Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Libertarian
Column by Duane Colyar.
Exclusive to STR
Over the years I’ve enjoyed introducing my children and grandchildren to the concept of liberty and the freedom-threatening hazards of the welfare-warfare state. This introduction has started when they were as young as three years old. The reader might ask, “How can this be? Children that young can’t comprehend the complexities of social order and statism.” The answer, of course, lies in how the message is packaged and the images portrayed. We are fortunate that such a package exists and has existed for some time. It is found in a simple children’s book by a popular author and illustrator named Theodor Geisel, who wrote under the name Dr. Seuss. While many of us are familiar with Dr. Seuss’s books, not all appreciate the underlying libertarian message found in many of them, particularly in “Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose.”
For those unfamiliar with this story, a brief summary will suffice. Thidwick is a moose spending his days happily munching moose-moss with the members of his herd. Along comes an insect and asks Thidwick if he can ride on his massive antlers, and Thidwick, being of a generous nature, gives his permission. Thus his troubles begin. More and more critters note that Thidwick is taking on free-riders and begin to move onto his antlers, including a woodpecker, bobcat and a bear. Gradually, this menagerie begins to think of the antlers more as a home than as a temporary ride. Thidwick is weighted down by the burden of supporting his “guests.” With winter coming, the herd decides it’s time to swim to the southern shore of the lake. As Thidwick steps into the water, a great uproar occurs in his antlers. His free-riders don’t want him to take their home to the other side of the lake. Thidwick points out that he can’t survive the winter on the northern shore. One of the critters suggests settling the dispute by democratic means. A vote is taken. Thidwick loses the vote eleven to one. Thidwick is then targeted by a group of hunters looking for trophies. Burdened down, he can’t escape and, just as he is about to be shot, the annual shedding of his antlers occurs and he swims to the southern shore of the lake.
One of the book’s online reviewers notes that the message of Thidwick is Randian in that the hapless moose “shrugs” off his antlers and escapes his enslavement. Because “Thidwick” was published a number of years before Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, I would suggest that Rand’s great novel is actually Seussian in content. In any event, the libertarian message of the dangers of collectivism is apparent in Seuss’s story.
My children, like children everywhere, ask questions when told a story. Often, gentle Socratic probing on the part of the adult by asking questions in return will help clarify the moral of the story, e.g., is it fair for a majority to tell a minority how to live their lives while taking away their freedom and property? In real life, by what method does one group often use force to make others comply with their demands? Did Thidwick make a mistake by offering his antlers in the first instance? What could he have done to still be generous while keeping others from taking over his antlers and his life? Who were the platoon of hunters and why did they want to get Thidwick? The questions can go on and on with both questions and answers crafted to match the child’s age and maturity.
If we are ever to shed the burden of big government, we must present our children with an alternative vision, that of a decentralized, civil society governed by the spontaneous social order generated by human action in pursuit of needs. I have found that a foundation for beginning to understand individual liberty and property rights can be introduced to eager young minds through the reading of Seuss, an understanding that will be sorely needed as they endure the stultifying, collectivistic machinations of public schools. So, turn off the television, sit your youngsters down and begin the melodious, rhythmic words describing a moose that lives up on Lake Winna-Bango, on the far northern shore.