To DeWitt Emery [Letter 395]

Item Reference Code: 139_E4x_018_001

Date(s) of creation

June 10, 1949


DeWitt Emery


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June 10, 1949

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

Thank you, DeWitt,

for your letter of May 25. I waited to answer you until I got your new editorial in the May issue of “Pulling Together,” which I received yesterday.

Your letter made it clear to me that we were not really talking about the same thing in our argument. Our crucial disagreement, I think, is in our understanding of the word “rights.” It is the most fundamental principle of the American philosophy of life that human rights are inalienable. These rights are inherent in man’s nature and are not a gift from the Government. The idea of “rights” being granted to men by their Government is strictly European. A “right” granted by the Government is not a right, but a permission. This is exactly why no European country ever had any real freedom.

When you say that Government “sets up rights and privileges,” you are using the word “rights” in its colloquial, but not in its exact sense. It is true that colloquially people do speak of the Government granting somebody the right to do something, but this is a most dangerous misuse of the word—and I think it is very important that the fighters for free enterprise correct the public in this misuse. Now the word “privilege,” which you use in the above sentence, is absolutely correct in this context. What the Government grants to groups of people, in such legislation as the Wagner Act or the Taft-Hartley Act is special privileges—and that, you will agree, is an un-American form of legislation. In the American philosophy, all men are equal before the law, and no man or group may be granted special privileges by law. This is really the heart of the whole issue and of our disagreement.

I still do not understand how you came to accept the idea that “a Government of checks and balances” means checks

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Mr. DeWitt Emery     -2-     June 10, 1949

and balances placed on the citizens, instead of on the Government. You have taken it to mean that the rights of citizens or private groups must be balanced against one another and curbed or destroyed when necessary. What I can’t understand is how you have ignored the fact that the method of “checks and balances” in the American Constitution applies strictly, exclusively to the power of the Government—and to nothing else. Surely you know that this method was established for the sole purpose of limiting the Government’s power and making it impossible for the Government to become a dictatorship. This method applied solely to balancing the power of one branch of the Government against another; it was never intended to mean that the Government may distribute special privileges to private groups and balance group against group. If you want to apply that principle to the rights or activities of citizens—particularly to economic activity—you must realize that such a method can have only one result: the limiting of the productive activity of the man or group involved. Which, of course, is what these regulations do accomplish in practice. But do you approve of it and do you really care to advocate the growth of such a policy?

I must say, however, that I admire your conscientiousness. I think it was an act of intellectual honesty on your part that you decided to write another editorial if you felt that some point of the issue needed clarification. Very few people in public life are as conscientious nowadays, so I do appreciate your attitude.

I am planning to drive to New York by automobile and will get there probably about the middle of July. I am looking forward to seeing you then.

With best regards,



Ayn Rand