N. Tucson Blvd. Suite 9
Tucson, AZ 85716-3450
Phone: (800) 635-1196
Hotline: (800) 419-4777
of American Physicians and Surgeons, Inc.
A Voice for Private Physicians Since 1943
Omnia pro aegroto
"Thinking by proxy" has developed
with little attention or opposition in
the highly organized society of
contemporary America. Leonard
Read, one of the Foundation staff,
sees many pitfalls in the path of
those who acquiesce to this trend.
His vigorous analysis is offered in
the spirit of his theme as one man's
ON THAT DAY
From the day when the first members of
council placed exterior authority higher than
interior, that is to say, recognized the
decisions of men united in councils as more
important and more sacred than reason and
conscience; on that day began lies that
caused the loss of millions of human beings
and which continue their unhappy work to the
present day. - Leo Tolstoy
This is a striking statement. Is it possible
that there is something of a wholly destructive
nature which has its source in councilmania, or
in group, or in committee-type action? Can this
sort of thing generate lies that actually cause the
loss of "millions of human beings"?
Any reasonable clue to the unhappy state of
our affairs merits investigation. Two world wars
that settled nothing except adding to the
difficulties of avoiding even worse ones; men
lacking in good character rising to positions of
power over millions of other men; freedom to
produce, to trade, to travel, disappearing from
the earth; everywhere the fretful talk of Security
as insecurity daily becomes more evident;
suggested solutions to problems made of the
stuff that gave rise to the problems
;.... these and other perplexities of import
combine to raise a tumultuous "why," and to
hasten the search for answers....
Human life is dependent not only on the
knowledge of right principles but dependent,
also, on actions in accordance with right
principles....[T]he nearest that any person can
get to right principles truth is that which his
highest personal judgment dictates as right.
Beyond that one cannot go or achieve. Truth,
then, as nearly as any individual can express it,
is in strict accordance with this inner, personal
dictate of rightness.
The accurate representation of this inner,
personal dictate is intellectual integrity. It is the
expressing, living, acting of such truth as any
given person is in possession of. Inaccurate
representation of what one believes to be right
is untruth. It is a lie....
If we could isolate any one or numerous
origins of lies we might put the spotlight on the
genesis of our troublous times. This is why it
seems appropriate to accept Tolstoy's statement
as a hypothesis and examine the idea that lies
begin with "decisions of men united in councils
as more important and more sacred than reason
and conscience." For, certainly, today, much of
the decision that guides national and world
policy springs from "men united in councils."
In what manner, then, do "the decisions of
men united in councils" tend to initiate lies?
Experience with these arrangements suggests
that there are several ways.
The first has to do with a strange and what
in most instances must be an unconscious
behavior of men in association. Consider the
mob. It is a loose association. The mob will tar
and feather, burn at the stake, string up by the
neck, and otherwise murder. But dissect this
association, pull it apart; investigate its
individual components. Each person, very often,
is a God-fearing, home-loving, wouldn't-kill-a-fly
type of individual.
What happens, then? What makes persons
in a mob behave as they do? What accounts for
the distinction between these persons acting as
responsible individuals and acting in association?
Perhaps it is this: These persons, when in
mob association, and maybe at the instigation of
a demented leader, remove the self-disciplines
which guide them in individual action; thus the
evil that is in each person is released, for there
is some evil in all of us. In this situation, no one
of the mobsters consciously assumes the
personal guilt for what is thought to be a
collective act but, instead, puts the onus of it on
an abstraction which, without persons, is what
the mob is.
There may be the appearance of unfairness
in relating mob association to association in
general. In all but one respect, yes. But in one
respect there is a striking similarity.
Persons advocate proposals in association
that they would in no circumstance practice in
individual action. Honest men, by any of the
common standards of honesty, will, in a board
or a committee, sponsor, for instance, legal
thievery that is, they will urge the use of the
political means to exact the fruits of the labor of
others for the purpose of benefiting themselves,
their group, or their community.
These leaders, for they have been elected or
appointed to a board or a committee, do not
think of themselves as having sponsored legal
thievery. They think of the board, the committee, the council or
the association as having
taken the action. The onus of the act, to their
way of thinking, is put on an abstraction which
is what a board or an association is without
Imagine this: Joe Doakes passed away and
floated up to the Pearly Gates. He pounded on
the Gates and St. Peter appeared.
"Who are you, may I ask?"
"My name is Joe Doakes, sir."
"Where are you from?"
"I am from Updale, U.S.A."
"Why are you here?"
"I plead admittance, Mr. St. Peter."
St. Peter scanned his scroll and said, "Yes,
Joe, you are on my list. Sorry I can't let you in.
You stole money from others, including widows
"Mr. St. Peter, I had the reputation of being
an honest man. What do you mean, I stole
money from widows and orphans?"
"Joe, you were a member, a financial
supporter and once on the Board of Directors of
The Updale Do-Good Association. It advocated
a municipal golf course in Updale which took
money from widows and orphans in order to
benefit you and a hundred other golfers."
"Mr. St. Peter, that was The Updale Do-
Good Association that took that action, not your
humble applicant, Joe Doakes."
St. Peter scanned his scroll again, slowly
raised his head, and said somewhat sadly, "Joe,
The Updale Do-Good Association is not on my
list, nor any foundation, nor any chamber of
commerce, nor any trade association, nor any
labor union, nor any P.T.A. All I have listed here
are persons, just persons."
It ought to be obvious that we as individuals
stand responsible for our actions regardless of
any wishes to the contrary, or irrespective of the
devices we try to arrange to avoid personal
responsibility. Actions of the group character
heretofore referred to are lies for in no sense are
they accurate responses to the highest judgments of the
The second way that lies are initiated by
"the decisions of men united in councils" inheres
in commonly accepted committee practices. For
example: A committee of three has been
assigned the task of preparing a report on what
should be done about rent control. The first
member is devoted to the welfare-state idea and
believes that rents should forever be controlled
by governmental fiat. The second member is a
devotee of the voluntary society, free market
economy and a government of strictly limited
powers and, therefore, believes that rent control
should be abolished forthwith. The third member
believes rent controls to be bad but thinks that
the decontrol should be effected gradually, over
a period of years.
This not uncommon situation is composed
of men honestly holding three irreconcilable
beliefs. Yet, a response is expected and under
the customary committee theory and practice is
usually forthcoming. What to do? Why not hit
upon something that is not too disagreeable to
any one of the three? For instance, why not
bring in a report recommending that landlords be
permitted by government to increase rents in an
amount not to exceed 15%? Agreed!
In this hypothetical but common instance
the recommendation is a fabrication, pure and
simple. Truth, as understood by any one of the
three, has no spokesman. By any reasonable
definition a lie has been told.
Another example: Three men having no pre-
conceived ideas are appointed to bring in a
report. What will they agree to? Only that which
they are willing to say in concert which,
logically, can be only the lowest common-
denominator opinion of the majority! The lowest
common-denominator opinion of two persons
cannot be an accurate reflection of the highest
judgment of each of the two. The lowest
common-denominator opinion of set of men is
at variance with truth as here defined. Again, it
is a fabrication. Truth has no spokesman. A lie
has been told.
These examples (numberless variations
could be cited) suggest only the nature of the lie
in embryo. It is interesting to see what becomes
Not all bodies called committees are true
committees, a phase of the discussion that will
be dealt with later. However, the true
committee, the arrangement which calls for
resolution in accordance with what a majority of
the members are willing to say in concert, is but
the instigator of fabrications yet more
pronounced. The committee, for the most part,
presupposes another larger body to which its
recommendations are made.
These larger bodies have a vast, almost an
all-inclusive, range in present-day American life.
The neighborhood development associations; the
small town and big city chambers of commerce;
the regional and national trade associations; the
P.T.A.'s; labor unions organized vertically to
encompass crafts and horizontally to embrace
industries; farmers' granges and coops; medical
and other kinds of professional societies; ward,
precinct, county, state and national
organizations of political parties; governmental
councils from the local police department board
to the Congress of the United States; the United
Nations; thousands and tens of thousands of
them, every citizen embraced by several of them
and millions of citizens embraced by scores of
them; most of them resolving as groups,
deciding as "men united in councils."
These associational arrangements divide
quite naturally into two broad classes, (1) those
that are of the voluntary type, the kind to which
we pay dues if we want to, and (2) those that
are a part of government, the kind to which we
pay taxes whether we want to or not.
For the purposes of this critique, emphasis
will be placed on the voluntary type. In many
respects criticisms applying to the former are
valid when applied to the latter; nonetheless,
there are distinctions between the way one
should relate oneself to a voluntary association
and the way one, for the sake of self-protection,
is almost compelled to relate himself to a
Now, it is not true, nor is it here pretended,
that every associational resolution originates in
distortions of personal conceptions of what is
right. But any one of the millions of citizens who
participates in these associations has, by experi-
ence, learned how extensive these fabrications
are. As a matter of fact, there has developed a
rather large acceptance of the notion that
wisdom can be derived from the averaging of
opinions, providing there are enough of them.
The quantitative theory of wisdom, so to speak!
If one will concede that the aforementioned
committee characteristics and council behaviors
are perversions of truth, it becomes interesting
to observe the manner of their extension to
observe how the lie is compounded.
Analyzed, it is something like this: An
association takes a stand on a certain issue and
claims or implies it speaks for its 1,000,000
members. It is possible, of course, that each of
the 1,000,000 members agrees with the stand
taken by the organization. But, in all probability,
this is an untruthful statement, for the following
(1) If every member were actually polled on
the issue, and the majority vote was accepted
as the organization's position, there is no certainty that more
than 500,001 persons agreed
with the position stated as that of the
(2) If not all members were polled, or not
all were at the meeting where the voting took
place, there is only the certainty that a majority
of those voting favored the position of the
Organization still claimed to be the belief of
1,000,000 persons. If the quorum should be
100, there is no certainty that more than 51
persons agreed with that position.
(3) It is still more likely that the opinion of
the members was not tested at all. The officers,
or some committee, or some one person may
have determined the stand of the organization.
Then there is no certainty that more than one
person (or a majority of the committee) favored
(4) And, finally, if that person should be
dishonest that is, untrue to that which he
personally believed to be right, either by reason
of ulterior motives, or by reason of anticipating
what the others will like or approve-then, it is
pretty certain that the resolution did not even
originate in honest opinion.
An example will assist in making the point.
The economist of a national association and a
friend were breakfasting one morning, just after
V-J Day. Wage and price controls were still in
effect. The conversation went something as follows:
"I have just written a report on wage and
price controls which I think you will like."
"Why do you say you think I will like it?
Why don't you say you know I will like it?"
"Well, I er hedged a little on rent
"You don't believe in rent controls. Why did
"Because the report is as strong as I think
our Board of Directors will adopt."
"As the economist, isn't it your business to
state that which you believe to be right? If the
Board Members want to take a wrong action, let
them do so and bear the responsibility for it."
Actually, what happened? The Board did
adopt that report. It was represented to the
Congress as the considered Opinion of the
constituency of that association. Many of the
members believed in the immediate abolishment
of rent control. Yet, they were reported as
believing otherwise and paying dues to be thus
misrepresented. By supporting this procedure
with their membership and their money they
were as responsible as though they had gone
before the Congress and told the lie themselves.
To remove the twofold dishonesty from
such a situation, the spokesman of that
association would have to say something like
this to the Congress:
"This report was adopted by our Board of
Directors, 35 of the 100 being present. The vote
was 18 to 12 in favor of the report, 5 not
voting. The report itself was prepared by our
economist, but it is not an accurate reflection of
Such honesty or exactness is more the
exception than the rule as everyone who has
had experience in associational work can attest.
What really happens is a misrepresentation of
concurrence, a program of lying about how
many of who stands for what. Truth, such as is
known, is seldom spoken. It is warped into a
misleading distortion. It is obliterated by this
process of the majority speaking for the
minority, more often by the minority speaking
for the majority, sometimes by one dishonest
opportunist speaking for thousands. Truth, such
as is known the best judgments of individuals for the most part,
This, then, is the stuff out of which much of
local, national and world policy is being woven.
Is it any wonder that many citizens are
Three questions are in order, and deserve
(1) What is the reason for having all these
troubles with truth?
(2) What should we do about these associational
(3) Is there a proper place for associational
activity as relating to important issues?....
Pointing out causes is a hazardous
venture....For the purpose of this critique, it
would be folly to attempt more than casual
reference to some of our own recent
First, there doesn't appear to be any
widespread, lively recognition of the fact that
conscience, reason, knowledge, integrity,
fidelity, understanding, judgment and other
virtues are the distinctive and exclusive properties of
Somehow, there follows from this lack of
recognition the notion that wisdom can be
derived by pooling the conclusions of a sufficient
number of persons, even though no one of them
has applied his faculties to the problems in
question. With this as a notion the imagination
begins to ascribe personal characteristics to a
collective the committee, the group, the association as though
the collective could think,
judge, know, or assume responsibility. With this
as a notion, there is the inclination to substitute
the "decisions of men united in councils" for
reason and conscience. With this as a notion,
the responsibility for personal thought is relieved
and, thus relieved, fails to materialize to its fullest.
Second, there is an almost blind faith in the
efficacy and rightness of majority decision as
though the mere preponderance of opinion were
the device for determining what is right. This
thinking is consistent with and a part of the
"might makes right" doctrine. This thinking, no
doubt, is an outgrowth of the American political
pattern, lacking, it seems, an observance of the
essential distinctions between voluntary and
coercive agencies. It is necessary that these
distinctions be understood unless the whole
associational error is to continue. The following
is, at least, a suggested explanation:
Government organized police force which
according to best American theory should have
a monopoly of coercive power, must contain a
final authority. Such authority was not planned
to be in the person of a monarch, in an oligarchy
or even in a set of elected representatives. The
ultimate, final authority was designed to derive
from and to reside with the people. Erected as
safeguards against the despotism that such a
democratic arrangement is almost certain to
inflict on its members were (1) the Constitution
and (2) the legislative, executive, and judicial
functions so divided and diffused that each
might serve as a check on the others.
When the concession is made that govern-
ment is necessary to assure justice and
maximum freedom, and when the decision is
made that the ultimate authority of that
government shall rest with the people, it follows
that majority vote is not a matter of choice but
a necessity whenever this ultimate authority
expresses itself. No alternative exists with this
situation as a premise. To change from majority
vote as a manner of expression would involve
changing the premise, changing to a situation in
which the ultimate authority rests in one person.
For reasons stated and implied throughout
this critique the majority-decision system is
considered to be most inexpert. However, it
proves to be a virtue rather than a fault as applied to the
exceedingly dangerous coercive
power, providing the coercive power is limited to
its sphere of policing. This inexpertness in such
a circumstance tends to keep the coercive
power from becoming too aggressive.
Conceding the limitation of the coercive
power, which was implicit in the American
design, the really important matters of life, all of
the creative aspects, are outside this coercive
sphere and are left to the attentions of men in
voluntary effort and free association.
The idea of citizens left free to their home
life, their business life, their religious life, with
the coercive power limited to protecting citizens
in these pursuits presents, roughly, the duality
of the American pattern. On the one hand is the
really important part of life, the creative part. On
the other hand is the minor part, the part having
to do with constraint. Constraining and creating
call for distinctly different arrangements.
Constraint can stop the trains but it is not the
force we use to build a railroad.
Out of this pattern has developed a high
appreciation for our form of government,
particularly as we have compared it with the
coercive agencies of the Old World. Here is the
point: The majority-decision system, an effect
rather than a cause of our form of government,
has been erroneously credited as responsible for
the superiority of our form of government. It has
been thought of as its distinctive characteristic.
Therefore, the majority-decision system is
regarded as the essence of rightness. Without
raising questions as to the distinctions between
creating and constraining we have taken a
coercive-agency device and attempted its
application in free association. Something is not
quite right. Perhaps this is one of the causes.
Third, we have in this country carried the
division-of-labor practice to such a high point
and with such good effect in standard-of-living
benefits that we seem to have forgotten that the
practice has any limitations. Many of us, in
respect to our voluntary associational activities,
have tried to delegate moral and personal
responsibilities to mere abstractions, which is
what associations are, without persons. In view
of (1) this being an impossibility, (2) our
persistent attempts to do it, nonetheless, and (3)
the consequent loss of reason and conscience
when personal responsibility is not personally
assumed, we have succeeded in manufacturing
little more than massive quantities of collective
declarations and resolutions. These, lacking in
both wit and reason, have the power to inflict
damage but are generally useless in conferring
understanding. So much for causes.
"What should we do about these
associational difficulties?" This writer, to be
consistent with his own convictions, finds it
necessary to drop into first person, singular, to
answer this question.
In brief, I do not know what our attitude
should be, but only what mine is. It is to have
no part in any association whatever which takes
actions implicating me for which I am not ready
and willing to accept personal responsibility.
Put it this way: If I am opposed, for
instance, to spoliation legal plunder I am not
going to risk being reported in its favor. This is
a matter having to do with morals, and moral
responsibility is strictly a personal affair. In this,
and like areas, I prefer to speak for myself. I do
not wish to carry the division-of-labor idea, the
delegation of authority, to this untenable extreme.
This determination of mine refers only to
voluntary associations and does not include
reference to membership in or support of a
political party. The latter has to do with my
relationship to coercive agencies and these, as
I have suggested, are birds of another feather.
One friend who shares these general
criticisms objects to the course I have
determined on. He objects on the ground that he
must remain in associations which persist in misrepresenting him
in order to effect his own
influence in bettering them. If one accepts this
view, how can one keep from "holing up" with
any evil to be found, anywhere? If lending one's
support to an agency which lies about one's
convictions is as evil as lying oneself, and if to
stop such evil in others one has to indulge in
evil, it seems evident that evil will soon become
unanimous. The alternative? Stop doing evil.
This at least has the virtue of lessening the evil
doers by one.
The question, "Is there a proper place for
associational activity as relating to important
issues?" is certainly appropriate if the
aforementioned criticisms be considered valid.
First, the bulk of activities conducted by
many associations is as businesslike, as
economical, as appropriate to the division-of-
labor process, as is the organization of specialists to bake
bread or to make automobiles. It is
not this vast number of useful service activities
that is in question.
The phase of activities here in dispute has
to do with a technique, a method by which
reason and conscience-such truths as are possessed are not only
robbed of incentive for
improvement but are actually turned into
fabrications, and then represented as the
convictions of persons who hold no such
It was noted above that not all bodies called
committees are true committees, a true
committee being an arrangement by which a
number of persons bring forth a report
consistent with what the majority is willing to
state in concert. The true committee is part and
parcel of the majority-decision system.
The alternative arrangement, on occasion referred to as a
committee, may include the same
set of men. The distinction is that the responsibility and the
authority for a study is vested not
in the collective, the group, but in one person,
preferably the one most skilled in the subject at
issue. The others serve as consultants. The one
person exercises his own judgment as to the
suggestions to be incorporated or omitted. The
report is his and is presented as his, with such
acknowledgments of assistance and
concurrence as the facts warrant. In short, the
responsibility for the study and the authority to
conduct it are reposed where responsibility and
authority are capable of being exercised in a
person. This arrangement takes full advantage of
the skills and specialisms of all parties
concerned. The tendency here is toward an
intellectual levelling-up, whereas with the true
committee the lowest common-denominator
On occasion, associations are formed for a
particular purpose and supported by those who
are like-minded as to that purpose. As long as
the associational activities are limited to the
stated purpose and as long as the members
remain likeminded, the danger of
misrepresentation is removed.
It is the multi-purposed association, the one
that potentially may take a "position on a variety
of subjects, particularly subjects relating to the
rights or the property of others moral questions where
misrepresentation is not only
possible but almost certain.
The remedy here, if a remedy can be put
into effect, is for the association to quit taking
"positions" except on such rare occasions as unanimous
concurrence is manifest, or except as
the exact and precise degree and extent of
concurrence is represented.
The alternative step to most associational
"positions" is for the members to employ the
division-of-labor theory by pooling their
resources to supply services to the members as individuals.
Provide headquarters and
meeting rooms where they may assemble in free
association, exchange ideas, take advantage of
the availability and knowledge of others, know
of each other's experiences. In addition to this,
statisticians, research experts, libraries and a
general secretariat and other aids to effective
work can be provided. Then, let the individuals
speak or write or act as individual persons!
Indeed, this is the real, high purpose of
The practical as well as the ethical advantages of this
suggested procedure may not at
first be apparent to everyone. Imagine, if you
can, Patrick Henry as having said:
"I move that this convention go on record as
insisting that we prefer death to slavery."
Now, suppose that the convention had
adopted that motion. What would have been its
force? Certainly almost nothing as compared
with Patrick Henry's ringing words, "I know not
what course others may take; but as for me,
give me liberty or give me death!"
No one in this instance concerned himself
with what Patrick Henry was trying to do to him
or to someone else. One thought only of what
Patrick Henry had decided for himself and
weighed, more favorably, the merits of
emulation. No convention, no association, no
"decisions of men united in councils" could have
said such a thing in the first place, and second,
anything the members might have said in concert could not have
equalled this. Third, had the
convention been represented in any such
sentiments it is likely that misrepresentation
would have been involved.
One needs to reflect but a moment on the
words of wisdom which have come down to us
throughout all history, the words and works that
have had the power to live, the words and
works around which we have molded much of
our lives, and one will recognize that they are
the words and works of persons, not collective
resolutions, not what men have uttered in
concert, not the "decisions of men united in
In short, if effectiveness for what's right is
the object then the decision-of-men-united-in-
council practice could well he abandoned, if for
nothing else, on the basis of its impracticality. It
is a waste of time in the creative areas, that is,
for the advancement of truth. It is a useful and
appropriate device only as it relates to the
coercive, that is to the restrictive, suppressive,
The reasons for the impracticality of this
device in the creative areas seem clear. Each of
us when seeking perfection, whether of the
spirit, of the intellect, or of the body, looks not
to our inferiors but to our betters, not to those
who self-appoint themselves as our betters, but
to those who, in our own humble judgment, are
our betters. Experience has shown that such
perfection as there is exists in individuals, not in
the lowest common-denominator expressions of
a collection of individuals. Perfection emerges
with the dear expression of personal faith the
truth as it is known, not with the confusing
announcement of verbal amalgams lies.
On that day began lies that caused the loss
of millions of human beings and which continue
their unhappy work to the present day." The evidence, if fully
assembled and correctly
presented, would, no doubt, convincingly affirm
How to stop lies? It is simply a matter of
personal determination and a resolve to act and
speak in strict accordance with one's inner,
personal dictate of what is right. And for each of
us to see to it that no other man or set of men
is given permission to represent us otherwise.
If such truth as we are in possession of
were in no manner inhibited, then life on this
ear th would be at its highest possible best, short
of further enlightenment.
Originally published by
The Foundation for Economic Education
Irvington-on-Hudson, New York
Reprinted with permission, 1994
Reprints available from:
Association of American Physicians
1601 N. Tucson Blvd. Suite 9,
Tucson, AZ 85716
Pamphlet No. 1033,