Winning the Peace
Sidney J. Abelson
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, May-June
George Washington warned his fellow-Americans that it was prudent in
time of peace to prepare for war. Today, an America which forsook the
sage advice of its first President is hastily trying to make up for
lost time. But Americans are not really worried about being able to
fulfill the unsought for, yet inevitable task of re-arming we know
beyond a doubt that that task will be prosecuted to a successful
Americans are worried not so much about the war problem as they are
about the peace problem. It is easy enough to make a war; it seems
impossible to make a lasting peace.
In a recent book entitled The American Choice, Vice-President
Wallace aptly summed up the present situation. He wrote:
"As we move on these immediate problems of
preparation (for defense), we must not lose sight of the problems of
the peace to come. For a while, if we carry on a preparedness
program considerably greater than the current one, we can put nearly
everyone to work and in so doing relieve the pressure of many types
of farm surplus. But when peace comes and men are no longer needed
in the Army and Navy and in the production of airplanes and
munitions, we shall face the same old problem of finding markets at
home and abroad for our non-military farm and city goods. We must
find ways to solve these problems while maintaining and deepening
our democracy at home. In some ways these problems of peace will
prove more difficult to solve than the problem of rearming to
prevent war from coming to this hemisphere. A generation ago we
organized efficiently for war. But we did not know how to organize
Those two closing sentences written by the Vice-President are worth
noting. While our sleeves are rolled up as we work day and night to
restore the fighting and winning power of the American people, we must
not forget that all our strength, all our will to win, all our resolve
to make the war serve high and noble purposes will be in vain if we do
not find a way to organize the peace after the war is won.
John G. Winant, the new American Ambassador to Great Britain said in
a recent talk, "We must be prepared to conquer the peace."
And he continued, "Only by finding a common basis of world
citizenship and by accepting far-reaching and progressive social
changes can we hope to secure the economic and social security which
will make any peace real and lasting."
Certainly all agree that the world (and let us not forget that
America is a part of the world) will soon have to undergo a drastic
revision in its economic structure if it is to survive. Those of us
who believe in the dignity of the individual realize that the theories
of Freedom must be made into a practical reality, a reality expressed
in economic security for all the people, if we are to be saved from
Communist-Nazi barbarism or utter chaos.
Let us turn to Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia
University, as another authority on the problem of peace. Dr. Butler
is a veteran of many decades in the struggle for peace. As Director of
the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace he saw, first-hand,
numberless proposals designed to eliminate force as arbiter in
international quarrels. With the vast resources of the Carnegie
Endowment available it seems certain that no stone was left unturned
in the search for a peace formula. But what has Dr. Butler to report
after so many years of seeking peace ? A few months ago he summed up
our situation in a few words: "It is a tired world. It is a
disappointed world." In the face of the facts, that is the best
Dr. Butler can tell us. He sought for peace, he cried, peace, peace
but there is no peace.
Every person of good-will, every being whose soul has not been
mortally scarred by the uncertainties and inequities of life today,
must feel this fact keenly beyond power of expression : the world is a
failure. This, then, is the reason for our deep concern about the
In previous times, though there were many deep changes in social
relationships, men did not depend so completely on what I might call
all-out social ideologies; they did not place their full faith in
rigid, self-conscious systems, such as Fascism, Nazism or Communism.
After the first World War, however, the economic way of life as
people knew it, began to break down, and a new type, an ultra-modern
form of tyrant forced himself on the scene. These tyrants carried
gatling guns in one hand and would-be sociological treatises in the
other. They were not, so they said, mere despots; but, on the
contrary, they came to serve the people, to carry out the will of
humankind and the mandates of historical development. To prove their
points they quoted from learned works and replied to protests with an
avalanche of distinctly non-academic propaganda discreetly reinforced
by the best instruments of physical persuasion ingenuity could devise
and money could buy.
It now seems more than a little strange, yet people by the millions
outside the dictator countries placed their hope for salvation in the
arch-leaders of destruction Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. But that is
all over, or nearly so.
These rigid "isms" Communism, Fascism and Nazism have
sacrificed whatever hold they might have had on our sympathies. Where,
then, shall we turn in our search for a way of life? The American
system, in certain fundamental respects, provides the only foundation
upon which a prosperous and peaceful social structure can be built.
Nevertheless, there is something wrong, something seriously wrong
with the American system if this were not so, our nation, the most
productive of any on earth, would not have to admit that one-third of
its people are ill-clothed, ill-housed and ill-fed. If this were not
so, we would not have suffered the frightful depression which even now
would be deepening were it not for the war program.
We in the United States can take comfort genuine comfort in the
reading of our Declaration of Independence, the preamble to our
Constitution and the Constitution itself, yet we should not allow the
existence of these documents the greatest and most inspiring in all
legislative history to blind us to the truth: Though the logic and
moral truth of our ideals have withstood attack for more than a
century and a half, we are now drifting further away from those ideals
instead of drawing closer to them.
The task before us today is to take what is good and sound in the
American system and build on it. We must build by building, not by
tearing the world apart and then hoping for the best. Lenin said, at
the time when so-called War Communism was taking a terrible toll of
human life in Russia, that "the present generation must plow
itself under as fertilizer for the generation to come." I believe
that that is an evil doctrine. No proposal that does not promise
immediate progress, progress for the people of today, is worth the
attention of conscientious men and women.
Let me suggest a measuring rod by which to judge a social doctrine: "Does
it offer to build a better life now? or does it tell me I must
sacrifice my life and my children's security in order to build an
indefinite Utopia in the indefinite future? Does it take the good
there is in the world as a starting point for building a better social
structure? Or does it say that everything we have now is bad and must
be destroyed before work can start on the new structure?" If you
use these measuring rods you will not be misled by the destroyers and
visionaries, who, being devoid of any understanding of faith in the
realities of today, indulge in opium dreams of a figmentary future.
There are a number of really sound beliefs and traditions in America
today. The sensible thing to do is to see what is good in our way of
life, to review the basic American ideals and find out, if we can, how
these ideals may be more fully realized. We must make our American
faith in democracy and freedom a living reality, and not a statutory
If we were able to vitalize the American ideals we should do more
than restore the prosperity of the United States great as would be
such an accomplishment; we should thereby help the world to realize a
tremendous advance in the ways of civilization.
"Ideologies" grow out of economic conditions. The evil "isms"
of Communism, Fascism and Naziism are slightly divergent developments
of a fundamental evil poverty, a poverty which is based on the denial
of a fundamental human right. This right is denied in America as well
as in those countries which have been debauched by totalitarianism.
For many years this country was a beacon light to the rest of the
world. Hundreds of millions of people looked to us not only for better
automobiles and better industrial goods, but for better social ideals
and a better social structure as well. Our depression served to
disillusion these many millions at a critical moment. We failed
humanity. When it most needed guidance in a sound way of life and
looked to us for that guidance, we turned to it a picture of
depression and unemployment as black as that of any in the nations
considered far inferior to us in the ability to solve social and
In spite of this failure, America is still the world leader thanks to
the soundness of its basic ideals. If we arrange our economic
structure in such a way that those ideals are fully realized as they
can be then America once more will become the hope of the world. Our
achievement will provide an example for all the world to follow.
Beginning with America, the world could experience an ever-widening "outbreak"
of prosperity and peace as it is now experiencing an ever-widening
outbreak of poverty and war. There is still time to undo the evil
works of dictators.
The first point to remember about America is that its social and
political system is based upon doctrines of natural rights. "We
hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal;
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable
rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness." Our whole social structure is an attempt to express
in the dynamics of human life a recognized law of the Creator, that
men, all men, are born with rights which no single man, group or
government of men can legitimately take away from them.
The authors of the Declaration of Independence accepted no argument
on this point. This, they said, was self-evident truth, truth not
subject to challenge, truth which is quickly verified by our
It was this recognition of the rights of man which made America
great. For Freedom is not only an abstract philosophical doctrine; it
is a concrete condition of progress: without it, industry languishes
and the spirit of man declines; with it, all the higher ambitions and
aspirations of man flourish.
The spirit of the Declaration of Independence is still our guide, and
still deserves to be our guide. We believe in freedom of the
individual; we believe in equality of opportunity; we believe in
self-reliance; we believe in the right of each to seek his own
destiny, economic and spiritual, in the way each sees fit.
In a large measure America has achieved its ideals. But that measure
is not large enough; our achievement is now being challenged by
ideologies from abroad and also, which is of more concern to us, by a
serious fault in our own social and economic structure.
The founders of this country were far-seeing men; yet, in spite of
all their genius, they permitted the continuance in America of two
institutions which directly contradicted the very principles of the
Declaration of Independence two institutions which, in both ethics and
economics, are totally incompatible with our ideals of freedom and
equality of opportunity.
One of these institutions chattel slavery is now a thing of the past.
The man who led our nation in the abolition of slavery also pointed
out the necessity for abolishing that other institution which in his
time threatened, and in our time continues to threaten the American
ideals an institution which is undermining our freedom and which has
already destroyed equality of opportunity and self- reliance of the
Abraham Lincoln said:
"The land, the earth God gave to man for his home,
sustenance, and support; and it should never be the possession of
any man, corporation, society, or unfriendly government any more
than the air or water, if as much. An individual, or company, or
enterprise requiring land should hold no more than is required for
their home and sustenance, and never more than they have in actual
use in the prudent management of their legitimate business."
Speculation in land was the second freedom-destroying institution
which our forefathers unwittingly retained in the new social order
they established here.
In Abraham Lincoln's time it was easier than it is now to see how
directly the speculative withholding of land from use affects the
payroll of every man and in aggregate the economic welfare of the
whole community. The effect of land speculation is no less direct
today than it was when we were predominantly an agricultural nation;
it only seems less direct.
The question of land speculation is an ethical as well as an economic
one. Man has a moral, a God-given right to use the earth whenever he
needs it for his sustenance; and this is a right which, in all
morality, no individual or corporation can take away from him
We do not stop to argue the point whether men are entitled to "life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness," to freedom of religion, of
the press, of speech and assembly; we know they are; we know that
without these rights and liberties economic life could not progress,
without them, the spirit of man must deteriorate and ultimately
descend to a state of debasement.
Just as freedom in religion and in civil rights is essential to
spiritual advancement; so freedom in the use of nature's resources is
essential to progress in the economic sphere. But that freedom to use
the earth when we need to use it is denied to the great majority of
us, thanks to the institution of speculation in land.
We have often heard it said that crime doesn't pay. That is a
negative approach to a solution of society's ills. We must prove that
virtue does pay. We must prove that freedom and democracy really are
efficient that they are worthwhile in terms of satisfying the economic
desires of all the people.
But there can be no real economic freedom without freedom to use the
earth the only universal and perpetually available workshop. As
Abraham Lincoln said, God gave the earth to man for his home,
sustenance and support and therefore should never be monopolized, any
more than air or water.
If we want to preserve democracy, if we are serious in our intention
to extend and fortify American liberties we must restore equality of
economic opportunity and that means equality in the right to find
employment in the great workshop of nature.
If we seriously mean to revitalize the American tradition of
self-reliance we must make it possible for men to be self-reliant, to
find employment according to their choice and to engage in economic
enterprises according to their abilities and experience. And that can
be accomplished only if we make land easily accessible for use in both
city and country.
Land speculation is in effect a monopoly which curtails employment,
lowers wages and the profits of non-monopolistic business, and
restricts enterprise. A people shut off from the land become
increasingly dependent for employment on a few monopolized industries
and the government. There can be no real economic freedom, no real
free enterprise system, if the land is not freely, that is, easily
Here is the great opportunity that presents itself now to America
after the war is won by the democracies, we can win the peace. We can
solve the paradox of starvation in the midst of plenty, we can
invigorate the traditions of liberty and indeed, extend and secure
them for generations to come.
But all this can be done only by making freedom a complete and
practical reality. And that is something that requires more than fine
phrases. It calls for a new abolition the abolition of the
freedom-destroying speculation in land. It calls for the establishment
of every man's right to use the earth on equal terms with every other