The High Goals of Mankind

Roger Baldwin - New York, New York
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, August 6, 2010
Roger Baldwin

ACLU founder Roger Baldwin believed in the lofty goals of abolishing war, ending poverty, resolving racial and international strife, and expanding liberty. While success may not always be possible, Baldwin said there is valor in ceaselessly trying.

Age Group: 65+
Themes: equality, freedom
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I’m what most people would call a reformer. Although born into a well-to-do family in New England, I have always been concerned with the poverty and injustice I saw around me. And from my earliest days, I tried to do something about them. This belief in the duty of social action, I suppose, came with a Puritan heritage expressed in Unitarianism, in the Abolitionist Movement, and in the pioneering movements and thinking with which I was surrounded in my youth in Boston.

I became a professional social worker in settlements, in children’s courts, in political reform, and for the last thirty years in the protection and expansion of those civil liberties which are the motive power of our democracy, whether in this country or in the world. My major efforts now are directed to their expansion to the United Nations. Looking over the state of the human race today, I can’t say that my activities have been rewarded by practical success. But I belong to that school of optimists that holds it more important to try than to succeed. And it’s worth ceaseless trying to oppose war and violence, to attack poverty, and to expand liberty.

I know that it takes enduring faith to believe that mankind will abolish war; that it will produce and fairly share enough goods to make the mass poverty of our world only a bitter memory and overcome all the tragic divisions of racial and national supremacy. But we have a goal already set forth in a document, which summarizes my beliefs in practical language: that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by most of the nations represented in the United Nations Assembly. Of course any such goal sounds visionary in today’s desperate crisis. But I believe that mankind, since the World War, has been engaged in a revolutionary struggle toward it. No institution now goes unchallenged. I have seen in my lifetime most of the colonial peoples throw off the rule of alien masters. I have seen the darker peoples everywhere challenge white supremacy; seen the trade unions and labor parties grow enormously in political power. And I’ve seen women achieve equality in law with men.

The sense of internationalism, despite the bitter conflicts of nations today, gropes toward a world community through the United Nations. My beliefs seem unduly optimistic in so discouraging an era. I gain support for faith from the historic failure of all dictatorships and of all tyrannies. I can’t despair when so many people all over the world are determined to advance, at any sacrifice, the cause of justice and equality and freedom. This universal ferment cannot result if these forces prevail, either in the false salvation of communism, or the desperate resort to fascism, or in the catastrophe of another World War. Democracy, I firmly believe, not reaction, is the answer to communism, but only a democracy which recognizes that only by abolishing poverty can we abolish communism.

The high goals to which mankind so gropingly moves are not new. They’ve been voiced through the ages by religious prophets and by social philosophers in all lands. I’m sustained in my faith in them during a lifetime of practical effort, mainly because I’m convinced not only of their justice, but because nothing less will satisfy the needs and hopes of men and women everywhere.

Roger Baldwin founded the American Civil Liberties Union, and helped defend John T. Scopes, the Scottsboro Boys, the Ku Klux Klan, and many others. Born into a wealthy Boston family, Baldwin started his career as a social worker in St. Louis.