To protect our freedom, it is necessary to embrace certainty in the power of reason.
As the anniversary of our country's founding approaches, it is important to understand not only what our country stands for but what is required to protect it. Recently, financier George Soros gave us his widely publicized view. His thesis is that the greatest danger to our freedom is the conviction that we can possess rational certainty. People who are certain of their beliefs, he thinks, are bound to force others to accept their views and thus become dictators.
The antidote to certainty and thereby to dictatorship, Soros claims, is the acknowledgment of man's fallibility, which he translates into skepticism, the doctrine that no one can be certain of anything. If only we would recognize the myth of certainty, and embrace an "open society" on faith--he argues--we would be free and prosperous.
Soros is not just wrong about the issue of certainty and dictatorship; his claim is the opposite of the truth. By renouncing reason and certainty, Soros is not barring the door to dictators but putting out a welcome mat for them. When reason is silent, the door is opened to dictators preaching its only alternative: irrational dogma--and there is only one way to enforce dogma: through physical coercion. It is no accident that dictators need censorship and a secret police force to sustain their power; since they cannot appeal to reason, they must force people to obey through terror. Dictators' use of loaded guns is their open confession that their "syllogisms" are empty.
The rise of dictators is made possible by the poison of skepticism being swallowed by the dictators' "pro-freedom" opponents; a poison that Soros claims is the antidote. The destruction of freedom is not caused ultimately by young Hitlers eager for power, but by those "defenders" of freedom who lack the knowledge and confidence to defend it without compromise. In a conflict between a would-be dictator--who says "I am destined to rule; the truth has been revealed to me, obey me"--and the head of the opposing, "pro-freedom" party--who says "I am not sure you're right, but I'm not sure I am right either"--who is going to win? Cringing advocates of uncertainty are no match for thugs who are not uncertain--of their desire to rule.
The key prerequisite to defending freedom is not doubt due to fallibility but confidence due to certainty -- certainty in the power of reason, not of mystical faith. Consider Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers of the United States; they were not quaking skeptics, but men of unwavering intellectual and moral conviction. They did not sign the "Hypothesis" of Independence. They were certain that man gained knowledge through reason and that all men possessed inalienable individual rights. And they risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor--against seemingly impossible odds--in the name of those convictions. The result was the freest, strongest, and most prosperous country in history.
It is true that man is fallible, in the sense that he can make errors. But it does not follow from this that man is doomed to eternal doubt. By the use of reason and logic, he has the power to validate his knowledge and to determine what he can be certain of and what he cannot. For example, since men possess free will, one cannot predict future human choices with certainty, such as what products General Motors will make in the year 2010. But one can be certain that if consumers are rational, and if GM makes poor quality cars at above-market prices, GM will lose money. Similarly, one cannot be certain of what political choices the U.S. will make in the next century, but one can be certain that if we do not choose capitalism, the country will slide into poverty and dictatorship.
The greatest danger to American freedom today is: George Soros or, more precisely, the doctrine he advocates. America's greatest enemies are its intellectuals who agree with Soros that we can know nothing, that all claims to knowledge are biases, that reason is rationalization, that rights are arbitrary, and that morality is just subjective whim. In the absence of firm principles to guide its future, our country will, in default, be ruled by gang warfare. The end of this road is not an "open society" but tyranny. To protect our freedom we need a society of men who stand tall and proud with full certainty in the principles of reason and rights--men who say to potential dictators: We know you are wrong, so hands off.
Edwin A. Locke, a professor emeritus of management at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.