Arthur Asher Shenfield died on February 13 at the age of 80. A British lawyer and economist, he spent much of the last three decades as a visiting professor at American colleges and universities, setting forth with rare vigor and clarity the principles of the free market and its role as the only economic system compatible with political liberty. His distinctive qualification for this task was a recognition that all the institutions of a free society are dependent upon a disciplined and virtuous populace. In 1972 he was elected president of the Mt. Pelerin Society, the international association of market economists formed by Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. He and his wife, sociologist Dame Barbara Shenfield, lectured at the first national conference sponsored by The Rockford Institute, “Capitalism and Culture,” in 1977. What follows are excerpts from his presentation.

The most significant feature of socialism in the United States is the fact that most American socialists call themselves liberals. They have effectively appropriated that splendid word “liberalism,” which originally meant, and still properly means, the exact opposite of socialism; indeed, so effectively that their American opponents also dignify them by calling them liberals.

This fact is highly significant because in large measure it indicates the posture and character of American socialists. The famous pioneers of socialist thought have exercised only an extremely faint direct influence upon Americans and the American mind. I say this not because only a minute proportion of American socialists have ever read Marx or any other leading socialist theorist. That would not be decisive because only a minority of people in countries under Marxist rule, and probably only a minority of avowed and active Marxists themselves, have read Marx. The majority of people in all countries and societies take their ideas at secondhand. I say it because the great majority of American socialists would not agree with Marx or other leading socialist theorists if they read them, though it must be admitted that in the case of theorists espousing, or claiming to espouse, some form of democratic socialism, the disagreement would be partial and qualified. The truth is that, though there are cases where the adoption of the liberal label is a matter of subterfuge and deception, in most cases American socialists really do believe themselves to be liberals, and would honestly and perhaps indignantly reject the socialist label.

Yet they are genuine socialists, at least in the field of economics. They believe that the solution to all significant economic problems calls for some form or other of governmental intervention. When faced with any economic difficulty, their first and only thought is to call upon the power of government to deal with it, usually by some program requiring large public expenditure and a large bureaucracy.

. . . Contrast the wickedness of the modern Welfare State with what America once did for the poor of the World. “Give me your poor, your huddled masses,” says the Statue of Liberty. But that America offered nobody free bread and butter, assisted housing, or anything else except freedom. No system of food stamps awaited the poor immigrant from Ireland, Italy or Poland. That America said “Here is the land of the free. Come and take this freedom and make of it what you can.” Even the land offered to homesteaders was not a gift of anything other than freedom and opportunity. First, the great majority of immigrants came not for homesteads but for jobs in New York, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, etc. Secondly, the homesteader received no title until he had worked the land for a number of years. Thus the title was really the counterpart to the wages which the worker was paid in the cities. Thirdly, the lots were vacant land. No one was taxed to provide the homesteader with his sustenance. That early America offered true fairness, not the fraudulent “fairness” of the minimum wage, state welfare and the rest.

. . . Thus I conclude that intellectual enlightenment can go far to cure the modern democratic state of its moral obliquity. How then ought we to proceed? Intellectual enlightenment preached to the desert air will of course have no effect. It needs to be linked with and supported by those forces in American life which are still essentially healthy. I believe that there are three from which the forces of regeneration may take sustenance. They are religion, patriotism, and pride in individual achievement. These are far from dead in America. Ally your intellect to them and you will move mountains. And your grandchildren will bless you for the America which you will have bequeathed to them.