1151 S. Broadway
Los Angeles 15, Calif.
January 13, 1950
Mr. Nathan Blumenthal
1635 S. Orange Drive
Los Angeles 35, California
Dear Mr. Blumenthal:
You asked me a great many philosophical questions and offered as a reason for me to answer you the fact that you have a high regard for my “intelligence and personal integrity.” That would be part of a valid reason. The other part is the question of whether your interest in philosophical ideas is serious and sincere. It is hard for me to judge from your letter, but I will take the chance and answer you.
(1) You ask what right had Kira in WE THE LIVING to object to Leo being permitted to die, since “in the days before the revolution, how many other Leos belonging to the lower classes were similarly sentenced to death because of the indifference of the upper classes?” Do you understand the difference between some starving man whom you did not help—and—a man whom you tied hand and foot and left to starve? The issue in WE THE LIVING is not the indifference of any classes, upper or lower. The issue is this: Before the revolution, people were not forbidden to earn their living and doctors were not forbidden to practice. After the revolution, the State forbade all human beings to take care of themselves. It forbade men to control the means of their own livelihood. It prevented Leo from being able to feed himself.
Nobody owes anybody any help, material or otherwise. Nobody is responsible for another human being, but nobody has the right to chain him. That is the issue between Capitalism and Socialism. As far as Russia is concerned, the Czarist regime was a rotten form of absolutism which was falling apart and Russia was moving slowly in the direction of Capitalism and freedom. The Communists threw it back into a form of slavery and savagery infinitely more vicious than any known in recorded history.
(2) You quote Kira’s statement that “she can imagine no worse injustice than justice for all,” and ask whether this is a belief to which I subscribe. No, it is not. It is a bad sentence when taken out of its context.
(3) You ask: “Do you believe Capitalism to be the only known system under which an individualistic morality can be practiced? Or do you believe it is the only practical system which is known?” Capitalism is the only such system possible or conceivable—and I will challenge anyone to indicate even a shadow of a doubt to the contrary, provided the question is discussed by rational beings, meaning: by people who consider no argument valid except a rationally demonstrable
What do you mean when you refer to “the only practical system”? What other sort of system is worth discussing? If you have read my printed letter, a copy of which you requested, you know what I think of people who make a distinction between the theoretical and the practical. Of what use is a theory which cannot be applied to practice? And how can we deal with practice if we have no theoretical principles to guide our actions? By what standard do you estimate something as desirable or good, if that thing is not within the realm of the humanly possible?
You ask: “Speaking purely theoretically, would you hold Capitalism above the political philosophy of Anarchism?” I most certainly would and do. If you are sincere in your desire to clarify your own confusion, the best advice I can give you is to ask yourself just exactly what you mean by such a line as “speaking purely theoretically.”
(4) This little question of yours would take a heavy philosophical volume to answer, so I can only indicate a brief answer. You ask, how do I reconcile my atheism with my belief in free-will. The answer is: It is not true that “each philosophy, carried to its logical conclusion, excludes the other”, as you say. Most philosophers, in effect, have offered us the choice between a universe consisting of God, or a universe consisting of blind matter. Where is man in the picture? They have figured out everything, except that they forgot the existence of man. Man is a being endowed with consciousness—an attribute which matter does not possess. His consciousness is the free, non-material element in him. But this attribute is in no way proof of the existence of a super-being, God, who is pure consciousness without matter. You say that each philosophy excludes the other when “carried to its logical conclusion”? Well, observe that both kinds of philosophy—the religious or the mechanistic—find it necessary to deny the validity or the existence of logic, somewhere in their argument, in order to get away with the fancy structures which they then proceed to build.
(5) You ask what I think of a man such as Romain Rolland who, you say, “has fought all his life for the emancipation of the individual from the herd and has at the same time been strongly sympathetic to the cause of socialism.” Why confine the question to Romain Rolland? Any man who does that is a fool, whether his name is Romain Rolland or Joe Doakes. The definition of a fool is: a man who fails to make rational connections. What do you think of a person who wants to have his cake and eat it, too?
A good novelist or dramatist is not necessarily a good thinker. Just take a look at the political ideas of Tolstoy, or Dostoeyevski, or Mark Twain, or Bernard Shaw.
Romain Rolland was certainly not an individualist in his thinking—if, by thinking, we mean the content of his ideas and not his alleged or professed intentions. Rolland certainly did a lot of emotionalizing about the individual—but what, actually, were his
ideas? In JEAN CHRISTOPHE he has his hero coming to some sort of altruism or “duty to mankind” or “service to society” attitude. Well, the Communists proclaim that their intention is to make men free and prosperous; but if you see that the actual application of their ideas leads to (and can only lead to) concentration camps and mass starvation, would you still accept them as champions of freedom and prosperity, just because they say so?
When you say that Rolland observed “the break-down of the capitalistic system”—you really show complete ignorance of the Capitalistic system. What break-down? No European country ever had a real Capitalistic system. What they had, during the XIX century and up to World War I, was a precarious kind of mixture: their old bureaucratic systems of controlled economy plus some Capitalistic elements of free production and free trade, borrowed from America. So long as and to the extent to which this last predominated, the European countries were achieving progress, prosperity and decency. But the collectivist-statist trend was rising and accelerating, particularly since the middle of the XIX century. The “break-down” which Rolland saw was not the break-down of Capitalism. It was the break-down of Europe abandoning Capitalism—the return to statism, to a controlled economy. Just exactly as the present break-down in America is not the failure of Capitalism, but the result of men abandoning the principles of Capitalism and introducing socialistic controls. If you see a man taking larger and larger doses of poison and then collapsing—will you blame it on the failure of his natural physical constitution?
When you say that Rolland was a fighter against “imperialistic capitalism”—you show the same kind of ignorance. “Imperialistic Capitalism” is a contradiction in terms. There’s no such thing and never was. It’s a foolish tag taken from Marx. You really should have discovered, by now, that every economic tenet propounded by Marx was a fallacy—and has been exposed as such many, many times. Capitalism is the one system that leads to peace, not to war.
But now let me ask you a question: Do you really know what Capitalism is? It is my impression that you don’t and that you have read nothing on the subject except of Marxist or Leftist origin. And this is the reason why I did not answer the letter you wrote to me from Canada. That letter showed such an appalling ignorance of Capitalism that I questioned your sincerity. I thought that a man who was sincerely interested in economic and political questions would have studied something besides Marxism before he attempted to argue on the subject. I am still puzzled by it, but I am taking a chance on answering you this time.
There are many questions I could answer about Capitalism, because the complete case for Capitalism has never been stated. But I cannot attempt to teach it to you from scratch. I think you should acquire the rudimentary knowledge of it by yourself. As a start, I would suggest that you read two books which are the best ones written so far on the subject of Capitalism: THE GOD OF THE MACHINE by Isabel Paterson, published by Putnam’s in 1943 (this might be out of print, so you would have to get it from some large library), and ECONOMICS IN ONE LESSON by Henry Hazlitt (this is still available and, I believe, has even been issued in a 25¢ reprint edition, so you should have no
trouble in obtaining it). These two books will give you a good, basic knowledge of just what Capitalism is and how it works.
Now if your interest in ideas is sincere and you really think that I am the person who can help you (if you are not prompted merely by a desire to correspond with some writer), I will suggest that you write to me, telling me something about yourself, that is, who you are and what is your profession—and, if you wish to ask more questions, give me your telephone number. If I find it possible, I will call you and we can make an appointment to meet. I believe that I might be able to help you in conversation—but I cannot undertake to write many letters of this length, and the questions which interest you cannot be answered briefly or casually.