not feel that way about it, which is I think the real hazard that liberty encounters in the United States now
MR. HEFFNER: But if we do not feel that way -¬and you say this is the real hazard — how then can one be shall we say optimistic or hopeful for the future? You say that there are now vast areas in which we can make choice, but if we as a people generally do not recognize this what difference does it make?
DR.. SHUSTER: Well you see probably, Mr. Heffner, I suffer from a professional weakness which is a belief in education. This I will not defend. I just happen to be afflicted with this disease. It seems to me that it is now quite conceivable that education in the broadest sense of the term — by that I do not mean just a school or the college, I mean everybody who has an educational function to perform from the President of the United States on down — we have a chance to make clear what is now involved in our assuMPtionof free responsibility.
MR. HEFFNER: Now let me follow up with this question. What is now involved in our assumption, or what can be a legitimate definition or statement of the meaning of freedom in our times?
DR. SHUSTER: Well now that, you have given me a question which I trust you will not mark me on too severely, but I would say that probably the basic fact remains this, that we are all conscious of things that have been interposed between us as citizens and our government in terms of collective forces, of which of course the corporation and union are only two, There is the whole business of government security. There are a million other things.
Now I think the first thing we have to do is to ask breathlessly for information about all these things and become clear in our own minds as to the surroundings, intellectually and spiritually, in which we now find ourselves, and therefore I would say that the Preamble to modern freedom and its preservation is information.
MR. HEFFNER: As an editor, Mr. Cousins, do you go along with that thought?
MR. COUSINS: I could not agree more, and it seems to me that the most serious shortage in the United States today, the most critical shortage is not a shortage of raw materials, not a shortage of uranium or petroleum or plutonium, but a shortage of information, a shortage of working knowledge, and it is not an easy shortage to meet because it involves something more even than education, Dr. Shuster, The role of education is critical but it seems to me that since most of our people are not going to be in Dr. Shuster’s classes we are going to have to find some way of getting information aver to the American people on the basis of which they can make their decisions.
I was shocked, for example, recently abroad to see how little or rather when I returned from abroad from the Far East, to see how little the American people knew about the areas which were of most vital concern to them. Now the Soviet Union I think is preparing today for a showdown on the battleground of world public opinion. Now it may come to a military showdown in the world. We hope that it will not, but even without a military showdown we can have, it seems to me, a showdown for the majority on the battleground of world public opinion.
It seems to me that the Soviet believesthat she can win in the world precisely the point that it represents or speaks for the majority of the world’s peoples; therefore, if we are to preserve our own freedom, and if we are to win on this new showdown that is coming up in the world it becomes important to ask whether we know exactly what the problem is. In short, whether we know as much about the majority of the world’s peoples as we will have to know in order to retain the leadership of the majority of the world’s peoples. And here I am very much afraid we are substantially cut off from a large part of the world, especially the East; and I am happy that education now is recognizing its responsibility to deal with Eastern cultures as well as the West.
DR. SHUSTLR: We are trying to do a little bit, but now if I may revert to what you said initially, that what we must rely upon are all the ways that are in our possession for maintaining in our people a belief through the free exercise of its moral judgment and of its intelligence it can modify the course of history, well then I may be a bit immodest, I think the thing that the Fund for the Republic did through the Sherwood Awards pointed up something that is significant.
I think this medium which we are participating in is a medium that can make a tremendous contribution to enlight¬enment, and I think many people have been trying to do that, and we ought to be grateful to them for it.
I do not think of education — if I may repeat that again — as being tied down to a classroom or anything of the kind. It is an assemblage of all the formative influences for betterment that we can bring to bear upon our problem, You talk about the East. I am also very pessimistic about the West.
MR. HEFFNER: I would like to get back to this question, the general area of the meaning of freedom. How do we answer those people who raise the question that I tried to raise a little while ago, that in our times aren’t there too many pressures that stem from our times, that stem from an industrial¬ized, mechanized society, that stem from a society in which the organization man plays such a large part? In which motivational research and the molding of public opinion plays such a large. part. Isn’t it extremely difficult in our time even given the use of formal education and informal education to recreate or give a rebirth to our older concept of freedom?
MR. COUSINS:, Yes, Dr. Shuster spoke a moment ago about the situation as he found it in Germany and how dis¬heartened he was to see such confusion, the fact that you did not have positive goals.
I wonder, Dr. Shuster, whether to some extent the same thing might not exist here in the United States, because wherever I go in the country I find that the individual has this feeling of helplessness. He knows that government by itself cannot do the job, that government looks to the individual for help, that public opinion today is sovereign, and yet the individual wants to know, “What can I do?”
am sure you have had this experience as other lecturers have had in talking to an audience about a program for America and then having someone get up afterwards and say, “Dr. Shuster, you have made a sale. Now where do I buy the article? What do you want me to do?”
DR. SHUSTER: Oh yes, that happens to us all the time. You see, I not being an editor I have an easy time of it. You see I simply answer in terms of a philosophical comment. I say, You are responsible for the things that you can be respon¬sible for. For example, you can be responsible for what goes on in your community; you can be responsible for your schools; you can be responsible for how you use sleeping pills, for example,which is one of the great boons of modern medicine.”
MR. COUSINS: I wish you would enlarge on that. We had an interesting discussion upstairs about sleeping pills.
MR. HEFFNER Sleeping pills and freedom.
DR. SHUSTER: I think a sleeping pill, Mr. Cousins, is a good illustration because here is something that is a boon to mankind, a creation of science for which we should be very grateful, but the misuse of this boon of science by individuals is an American catastrophe, and particularly I would say a catastrophe in terms of young people, It is not every day that you get a spectacular newspaper story about somebody having taken too many, but bound up with this thing are all sorts of subsidiary phenomena. Now if somebody comes along and says to me, “Look, I do not have force of character and intelligence enough to know how to use a sleeping pill but I know how to solve the problems of the United States Government–”
MR. COUSINS: You know, Dr. Shuster, I am even more concerned about the tranquilizer situation than I am about the sleeping pill situation. I mean could anything be more absurd than the fact that the nation today seems to regard a tranquilizer pill as a staple of the American diet? The fact that a person cannot get through the day without a tranquilizer? What we can do, it seems to me, is to tranquilize ourselves into a loss of our freedoms. I think people should be concerned. There are things we should worry about.
DR. SHUSTER: Of course you can. You can take a tranquilizer at twelve o’clock noon and then a benzedrine at six o’clock at night, and in this curious twilight try to distort your life out of any semblance of reality.
MR. HEFFNER: Well since a good many people seem to follow this road to reality, or unreality, isn’t this the question that we are faced with, that a good many people in our own times feel helpless, and hopeless, as you said, Mr. Cousins, and we come back to these other giant forces that you have been concerned with.
We have talked about freedom and government, freedom in the individual. What about freedom and the other giant organizations? What about the individual freedom, the individual’s freedom and the corporation, the individual’s freedom and the union? Aren’t these giant corporations into considerable extent in our own times limiting the area of choice of the individual? Jefferson did not know of these conglomera¬tions of power, Can we assume that freedom means the same thing today, Dr. Shuster, when we have these giant organizations?
DR. SHUSTER: Mr, Heffner, those are the questions that we expect to find answers to through the study which the Fund will promote; but I will say thist that I think myself — possibly it is the result of having been born in Wisconsin and now enjoying a-relatively ripe old age — but I think one of the difficulties is that all these things like corporations and labor unions are like the monstrous lions the children used to see in their dreams which were going to crawl up the stairs and eat them. Now once you learn how to look at this thing, see, realistically, and find out what it is, what it has been doing, what its impact on society is, it becomes a quite manageable human enterprise because it is made by men. And it is very sensitive, I think, to criticism. I think, for example, my judgment of Mr. White’s and Mr. Reisman’s effort to explore the situation is that they have scared more industrialists half to death than they have done anything else. Industrialists have not been aware of the fact that they have been creating this kind of atmosphere that White describes.
MR. HEFFNER: And you feel that the organization man then exists primarily in our imaginations?
DR. SHUSTER: I think he exists in reality but I think once you take a good look at him then he reacts just like Babbitt’ did in Sinclair Lewis’ book,. The supply of Babbitts went down catastrophically after that book appeared.
MR. COUSINS: Yes, ridicule is a powerful weapon, isn’t it?
MR. HEFFNER: Do you think, Mr, Cousins, that ridicule is sufficient in an age when the giant union, the giant corporation, giant government, giant universities and giant publications have taken the place of the small unit of living and of produetion and of education?
MR. COUSINS: No, I do not think that it is. I think it is just one means of perhaps highlighting the problem to the extent that a problem when recognized the closer to the solution that may make a contribution, but it seems to me that the real danger in any situation is when the focus of ultimate power passes from the people. If, for example, your ultimate power today resided in the larger union or in the large corporation then I would be pessimistic, but so long as your ultimate power remains outside these aggregations then as Dr. Shuster said reasonable men and determined men and informed men are in a position to act. I cannot think of anything that cannot be done, that cannot be achieved by the American people if they really want it; therefore, the big problem is what do the American people want? And I think they better be pretty careful of what it is they want because they are likely to get it.
DR. SHUSTER: I think they are not only likely to get it but they are going to have to pay for it, and if they buy the wrong merchandise the bill is going to come awfully high.
MR. HEFFNER: I think that is a very interesting concept and I think it is one that harks back to the end of the determinism that you were talking about. You say, Mr. Cousins, that what we as a people want we will get and therefore we had better be careful of what we want. I think this is an inter¬esting and in our times possibly rather a novel approach. Possibly it harks back to the Jefferson of 1776.
MR. COUSINS: Yes, the meaning of freedom it seems to me is that the individual is in a position to choose. It seems to me that the individual in our time. is in a position to choose, and that is why it becomes important for those who are concerned with the engineering of choice in this country to recognize that this is a powerful responsibility, and a real one.
MR. HEFFNER: You say the engineering of choice and of consent. Doesn’t this in a sense negate the notion of freedom though?
MR. COUSINS: Well, I was not thinking of manipulation. I was thinking about the whole mechanism, the whole structure of choice rather than people who feel that public opinion exists only for the purpose of being manipulated.
MR. HEFFNER: You mean then editors and educators are those people who do not manipulate but formulate?
MR. COUSINS: Yes; there is one other aspect of the problem, Mr. Heffner, that I wondered–
MR. HEFFNER; In a half minute.
MR. COUSINS: In a half minute. –what might be pertinent, namely, the f act that we cannot have freedom in the world today either for the individual or for society or for government unless we have a workable peace in the world, and that the greatest threat to freedom today is represented by the lack of adequate means to achieve peace in the world, and that the problem of achieving peace is something that is far too difficult for a government by itself to accomplish; therefore, it seems to me that the individual who wants to make a contribution to freedom can do that best today by making a knowledgeable and informed contribution to peace.
MR. HEFFNER: I am sure you agree with that,
DR. SHUSTER: I say Amen to that.
MR. HEFFAER: A good way to end the program. Thank you so much, Dr. Shuster, Mr. Cousins.
Next week The Open Mind will not be seen here in New York City but you will be able to see “Ask Congress ” WRCA–TV’s new program, Senator Jacob Javits will be the guest on “Ask Congress.”
Up in Boston WGBH will be putting on a new program and a program in which we will devote an hour, not a half hour, but a whole hour to a discussion of a subject that we talked about here on The Open Mind. The subject will be Drugs, Psychotherapy, and the Human Mind, up in Boston next week on
WGBH. Here in New York WRCA-TV will show “Ask Congress,” with Senator Javits as its guest. Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: WRCA has just presented The Open Mind, Your Host on The Open Mind is Richard D. Heffner. Mr. Heffner’s guests today were Dr. George N. Shuster and Mr. Norman Cousins, If you have any comments or questions on today’s program or if you have any suggestions for future programs please send them to The Open Mind in care of this station.