Chapter 7 - Freedom from Fear

Posted in The Forgotten People

The Four Freedoms
Freedom from Fear (continued)

Last week I spoke to you about the fourth of the President's freedoms - freedom from fear - with particular reference to freedom from international fear and the things which seemed to me to be necessary if we were to get rid of it.

Tonight I want to say something more about the fourth freedom from a different point of view - the local or domestic point of view as distinct from the international. For we must frankly admit that fear has not only been a large and deadly element in international relations. It has also been a recognized and potent instrument of domestic policy. Indeed, a powerful case might be made out for the view that the emotion of fear is the most significant of all the emotions on the field of politics.

Take the case of Germany. The picture so readily conjured up in our minds about living conditions in Germany is one of the shadow of the Gestapo, the spy, the informer, falling across what might otherwise be happy and united homes. When Hitler set up his dictatorship he saw at once that nothing sustains a dictatorship as does fear.

He began a reign which was in every essential particular a reign of terror. Every man knew that though he might be a Nazi in high standing today, he might be the victim of a purge tomorrow. And so fear stalked through the land and produced its own iron discipline. Men's minds were beaten upon by highly organized mass demonstrations which left the minority afraid and silent.

And all this was, in its fashion, good psychology on the part of Hitler, for frightened people are much more pliant instruments and much readier receptacles for notions of hatred and revenge than people who move and have their beings in the brave daylight of a free mind.

Now, we recoil from this kind of thing. Indeed, as the war shows, we are prepared to fight against this kind of thing. But when we do, are we fighting an entirely alien enemy? If we look about us, will we be quite satisfied that fear is not an instrument of policy even in democracy?

Let us reason together quite plainly on this matter because, even if we can never hope at all times and under all circumstances to be entirely courageous, we can at least hope to be completely honest. If honest, must we not admit that fear colours our political and social life profoundly?

Suppose we are a group of politicians compiling a policy for a popular election. Shall we simply say, "These things are right and good for Australia, therefore we shall advocate them", or shall we, if we are really shrewd men - in the popular sense of the word "shrewd" - ask ourselves what we can promise people in exchange for their votes, or wonder hopefully whether on some issue we can frighten the people into voting for us? Every student of political history knows that there have been political elections in Australia won by an appeal to greed and others won by an appeal to fear. And the fact that they were won shows that the politicians did not misjudge the people. You, the people of Australia, have encouraged these practices. Woe betide the member of Parliament who takes a strong line which is not at first blush the line that his electors would have taken!

Indeed, in recent years a great many people calling themselves democrats have discovered and practised the art of what is called "pressure politics", the "pressure" taking the form of hundreds, and in some cases that I can remember thousands, of stereotyped letters signed and sent to members of Parliament, on some particular topic, by their constituents, the usual ending being that "if you do not act in accordance with this view I will do all I can to have you defeated at the next election".

This kind of pressure, much attempted a few years ago, for example, by the Douglas Credit people, really represents an endeavour to exploit the instinct of fear. The hope is that the member of Parliament will be sufficiently spineless to abandon his own reasoned convictions for fear of losing his seat in Parliament.

We may go farther in this examination. It is notorious that many electors believe that the function of their member of Parliament is to ascertain, if he can, what a majority of his electors desire, and then plump for it in Parliament. A more stupid and humiliating conception of the function of a member of Parliament can hardly be imagined. If you want mere phonograph records or sounding boards in Parliament, then phonograph records or sounding boards you shall get - and statemanship will die; and democracy will die with it!!

The true function of a member of Parliament is to serve his electors not only with his vote but with his intelligence. If some problem arises in Parliament about which he has knowledge and to which he has devoted his best thought, how absurd it would be - indeed how dangerous it would be - if he should allow his considered conclusion to be upset by a temporary clamour by thousands of people, most of whom in the nature of things could not have his sources of information, and have probably in any event not thought the problem out at all.

Nothing can be worse for democracy than to adopt the practice of permitting knowledge to be overthrown by ignorance. If I have honestly and thoughtfully arrived at a certain conclusion on a public question and my electors disagree with me, my first duty is to endeavour to persuade them that my view is right. If I fail in this, my second duty will be to accept the electoral consequences and not to run away from them. Fear can never be a proper or useful ingredient in those mutual relations of respect and goodwill which ought to exist between the elector and the elected.

And so, as we think about it we shall find more and more how disfiguring a thing fear is in our own political and social life.

"Men fear the unknown as children fear the dark." It is that kind of fear which too often restrains experiment and keeps us from innovations which might benefit us enormously. It is the fear of knowledge which prevents so many of us from really using our minds, and which makes so many of us ready slaves to cheap and silly slogans and catch-cries. It is the fear of life and its problems which makes so many of us yearn for nothing so much as some safe billet from which risk and its twin brother enterprise are alike abolished.

In time of war it is the absence of fear in individuals and groups which gives dignity and strength to the nation's bearing in the midst of difficulties. It is the presence of fear and the yielding to it which produces hysteria and greed and burden-dodging.

Indeed, when you come to think of it you will see that the belief apparently entertained in some quarters that the people must be kept gloomy if they are to see their duty aright, is in reality a belief that fear is the best emotion for the production of patriotic effort. Nothing could be further from the truth. Patriotism is the product of courage, not of defeatism. Confidence is the product of a brave optimism; to dismiss it as complacency is to misconceive its nature and gravely to misunderstand its supreme value in a time of trial.

If there was one thing outstanding to the eye when I was in England last year, at a time when the country was being battered every night, it was that there were no signs of fear or of gloom.

It is of course true that light minds flutter easily from one extreme to the other. But balanced minds - sensible minds - will not turn readily to extremes. They will see all the difficulties and admit all the dangers; but they will remain cheerful, because they will know that the greatest enemy is neither defeat nor victory, death nor life, but fear.

If freedom from fear is really to be one of the great freedoms enjoyed by mankind, we shall need to prosecute to victory not only our war against Germany and Japan, but a constant war against ourselves.

24 July, 1942