Are businesses in favor of free enterprise? Many Americans would think that's a silly question. Conventional thinking would have us believe that anybody who is in business surely supports the very system that sustains them.

The sad truth is considerably more complicated. In reality, some business people do indeed favor free enterprise but an awful lot of them--maybe even a majority--either don't or won't lift a finger on its behalf. The war of ideas rages on, fought by intellectuals and opinion-shapers of every stripe, determining the shape of our society and our liberties in the process, while business people too numerous to count either sit on their hands or actually bankroll the side that's out to slit their economic throats.

For twenty years now, I've been involved in educational activities aimed at preserving free enterprise. I've always believed that the principles which undergird America's astonishing success will evaporate if Americans don't constantly renew their appreciation and understanding of them: self-reliance, entrepreneurship, competition, private property, limited government.

I would be the first to applaud the many businesses which take a chunk of their hard-earned dollars and put them back into the effort to keep and strengthen those time-honored principles.

But it's downright heartbreaking to see so many doing nothing of the sort. They tell you they can't support the cause because it might be "controversial." (This is more true of large corporations than it is for small, privately-held entrepreneurial firms.)

Ask them for a check to help educate teachers and students about free enterprise and their first concern is how it would play with the unions or the political establishment or the social set they run around with. Sometimes they even think it's more socially acceptable, if not downright fashionable, to send a check over to the local socialist university where free enterprise is never mentioned except with disdain. Big Government can live with these guys all right; they're easily intimidated and very pliable.

Something that the literary figure Dante once said might be the most charitable thing I can quote when I think of these "fair weather friends" of freedom: "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain neutrality."

Some businesses depend heavily on government for survival (by way of subsidies, loans, contracts, tariffs, restrictions on the competition, etc.). They routinely validate that old maxim, "He who pays the piper calls the tune." They've so thoroughly and pathetically compromised themselves that they wouldn't know freedom from socialism anyway. If you're working for free enterprise, don't expect checks from this crowd before the millennium. Big Government positively loves these guys; they're brought and paid for and they stay bought.

A recent book by George Mason University economist James T. Bennett, entitled Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy, documents the sad state of corporate America's support for free enterprise. Bennett says that year after year, the overwhelming share of corporate donations for public affairs research groups went to those of a left-of-center, anti-free enterprise persuasion (61.3 percent, by his calculations).

In his introduction to the book, Robert H. Malott of the FMC Corporation writes, "Unfortunately, most corporations devote only a very small share of their contributions to public affairs. Worse yet, even these relatively small contributions often reflect a strategy of appeasement. Put more bluntly, many corporations actually reward the groups that most vigorously attack them."

Business support of groups and people who advocate an ever more intrusive role in the economy for government amounts to nothing more than feeding the alligator in the hope that he can be bought off. It's stupid, shortsighted and suicidal. The alligator will be back for more, you can bet your bottom line on it.

Meantime, many groups and people who advocate freedom and free enterprise are chronically starved of the support they need. I can't tell you how many times I've been personally frustrated because of business people who don't give a darn about freedom, won't give or raise a nickel for it, or promise that they will and then don't come through.

Maybe their businesses have to be nationalized, taxed or regulated into oblivion before they get off their duffs and do something about the state their country's in. And this isn't just peculiar to me; every free enterprise group I know faces the same frustrations every day of the week.

Well, there, I've done it--the most therapeutic viewpoint I've ever written. As for you the reader, if the shoe fits, wear it.