To DeWitt Emery [Letter 389]

Item Reference Code: 139_E4x_014_001

Date(s) of creation

May 8, 1949


DeWitt Emery


[Page 1]
May 8, 1949

Mr. DeWitt Emery
National Small Business Men’s Assn.
39 South La Salle Street
Chicago 3, Illinois

Thank you, DeWitt,

for your interesting letter. This is like old times again—here we are in a political argument.

I don’t want to lecture too much, but I can’t let an argument of mine “fall flat on its face.” Here is where I am going to make it fall on yours.

You say: “In order to sustain your argument you must contend that the rights guaranteed to the individual by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are also guaranteed to groups of individuals known as labor unions. I am sure you would not for a moment make any such contention and consequently, your argument falls flat on its face.”

What do you mean here? A group, as such, has no rights. Rights belong only to individuals. By joining any group or organization, an individual can neither acquire extra rights, nor lose the ones he possessed. According to the collectivist principle, “society” has extra rights which its individual members do not have; for instance, a man may not murder his neighbors, but may do so if he becomes a member of a social “majority.” The opposite of this is just as ridiculous. You cannot maintain that a worker loses his rights when he joins a labor union.

The Wagner Act gave labor unions the sort of collectivistic “rights” which no group may possess. It forced men to join unions against their will. You cannot correct this by giving the government power to regulate union activities. That would be only a further step of the same injustice. First, men are forced into unions; then, as union members, they are forced to work against their will. Is this the free-enterprise system?

[Page 2]
Mr. DeWitt Emery     – 2 –     May 8, 1949

The root of the evil is the government’s interference into economics. To correct the evil, you must remove the root—not add more of the same evil. The basic principle is that the government has no right to regulate the relations between employers and employees. These have to be conducted on a strictly voluntary basis. Nobody should be compelled to join a union, nor to bargain with a union, nor to remain at work if his union calls a strike.

You say: “All the injunction in the Taft-Hartley Act does is give the government the right to curb a union when in pursuit of its own selfish aims and purposes it carries its activities to the point where public health and safety are jeopardized. If you object to this, then you must subscribe to Green’s contention that ‘Labor unions can do no wrong.’”

What I object to is the government’s “right to curb a union”—or to curb anyone’s economic activities. I object to the collectivist principle of the government’s right to bring force and compulsion into economics. “Labor unions can do no wrong” has nothing whatever to do with this issue. No group or person can “do wrong” in a free economy—because none can use force against others. Others are free to deal with such group or not, as they please; then objective economic conditions decide every issue. Without political regulations, no group has the power to stop or threaten the economy of the whole country.

I most emphatically object to an idea such as the government’s right to act in protection “of public health and safety” with no further definition of those terms. What constitutes “public safety?” According to the American Constitution, the duties of the government in respect to public safety are clearly defined and specified. These duties are police protection and military protection—defense against violence from criminals inside the country and against violence from foreign aggressors. But if we begin to believe that the government may take any action it pleases whenever it decides that “the public safety” is threatened, if economic matters begin to be treated as “threats to public safety”—then I will remind you that this is the sole slogan through which all the horrors of history have ever been perpetrated. The guillotine during the French Revolution was being used by a “Committee of Public Safety.” The liquidation of political suspects in Russia is done on the ground that their ideas may be a threat to “Public Safety.”

Since it is government regulations which have brought about a condition where a strike can endanger a whole country, then it is these regulations which have to be removed.

[Page 3]
Mr. DeWitt Emery     – 3 –     May 8, 1949

But what you are advocating is that the government, after having created a threat to public safety, be given more power in the name of that same public safety.

You say: “A republic is essentially a government of checks and balances, and in order to endure, whenever it sets up rights for an individual or group must also set up a check to be used to bring the individual or group back into balance if the right it established is abused.”

Where did you get this idea? Is it one of your own, or is it something that you have heard or read somewhere? If it is this last, and if you remember where, I would appreciate it very much if you would tell me. I have a reason for asking. I have an idea of my own as to where this sort of theory came from, and I will tell you afterwards, but first I would like to know where you got it, if you can remember.

Where did you get the idea that the principle of “checks and balances” is a sort of universal principle which applies to everything and everybody? It is a principle which applies only to the structure of the government, and its purpose is to limit the government’s power. It most certainly does not apply to individual rights. Individual rights are an absolute, not to be “balanced” or limited by anybody. (And don’t answer me that an individual’s right to murder, for instance, is limited. Such a right never existed in the first place.) It certainly is not the government nor society that sets up rights for an individual or group.” These rights are not “set up” (nor “rigged up” nor “framed up”). They are inherent in the nature of man. Man is endowed with them by the fact of his birth. He does not receive them from society. The sole purpose and justification of government is to protect these rights. Government (according to the American principle) is the watchman of these rights—not the owner and giver.

Now a question: Why did you omit, from your answer to me, all reference to the Wagner Act? Can one properly discuss the evils which the Taft-Hartley Act purports to correct, without considering the cause of the evils?

I’d love to hear from you on this, but if the discussion is becoming too lengthy for letters, I’ll be glad to continue it in person this summer.

With best regards,