Biographies & Memoirs

13. At a Gathering for Freedom of Opinion

WE HAVE COME here today to defend the freedom of opinion guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, and also in defense of the freedom of teaching. By the same token we wish to draw the attention of intellectual workers to the great danger that now menaces these liberties.

How is such a thing possible? Why is the danger more menacing than in years gone by? The centralization of production has brought about a concentration of productive capital in the hands of a relatively small number of the citizens of the land. This small group exerts an overwhelming domination over the institutions for the education of our youth as well as over the great newspapers of the country. At the same time it wields enormous influences on the government. This in itself is already sufficient to constitute a serious menace to the intellectual freedom of the nation. But there is the additional fact that this process of economic concentration has given birth to a problem previously unknown—permanent unemployment for part of those who are able to work. The federal government is endeavoring to solve this problem by systematic control over economic processes—that is to say, by a limitation of the so-called free interplay of the fundamental economic forces of supply and demand.

But circumstances are stronger than men. The dominant economic minority, heretofore autonomous and responsible to no one, has placed itself in opposition to this limitation of its freedom of action, demanded for the good of the whole people. For its defense this minority is resorting to every known legal method at its disposal. We need not, therefore, be surprised that they are using their preponderant influence on the schools and the press to prevent youth from being enlightened on this problem which is so vital to the sound and peaceful development of life in this country.

It is for this reason that of late we have had to witness repeatedly the dismissal of worthy university teachers against the will of their colleagues, actions of which the press has informed the public but inadequately. It is also to the pressure of this economically dominant minority that we owe the unhappy institution of the teacher’s oath, which is meant to diminish the freedom of teaching. I need not dwell on the point that freedom of teaching and of opinion in book or press is the foundation for the sound and natural development of any people. The lessons of history—especially the very latest chapters—are all too plain on this score. It is the bounden duty of everyone to stand with every ounce of energy for the preservation and enhancement of these liberties and to exert all possible influence in keeping public opinion aware of the existing danger.

These difficulties can be solved only when our great economic problem is solved in a democratic manner; but the groundwork for such a solution must be prepared by preserving freedom of expression. This, moreover, is also the only method by which the worst damage can be prevented.

Let all of us therefore summon our strength. Let us be tirelessly on guard, lest it be said later of the intellectual elite of this land: Timidly and without a struggle they surrendered the heritage handed down to them by their forefathers—a heritage of which they were not worthy.

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