Evolution of Tyranny

May 8, 1952 — The Reading Eagle

The Mossadegh Project | November 10, 2018                     

U.S. President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)

President Truman’s seizure of the U.S. steel industry in particular inspired this forewarning lead and sole editorial in a Reading, Pennsylvania newspaper.

Harry Truman editorial archive
Harry Truman letters, speeches, etc.

Path to Dictatorship

A few days ago, when Harry S. Truman declared that he had no desire to be a dictator, we believed him absolutely. We still do. But we also believe that what Mr. Truman or any other individual wishes in that regard is just about the least important factor in determining our nation’s future.

A nation loses its freedom, not because of the desire of any leader for power—although there always are some individuals with dictatorial ambitions—but because the people fall into a way of life that leads to dictatorship. The law of cause and effect, not the intentions of an egoist, must be used to explain the rise of totalitarianism.

A copyrighted article in the May 9 issue of the magazine. “U.S. News and World Report” presents a graphic picture of the path toward dictatorship which the American people have been following ever since the inauguration of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt—who also may be absolved of any dictatorial desires.

Dictatorship results, the magazine correctly warns, from the growing dependence of people on the actions and policies of the Federal Government and from their reliance on executive decisions of the President to solve their problems.

The article points to the signposts along the way: “Workers now look to the President to give them the wages they want from their employers. Farmers get from the national government the minimum prices they require for their crops and some of the money they need to build up their farms. Businessmen by the score come to Washington for loans to start new enterprises. Old people get their pensions from federally collected funds: so do widows and orphans.”

What all this implies is that dictators are able to dominate a free people only when the people have been placed in a frame of mind to deliver themselves into the hands of a leader.

There are a number of reasons why it is important for Americans now living to understand the evolution of dictatorship. One reason is that, like the currency inflation that is the historical symptom of failing democracy, the march toward dictatorship is an easy and pleasant experience at the beginning. Another is that the seeming material benefits which a benevolent leader can confer tend to make the people less inclined to manage their own affairs. And still another reason for sounding an alarm is that it is possible for the people to march along the road toward dictatorship to a point from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to turn back.

The indifference of the American people to their own government is demonstrated by the failure of a good half of the citizens to vote. The willingness of human beings to surrender their power to a leader is expressed by those people who justify the encroachment of federal authority by the statement that “we have more material things this way.” Americans are not unique in this respect. The same rationalizations were used by Italians who agreed that Mussolini made the trains run on time and by Germans who pointed to the ability of Hitler to provide jobs for every German.

We are laboring the point that dictatorship results from the apathy of the people because we have been sadly aware that a large segment of the population has welcomed President Truman’s seizure of the steel industry as a gesture of friendship for the common man. The action itself may have been taken with altruistic intentions. But the President’s sentiments made it no less a usurpation of power and a threat to democracy which, if not challenged, can be a precedent for enslavement.

It could, of course, be foolish to believe that the town meeting principle could suffice for the solution of the intricate problems which confront a highly-developed and complex society. That the Federal Government must be given increasing responsibility and power is a statement that can not be denied.

However, the very fact that power is centralized in the national capital makes it all the more important and necessary that the exercise of that power be limited by laws and definitions that enable the people to exercise the function of ultimate decision.

Acting as he did, without the authority of law or constitutional prerogative, the Truman seizure took not only the steel industry from its owners but also some basic rights which, in a democracy, belong only to the people and their elected representatives.

We again recall the words of Patrick Henry who declared that vigilance is the price of liberty—and that the vigilance of the people must be “eternal”. Because we believe that statement remains true, we insist that the precedent for autocracy which the steel seizure presents to some future President must not be permitted to stand.

We submit that the growing importance and extended functions to our Federal Government make the preservation of democratic processes dependent upon more power in the hands of the people and an increased popular concern for those constitutional provisions that are the final bulwarks against dictatorship. As “U.S. News” warns, powers are available even now for possible use by a dictator. If the American people are listless it can happen here.

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Why Don't They Vote? | The Perpetual Conundrum of U.S. Voter Apathy

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Related links:

It Can Happen Here | The Milwaukee Sentinel, Oct. 17, 1951

An Object Lesson For All Americans | The Spokesman-Review, June 20, 1952

Will History Repeat? | The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sept. 1952 letter)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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