May 8 marked Friedrich Hayek’s birthday. Called “the most prodigious classical liberal scholar of the 20th century,” Milton Friedman explained his importance:
“Over the years, I have again and again asked fellow believers in a free society how they managed to escape the contagion of their collectivist intellectual environment. No name has been mentioned more often as the source of enlightenment than Friedrich Hayek’s.”
One cannot compactly summarize Hayek’s contributions of 130 articles and 25 books. However, a good place to start is with his classic “The Road to Serfdom,” from which the Friedman quotation above is taken, and which passed its 75th anniversary last year. And given that many liberties we are allowed currently seem to extend no farther than the doormat outside our homes, its insights into liberty, from one who has argued powerfully for “that condition of men in which coercion of some by others is reduced as much as possible in society,” are particularly worth noting.
We are fighting for freedom to shape our life according to our own ideas.
We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past.
Wherever the barriers to the free exercise of human ingenuity were removed, man became rapidly able to satisfy ever widening ranges of desire.
The fundamental principle is that in the ordering of our affairs we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society, and resort as little as possible to coercion.
To the great apostles of political freedom the word had meant freedom from coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men.
The argument for freedom is precisely that we ought to leave room for the unforeseeable free growth.
The very men who are most anxious to plan society [are] the most intolerant of the planning of others.
Under the Rule of Law, the government is prevented from stultifying individual efforts by ad hoc action. Within the known rules of the game the individual is free to pursue his personal ends and desires, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately to frustrate his efforts.
Economic freedom … is the prerequisite of any other freedom.
The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided … that nobody has complete power over us.
Those who are willing to surrender their freedom for security have always demanded…it should also be taken from those not prepared to do so.
The more we try to provide full security by interfering with the market system … the greater becomes the contrast between the security of those to whom it is granted as a privilege and the ever-increasing insecurity of the under-privileged.
The competitive system is the only system designed to minimize … the power exercised by man over man…an essential guaranty of individual freedom.
The “substitution of political for economic power” … means necessarily a substitution of power from which there is no escape for a power which is always limited.
There is no other possibility than either the order governed by the impersonal discipline of the market or that directed by the will of a few individuals.
A community of free men must be our goal.
A policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy.
Hayek once observed that “It used to be the boast of free men that, so long as they kept within the bounds of the known law, there was no need to ask anybody’s permission or to obey anybody’s orders. It is doubtful whether any of us can make this claim today.” He was one of very few pillars in the battle against eroding liberty in our affairs. And as we have chosen to move along the wrong road in many ways since, Hayek’s insights into freedom remain central to our ability to defend it from efforts that would eviscerate it.
Download Center For Individualism’s New Perspective On The Road To Serdom a free e-book, here.
Our 10-point manifesto for Individualism, based on Hayek’s writings, is here.
The lights are going out all over Europe, the U.S., and increasingly the rest of the world. Borders are closing, cities are shutting down, and governments are imposing export bans. It looks like one of the first victims of the new coronavirus is globalization.
The World Bank has estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the economic damage from epidemics usually comes from aversion behavior, not from disease, deaths, and the associated loss of production. This time, due to the massive scale of the shutdowns, that cost is going to be much bigger.
Perhaps not in Sweden, though. It’s hard to predict even the next few hours or days, but it is interesting that Sweden—the one European country that did not want to shut its borders, did not close schools, and has not banned gatherings of fewer than 500 people—so far seems to be containing the spread better than other countries have.
With beautiful exaggeration, Bloomberg News reported that “Swedes Try Laissez-Faire Model in Controversial Virus Response.” Sweden did not do this out of libertarian zeal, but because of a tradition of listening to experts and health authorities, who thought it better to track individual cases within the country than to shut everything down. When everybody is awaiting the latest epidemiological data to make decisions, there is less room for political grandstanding and strongman rhetoric.
There is also a case to be made that the culture of personal responsibility and interpersonal trust makes it easier for the Swedish government to leave the ultimate decisions to the people. When the public health agency recommends working from home and avoiding unnecessary gatherings, most Swedes abide by it, even without putting police on the streets and imposing stiff penalties. That leaves necessary room for local knowledge and personal needs. Individuals, organizations, and businesses can go ahead anyway, if their particular situation makes it especially important that they remain open or move around freely.
And by the way, it might help that Sweden is a country of introverts, famous for distant relations between generations. Swedes did social distancing before it was cool.
There are reasons to fear that this near-consensus toward cordoning off whole nations will strengthen an already ongoing global reactionary impulse against the movement of people and goods across borders. If we can’t find our way back to an open world after this, our reaction to COVID-19 will hurt us even more than the virus. After decades of unprecedented progress at combating poverty, hunger, and disease, these trends would be reversed, and we would be even less well prepared for the next nasty surprise nature throws at us.
Despite the popular perception, our best hope against pandemic is continued trade and cooperation across borders. Travel bans are mostly “political placebo” as U.K. health researcher Clare Wenham puts it, and the World Health Organization is advising against it, for the simple reason that COVID-19 is already everywhere, but vital supplies and medical equipment are not.
In fact, one reason why Italy has suffered terribly seems to be that closed borders gave them a false sense of security and made them underestimate the spread already going on within the country.
It is easy to see the political logic behind bans on the export of essential equipment, implemented by countries like Germany and France at an early stage. You have to serve your own population first, right? But it’s the same logic as toilet paper hoarding, and it has the same result. It forces others to do the same, which means that it is not on the market when you really have to go.
During the global food price crisis of 2010–11, many governments banned food exports to secure local supplies. But afterward, we found out that those bans were part of the problem. In fact, they accounted for 40 percent of the increase in the world price of wheat and almost a quarter of the increase in the price of corn.
So even though the world often moves in a nationalist direction during crises, it is exactly the time when we have the most urgent need for international agreements to forego beggar-thy-neighbor policies.
Wealth, communications technology, and open science have made our response to new diseases faster than ever. In a poorer and more closed world, without mass transportation, microorganisms traveled slower but they traveled freely, recurring for hundreds of years, until they had picked almost all of us off, one by one. Today our response is also global, and therefore for the first time, mankind has a fighting chance.
Hospitals, researchers, health authorities, and drug companies everywhere can now supply each other with instant information. They can coordinate efforts to analyze and combat the problem. By organizing clinical trials of therapeutics in many countries simultaneously, they can reach a critical mass of patients they would never have found at home.
The pace of the response has been extraordinary. After having tried to conceal the outbreak for weeks, China announced that it had found a new coronavirus on January 2. Using technologies developed on the other side of the globe, Chinese scientists could read the complete genome of the virus and publish it on a new global hub for medical research in just a week. This information enabled researchers in Berlin to develop a test to detect infections in just six days. This is what we now use to track infected people around the world—except in the U.S., where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insisted on keeping it out and developing a domestic, faulty test, which set back American efforts several weeks.
When someone reveals the mechanism of the virus, researchers and algorithms everywhere can get to work on ways of attacking its weak spots. On March 25, not even three months after China admitted a new virus was on the loose, America’s National Library of Medicine lists 143 potential drugs and vaccines against the virus, already recruiting (or preparing to recruit) patients to participate in clinical trials.
Those companies are, just like our health care systems, disproportionally reliant on immigrant workers. According to the immigration advocacy nonprofit Partnership for a New American Economy, eight out of 10 medical patents from leading U.S. universities are invented by someone born outside of the country. In other words, immigration bans kill Americans.
That is not all. Globalization might even prevent many pandemics from happening. A 2019 study by researchers at the universities of Oxford and Tel Aviv showed that frequent travel between populations makes us catch a lot of bugs, but also increases immunity against new strains. So apocalyptic outbreaks become less likely. This is the reason why previously isolated populations are most at risk—from Native Americans after 1492 to the swine flu in 2009, when 24 of the 30 worst affected countries were island nations.
Human mobility is like a “natural vaccination” says Oxford’s Robin Thompson. The researchers speculate that this might help explain the absence of a global pandemic as severe as the Spanish flu in the last 100 years.
That doesn’t help at all when a virus that previously only affected animals mutates and jumps to humans, like the new coronavirus. Then we have no resistance and it can spread quickly.
But if the researchers are correct, the jet engine has saved millions of lives from pandemics only in the last few decades. And as even Sweden’s governing Social Democrats emphasize right now, the greatest threat to our economy, our jobs, and our health is that the planes stop flying and the trucks get stuck at the border.
That is also worth taking into account before we turn off the last lights.
As the nation celebrates the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the progressive left will again seize the moment to twist the story of black Americans’ struggle, to the detriment of those who suffered most in that struggle. They’ll put all the attention on the oppressive conditions faced by black freedom fighters—what white racists did to them—rather than on their own spirit in fighting to gain equal rights under the law. Instead of celebrating blacks’ achievements and the progress made toward delivering on America’s promissory note, the left will transport yesterday’s real injustices into today’s false social-justice narrative, ignoring the principles that were so crucial to Dr. King.
History is full of inspiring examples of black people succeeding against the odds, including building their own schools, hotels, railroads and banking systems when doors were closed to them. According to the economist Thomas Sowell, “the poverty rate among blacks fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent by 1960.”
These accomplishments were made possible by a set of values cherished among the blacks of the time: self-determination, resiliency, personal virtue, honesty, honor and accountability. Dr. King understood that these values would be the bedrock for black success once true equality was won. As early as 1953, he warned that “one of the most common tendencies of human nature is that of placing responsibility on some external agency for sins we have committed or mistakes we have made.”
Today the progressive left wants to ignore the achievements and pretend that blacks are perpetual victims of white racism. The New York Times’s “1619 Project” essay series is the latest salvo in this attack on America’s history and founding, claiming “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” This statement is an abomination of everything Dr. King stood for. Further, the left’s disinterest in historical accuracy—as evinced in the Times’s dismissal of corrections sought by prominent historians—and its frequent perversion of blacks’ story will have grave consequences not only for blacks but the nation as a whole.
In sharp contrast to the claims of the “1619 Project”—which disparages the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence and insists America is hopelessly racist—Dr. King believed deeply in the need to remain true to the Founders’ vision, the “patriot dream that sees beyond the years.” To him, that was the only avenue toward fulfilling America’s promise. As he wrote in his 1963 “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”:
“One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
“We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation,” he wrote, “because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.”
Dr. King, who sought full participation in America, would never have indulged today’s grievance-based identity politics, whose social-justice warriors use race as a battering ram against the country. In fact, in “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” Dr. King explicitly warned against the type of groupthink that characterizes identity politics: “Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”
Yesterday’s values prepared blacks to walk through the doors of opportunity opened to them through civil rights. Family, faith, character and moral behavior were all crucial to their victories. Today’s social-justice warriors trade on the currency of oppression, deriding the concept of personal responsibility and always blaming external forces. I can think of no better way to instill hopelessness and fear in a young person than to tell him he is a victim, powerless to change his circumstance.
During the civil-rights movement blacks never permitted oppression to define who we were. Instead we cultivated moral competence, enterprise and thrift, and viewed oppression as a stumbling block, not an excuse.
Dr. King would have refused to participate in today’s identity politics gamesmanship because it frames its grievances in opposition to the American principles of freedom and equality that he sought to redeem. He upheld the country’s founding principles and sought to destroy only what got in the way of delivering the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as the recognition that all men are created equal.
Last month the school board of Westfield, N.J., approved a history course on critical race theory, which is the embodiment of the oppressor narrative embraced by the left. At the board meeting a young woman spoke passionately in favor of the course, ending her comments by blaming slavery for the absence of black fathers in the home. This is how successful the left, with its lethal message of despair and distortion of history, has been at undermining agency within the black community.
To honor the legacy of Dr. King, we must not only acknowledge the evil he confronted, but also focus on his example in overcoming it. He persevered and triumphed in the face of evil because he was beholden to truth, honor and love for all mankind, driven as he was to see blacks share fully in the American dream. We must not let the purveyors of identity politics fudge the record: Martin Luther King Jr. believed in the promise of America. In fact, he helped to fulfill it.
Mr. Woodson is president and founder of the Woodson Center. This article appeared at wsj.com.
From “Liberalism, Old Style,” a 1955 essay by Milton Friedman :
The state exists to protect individuals from coercion by other individuals or groups and to widen the range within which individuals can exercise their freedom; it is purely instrumental and has no significance in and of itself. Society is a collection of individuals and the whole is no greater than the sum of its parts. The ultimate values are the values of the individuals who form the society; there are no superindividual values or ends. Nations may be convenient administrative units; nationalism is an alien creed.
Liberalism takes freedom of the individual—really, of the family—as its ultimate value. It conceives of man as a responsible individual who is egocentric, in the sense not of being selfish or self-centered but rather of placing greater reliance on his own values than those of his neighbors. It takes as the major problem of modern society the achievement of liberty and individual responsibility in a world that requires co-ordination of many of millions of people in production to make full use of modern knowledge and technology. The challenge is to reconcile individual freedom with widespread interdependence.
The liberal answer derives from the elementary—yet even today little understood—proposition that both sides to an economic transaction can benefit from it; that a gain to a purchaser need not be at the expense of a loss to the seller. If the transaction is voluntary and informed, both sides benefit; the buyers gets something he values more than whatever he gives up, and so does the seller. In consequence, voluntary exchange is a way to get cooperation among individuals without coercion. The reliance on voluntary exchange, which means on a free market mechanism, is thus central to the liberal creed.
Pop quiz: what’s the most economically significant difference between the style of your underwear and the cabin temperature of a 747 jet en route from New York to Paris?
The answer is that the style of your underwear is highly individual in a way that the 747’s cabin temperature is not. You can wear whatever style of panties, briefs, or boxers you like without obliging anyone else to wear that same style. On any NY-to-Paris flight there might be 400 people without any 2 of them wearing exactly the same style, color, and size of underwear.
Not so with the 747’s cabin temperature. At any point in time, the thermostat on that jet can be set on only one temperature — a temperature that must be lived with by everyone on board. Unlike with underwear, I cannot “wear” the 69-degree temperature that I prefer while the person in the seat next to mine “wears” the 73-degree temperature that is ideal for her.
Deciding on Collective Goods
Economists call the cabin temperature in the jetliner a “collective good” — to be distinguished from a “private good” such as underwear. Roughly speaking, one central feature of a collective good is that, if it is supplied, it is supplied in a lump sum to a large collection of people. Its provision cannot, at reasonable cost, be individualized. Therefore, deciding on the provision of a collective good — whether to provide it at all and, if so, in what particular form — poses challenges that are absent for the provision of underwear and other private goods.
Because individual passengers cannot each have his or her ideal temperature, there is required some process for selecting the temperature for the group. One possible process is randomness: keep the thermostat set at whatever temperature it happens to be set on. But randomness is unappealing. If the setting happens to be at 82 degrees, most people will be uncomfortably warm. Surely it’s desirable to exercise some human decision-making to choose the setting.
Let’s imagine that this 747 is owned and operated by Democracy Air, which, as part of its marketing, boasts that it lets all passengers on each flight choose the cabin temperature setting through a majority-rule voting procedure. (Obviously, on real-world jetliners the cabin-temperature setting is chosen by the captain. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that this method is used because the chances of the captain choosing a disagreeable temperature are so small that the benefits of turning the choice over to a majority of passengers aren’t worth the costs of conducting such an election.)
Although it’s impossible to devise any method of voting that produces outcomes that reflect only the preferences of the voters (and not also some arbitrary feature of the voting method itself), majority rule in this case is nevertheless a reasonable method for choosing the thermostat setting. Everyone who votes on a temperature setting has a say. And because human beings do not have wildly different preferences for ambient air temperature, the winning temperature in this election will almost surely be one that is acceptable to — if not ideal for — everyone.
Yet regardless of the “correctness” or “incorrectness” of the democratically chosen thermostat setting, the fact remains that all passengers on the plane must live with whatever setting is chosen — a reality, of course, that is true regardless of the method for choosing the thermostat setting.
Deciding on Individual Goods
But now suppose that a genius engineer at Boeing invents an air-conditioning system that allows each passenger for the entire flight, at no extra cost, to have his or her ideal temperature. Jones in seat 31A enjoys his 76-degree environment while Smith in seat 31B is comfortable in the 69-degree air surrounding her. What effect would this invention have on Democracy Air’s boast that the cabin temperature on each of its flights is determined by majority-rule voting of the passengers? Answer: that boast would lose all marketing appeal.
When only one cabin temperature is possible, many airline passengers might value Democracy Air’s majority-rule system. Yet with individual temperatures now available, there is no reason to submit cabin temperature to a collective decision.
Democracy, in other words, is valuable only for making decisions that are truly collective — that is, for choosing outcomes that many people must simultaneously live with. Real-world examples include, nationally, the size of Uncle Sam’s defense budget, and, more locally, the level of pollution abatement for Lake Pontchartrain.
For these and other collective choices, it’s justifiable to support democracy over other means of choosing, such as dictatorship or coin flipping. But any enthusiasm for democracy born from the desire to have genuinely collective choices made by voters rather than by monarchs, autocrats, or random chance should not metastasize into the blanket superstition that democracy is the best means of making any and all decisions.
When decisions can be individualized at reasonable cost, the appropriate decision-maker in each case is the individual who is most affected by the choice. Just because democracy is the best way to decide on the appropriate level of pollution abatement for Lake Pontchartrain does not mean that democracy is the best way to decide which style of undergarments we all wear.
A Serious Point
Because no serious person wishes to subject our choices in underwear to majority rule, my narrative above might seem pointless. Yet the point becomes clear by surveying modern governments’ vast range of activities. Surprisingly few of these activities involve the provision of genuine collective goods. The great bulk of them involve the state overriding choices that each individual could and would make privately — that is, that each individual could and would make without obliging other people to consume the same good or service that the individual decision-maker chooses.
In the United States today, government superintends individual decisions to purchase imports; it prevents individuals from voluntarily choosing to patronize hair-braiders, dentists, and physicians who have no state-issued licenses; it compels each worker to save some minimum amount for retirement; it specifies many of the detailed terms on which we may and may not participate in financial markets; it dictates the maximum rate at which water may flow from our household faucets. Although each of these — and countless other — officious interventions is sold as somehow furthering the collective good, in fact each such intervention substitutes the state’s choices for the choices that individuals could make on their own without imposing their preferences on others.
In the face of this egregious officiousness, too many people remain nonchalant. Because the American government is democratically elected, there’s a widespread presumption that the actions of this government are, as a rule, the best ones possible. Yet this presumption is mistaken. It is the product of the metastasizing of a correct understanding — namely, that democracy is a sound means of making collective choices — into the lethal fiction that democracy is ethically and epistemologically superior to individual decision-making in nearly all situations.
Donald J. Boudreaux is a senior fellow with American Institute for Economic Research and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University.
Everywhere in our political, education, and media establishment the term “common good” is used, and it has a collectivist meaning. Its a reminder that you have a duty to public service without expectation of reward. This “common good” notion is also reviled by individualists who know what it really means – a vague justification for totalitarian government power. Think about this the next time you hear a politician appeal to unity while condemning the divisiveness of their opponent.
What is lost is the only common good that matters, the one central to America’s founding principles. If Americans (and humanity) were simply united around defending natural rights, equal justice under law, and free trade, then there is no need for any other unifying goals. Poetic Justice Warrior Francesco Rosario Capra (Frank Capra) knew this and cherished it. According to political science professor John Marini, “Capra understood America in terms of common good – a good established by the principles of equality and liberty as the foundation of individual rights.”
In the 1920’s, Capra was able to help the Poverty Row studio known as Columbia Pictures compete with established ones and transition it to sound. This was because of the engineering education he had acquired at Caltech. His well-known productions include It Happened One Night (1934) and You Can’t Take it With You (1938). In fact, Capra expresses a primary goal of the Poetic Justice Warrior Society through his character Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart), from the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington:
Boys forget what their country means by just reading “the land of the free” in history books. Then they get to be men, they forget even more. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day and say, I’m free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn’t. I can. And my children will.
According to Marini, Capra believed “America was to be understood in terms of its virtues, which is derived from its principles. It is the simple, unsophisticated, small-town common America that Capra celebrated in his films.” Capra celebrated entrepreneurs and their customers, the talented parents, teachers and artists, and even some economists. Everyone having their own unique values and goals. Their voluntary exchange needs no common purpose other than mutual benefit, their defense of personal liberty and equal justice. So what about the George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) character in Its A Wonderful Life?
Entrepreneur or Altruist?
Capra’s last great film, released in 1946, is considered by many to exalt selflessness, and this is anti-American. Life, liberty and property do not require self-sacrifice, they demand self-reliance. For the movie’s critics, Bailey gives up on his dream of becoming an architect, takes over his father’s bank upon his father’s death, enters an ambition-killing marriage, and becomes a pillar of the community by helping the “little people.” But lets consider what Capra was trying to do in the context of the time in which he lived. As he wrote about his filmmaking philosophy, the goal is “to exalt the worth of the individual, to champion man, to plead his causes, protest any degradation of his dignity, spirit, or divinity.”
As his circumstances changed, the Bailey character adjusted, voluntarily pursued his values, and anticipated the needs of his customers while doing his best to keep the bank profitable. To a fault, the movie doesn’t exalt the nobility of earned profit, but instead features a crooked businessman adversary of Bailey’s. Capra was not an Austrian school economist, he was a grateful Italian immigrant.
The movie is set in a charming small American town with optimistic residents who solve problems. To critics, it is a sentimental, illusory, and unrealistic setting. If you consider that an angel from heaven was also running the story, so what? This was an idealized and intentional creative device. Like Capra’s contemporary Poetic Justice Warrior Garet Garrett, Capra realized that Hollywood (and America) was gradually decivilizing itself. Instead of the ideals of self-reliance and long-term thinking, the culture was abandoning its respect for self-creation in favor of politicized categories of race, gender, ethnicity and class. Its doubtful that Capra or Garrett foresaw the insanity of today’s intersectional grid of victimhood.
Mr. Capra Goes to Washington
While Frank Capra was in Washington to film Smith’s descent upon the capital, he attended a President Roosevelt press conference, during which the President outlined the great problems facing America. But in the movie, Capra makes no mention of the Great Depression or the imminent threat of World War II. During this time of postmodern catastrophe fueled by soft money and government power, Capra wanted to focus his movie on something that really matters:
The more uncertain are the people of the world, the more they need a ringing statement of America’s democratic ideals. The soul of our film should be anchored in Lincoln. It is never untimely to yank the rope of freedom’s bell.
While President Roosevelt was accusing “economic royalists” of corruption in order to mask his corrupt and incompetent government, Capra pointed his cameras and dialogue toward the government and union officials who were engaged in political warfare against the private sector. He dramatized and humorized what authoritarians always do – flaunt a villain other than themselves for a naïve public. Capra showed on the big screen how self-serving politicians were deceiving America and rewarding their special interest voting blocs. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was a very popular success in America, and then France, despite the objections of Washington elites. As Marini relates,
In 1942, a month before the Nazi occupation of France was to begin, the Vichy government asked the French people what films they wanted to see before American and British films were banned by the Germans. The great majority wanted to see Mr. Smith. One theater in Paris played the movie for 30 straight nights.
Why We Fight
Frank Capra arrived in New York Harbor 23 years before Rand, and had a nearly identical experience, except he was not alone. His illiterate peasant father cried to him as they gazed upon the Statue of Liberty, “Cicco look! Look at that! That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem! That’s the light of freedom! Remember that. Freedom.” Capra remembered, and in 1942 began the production of seven documentary films for Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall. They were intended to counterbalance and crush the effects of the Nazi propaganda directed by Leni Riefenstahl titled Triumph of Will. A film described by Capra as a “terrifying motion picture.”
Riefenstahl, and the Soviet propagandists of the 1950s and 1960s (described eloquently by Czeslaw Milosz in his book The Captive Mind) knew what they were – tools. Capra never considered his documentaries, known collectively as Why We Fight, as propaganda. His singular goal was to recognize right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice. That’s what Poetic Justice Warriors do. Capra said that these films “embodied the rebellious cry of the individual against being trampled into an ort of mass conformity.” That’s why we fight.
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