Articles by Hoiles: The Both Sides Debate

Editorial comment: In reviewing a cache of letters between the libertarian publisher R.C. Hoiles and the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education Leonard E. Read, I came across a particularly interesting exchange. On June 15, 1946, Read sent R.C. an outline of the ideas and goals behind the newly-formed FEE. On June 28th, R.C. responded, "I enjoyed reading your outline of proposed activities, and reasons therefor, [sic] for the Foundation for Economic Education. It is a wonderful undertaking. I know of no one who could put it over better than you can. There was one point in the proposal that rather caused me to recheck my beliefs. It was the statement questioning the advisability of giving equal time to “both sides” in a debate on economic problems. I see the point that it recognizes that there is another side. I tried to express my reaction to this in an editorial which I am enclosing".

[NOTE: R.C.'s reaction was undoubtedly colored by the fact that he sponsored many debates in which the 50-50 format was observed.] --Wendy McElroy

A transcript of the editorial in question (Santa Ana Register, June 21, 1946):

Both Sides Debate
by R.C. Hoiles

The question of how best to present the advantages of free enterprise over a planned economy is a difficult one to solve. I had always figured that a debate with each side having 50 percent of the time was one of the best methods of showing the advantages of freedom over coercion.

A friend of mine, who is making a life study of how to promote freedom and get people to believe in it, rather questions this plan. Here is the way he puts it:

“To date radio programs have, under the guise of objectivity, featured the presentation of "both sides." This implies, at least to the listening audience, that there are two equally valid sides to coercive action and voluntary action, to totalitarianism and liberty.

“In the sense that there are two sides to the desirability of Hell and Heaven, the advocates of this thesis are right. In simple fact, liberty among mankind is a thing to be accomplished, a zenith in living that can be attained only through desperate striving. The opposite, living under authority, is a mire, an entombment, a condition people fall into, when there ceases to be vigilant effort, virtue, self-discipline and intelligence.

“No true lover of liberty will admit there is another side to the case. He may admit that he does not know how to accomplish everything by voluntary methods, but his thinking will be aimed at finding out. He knows the destructive effects of using coercion except where it is used, as police force should be used, to destroy evil.

"He therefore looks on the 'both sides' policy of forum programs as pernicious devices. Believing in freedom of speech, he does not try to prevent his ideological opponents from using the airwaves but he sees only harm to his cause by acknowledging their 50-50 status, which he does when he submits himself to public debates with them."

Now the above is quite a thought provoking statement. To give Hitler or Stalin 50 per cent of the time in a debate is recognizing that these men who are a law unto themselves have something worth discussing…. On the other hand, if one refuses to discuss these controversial economic issues with those who advocate a compromise with freedom, one becomes dictatorial and arbitrary. One loses one of the best ways in the world to have one's own errors corrected.

Possibly the solution to a 50-50 debate was that each party was to have 50 per cent of the time until one of them was unable to answer questions on things that he was proposing. If any man is unable to answer questions about what he is proposing he is, in reality, admitting that he is talking irrationally; that he is a dreamer and not a practical person.

Yes, we might give them 50-50 time until the advocate of collectivism or statism or coercion could not answer questions. Then the debate would be over. If there is any weak point, any missing link, in any proposal, the man advocating it should cease and desist advocating it and join with the man who advocates things in which there are no contradictions, no unanswerable questions.

In fact, that is the only real purpose of a debate, and to continue to debate after one man is floored by his inability to answer questions is only to offer that person an opportunity to continue his propaganda.

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