Articles

THE BIG LIES

Goebbels led the Germans to disaster with falsehoods so immense that they were believed. Watch out, warns Hutchison — we’re swallowing fables just as fantastic and dangerous

BRUCE HUTCHISON March 1 1949
Articles

THE BIG LIES

Goebbels led the Germans to disaster with falsehoods so immense that they were believed. Watch out, warns Hutchison — we’re swallowing fables just as fantastic and dangerous

BRUCE HUTCHISON March 1 1949

THE BIG LIES

Goebbels led the Germans to disaster with falsehoods so immense that they were believed. Watch out, warns Hutchison — we’re swallowing fables just as fantastic and dangerous

BRUCE HUTCHISON

Associate Editor, Winnipeg Free Press.

WHO IS the most powerful figure in America? I nominate the late German Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Josef Goebbels. His contribution to history was the invention of the Big Lie.

I believe that Goebl>el8 is only dead in the flesh, that he lives on in spirit as a commanding figure of our times, that his Big Lie, with suitable local coloration, has Income a major instrument of our public and private life, that the Goebbels technique is corrupting the whole structure of our North American society.

A glittering parade of lies passes through our heads every day, and passes for the truth.

The first is the Lie of Abundance.

It tells us that the earth has unlimited wealth—

almost solid gold, you would think, and studded with diamonds around the equator. It tells us that the earth is so rich in everything that everybody could have all he wanted, or imagined, if we would only change our method of producing and distributing goods.

This lie is young, about 100 years of age. Perhaps no lie so powerful in its effects has ever entered the thinking of the human family.

On the basis of this lie revolutions have engulfed many nations. Mighty movements of human emancipation have produced the most ruthless systems of slavery. Great states have been despoiled or turned into prisons. In the attempt to grasp wealth which was never there to grasp, much of the world has been reduced to penury and hunger.

We can, of course, improve our methods of producing and distributing goods. In the industrial nations we have been improving them for a century or more, until a man on relief in America today is better off for goods than a laborer working full

time in our grandfather’s youth. That improvement will go on if we can avoid the destruction of the economic machine which makes it possible.

But, as we stand today, there is not unlimited wealth, or even enough food in the world to feed everybody, and there will not be for a long time, no matter what system we may use to produce or distribute it.

North America is fantastically rich by past standards, but if you take the national income of Canada and the United States combined, and divide it by the joint population, you find that our productive apparatus, working under full steam, can provide us with something like $1,800 per head per year (in dollars not worth much over 50 cents in prewar purchasing power). More than 10% must be set aside to repair and expand our plant, and another substantial sum must be given away to other continents. In Canada our income is roughly $1,000 per head in inflated dollars.

However equally we may

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The Big Lies

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redistribute the wealth, these figures mean that, though we North Americans appear obese and opulent to the rest of the world, we cannot, on average, hope to be wealthy. We are wealthy by other people’s standards. We are poor and will remain so by the impossible standards we have set for ourselves. While our wealth will increase, if we can avoid a final smashup, it will increase only as we build a still larger productive apparatus, and that takes time.

The figures of our wealth are well known, or should be. They are all set out in reports. Yet they are denied from almost every political platform on this continent, they are ignored by most statesmen and they are brushed aside by the slogans of political parties both of Right and Left.

In their place is enthroned the Lie of Abundance, ordering us to uproot our present system, to destroy the very thing which has lifted us above the destitution of other places, and thereby painlessly to grasp the hidden treasure trove of wealth which the conspiracy of a few wicked men allegedly holds beyond our reach. Politicians solemnly propose that we spend what we haven’t got, eat what we haven’t produced, enjoy what doesn’t exist—and to this end embark on courses which never in any place have produced as much wealth as we enjoy now, which probably would diminish what we have and certainly would destroy our right to use it as free men.

The Lie of Abundance not only distorts the actual facts of our current income. It disguises the deeper and

more alarming fact that our capital, the substance of the earth itself, is being impoverished, the soil gutted, the oil drained out, the ore mined, the forests cut down. Surely the most important single fact of our time is the simple fact that the earth is increasing its human population far beyond its present capacity to feed its passengers? A human family, punch-drunk with lies, is quietly beginning to starve.

In place of the facts, what are we offered? Nearly every man who seeks our votes offers the wildest promises of affluence: two cars in every garage (when we lack steel for one and lumber for the garage), gigantic public services we cannot pay for and, funniest of all, reduced taxes at the same time.

Where does this masquerade lead us?

Dazzled by Dough

If men are made desperate by the failure of their false hopes, and $re bent on seizing wealth which isn’t there and won’t be for a long time, ultimately they will uproot not only the economic system, which perhaps can be rebuilt, but the whole structure of democratic freedom which, once lost, can be regained only by years of toil and misery.

Precisely that has happened over a great part of the earth. In those countries where the Lie of Abundance has at least some of the surface appearance of truth, it robs us of the simple power to add two and two. It puts us at the mercy of the monetary fanatic. Many men otherwise sane tell us that we can pay for any state service and any national budget whatever. This we can do either by creating more money or extracting more of the existing money from the rich.

The theory of printing more money

surely needs no answer among a people who already know inflation. As for the other method, I (being poor) am all for soaking the rich if it will do any good. The trouble about the rich, however, is that there aren’t enough of them and much of their income has been soaked up already.

Official figures show that if all the rich were soaked to death, if all the people of more than moderate income were left penniless or exterminated for the crime of earning it, then the state still could not extract enough money to pay for one half or one tenth of the things which the monetary fanatics promise us.

The soaking complete, and the rich no longer there to be soaked a second time, we would have to face the undeniable mathematical fact that it is the small man—roughly, in Canada, the man with $3,000 a year or less— who must pay for most of the services of the state.

In Canada the facts are hidden for the moment by a boom which already shows cracks at the edges. The taxpayer is dazzled by a temporary government surplus. Disguised or not, the facts are that, with our rising military costs, which must double at least in the next year or so, with other costs going up, with revenues almost certain to decline through any reduction in business turnover, and with tax cuts certain in an election year, this country is not heading toward a permanent surplus as many people seem to think. It is heading toward a deficit.

The Americans, by premature tax reductions, started to head that way during the last 12 months before they prepared to raise taxes again. Must we make the same mistake, even in the face of our neighbor’s experience? Have we the sense, in times of boom, to reduce our debt by accumulating surpluses and lay away something for a rainy day? Or are we too weak to stand good times?

The truth, which our surface prosperity can obscure but cannot alter, is that Canada today is living unnaturally, synthetically and dangerously. That is proved by a single figure—more than half of our overseas exports, on which our prosperity depends. are paid for by the American taxpayer through the Marshall Plan, and that plan will end in less than four years. Would any man say he was living naturally, that his prosperity was secure, if he were living on the bounty of a rich uncle who intended to cut him off in four years?

And even the Marshall Plan is proving insufficient to buy all our surpluses, as our farmers, lumlwrmcn and fishermen have lately learned to their surprise.

What our illusion of prosperity blurs out is a basic shift in the world economy - the impoverishment of Europe, the shrinkage of our old overseas markets, the collapse of the great North Atlantic trade triangle which supported us so well in the past that we took it for a permanent system, almost a law of God. Only now do we l>egin to grasp the truth that our prosperity in a destitute world is the most, unnatural condition imaginable, that prosperity in the past was not a windfall but the result of a century of hard labor and skill.

The upshot of all this is that Canada will be very fortunate if it can avoid a depression when the Marshall Plan is finished. To maintain our present standard of living during the next decade without raising it will require good luck and a miracle of good management. But who will believe that when he, personally, has more money to spend than he perhaps ever had before in his life?

What chance is there to sit down quietly and prepare for the gravest

economic crisis in our history, already visible on the horizon? No chance at all while we remain spellbound by our own private and special lie—the Lie of North American Superiority.

Throughout this continent we have long believed the gratifying fiction that in some fashion we are better than the people of other continents. This assumption is based mainly on our superior living standard. But our superior living standard, even if we provided it solely by our own ingenuity, would mean only that we are more clever than other peoples, not that we are better. By and large men with high living standards are no more virtuous than men with low.

Adolescent Arrogance

What is the main reason for our relative prosperity? It is that we have stumbled upon, plundered and ravened through the richest area of land left upon the globe. Considering how many people have managed to live in such crowded quarters and on such poor resources in Britain, for instance, or in France, Holland, Belgium or Switzerland, can we honestly say that we have done better with our fabulous continent than others would have done if they had stumbled upon America in our place?

This lie of superiority, this ill-disguised racialism in us who are always denouncing racialism in other people, is more than an unpleasant breach of good manners. It has deep and evil effects upon the affairs of the world.

It was the kernel of North American isolationism from the beginning. It was this false sense of superiority which persuaded us that we not only could but should live apart from other peoples who lack the good sense to be prosperous like us. We have begun to learn that we cannot live alone, but the subconscious sense of superiority remains to poison our relations with other peoples, especially the peoples of Asia (who are more numerous than we are and may some day be more powerful).

Until an adult humility replaces our adolescent arrogance it cannot be said that we are fit for the moral leadership of the world now thrust upon us, because that leadership finally must depend upon our morals. The world is waiting to see what our morals are to be. Morals which the world will accept cannot be built on the Lie of Superiority. The lie will be rejected at the moment when the world can live without our charity.

We tell ourselves that we are really self-sufficient. Under the spell of this preposterous reasoning, North America tried to keep its wealth to itself, refused to share it by trade with other countries, collapsed in the depression, and refused the chance to prevent World War II.

Now the circle is complete when North America, which refused to trade its wealth before, must now give it away, for its own safety, and not only to its friends but to the enemies of yesterday. Surely that ought to end the myth of self-sufficiency for all time. Surely it ought to demonstrate to the most stupid that if we will not share our wealth by the interchange of goods we must either give it away indefinitely to protect ourselves, or else fight for it against a hungry world which somehow fails to appreciate our superiority.

At this point in the parade appears the Lie of Heroic Sacrifice. It is flattering, unctuous and easy to take. Therefore it has won a revered place in the befuddled thoughtways of America.

According to this lie, the people of North America have been bleeding themselves white to save the people of the world from starvation and, in

return, are receiving precious little thanks.

No one should underestimate what the people of the United States (and the people of Canada in still larger proportionate measure) have done for foreign peoples in recent years. Nothing like this, judged by volume, has ever been known before. But then nothing like the volume of our American wealth has ever been known either. And the truth is that, whatever individuals may have done, this continent as a whole, while giving much away, has made no sacrifice for anybody. Our ordeal of altruism has consisted of the most garish boom on record. To call that sacrifice is not only false but somewhat obscene.

Up to now a clear line has been drawn beyond which we refuse to give anything to anybody. That line is our present living standard. We will do nothing which might imperil it. In an irreverent continent our standard of living at least is sacred.

Thus, when our politicians and economists assert that we can do nothing more for Europe or Asia, that we have exhausted our means, one experiences a certain nausea.

What they are saying actually is that we can do nothing more within our present means unless we are prepared to use less goods ourselves—unless we are prepared at last to begin making the sacrifice of which we already boast. That being unthinkable, we build up charts, graphs and tabulations to prove that our ability to help anybody is strictly limited. When was any country or civilization saved from destruction with an adding machine? If war came we should soon replace the adding machine with a machine gun. To prevent war coming we shall be compelled to readjust our adding machines, our standard of living and our notions of sacrifice.

Actually we are at war today—a new kind of war, to be sure, not yet waged with the usual military weapons, but a war nevertheless, waged with terrible economic weapons and with those much more dangerous weapons, ideas.

Safety on the Cheap

In such a war the strength of Britain and Europe is essential to our safety. No matter what the cost they must be saved, whether we like it or not. Even if this means that we must reduce our living standards a little, or a lot, it would be grotesque to call this sacrifice. As well say a man is sacrificing when he buys fire insurance on his home.

Do we think we can build a North Atlantic defense system for nothing? Do we think we can buy safety on the cheap? Do we think we can have security and low taxes at the same time, as so many of our statesmen are telling us?

Either we are in this new deal with the western Europeans or we are not. If we are in, we shall be playing for the highest stakes in history, which is to say the rescue of our civilization from the outer edge of the abyss. Such a game cannot be played by those who limit their bets by their living standards.

Most of the miscalculations come out of this almost universal lie that a nation or a civilization must be judged by its wealth. The words “living standard” are perhaps the most poisonous of our time. Judged by them, some of the finest civilizations of the past were failures, some of the rottenest were successful.

Yet that lie runs throughout human history. It was picked up by capitalism, a fairly modern invention, and now is imitated by socialism and communism. It stands above ideology altogether. It

may be said, indeed, that the Russians have copied our worst vice when they attempt to build a system on the proposition that the sole object of a society is to increase the available amount of goods, regardless of any other consideration.

We deny such a proposition in our individual lives. We have long since ceased to worship men because they are rich. The most admired men in the world are mostly poor and, by my observation, the most unhappy men are usually rich. When goods become the single objective of a society, then, by a natural law and by all the lessons of history, it is on the downgrade, even if it travels in a Rolls Royce.

Nations in pursuit of unlimited wealth and plunder become the aggressors who impoverish everyone. Then the fattest and most bloated nations are a pushover for poor barbarians on the make.

We are further bemused here by what we might call the Lie of Black and White. It asserts that a society must be all one thing or the other, must be all free enterprise or all state control. It asserts that we must let undiluted competition and the ruthless play of economic forces decide everything, down to the last widow’s mite; or, alternatively, that we must let the state decide everything down to the length of our shirt-tails.

In this sham battle between two bogeys, in the shout of capitalists who say they alone can protect freedom and of socialists who say that they alone can save us from hunger, the energies of our society are dissipated on irrelevancies. The practical issues are usually ignored.

The clearest lesson of our history is that in a free society nothing is ever black and white, nothing can be if men are to remain free; that everything must be settled in a fluid, ever-changing stream of compromise by one sovereign criterion—will it work and will it keep the society free to try something else if it doesn’t?

Democracy a Farce?

Pragmatism, experiment, trial and error are the very things which made us great and made freedom possible in nations willing to risk them.

Grey is the free man’s color. But the Lie of Black and White tries to imprison us in theory, to thrust us into the deep freezer of motionless and rigid ideology. At best it wastes our time and energy when we need to discover, by constant testing, the most practical solution of specific problems, regardless of theory. At worst it can destroy our society, as it has destroyed many others, in the struggle between uncompromising theorists, who would expunge freedom and turn man into a dead guinea pig for the sake of a blue print, or a red print.

This brings us to the ultimate lie which spawns all the others and can wreck us altogether. This is the Lie of Universal Lawlessness.

We say we are engaged in a war of ideas, a war between the idea of freedom and the idea of slavery.

What is freedom? Where does it come from? Freedom is based on the assumption that the universe is a system of order and that every man has a place and a purpose within that order.

If it once be admitted that the universe is purposeless and disordered, then no man has any inherent right or any real compulsion to be free. In such a universe the only chance for any law or order rests with a few clever men who can order all the others. That is exactly the theory of Russian Communism, of German Nazism and of every other similar system of tyranny throughout the ages. Once the Lie of Universal Lawlessness is accepted, freedom loses its claim to life, democracy becomes a clumsy farce and tyranny can rightly claim to rule.

That is the lie we are now accepting in the free world under the triumphant triumvirate of Darwin, Marx and Freud (their ideas being interpreted, or misinterpreted, to suit). If we accept that lie, we accept the basic theory and the upside-down religion of our enemy and ultimately his secular methods.

No matter that we quarrel over details. If we agreed that the Russians are right about the nature of man and the universe then we might as well stop fighting now and save ourselves a lot of trouble, because we would be fighting hopelessly for something which doesn’t exist, for an exploded theory. Even if we won, militarily, on that basis, we would lose. In destroying the enemy, we would be establishing his way of life, altered in detail only.

Goebbels’ laugh echoes from the dead. He knows that if we admit the Russian lie into our citadel then nothing, not even atomic bombs, can save us from such a fifth column.

It doesn’t matter to Goebbels that the Russian nation is winning and the German temporarily destroyed. The victory is still all Goebbels’—man at last has surrendered to his barbarism. His Big Lie has won. From there on suitable political arrangements can be made to enforce it, under new fiihrers.

The political disputes, the ideological wrangle, the military struggle are all minor beside the all - decisive question whether western man will finally accept the Lie of Universal Lawlessness.

That question cannot be answered by any government, military leader or physical weapon. It will be answered by the individual man. If he is quietly abandoning his faith in God and in himself, as he seems to be doing, we are lost. The final lie, piled on all the others, would sink us without trace. ★