Open letter addressed “To All Innocent Fifth Columnists,” which AR wrote in late 1940 or early 1941, when she was encouraging conservative intellectuals to form a national organization advocating individualism. Apparently she wanted the letter to be issued by such an organization.
Link to Spanish translation: https://objetivismo.org/a-todos-los-quintacolumnistas-inocentes
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You who read this represent the greatest danger to America.
No matter what the outcome of the war in Europe may be, Totalitarianism has already won a complete victory in many American minds and conquered all of our intellectual life. You have helped it to win.
Perhaps it is your right to destroy civilization and bring dictatorship to America, but not unless you understand fully what you are doing.
If that is what you want to do, say so openly, at least to your own conscience, and we who believe in freedom will fight you openly.
But the tragedy of today is that you—who are responsible for the coming Totalitarian dictatorship of America—you do not know your own responsibility. You would be the first to deny the active part you’re playing and proclaim your belief in freedom, in civilization, in the American way of life. You are the most dangerous kind of Fifth Columnist—an innocent, subconscious Fifth Columnist. Of such as you is the Kingdom of Hitler and of Stalin.
You do not believe this? Check up on yourself. Take the test we offer you here.
1) Are you the kind who considers ten minutes of his time too valuable to read this and give it some thought?
2) Are you the kind who sits at home and moans over the state of the world—but does nothing about it?
3) Are you the kind who says that the future is predestined by something or other, something he can’t quite name or explain and isn’t very clear about, but the world is doomed to dictatorship and there’s nothing anyone can do about it?
4) Are you the kind who says that he wishes he could do something, he’d be so eager to do something—but what can one man do?
5) Are you the kind who are so devoted to your own career, your family, your home or your children that you will let the most unspeakable horrors be brought about to destroy your career, your family, your home and your children—because you are too busy now to prevent them?
Which one of the above are you? A little of each?
But are you really too busy to think?
Who “determines” the future? You’re very muddled on that, aren’t you? What exactly is “mankind”? Is it a mystical entity with a will of its own? Or is it you, and I, and the sum of all of us together? What force is there to make history—except men, other men just like you? If there are enough men who believe in a better future and are willing to work for it, the future will be what they want it to be. You doubt this? Why then, if the world is doomed to dictatorship, do the dictators spend so much money and effort on propaganda? If history is predestined in their favor, why don’t Hitler and Stalin just ride the wave into the future without any trouble? Doesn’t it seem more probable that history will be what the minds of men want it to be, and the dictators are smart enough to prepare these minds in the way they want them, while we talk of destiny and do nothing?
You say, what can one man do? When the Communists came to power in Russia, they were a handful of eighteen men. Just eighteen. In a country of 170,000,000 population. They were laughed at and no one took them seriously. According to their own prophet, Karl Marx, Russia was the last country in which Communism could be historically possible, because of Russia’s backwardness in industrial development. Yet they succeeded. Because they knew what they wanted and went after it—historical destiny or no historical destiny. Adolf Hitler started the Nazi Party in Germany with seven men. He was laughed at and considered a harmless crank. People said that, after the Versailles Treaty, Germany could not possibly become a world power again, not for centuries. Yet Hitler succeeded. Because he knew what he wanted, and went after it—history or no history. Shall we believe in mystical fates, or do something about the future?
If you are one of those who have had a full, busy, successful life and are still hard at work making money—stop for one minute of thought. What are you working for? You have enough to keep you in comfort for the rest of your days. But you are working to insure your children’s future. Well, what are you leaving to your children? The money, home or education you plan to leave them will be worthless or taken away from them. Instead, your legacy will be a Totalitarian America, a world of slavery, of starvation, of concentration camps and of firing squads. The best part of your life is behind you—and it was lived in freedom. But your children will have nothing to face save their existence as slaves. Is that what you want for them? If not, it is still up to you. There is time left to abort it—but not very much time. You take out insurance to protect your children, don’t you? How much money and working effort does that insurance cost you? If you put one-tenth of the money and time into insuring against your children’s future slavery—you would save them and save for them everything else which you intend to leave them and which they’ll never get otherwise.
Don’t delude yourself by minimizing the danger. You see what is going on in Europe and what it’s doing to our own country and to your own private life. What other proof do you need? Don’t say smugly that “it can’t happen here.” Stop and look back for a moment.
The first Totalitarian dictatorship happened in Russia. People said: well, Russia was a dark, backward, primitive nation where anything could happen—but it could not happen in any civilized country.
The next Totalitarian dictatorship happened in Italy—one of the oldest civilized countries of Europe and the mother of European culture. People said: well, the Italians hadn’t had much experience in democratic self-government, but it couldn’t happen anywhere else.
The next Totalitarian dictatorship happened in Germany—the country of philosophers and scientists, with a long record of the highest cultural achievements. People said: well, Germany was accustomed to autocracy; and, besides, there’s the Prussian character, and the last war, etc.—but it could not happen in any country with a strong democratic tradition.
Could it happen in France? People would have laughed at you had you asked such a question a year ago. Well, it has happened in France—France, the mother of freedom and of democracy, France, the most independent-minded nation on earth.
What price your smug self-confidence? In the face of the millions of foreign money and foreign agents pouring into our country, in the face of one step after another by which our country is moving closer to Totalitarianism—you do nothing except say: “It can’t happen here.” Do you hear the Totalitarians answering you—”Oh, yeah?”
Don’t delude yourself with slogans and meaningless historical generalizations. It can happen here. It can happen anywhere. And a country’s past history has nothing to do with it. Totalitarianism is not a new product of historical evolution. It is older than history. It is the attempt of the worthless and the criminal to seize control of society. That element is always there, in any country. But a healthy society gives it no chance. It is when the majority in a country becomes weak, indifferent and confused that a criminal minority, beautifully organized like all gangs, seizes the power. And once that power is seized it cannot be taken back for generations. Fantastic as it may seem to think of a dictatorship in the United States, it is much easier to establish such a dictatorship than to overthrow it. With modern technique and modern weapons at its disposal, a ruthless minority can hold millions in slavery indefinitely. What can one thousand unorganized, unarmed men do against one man with a machine gun?
And the tragedy of today is that by remaining unorganized and mentally unarmed we are helping to bring that slavery upon ourselves. By being indifferent and confused, we are serving as innocent Fifth Columnists of our own destruction.
There is no personal neutrality in the world today.
Repeat that and scream that to yourself. In all great issues there are only two sides—and no middle. You are alive or you are dead, but you can’t be “neither” or “in between.” You are honest or you are not—and there is no neutral “half-honest.” And so, you are against Totalitarianism—or you are for it. There is no intellectual neutrality.
The Totalitarians do not want your active support. They do not need it. They have their small, compact, well-organized minority and it is sufficient to carry out their aims. All they want from you is your indifference. The Communists and the Nazis have stated repeatedly that the indifference of the majority is their best ally. Just sit at home, pursue your private affairs, shrug about world problems—and you are the most effective Fifth Columnist that can be devised. You’re doing your part as well as if you took orders consciously from Hitler or from Stalin. And so, you’re in it, whether you want to be or not, you’re helping the world towards destruction, while moaning and wondering what makes the world such as it is today. You do.
The Totalitarians have said: “Who is not against us, is for us.” There is no personal neutrality.
And since you are involved, and have to be, what do you prefer? To do what you’re doing and help the Totalitarians? Or to fight them?
But in order to fight, you must understand. You must know exactly what you believe and you must hold to your faith honestly, consistently and all the time. A faith assumed occasionally, like Sunday clothes, is of no value. Communism and Nazism are a faith. Yours must be as strong and clear as theirs. They know what they want. We don’t. But let us see now, before it is too late, whether we have a faith, what it is and how we can fight for it.
First and above all: what is Totalitarianism? We all hear so much about it, but we don’t understand it. What is the most important point, the base, the whole heart of both Communism and Nazism? It is not the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” nor the nationalization of private property, nor the supremacy of the “Aryan” race, nor anti-Semitism. These things are secondary symptoms, surface details, the effects and not the cause. What is the primary cause, common to both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, and all other dictators, past, present and future? One idea—and one only: That the State is superior to the individual. That the Collective holds all rights and the individual has none.
Stop here. This is the crucial point. What you think of this will determine whether you are a mental Fifth Columnist or not. This is the point which allows no compromise. You must choose one or the other. There is no middle. Either you believe that each individual man has value, dignity and certain inalienable rights which cannot be sacrificed for any cause, for any purpose, for any collective, for any number of other men whatsoever. Or else you believe that a number of men—it doesn’t matter what you call it: a collective, a class, a race, or a State—hold all rights, and any individual man can be sacrificed if some collective good—it doesn’t matter what you call it: better distribution of wealth, racial purity, or the Millennium—demands it. Don’t fool yourself. Be honest about this. Names don’t matter. Only the basic principle matters, and there is no middle choice. Either each man has individual, inalienable rights—or he doesn’t.
Your intentions don’t count. If you are willing to believe that men should be deprived of all rights for a good cause—you are a Totalitarian. Don’t forget, Stalin and Hitler sincerely believe that their causes are good. Stalin thinks that he is helping the downtrodden, and Hitler thinks that he is serving his country as a patriot. They are good causes, both of them, aren’t they? Then what creates the horrors of Russia and of Germany? What is destroying all civilization? Just this one idea—that to a good cause everything can be sacrificed; that individual men have no rights which must be respected; that what one person believes to be good can be put over on the others by force.
And if you—in the privacy of your own mind—believe so strongly in some particular good of yours that you would be willing to deprive men of all rights for the sake of this good, then you are as guilty of all the horrors of today as Hitler and Stalin are. These horrors are made possible only by men who have lost all respect for single, individual human beings; who accept the idea that classes, races and nations matter, but single persons do not; that a majority is sacred, but a minority is dirt; that herds count, but Man is nothing. Where do you stand on this? There is no middle ground.
If you accept the Totalitarian idea, if the words “State” or “Collective” are sacred to you, but the word “Individual” is not—stop right here. You don’t have to read further. What we have to say is not for you—and you are not for us. Let’s part here—but be honest, admit that you are a Totalitarian and go join the Communist Party or the German-American League, because they are the logical end of the road you have chosen, and you will end up with one or the other, whether you know it now or not.
But if you are a Humanitarian and a Liberal—in the real, not the prostituted sense of these words—you will say, with us, that Man – each single, solitary, individual Man – has a sacred value which you respect, and sacred, inalienable rights which nothing must take away from him.
You believe this? You agree with us that this is the heart of true Americanism, the basic principle upon which America was founded and which made it great—the Rights of Man and the Freedom of Man? But do you hear many voices saying this today?
Do you read many books saying this? Do you see many prominent men preaching this? Do you know a single publication devoted to this belief or a single organization representing it? You do not. Instead, you find a flood of words, of books, of preachers, publications, and organizations which, under very clever “Fronts,” work tirelessly to sell you Totalitarianism. All of them are camouflaged under very appealing slogans: they scream to you that they are defenders of “Democracy,” of “Americanism,” of “Civil Liberties,” etc. Everybody and anybody uses these words—and they have no meaning left. They are empty generalities and boob-catchers. There is only one real test that you can apply to all these organizations; ask yourself: What is the actual result of their work under the glittering bromides? What are they really selling you, what are they driving at? If you ask this, you will see that they are selling you Collectivism in one form or another.
They preach “Democracy” and then make a little addition—”Economic Democracy” or a “Broader Democracy” or a “True Democracy,” and demand that we turn all property over to the Government; “all property” means also “all rights”; let everybody hold all rights together—and nobody have any right of any kind individually. Is that Democracy, or is it Totalitarianism? You know of a prominent woman commentator who wants us all to die for Democracy—and then defines “true” Democracy as State Socialism. You have heard Secretary Ickes define a “true” freedom of the press as the freedom to express the views of the majority. You have read in a highly respectable national monthly the claim that the Bill of Rights, as taught in our schools, is “selfish”; that a “true” Bill of Rights means not demanding any rights for yourself, but your giving those rights to “others.” God help us, fellow-Americans, are we blind? Do you see what this means? Do you see the implications?
And this is the picture, wherever you look. They “oppose” Totalitarianism and they “defend” Democracy—by preaching their own version of Totalitarianism, some form of “collective good,” “collective rights,” “collective will,” etc. And the one thing which is never said, never preached, never upheld in our public life—the one thing all these “defenders of Democracy” hate, denounce and tear down subtly, gradually, systematically—is the principle of Individual Rights, Individual Freedom, Individual Value. That is the principle against which the present great world conspiracy is directed. That is the heart of the whole world question. That is the only opposite of Totalitarianism and our only defense against it. Drop that—and what difference will it make what name you give to the resulting society? It will be Totalitarianism—and all Totalitarianisms are alike, all come to the same methods, the same slavery, the same bloodshed, the same horrors, no matter what noble slogan they start under, as witness Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.
Principles are much more consistent than men. A basic principle, once accepted, has a way of working itself out to its logical conclusion—even against the will and to the great surprise of those who accepted it. Just accept the idea that there are no inalienable individual rights—and firing squads, executions without trial, and a Gestapo or a G.P.U. will follow automatically—no matter who holds the power, no matter how noble and benevolent his intentions. That is a law of history. You can find any number of examples. Can you name one counter-example? Can you name one instance where absolute power—in any hands—did not end in absolute horror? And—for God’s sake, fellow-Americans, let’s not be utter morons, let’s give our intelligence a small chance to function and let’s recognize the obvious—what is absolute power? It’s a power which holds all rights and has to respect none. Does it matter whether such a power is held by a self-appointed dictator or by an elected representative body? The power is the same and its results will be the same. Look through all of history. Look at Europe. Don’t forget, they still hold “elections” in Europe. Don’t forget, Hitler was elected.
Now, if you see how completely intellectual Totalitarianism is already in control of our country, if you see that there is no action and no organization to defend the only true anti-Totalitarian principle, the principle of individual rights, you will realize that there is only one thing for us to do: to take such action and to form such an organization. If you are really opposed to Totalitarianism, to all of it, in any shape, form or color—you will join us. We propose to unite all men of good will who believe that Freedom is our most precious possession, that it is greater than any other consideration whatsoever, that no good has ever been accomplished by force, that Freedom must not be sacrificed to any other ideal, and that Freedom is an individual, not a collective entity.
We do not know how many of us there are left in the world. But we think there are many more than the Totalitarians suspect. We are the majority, but we are scattered, unorganized, silenced and helpless. The Totalitarians are an efficient, organized and very noisy minority. They have seized key positions in our intellectual life and they make it appear as if they are the voice of America. They can, if left unchecked, hijack America into dictatorship. Are we going to let them get away with it? They are not the voice of America. We are. But let us be heard.
To be heard, however, we must be organized. This is not a paradox. Individualists have always been reluctant to form any sort of organization. The best, the most independent, the hardest working, the most productive members of society have always lived and worked alone. But the incompetent and the unscrupulous have organized. The world today shows how well they have organized. And so, we shall attempt what has never been attempted before—an organization against organization. That is—an organization to defend us all from the coming compulsory organization which will swallow all of society; an organization to defend our rights, including the right not to belong to any forced organization; an organization, not to impose our ideology upon anyone, but to prevent anyone from imposing his ideology upon us by physical or social violence.
Are you with us?
If you realize that the world is moving toward disaster, but see no effective force to avert it—
If you are eager to join in a great cause and accept a great faith, but find no such cause or faith offered to you anywhere today—
If you are not one of those doomed jellyfish to whom the word “Freedom” means nothing—
If you cannot conceive of yourself living in a society without personal freedom, a society in which you will be told what to do, what to think, what to feel, in which your very life will be only a gift from the Collective, to be revoked at its pleasure at any time—
If you cannot conceive of yourself surrendering your freedom for any collective good whatsoever, and do not believe that any such good can ever be accomplished by such a surrender—
If you believe in your own dignity and your own value, and hold that such a belief is not “selfish,” but is instead your greatest virtue, without which you are worthless both to your fellow-men and to yourself—
If you believe that it is vicious to demand that you should exist solely for the sake of your fellow-men and grant them all and any right over you—
If you believe that it is vicious to demand everyone’s sacrifice for everyone else’s sake, and that such a demand creates nothing but mutual victims, without benefiting anyone, neither society nor the individual—
If you believe that men can tell you what you must not do to them, but can never assume the arrogance of telling you what you must do, no matter what their number—
If you believe in majority rule only with protection for minority rights, both being limited by inalienable individual rights—
If you believe that the mere mention of “the good of the majority” is not sufficient ground to justify any possible kind of horror, and that those yelling loudest of “majority good” are not necessarily the friends of mankind—
If you are sick of professional “liberals,” “humanitarians,” “uplifters” and “idealists” who would do you good as they see it, even if it kills you, whose idea of world benevolence is world slavery—
If you are sick, disgusted, disheartened, without faith, without direction, and have lost everything but your courage—
—come and join us.
There is so much at stake—and so little time left.
Let us have an organization as strong, as sure, as enthusiastic as any the Totalitarians could hope to achieve. Let us follow our faith as consistently as they follow theirs. Let us offer the world our philosophy of life. Let us expose all Totalitarian propaganda in any medium and in any form. Let us answer every argument, every promise, every “Party Line” of the Totalitarians. Let us drop all compromise, all cooperation or collaboration with those preaching any brand of Totalitarianism in letter or in spirit, in name or in fact. Let us have nothing to do with “Front” organizations, “Front” agents or “Front” ideas. We do not have to proscribe them by law. We can put them out of existence by social boycott. But this means—no compromise. There is no compromise between life and death. You do not make deals with the black plague. Let us touch nothing tainted with Totalitarianism. Let us tear down the masks, bring them out into the open and—leave them alone. Very strictly alone. No “pro-Soviet” or “pro-Nazi” members of the board in our organization. No “benevolent” Trojan horses. Let us stick together, as they do. They silence us, they force us out of public life, they fill key positions with their own men. Let us stick together—and they will be helpless to continue. They have millions of foreign money on their side. We have the truth.
As a first step and a first declaration of what we stand for, we offer you the following principles:
We believe in the value, the dignity and the freedom of Man.
—That each man has inalienable rights which cannot be taken from him for any cause whatsoever. These rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
—That the right of life means that man cannot be deprived of his life for the convenience of any number of other men.
—That the right of liberty means freedom of individual decision, individual choice, individual judgment and individual initiative; it means also the right to disagree with others.
—That the right to the pursuit of happiness means man’s freedom to choose what constitutes his own private, personal happiness and to work for its achievement; that such a pursuit is neither evil nor reprehensible, but honorable and good; and that a man’s happiness is not to be prescribed to him by any other man nor by any number of other men.
—That these rights have no meaning unless they are the unconditional, personal, private possession of each man, granted to him by the fact of his birth, held by him independently of all other men, and limited only by the exercise of the same rights by other men.
—That the only just, moral and beneficent form of society is a society based upon the recognition of these inalienable individual rights.
—That the State exists for Man, and not Man for the State.
—That the greatest good for all men can be achieved only through the voluntary cooperation of free individuals for mutual benefit, and not through a compulsory sacrifice of all for all.
—That “voluntary” presupposes an alternative and a choice of opportunities; and thus even a universal agreement of all men on one course of action is neither free nor voluntary if no other course of action is open to them.
—That each man’s independence of spirit and other men’s respect for it have created all civilization, all culture, all human progress and have benefited all mankind.
—That the greatest threat to civilization is the spread of Collectivism, which demands the sacrifice of all individual rights to collective rights and the supremacy of the State over the individual.
—That the general good which such Collectivism professes as its objective can never be achieved at the sacrifice of man’s freedom, and such sacrifice can lead only to general suffering, stagnation and degeneration.
—That such conception of Collectivism is the greatest possible evil—under any name, in any form, for any professed purpose whatsoever.
Such is our definition of Americanism and the American way of life. The American way of life has always been based upon the Rights of Man, upon individual freedom and upon respect for each individual human personality. Through all its history, this has been the source of America’s greatness. This is the spirit of America which we dedicate ourselves to defend and preserve.
In practical policy we shall be guided by one basic formula: of every law and of every conception we shall demand the maximum freedom for the individual and the minimum power for the government necessary to achieve any given social objective.
If you believe this, join us. If you don’t—fight us. Either is your privilege, but the only truly immoral act you can commit is to agree with us, to realize that we are right—and then to forget it and do nothing.
There is some excuse, little as it may be, for an open, honest Fifth Columnist. There is none for an innocent, passive, subconscious one. Of all the things we have said here to you, we wish to be wrong on only one—our first sentence. Prove us wrong on that. Join us.
The world is a beautiful place, and worth fighting for. But not without Freedom.
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Source: The Journals of Ayn Rand, 10 – Communism And HUAC
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Explanation of the meaning of Fifth Columnists:
Americans have always been uncomfortable with conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, the specter of Fifth Columnists, groups of organized traitors in America, has been a real and haunting shadow. Its origins come from the 1936 Spanish Civil War, when a rebel general spoke of his four columns advancing on Madrid, and that he also had a “fifth column” of covert collaborators in the city. Thereafter, Nazi spies and sympathizers were commonly referred to as Fifth Columnists.
Link to Spanish translation: https://objetivismo.org/a-todos-los-quintacolumnistas-inocentes