PART THREE: THE GOOD FASCISM: AMERICA
[I have cut section I "Permanent Crisis in America"; and section II "The Good Deficits".]
III · The Righteous Autarchy
THE LAST SEVENTY YEARS of American history have been a struggle between the ideal of “free enterprise” and the determination to restrain and regiment it. Beginning with institutions like the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Sherman Anti-Trust Law, the public set out to “regulate” industry and followed that soon with the state regulation of public-utility monopolies. Business leaders called this interference in business. Actually it was not. It was precisely the reverse. Business itself comprises the whole immense web of producing and distributing enterprises. Some men, for various reasons, set out to interfere in the natural workings of this immense organism. They organized first trade associations, then secret combinations, then trusts, then holding companies, then cartels to control production, distribution, trade practices. Some of this proceeded from sheer greed and predatory ambition. But some of it also took its rise in the effort of producers to protect themselves from the unruly hazards of trade. Thus the first combinations in oil were formed not by Rockefeller and the refiners but by the little producers in the oil regions who wanted to protect themselves from overproduction which forced the price of oil down to fifty cents a barrel when they thought by combination they could keep it to five dollars.
Rockefeller took the same course, uniting the bigger men with more brains, more capital, and more combining power to do the same thing for the refiners, but more intelligently. That feverish, helter-skelter, and dramatic episode of American business between 1870 and 1911 was not what so many have painted it—a mere assault by rapacious men upon the nation’s wealth. It was that, but it was something more and also of more importance. There was a definite conviction that the economic system needed control and direction and there was also the conviction, as there was in Europe, that that control and direction should be supplied by the producers. And by producers was meant businessmen. The laws passed by the federal government and the states—particularly the anti-trust laws—were not intended to supply control and direction. They were designed to prevent the control and direction that businessmen attempted to impose. They were laws not to interfere in business but to prevent interference in business by businessmen.
What is more significant, however, is that despite the presence on the statute books of the anti-trust laws the whole development of combinations through trusts, cartels, trade associations, had its highest activity after the passage of these laws. Which is merely one more illustration of the fact that there are always present in the society certain powerful currents of opinion and desire against which even highly organized government makes headway with difficulty.
World War I had a profound effect upon this development. Immediately preceding it President Wilson had carried through the most determined assault upon the whole trend yet made. At the same time, however, the movement took another turn. The operation of an outright monopoly by a single great corporation had become difficult under the laws. But by 1912 business gave the movement another direction. The idea of self-rule, not by one great monopoly, but by great numbers of competitors in a given trade combining to regulate the trade became the new order. This was just making some progress when Wilson leveled an attack upon it with the Clayton Act and the Federal Trade Commission. But then came the war, which suspended the attack and actually brought the very government which had denounced self-rule and combination to the necessity of bringing competitors together for the war effort. This experience shook the whole system of free enterprise to its foundations, as it did in Germany under Walter Rathenau. When the war ended, the new cry for self-rule in business became the central doctrine of organized business. A whole library of books, magazine articles, and pamphlets blossomed into print setting out the necessity of changes in our laws to encourage business groups to unite to establish better systems of ethics, more intelligent supervision of production, prices, credit, labor standards, and all the other features of competition.
Many labor leaders began to be aware of the blessings of combination if it would include the unions. Thus Mr. Matthew Woll, vice-president of the American Federation of Labor, came out around 1924 for the repeal of the anti-trust laws. Labor leaders thought they saw a condition favorable to labor in large combinations of employers on one side and large and powerful unions on the other. Getting together would be easier. There were plenty of instances of employers’ associations and unions entering agreements for mutual protection, labor getting recognition and the closed shop on one side and employers getting complete control of the trade through labor’s refusal to work for employers who refused to co-operate with the combination.
During the administration of President Coolidge at least two-score industries adopted what were called codes of practice. Under cover of agreements to eliminate unethical practices, prices, production, and competition were controlled. This was done under the protection and sponsorship of the Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission. Herbert Hoover put an end to it when he became President.
In all this we see the development of the syndicalist idea—that the economic system must be subjected to planning and control, that this planning must be done outside the political state, that it must be committed to the hands of the producing groups. In the United States, as in Italy and Germany, employers through their trade associations and workers through their unions were approaching a common ground by different routes. They differed with increasing violence on many points—wage and working conditions—but all the time were drawing closer together on the central idea of syndicalism.
After the depression of 1929 got under way a new school of reformers made its appearance. They were known as the Planners and their theories appeared in books by George Soule, of the New Republic, Stuart Chase, and Dr. Charles Beard. Russia’s Five-Year Plan had excited the admiration of the world. Why could not America have a plan—five years or some other span at least? In fact, what could be said against a community of intelligent beings, which had the means of producing abundance, yet suffered from want, sitting down with forethought and fabricating a plan to possess itself of the abundance within its reach? Thorstein Veblen had infected many younger thinkers with his lucubrations on the capitalist preoccupation with the creation of scarcity through employer sabotage or the withdrawal of efficiency in production to keep down production. Why, therefore, does not America set about working out a five-year plan of its own to set all its producing instruments to work to produce not scarcity in the interests of profits but abundance in the interest of the people? Everyone saw that economic laws were working blindly against us, and there was a powerful appeal in the demand that we control and direct economic law to work for us, as we control the law of gravity, for constructive purposes. The idea of planning is filled with artful suggestion. No one can think of an argument against planning.
I have already outlined briefly the character of the problem involved in business planning and in communist planning. I shall take the risk of repetition to point up again this theory which it is so important for us to understand. For instance, the United States Steel Corporation is an immense holding company, which operates mines, steel plants, railroads, steamships, fabricating industries. It is unthinkable that its directors would not sit down at intervals and determine on their future course—what plants should be operated, what plants should be slowed down or closed or replaced, what products should be pushed most vigorously, what new merchandise should be offered, what prices should be, what markets should be exploited, how funds should be obtained, if at all, by shares or bonds or bank credit. In short, the intelligent directorate of this corporation must operate on a plan. The same is true of Russia. The Soviet is an immense political organization. But it is something more. It is a gigantic holding company which owns every railroad, utility, manufacturing plant, every farm and store in the land. It is an operating enterpriser—the only one—in Russia. Therefore, of necessity it must and can sit down at intervals and lay out a plan for the management of its multitudinous enterprises just like any other owner. Indeed it cannot escape this because, as the price and profit regulator is not there to determine the movement of goods, this has to be done by deliberate fiat of the government entrepreneur. But the United States Government is not a holding company, does not own the producing units of the country. Planning for the economic system by the United States Government would involve a very different problem. It would have to plan for factories, farms, stores, utilities which it does not own, which are owned by private individuals, which private individuals must finance, and in which they must risk their funds in the hope of profits. Such plans would ultimately take the direction of coercion of investors, producers, and distributors, which is unthinkable in a free society. A communist dictatorship can do this. A fascist dictatorship may for a limited time. But a free democratic society cannot do it. Such a society might attempt to tell the laborer where he would work. In a grave enough emergency it may take a worker by the neck and set him down in an arms plant or behind a store counter. But it could never succeed in compelling a man to go into business or to expand a business with his own funds. Only dictators can do this, and then only for a limited time.
The Planners got a good deal of support from unthinking people on the simple score of common sense in the idea of planning as a wise course for all human beings. But the promoters of the idea of planning were thinking of something quite different. They were thinking of a change in our form of society in which the government would insert itself into the structure of business, not merely as a policeman, but as a partner, collaborator, and banker. But the general idea was first to reorder the society by making it a planned and coerced economy instead of a free one, in which business would be brought together into great guilds or an immense corporative structure, combining the elements of self-rule and government supervision with a national economic policing system to enforce these decrees.
This, after all, is not so very far from what business had been talking about. Business wanted the anti-trust laws suspended to enable it to organize into effective trade groups to plan its common activities. It was willing to accept the supervision of the government. This was the general objective of the codes of practice. Critics objected that business wanted to plan for scarcity—they called it protecting themselves against overproduction. Business said that orderly self-government in business would eliminate most of the causes that infected the organism with the germs of crises.
An example of this planning would be that outlined by Mordecai Ezekiel, chief economic adviser of the Agricultural Department, and also one of Vice-President Wallace’s advisers. Under this plan—which he called “Jobs for All”—industry would be organized into categories, that is into trade associations. The planning would actually be done by the employers. In the shoe industry, for instance, the producers and distributors in each locality would determine the number of shoes needed by the people in that community. All the local groups would unite in a regional council which would coordinate these estimates. The regional councils would be brought together in a national council or federation or commission or corporative where employers and employees would be represented. A program of shoe production for the whole period under survey would be outlined together with all the related problems of labor, financing, etc. Sitting over all this would be the government commissar. A program would be agreed on including the number and kinds of shoes to be produced, each region would receive its allocation or quota which in turn would assign to each community and its producers their quota. Then the whole industry would be directed to produce that many shoes, and the government would underwrite the operation, taking off the hands of the producers the surplus, if any, which they could not sell. Thus “full-blast employment,” to use a favorite phrase, would be assured in the shoe and every other industry. This is one type of what is called planning for abundance rather than scarcity.
The vogue of the Planners cannot be explained without attention to one or two features of the passing show of the last twenty-five years. For a long time socialism had made a powerful appeal to the intellectuals. Though he voted consistently the Democratic or Republican ticket, the “intellectual” felt called upon to avow a spiritual acceptance of the socialist philosophy, at least in principle. But the dark history of the Russian experiment, the seeming durability of the old capitalist villainy and the rise of the New Era, contrary to all the best prophecies, shook profoundly the faith of many of the Park Avenue, Greenwich Village, and academic savants who had flirted with the Red dream. Thorstein Veblen, an erratic grumbler, who had a flair for discovering to his own great surprise commonplace truisms that practical men had always known and clothing them in the language of philosophy, exercised a powerful influence over the minds of the youth of the early twenties with his theories about the dictatorship not of the proletariat but of the engineers, along with this device of planning. Veblen added, as a sort of afterthought, the economists to the engineers, and his disciples later took in the whole tribe of professors. Most of his followers were either socialists or the material from which socialists were made. And so they expunged from the philosophy the hateful words of “dictatorship” and “Soviet” which Veblen had used so frankly. They were for “democracy” and, of course, for the dear people and, of course, they were against the businessman as the prime villain of the capitalist system. But they were for capitalism, and they set up as the saviors and planners of a nobler and better form of capitalism which would be organized in the interest of their beloved masses, but would be managed for them by a legion of trained public servants—actually an elite of the professors.
When Mr. Roosevelt came into power it is entirely probable that he never heard of Veblen and certainly knew nothing of his theories. But it fell out that the economist-member of the brain trust was one of Veblen’s most devoted disciples. He proceeded to indoctrinate the candidate and the brain trust with ideas for a capitalist system cast in the mold of Veblenian fascism. This was Mr. Rexford G. Tugwell. Accordingly we find Mr. Tugwell saying, about the time he became Mr. Roosevelt’s chief economic adviser, that “America might have had some such organization as the German cartel system if we had not set out so determinedly forty years ago to enforce competition.”1 He called attention to the fact that factory managers had learned how to link their machines up in series, so that the product moved from one process to another without interruption. In this he saw the model for the economic system in which whole industries, indeed the whole nation, would be thus linked into what Tugwell, adopting Veblen’s idea, called an “operational whole.” The idea of anything being left to chance and to individual initiative seemed to him appalling. All this would pass away. Society, he said, will be organized just as a great factory is organized. There will be no progress toward “unseen” industries. There will be no railroad or electric industry springing into existence out of the little laboratories of scholars and scientists. There must never again be such a thing as an automobile industry leaping out of the initiative of individual pioneers. The future ahead must be planned always, and the technicians will be set to work to realize the dream in the blueprints. A blueprinted world—this is the vision—the organized, disciplined, planned, and blueprinted society.
This, of course, differs little from the dream of Fichte in Germany over one hundred and fifty years ago which captivated the German mind and exercised so great an influence over such different beings as Wilhelm II and his Social Democratic successors. Nothing will be left to chance, nothing will be left to the individual. Everything will be foreseen, planned, organized, and directed by the state. Tugwell concluded this speech with this statement:
“From what I know of human nature I believe the world awaits a great outpouring of energy as soon as we shall have removed the dead hand of competitive enterprise that stifles public impulses and finds use only for the less effective and less beneficial influences of man. When industry is government and government is industry the dual conflict deep in our modern institutions will have abated.”
The wide appeal these ideas made to intellectual groups that were presently to have great influence in the government can hardly be overestimated. Here one finds a singular intertwining of the ideals of socialism and the ideas of capitalism. There is an appalling confusion. Yet confusion was the prevailing state of the time. The capitalists, after the debacle of 1929 and still more after 1932, were in hopeless confusion. But, oddly enough, so were the socialists whose whole case had been shaken first by the prosperity of the twenties and then by the brutalities of the Soviet government. This cult of planning offered to minds that in happier days would have yielded to socialism the perfect escape from surrender to orthodox capitalism. They could be for a kind of capitalist socialism without being just socialist.
When Mr. Roosevelt was elected it was as the representative and champion of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Strangely enough, his predecessor was an engineer with an orderly mind running toward habits of surveying and planning. As a result he had set up a number of commissions to make studies and carry out policies. This practice of Mr. Hoover seemed to excite Mr. Roosevelt’s especial scorn. He denounced regimentation not only when carried on by trade associations but “when it is done by the government of the United States itself.”2 He scored Mr. Hoover for “fostering regimentation without stint or limit.” In March 1930 he said:
The doctrine of regulation and legislation by “master minds” in whose judgment and will all the people may gladly and quietly acquiesce has been too glaringly apparent at Washington these last ten years. Were it possible to find master minds so unselfish, so willing to decide unhesitatingly against their own personal interests or private prejudices, men almost Godlike in their ability to hold the scales of justice with an even hand, such a government might be in the interest of the country. But there are none such on our political horizon, and we cannot expect a complete reversal of all the teachings of history.3
But when Mr. Roosevelt came into power it was not the philosophy of his party as expounded in his pre-election addresses that was put into practice, but measures which corresponded more closely with the teachings of the planners. Which is to say simply this, that the Democratic platform of 1932 shared the fate of the eleven points of Mussolini and the twenty-five points of Hitler. The President entered the White House in the midst of a tremendous economic crisis and the measures he adopted were suggested not by the formal declarations of policy made by politicians based on ideas they supposed to be popular but by the necessities of the times. The reasons upon which Mr. Tugwell’s opinions about planning were based were very different from those of the Chamber of Commerce or the American Federation of Labor. But the idea that there was something wrong in the economic system, that there was disorder, that there ought to be planning of some sort, and that there should be a conscious control and management of the economic system was deeply rooted in all these groups in one form or another. And so as the President settled down to the task of putting policy into effect he ran not with the stream of his oratory, but with the stream of opinion and desire in the minds of the important and dynamic minorities which controlled the thinking of the nation. And so the President who denounced Hoover for his slight, fragmentary efforts at control brought into existence the NRA and the AAA—two of the mightiest engines of minute and comprehensive regimentation ever invented in any organized society. And the masses of the people who had cheered what Mr. Roosevelt had said about regimentation now cheered lustily when he proceeded to impose the regimentation he had denounced, while labor unions and Chamber of Commerce officials, stockbrokers and bankers, merchants and their customers joined in great parades in all the cities of the country in rhapsodical approval of the program.
It is not necessary here to go into the details of the National Recovery Administration (NRA). It was based, not consciously but in fact, almost wholly on the principle of the guild or corporative system which Mussolini was in process of perfecting at that very time. It adopted the Chamber of Commerce’s favorite theory of self-government in industry under government supervision. It suspended the anti-trust laws which the President had vowed to enforce. The codes of practice, which had been drawn up and approved under Mr. Coolidge and which Mr. Hoover had ended, were gotten out, polished up, and strengthened with all sorts of devices to control prices, production, competition in the interest of scarcity and profits. Mr. H. I. Harriman, then president of the Chamber of Commerce, had said a little before:
A freedom of action which might have been justified in the relatively simple life of the last century cannot be tolerated today, because the unwise action of one individual may adversely affect the lives of thousands. We have left the period of extreme individualism and are living in a period in which the national economy must be recognized as a controlling factor.4
Of course the NRA proved to be a colossal failure. The reason was obvious. The innumerable regulations adopted were designed to dictate the behavior of men in the operation of their factories and stores where they had always enjoyed the fullest freedom. However the country may have approved the experiment in theory, in practice enterprisers found themselves subjected suddenly to directives endless in number and complexity, to espionage, and finally to coercions against which they rebelled. Nothing could make this work save the iron hand of a dictatorial and ruthless government that could exist without the approval at the polls of these enterprisers. A dictator in Germany and Italy, answerable to no one save his own mailed fist and with his storm troopers to enforce compliance with his decrees, may, perhaps, operate such a system. But in a democracy it is impossible. Long before the Supreme Court, by a unanimous decision, declared the NRA unconstitutional, it was falling apart for lack of effective compliance machinery.
Thus we saw this experiment in corporativism, planning, and autarchy upon the same general model and for the same reasons as in Germany and Italy. The first condition of a planned economy is that it shall be a closed economy. The perfect example of autarchy would be a nation with an impenetrable wall around it, keeping out everybody and every kind of goods and striving for a complete self-sufficiency. Of course this is not practicable anywhere. Despite our great resources there are essential materials, such as rubber, tin, tungsten, quinine, etc., we do not possess. We must buy them from other nations and in turn sell things to them. But there is a theory that nations should develop their own resources to be self-sufficient as far as humanly possible. The tariff has been used in some measure toward this end, but in a very modified form. However, when planners set out to manage the society, not for self-sufficiency primarily but in order to speed up the economy, it is inevitable that they move toward autarchy. If you seek to plan your economy you must lay down rules for the behavior of manufacturers and distributors and farmers with the object of getting the highest production with the highest wages and the best standards of living. Obviously you cannot let anybody inside that economy compete who does not comply with these regulations. All must pay the agreed wages, work the short hours, provide the minimum health and cultural conditions, pay compensation, old-age, employment, and health insurance, pay the same schedule of high corrective income taxes. Having required this of the producers in your own economy you cannot permit the producers of Germany or Japan or Britain or any other country to bring their products into our market and sell in competition with our producers upon whom we have imposed all these costly regulations. You cannot impose these regulations on the producers of Japan and Germany and Britain. Hence you must exclude their producers for the same reason that you would exclude an American producer who refuses to produce under the requirements of your planned society. Planning means autarchy, and it is interesting to find the adventure of the New Deal in 1933 hailed as such by one of the ardent supporters of its economic policies—indeed the man who was the author of its title, the New Deal. Mr. Stuart Chase said in September 1933:
Autarchy... is distinctly thinkable and it is probably coming. It is unthinkable unless it be controlled. It must be planned and planned by the Federal government... To introduce it in a society of laissez-faire is economic suicide. It can only be undertaken when governments take power and speculative profits away from businessmen and bankers. Vast and delicate problems of adjustment are entailed, which cannot be left to the clumsy hands of high finance. New industries must be set up; old industries liquidated; industrial research for substitute commodities encouraged on a large scale; millions of potential unemployed steered to new jobs; colossal capital shrinkage adjusted in some fashion; such foreign trade as remains rigidly budgeted by central authority. National planning and economic nationalism must go together or not at all. President Roosevelt has accepted the general philosophy of planning. Under his guidance we may move toward an inevitable autarchy with less trepidation than if we were pushed into it while a Hoover or a Mills still gazed dreamily at the logical harmonies of the nineteenth-century free market.5
Since the war effort got under way all the dreams of the planners have been realized. Everything they advocated has been brought about—an economy supported by great streams of debt and an economy under complete control, with nearly all the planning agencies functioning with almost totalitarian power under a vast bureaucracy manned and in many cases guided by the favored elite of the planners. It is no longer a question whether we shall adopt this kind of economy. We have it. The question is, can we get rid of it? It may be a little surprising to ingenuous people now when it is a little late to find that this is precisely what the planners had in mind. Only a few days after the war started, September 20, 1939, Mr. George Soule, most indefatigable planner, was saying in the New Republic:
Under old conditions (of peace) it would have been necessary to wait much longer for the growth of national planning before international planning could be attempted on a large scale. But the war will leave the nation with its own kind of planning agencies and with full economic controls.
Mr. Soule’s statement quoted above is followed by a rather curious observation. It is that when the war is over “the first thing to do is to know how to adapt these to peace objectives and to make the transition smoothly.” The transition, of course, is to an international planned economy. In Washington the Board of Economic Warfare, before its demise headed by Vice-President Wallace and his fidus Achates, Milo Perkins, the State Department, and several other groups have been making their blueprints for what may be called an international WPA, an international PWA, an international AAA, and an international RFC. More than this, they are toying with the idea of carrying on international trade on the national socialist model, that is between nations organized as great trading corporations rather than between the individual importers and exporters of nations.
And while the war is in progress and the minds of the people are upon that vast enterprise and while on a broad range of subjects their thinking is more or less suspended and they are giving to the present government the fullest measure of loyalty, the administration is taking advantage of their trust to advance, through elaborate plans and extensive propaganda carried on with war funds, its proposals for a new economic order in which public debt and economic regimentation will be the central principles—an incredible mixture of autarchy with internationalism, which will never work, which probably can never be started, but which will entangle the nation in a futile and destructive effort toward an impossible end.
What the administration is planning has been made abundantly clear. The National Resources Planning Board was headed by the President’s aged uncle, Colonel Frederic Delano. Its guiding intelligence, however, was Dr. Alvin H. Hansen, who is the leading exponent of the theory of persistent borrowing and deficits as an instrument of public policy. This board has issued a number of pamphlets and reports and has carried on an extensive propaganda in newspapers and colleges for its theory of creating abundance through endless public borrowing. In 1943 the board made an elaborate report to Congress in which it outlined its grandiose program when the war ends. Dr. Hansen had already said in an interview in the Chicago Journal of Commerce that “it is folly to think we can return to normal after the war.” The official report, transmitted to Congress through the President himself, proposed the most amazing and extensive government control when the war ends.
Briefly it proposed (1) that certain war plants which, though not essential, employ many people, shall be kept going to keep up employment and that manufacturing plants financed during the war in regions where no plants existed before shall be kept going; (2) that wartime controls and priorities shall be continued on all scarce materials and plants turning out producers’ goods; (3) continued federal control of industries based on raw materials, or on raw materials whose reserves are diminishing, or industries supplying fuel and power and transportation and other public services; (4) a joint partnership of government and business in aluminum, magnesium, shipbuilding, aircraft, communications, including radio, telephone and telegraph, air transport, synthetic rubber, and certain chemicals; (5) joint partnership and/or government assistance in urban development, housing, transport, terminal reorganization, river-basin development, agricultural rehabilitation, all transport facilities including terminal reconstruction, highway transport, pipe lines, electric power, water power, and rural electrification.
The joint partnerships will be by means of those mixed corporations which Walter Rathenau originated in Germany during World War I and which became the most fruitful means of control under the republic and, on a great scale, under Hitler.
The appearance of this report produced an immense irritation upon the congressional mind, already alarmed at the grandiose schemes of totalitarian government in America, and the National Resources Planning Board, against the most vigorous protests of the President, was abolished. Congress did not object to making plans for postwar problems. It objected to the President utilizing this idea to make plans not to save the present system but to junk it.
IV · Democratic Militarism
AT THIS MOMENT we are at war. There is not much difference of opinion among Americans as to the propriety of a national army raised on the principle of universal service during war. But when the war ends we may be sure that a powerful movement will spring up for a continuance of the principle of universal service during peace. It may be recalled that I defined militarism as a system of conscription in time of peace. If we go in for that we will have militarism, whatever excuse we may offer for doing it.
When the original selective service bill was passed in 1940 the chief argument made for it was the imminent need of a large army because we were in danger of being attacked. Many of those who urged the measure were careful to say that they did so purely as a war measure. But a great many were equally careful to insist that universal compulsory military service was a good thing in itself and something peculiarly suited to the purposes of democracy. A favorite argument, as Representative Mary T. Norton of New Jersey said, was that it would “take our youth and improve it physically and morally and teach it obedience and discipline.” The Minneapolis Spokesman, a colored journal, saw in it “a fine opportunity for colored youth. It will take up some of the slack of the conditions resulting from unemployment and may possibly give them some of the discipline so noticeably lacking among today’s youth, black and white.” Congressman Whittington of Mississippi was especially concerned over our softness. College students by the thousands watch football. Only “twenty-two play and are trained and hardened while thousands watch and remain soft.” Congressman Hobbs, thumping the same drum, declared: “That is what this bill is—a voluntary surrender of our right to grow soft and flabby so that we may strengthen and train ourselves.” Congressman Cox of Georgia mourned the disintegration of our moral fiber. “Since the quest of the frontier,” he declared, “there has been a gradual, yet definitely perceptible attenuation of our individual physical development reflecting the demand for physical strength and well-developed bodies.... In my opinion we are witnessing the attenuation of the moral fiber of the nation as we are witnessing the attenuation of its physical fiber.... Let us train the young men of the nation to be strong in body and mind. Let us reawake the spirit of our ancestors, let us kindle the flame of loyalty to home and fireside, let us reinspire the youth of the nation with the faith of our forefathers”—those robust individualist forefathers who would have chased the conscription officer in peacetime away from their doors with a squirrel gun.
Many others, like Congressman Sabath, saw in universal military training an opportunity for young men to acquire training in skilled trades. And General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, told Americans that “it is only through discomforts and fatigue that progress can be made toward the gradual triumph of mind and muscle over the softness of the life to which we have all been accustomed.” Thus we can depend on a considerable number of very respectable people who have no wish to engage in aggressiveness to support the institution of militarism because they like armies, feel the taste for them in their blood, and look upon them as a great school of discipline and order and as an expression of our national power.
Bills for universal military service when the war ends as a permanent peacetime policy of the United States have been introduced. Many of those who urged the policy for the war crisis now urge it for the peace. Mr. Arthur Sulzberger, one of the original advocates, and Congressman James Wadsworth, of New York, have both taken a formal stand for the institution. Mr. Wadsworth puts it on the interesting ground that we must show our might to the world. The New York Herald Tribune, which industriously belabors New Deal extravagance, nevertheless says: “The interests of security, of national health and of democratic citizenship, alike point strongly toward the wisdom of maintaining universal compulsory training thereafter as a permanent feature of our peacetime life.” (November 19, 1943.) The Daily News, at the other end of the journalistic spectrum in New York, is equally eager for peacetime conscription. Collier’s Magazine has recently come out for it both for national defense and for the physical good of the youth and for the additional amazing reason that “it is democracy in action.” That is a reason for it which the German generals never thought of. Of course the President has been for it throughout his life.
It is a fact that the first resistance to spending programs by the government will always come from the conservative groups who are as a rule also the taxpaying groups. After all, a long-continued program of government borrowing inevitably ends in a heavy national debt which calls for ever-increasing taxes to service it. Moreover, if the spending and borrowing are continued there is always the threat of inflation. This is always a source of apprehensiveness to people who have money and who are expected to invest it. Inflation threatens the stability of the dollar and holds out to investors the fear that their investments will be returned to them, if ever, in dollars which have lost their purchasing power. And so they can be depended upon to avoid investment. And they can also be depended upon to raise a very potent voice against continued borrowing and spending by the government.
There is another barrier to continuous spending on peacetime projects by the central government. In this country our central government is a federal government. It is not charged with carrying on governmental activities within the states. Almost any public function one can name will be found outside the constitutional limits of federal power. The central government may build schools but these will belong to the states or their government units—counties or towns. Hospitals, playgrounds, roads, eleemosynary activities of all sorts fall within the purview of state and local power. In times of emergency some latitude will be tolerated for the federal government, but even this is greatly limited and is temporary. If the federal government builds schools it must be done through the state authorities, and the same thing applies to almost every other public enterprise. One important consequence of this is that these schools, roads, hospitals, playgrounds, health and recreational activities when completed are in the hands of the local governments and must be maintained by them.
The capacity of the states and cities to support these extravagant public enterprises is limited. Most states and a very large number of cities plunged gaily into debt in the lush days of the twenties and now find themselves saddled with an intolerable burden of debt charges. To this is added the maintenance of those numerous institutions and facilities built for them with federal funds. The states and cities are pretty generally at the end of their rope. The war, with its flood of federal expenditures pouring into the states, on a strictly federal project—war—has, for the moment, rescued the states and cities from the unequal struggle against debt charges and city costs on one side and the dwindling state and city tax resources on the other. But this will not last. When the war ends, states and cities will resume their battle to carry on the activities to which they are now committed. The building of any more institutions or roads or parks or playgrounds, hospitals and various educational and welfare utilities will impose upon them a burden they cannot support. This point had been reached in 1939. At that time the federal government was studying, preparing, and urging on cities and states projects of all sorts, and the states were in a growing number of cases refusing them because they were already pressed to the wall to operate existing facilities. The cities and states wanted federal money but they wanted it without having it flow into new and expanded local and state institutions the support of which would devolve upon these authorities.
As part of the whole theory of spending in a political system such as ours the federal system becomes an almost insuperable barrier. Either the spending program will bog down for lack of projects or the federal system will be itself slowly liquidated. But this has not occurred yet. However, even were it otherwise, the spending government must sooner or later encounter stubborn resistance to spending of borrowed money because of the burden which this policy imposes on taxpayers. I am not concerned with the merits of the taxpayer’s lament; merely with the fact that it inevitably develops and with the further fact that in the end the taxpayer is a very powerful person. The rise in public debt creates a growing interest charge which must be met by taxes. When this war ends, that interest charge alone will be greater by nearly 200 per cent than the whole cost of government before 1929.
These two stubborn forces—the lack of federal projects for spending, with the resistance of the states to spending on local projects that will complicate their already perilous fiscal position, and the resistance of the conservative groups to rising expenditure and debt—will always force a government like ours to find a project for spending which meets these two conditions: It must be a strictly federal project and it must be one upon which the conservative and taxpaying elements will be willing to see money spent. The one great federal project which meets these requirements is the army and navy for national defense. And this, of course, is quite inadequate unless it is carried on upon a scale which gives it all the characteristics of militarism. I do not propose to examine the psychological basis for this devotion of the conservative elements to military might. The inquiry is interesting, but here we are concerned with the fact and it is a fact. It is a fact that military outlays, at least within limits, generally can be counted on to command the support of those elements which are generally most vigorous in the opposition to public spending. At the same time those elements among the workers who are generally opposed to militarism are weakened in this resistance by the beneficial effect which war preparation has upon employment. Thus militarism is the one great glamorous public-works project upon which a variety of elements in the community can be brought into agreement.
This economic phase of the institution, however, is not always stressed, being smothered under the patriotic gases pumped out in its defense. Nevertheless, this economic aspect is never absent from the consciousness of most people who champion militarism. Thus, for instance, in 1940, when the drive for conscription in peacetime was running into some obstacles, the New York Post, which, like all militaristic champions, was for the measure only for the noblest reasons, perceived that a large number of our dumb proletarians resisted the infection. It felt that they should be given a shot of the more sordid ingredients of the militaristic dialectic. It therefore urged that the yokels should be given a dose of the economic argument and that the debate in Congress should be “concentrated on the entire program of 500,000 youths to be trained, with pay, by the National Youth Administration, of the score of new airports to be built by the Work Projects Administration, of the rise of the number of jobs which will follow the letting of ten billions of defense contracts.”
Mr. Edward Hallett Carr, of the London Times, puts his finger on the central idea in this subject. He sees with clarity that war has performed and still performs a social purpose, even though it be not a moral one. The wars of the last century were gilded with an oblique moral purpose even though they were raw aggressions because nations suffering from scarcity made it a high moral purpose to possess themselves of Asiatic and African territories to provide their people with the necessities of life. There is not too solid a foundation to this pretense, but it was made nevertheless. Now, however, we are told that scarcity is a thing of the past, at least among the great favored nations. But war now finds its social purpose in the struggle against unemployment and inequality. “Against these evils, which democracy and laissez-faire capitalism cannot cure,” says Mr. Carr, “large-scale war provides an effective if short antidote.”1
This is the central idea, but it is a mistake to suppose that it is war itself which is the chief weapon used against unemployment and unequal distribution of wealth. War does wipe out unemployment and does create and distribute widely new money income. But far more important than war is the preparation for war. Indeed war itself is often a by-product of this preparation and of the circumstances which lead to preparation. Preparation for war is far more effective than war as an antidote against unemployment. War produces a more complete result but it is temporary, passes swiftly, and leaves behind it immense dislocations. But preparation for war can go on for a long time—for forty years in Germany and France and Italy. War or preparation for war establishes the government as the one big customer for the one big industry to which almost all industries become tributary: the armament industry. Preparation for war—national defense, it is called—can take a million or more men in this country in peacetime out of the labor market and put them in the army while at the same time three times as many can be drawn into the industries which provide them with tanks, planes, guns, barracks, food, clothes, etc., all paid for by the government with funds raised largely if not altogether by debt.
It has been the pacifist, the liberal, and the radical who have been supposed to be the bulwark against militarism—here as elsewhere. Yet even in their armor is a flaw, which originates in the profound economic necessity upon which the true-hearted militarists have floated. A good many years ago William James, an avowed pacifist, could twist out of his own mind an argument for universal service. He wrote:
Reflective apologists for war at the present day all take it religiously. It is a sort of sacrament. Its profits are to the vanquished as well as to the victor, and, quite apart from any question of profit, it is an absolute good, we are told, for it is human nature at its highest dynamic. Its “horrors” are a cheap price to pay for rescue from the only alternative of a world of clerks and teachers, of coeducation and zoophily, of consumers’ leagues and associated charities, of industrialism unlimited and feminism unabashed.
Here was an excellent half-ironic statement of the shallow nonsense that was spread around Great Britain, which was tackling the White Man’s Burden and singing Kipling’s Recessional. But, alas, James was to add:
So far as the central idea of this feeling goes no healthy-minded person, it seems to me, can help to some degree partaking of it. Militarism is the great preserver of our ideals, of hardihood, and human life with no use for hardihood would be contemptible. Without risks or prizes for the darer, history would be insipid indeed. So long as anti-militarists propose no substitute for war’s disciplinary function, no moral equivalent for war, analogous one might say to the mechanical equivalent for heat, so long they fail to realize the full inwardness of the situation.2
And so James proposed a conscription of youth for a war upon nature. But James had not put his finger on the mark. It is not war as a discipline and a field of glory for which we must find a substitute. It is war as a source of economic energy for which apparently we must find a substitute, if we are to look upon the subject in that way. Mr. Carr examines this subject more intelligently. War as an economic instrument is possible because it is possible to work up a moral support for war—or for national defense. War produces its economic effects wholly by sending the government off upon a gigantic spree of spending borrowed funds. It would be possible to obtain the same effects by spending borrowed funds on any other sort of project. But there is, as yet, no project behind which the necessary moral energy can be generated. Mr. Carr thinks it can be found. And the eternal liberal or liberal-radical, whatever is the precise name for him, toys dangerously with this idea—dangerously to the point of falling out of whatever cloud he happens to be riding into the militarist band wagon when his support is most helpful to his warrior brothers. Thus such a journal as the New Republic, which, between wars, cries out with indignation and scorn every time the Navy asks another yard of rope for a warship, has to find a crack in its philosophy through which it can squeeze when militarism becomes a more or less realizable ideal. The New Republic allowed, when the issue was presented, that it would like to see something different from the conscription of 1917. It wanted conscription organized as a sort of glorified CCC that would teach young men arts useful in peace as well as in war. However, it had to concede—falling into step with its intellectual predecessors of Italy and Germany and France—that after all democracy was safer with a citizens’ army rather than a professional one. If worst comes to worst democracy is safer “when everyone knows how to shoot than when only a professional minority knows.” This last incredible morsel belongs to the age when every citizen knew how to handle a rifle and had one over the mantel or in the corner. The knowledge of the machine gun and the 75 mm. howitzer will do the citizen in a democracy very little good when no one possesses these expensive toys save the state. And thus the New Republic came out for guns and butter. Actually it was with some such bait that the first conscription proposals were launched. I quote from the New York Times, June 23, 1940, in an article by Luther A. Huston, describing the plan:
The argument of proponents of the plan is that the nation must put itself under discipline within the framework of our democracy or it cannot escape an enforced discipline imposed by autocratic tyrants. They contend that there is a place in democratic society for a communal effort which will enhance the educational resources of the country, strengthen its physical facilities, and preserve its essential democratic principles. Their program, they contend, will provide industry with a reservoir of labor which will enable it to step up production to meet the requirements of the defense program and provide millions of young people with training which will bulwark their position in the national economy. It will provide the armed forces of the nation with the man-power needed to operate the expanded military machinery for the protection of the nation.
Here is a collection of words and ideas to make the angels gasp, but they were admirably adapted to oiling the consciences and reasoning apparatus of the pacifists and radicals who were rapidly sprouting muscles and fangs and raging for a great crusade of some sort. Here was a kind of economic equivalent for war—several million youths inducted by universal service into glorified, militarized CCC camps which would turn them at the same time into skilled artisans and skilled soldiers for use in whatever direction they had to be sent. This is what Mrs. Roosevelt and the New Republic were asking for. And this is what Mrs. Roosevelt is asking for now and what Mr. Roosevelt has always been for from his earliest years. Fundamentally it takes its root in the search for some scheme that will enable the nation to drain off each year a million or two men during peace from the unemployed by putting them into labor camps and soldier camps while putting another three or four million to work in a gigantic arms industry. All sorts of people are for it. Numerous senators and representatives—of the Right and Left—have expressed their purpose to establish universal military training when the war ends; and the companion institution—labor camps—to train youth in military and industrial activities—is a part of the same purpose. The National Resources Planning Board in one of its official pamphlets, sent out from the executive office of the President, estimated an expenditure of five billions a year on defense when the nation returns to peace. This will be plus the nine billions for interest on the war loans.
The great and glamorous industry is here—the industry of militarism. And when the war is ended the country is going to be asked if it seriously wishes to demobilize an industry that can employ so many men, create so much national income when the nation is faced with the probability of vast unemployment in industry. All the well-known arguments, used so long and so successfully in Europe, in Germany, in Italy, and in France, will be dusted off—America with her high purposes of world regeneration must have the power to back up her magnificent ideals; America cannot afford to grow soft, and the Army and the Navy must be continued on a vast scale to toughen the moral and physical sinews of our youth; America dare not live in a world of gangsters and aggressors without keeping her full power mustered; America can find a moral equivalent for war in a great peacetime army which will primarily train our youth for life and health with adequate military training thrown in, and above and below and all around these sentiments will be the sinister allurement of the perpetuation of the great industry which can never know a depression because it will have but one customer—the American government to whose pocket there is no bottom.
Let no one soothe himself, therefore, with the assurance that we in America, having gone in for spending and autarchy, will not add the third fascist or national socialist ingredient to our society—militarism.
V · American Imperialism
EMBARKED, as we seem to be, upon a career of militarism, we shall, like every other country, have to find the means when the war ends of obtaining the consent of the people to the burdens that go along with the blessings it confers upon its favored groups and regions. Powerful resistance to it will always be active, and the effective means of combating this resistance will have to be found. Inevitably, having surrendered to militarism as an economic device, we will do what other countries have done: we will keep alive the fears of our people of the aggressive ambitions of other countries and we will ourselves embark upon imperialistic enterprises of our own.
Two words have come into extensive use since the present war began. One is “isolationism”; the other is “internationalism.” Curiously internationalism has come to be a synonym for interventionism. Intervention was a word used to describe the policy of those who insisted that America should intervene in the European war. There were many lifelong and sincere internationalists—men who were warm supporters of the League of Nations or similar plans for world co-operation—who were opposed to American entry into the war. The two words represent wholly different ideas.
Imperialism, too, has come to describe a kind of internationalism, so that one who opposes it is scornfully called an isolationist. Imperialism is an institution under which one nation asserts the right to seize the land or at least to control the government or resources of another people. It is an assertion of stark, bold aggression. It is, of course, international in the sense that the aggressor nation crosses its own borders and enters the boundaries of another nation and what results is an international clash—a clash between two nations. It is international in the sense that war is international. An imperialist nation, therefore, is one which acquires interests as a result of its aggression in territories outside of its own boundaries. These interests by their very nature bring the aggressor nation into clash with other nations across whose aggressive ambitions it cuts. We have clashes between Germany and England and France and Japan over their respective aggressive ambitions in Asia. We have clashes between Germany and Russia over their respective ambitions in the Balkans; between Italy and France over their hostile objectives in northern Africa, and so on. This is internationalism in a sense, in that all the activities of an aggressor are on the international stage. But it is a malignant internationalism.
There is another internationalism which finds its extremist view in the dreams of those who look for the Parliament of Man and the Federation of the World. Pacifists, for instance, who see in the possibility of a world government the hope of world peace are internationalists of this type, and they look upon imperialism as its greatest foe. A curious confusion has arisen out of all this, which should be simple enough to understand. There are several nations which have engaged in extensive imperialist aggression. As a result these nations have colonies all over the world. Having gotten possession of their prizes and acquired a kind of semi-legal claim upon them and having perfected a kind of international tolerance for them through a sort of squatter’s sovereignty, they are now interested in preserving the status quo. This status quo is the result of aggression, is a continuing assertion of aggression, an assertion of malignant internationalism. Now they appeal to this other benevolent type of internationalism to establish a world order in which they, all leagued together, will preserve a world which they have divided among themselves and in which the combined forces and might of the allied aggressors will hold for each what they have. This benevolent internationalism is taken over by the aggressors as the mask behind which the malignant internationalism will be perpetuated and protected. And it is now offered to the world in all the phrases of benevolence and as a dream of world peace.
I have outlined these views chiefly for the purpose of clearing up the ideas and the meaning of words which I am using here. I wish to speak of imperialism and internationalism, but I want to be sure that the two ideas are kept separate and are understood.
I do not see how any thoughtful person watching the movement of affairs in America can doubt that we are moving in the direction of both imperialism and internationalism and that this internationalism is curiously, indeed incredibly, mixed up with the wholly contradictory idea of autarchy. Who can doubt that with the planned economy which is being fabricated for the United States, similar to the planned economies already existing in other countries, we will have an autarchy like our international neighbors and allies? As we have seen, autarchy is very nearly the last word in isolationism—a nation enclosed in a completely planned and managed economic system, whose planning must be protected as of necessity from the impact of external economies. These planned economies will all be brought together into a great international planned economy the members of which will be autarchial states. The problem will be to maintain the isolated autarchial system in each constituent state and to unite all these autarchies in an international economy. This is not the place to discuss the feasibility of this hybrid system. But I throw the idea out here for the benefit of those who think they see a world order based, at least roughly, on the league of American states in the United States of America. The union of the American states was a union of free economies from which all possibility of autarchy was banished by the terms of the Constitution. If tomorrow these states of ours, despite their long union, could be transformed into self-planned autarchies, this union would not last half-a-dozen years. Yet it is an administration in Washington which from the beginning has been struggling toward autarchy here, and which broke up the London Economic Conference in 1933 because it threatened our own autarchial arrangements, which now calls itself a great international regime and actually smears its critics as “isolationists.”
And now of imperialism. This is, of course, nothing more, as I have said, than a form of bald and naked assertion of might. Its origin in the human mind is by no means clear. It does not find its roots wholly in the greed of the merchant adventurers or in the ambitions of military leaders or the dreams of dynasts for extension of their glory. It has had an abundance of support at the hands of gentlemen who hold themselves out as philosophers. Certainly it is unnecessary here to repeat the innumerable declarations made by British historians, philosophers, poets, and publicists in support of Britain’s divine right to seize land anywhere. There is not a statement that has ever been made by a German imperialist that cannot be matched from the pen of a highly respected and highly honored British imperialist. You will find an acquisitive industrialist like Rhodes saying “We are the first race in the world, and the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.” But you can also find a liberal statesman like Earl Grey saying “In so far as an Englishman differs from a Swede or a Belgian he believes he represents a more perfectly developed standard of general excellence—and even those nations like ourselves in mind and sentiment—German and Scandinavian—we regard as not so excellent as ourselves.” And a scholar like Ruskin, who spent so much time weeping over the poor, could say that England “must found colonies as fast and as far as she is able; seizing every rod of waste ground she can set her foot upon and then teaching these her colonies that their chief virtue is fidelity to their country and that their first aim is to advance the power of England by land and sea.”
But we need not go to England. Professor Washburn Hopkins of Yale said in 1900, when America was considering her first feeble steps in imperialism, “What seems criminal aggression in a large nation against a weak one is justifiable if it conduces to the advantage of the race,” and with characteristic American piety he called this the “higher morality.” We need not suppose that the seeds of this dangerous and malignant philosophy do not lurk deeply in our own national nature. America broke very definitely with her great democratic tradition in 1900 when she decided to hold the Philippine Islands. This was an assertion of power, the power of conquest, the right based wholly on might. At the time some of America’s most distinguished men, statesmen like Senator George Hoar, for instance, warned America that she was introducing a poisonous organism into her system, that she was throwing away principles of human justice which she had asserted with complete confidence and belief in the past, and that, furthermore, she was pushing her western frontier like a long, thin salient into the Orient where every cat-and-dog fight in the future between aggressor nations of Europe and Asia might involve her in a war.
The Philippines turned out to be a very bad bargain from the point of view of imperialist profit, which is the basis on which we remained there, though the bargain was wrapped up in moral gold paper. It was more than thirty years later that we decided to leave the Islands, fixing five years as a period of our departure. But we were too late. We are at war, and we are at war in Asia because we possessed the Philippine Islands. That was the break with our great tradition, and that break had the approval of the American people in 1900 when the presidential campaign was fought almost exclusively on that issue.
Americans of today can hardly realize the nature of the chauvinistic elation which came to us as a result of our new colonial world. I listened to almost all the debates in Congress on that subject. For the first time in our history men began to roll under their tongues the phrase “American empire.” It would be an interesting example of verbal statistics if someone were to go through those debates and number the times the imperialists of that day referred with growing pride to the great American “empire.” The advocates of that policy scoffed at the attempts to apply the principles of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution to our new situation. There was no end of statements by the leaders of the day calling attention to the fact that the new American empire had outgrown these simple-minded illusions of the fathers who uttered them. The world had changed and grown and America had expanded and was now an empire. There was a great deal of solid pride in that fact.
As an example of this let me quote what one of the leaders in this movement had to say. Senator Albert Beveridge, on January 9, 1900, made his first speech in the Senate.1 He began it with this extraordinary sentence:
The times call for candor. The Philippines are ours forever—country belonging to the United States—as the Constitution calls them, and just beyond the Philippines are China’s illimitable markets. We will not retreat from either. We will not repudiate our duty in the archipelago. We will not abandon one opportunity in the Orient. We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee under God, of the civilization of the world. And we will move forward to our work, not howling out our regrets, like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength and thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people to lead in the regeneration of the world.
Here is the whole complex gospel. Our duty under God to lead in the regeneration of the world on one side, and to stay in the archipelago “beyond which are China’s illimitable markets.” He told the Senate that the Pacific is “our ocean” although half a dozen other large nations had extensive territories along that ocean. And then the senator proceeded with a dramatic and eloquent catalogue of the magnificent resources, extent, and wealth of the Philippine Islands “beyond which lies China’s trade” which he valued at $285,-738,000 of which we were getting only 9 per cent and of which “under God,” as we “regenerate the world,” we should get 50 per cent. Lifting his arm aloft, holding a lump of gold in his hand, he exclaimed dramatically: “I have a nugget of pure gold picked up in its present form on the banks of a Philippine creek. I have gold dust washed out by the crude process of careless natives from the sands of a Philippine stream.” And then he said that it must be our great objective “to establish the supremacy of the American race throughout the Pacific and throughout the East to the end of time.” Self-government for Asiatics, people with savage blood, Oriental blood, Malay blood, and Spanish example—this was not to be thought of. He prophesied that “self-government and the internal development of the country have been the dominant notes of our first century; administration and development of other lands will be the dominant notes of our second century.” And he ended with this rhetorical flourish:
This question is elemental. It is racial. God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic people for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle contemplation and self-administration. No! He has made us the master organizers of this world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress, to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples.... And of all our race He has marked the American people as the chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America.... We are the trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous peace. The judgment of the Master is upon us: “Ye have been faithful over few things. I will make you ruler over many things.”
When the senator had finished this strange mélange of world duty, world glory, world opportunity, regeneration of savage and senile peoples, 50 per cent of the trade of China and gold nuggets on the banks of streams, imperial destiny and treasure, the venerable Senator Hoar of Massachusetts, who had been shocked at the spectacle of the eloquent young senator summoning America to her imperial destiny and duty and holding aloft a torch of gold to light the way, rose in the Senate and said:
I could hear much calculated to excite the imagination of the youth charmed by the dream of empire.... I could think as this brave young republic of ours listened to what the senator had to say of but one sentence:
“And the Devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.
“And the Devil said unto Him, ‘AU these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me.’
“Then saith Jesus unto him: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’”
But, alas, the American people did not make the reply to Senator Beveridge that Jesus made to the devil. Indeed as Beveridge ended his address he was greeted with “long and continued applause” in good earnest and senators crowded around him to shake his hand. I have chosen the Beveridge statement because it was the clearest and most eloquent of numerous speeches made in the House and Senate at the time. For instance, Representative Gibson of Tennessee said what others were saying on the stump and in the pulpit:
Our race has a mission. No devout student of history can misread it. We are the preachers of a new evangel of government; we are the missionaries of a new and higher civilization; we are the apostles of the New World to the Old; and a part of our mission is to evangelize Asia and the islands of the sea.
But this was to be only a beginning, as the congressman made abundantly clear. He continued:
The progress of our race can never be stayed. You can never fix its bounds. No one continent can suffice it. No one ocean can satisfy it. No one zone can contain it. No one hemisphere can circumscribe its powers and activities.
The world is its area and the lands of the world its only boundary. Its destiny is to dominate the entire face of the earth, to include all races and all countries and all lands and all continents.2
The Springfield Republican lamented that the religious press of the country was almost a unit in support of the imperialism of which these gentlemen were the spokesmen. Dean Farrar said that “imperialism is a natural evolution of vital and aggressive Christianity.”3
These were not the utterances of black reactionaries. Beveridge became a leader of the rising progressive movement. And here is a singular collection of views from one who can by no stretch of the imagination be called a reactionary. A year before Beveridge spoke America was having trouble with her new ward, Cuba. A most solemn pledge—the Platt Amendment—bound us to respect her independence at the end of the Spanish War. In the midst of these difficulties the following editorial appeared on March 20, 1899:
Riots against the police are occurring in Havana. They will keep occurring. No Latin country governs itself. Self-government is the most difficult thing in the world for a people to accomplish. It is not a matter that a nation acquires by adopting a set of laws. Only Anglo-Saxons can govern themselves. The Cubans will need a despotic government for many years to restrain anarchy until Cuba is filled with Yankees. Uncle Sam, the First, will have to govern Cuba as Alphonso, the Thirteenth, governed it if there is any peace in the island at all. The Cubans are not and, of right, ought not to be free. To say that they are, or that they should be, is folly. Riot will follow riot. Anarchy will rise to be crushed. And unrest will prevail until the Yankee takes possession of the land. Then the Cubans will be an inferior—if not a servile—race. Then there will be peace in the land. Then will Cuba be free. It is the Anglo-Saxon’s manifest destiny to go forth in the world as a world conqueror. He will take possession of all the islands of the sea. He will exterminate the peoples he cannot subjugate. That is what fate holds for the chosen people. It is so written. Those who would protest, will find their objections overruled. It is to be.
That is from the pen of William Allen White in his Emporia Gazette. More than ten years later he was to write in a volume published in 1910 the following paragraph:
The best blood of the earth is here—a variated blood of strong, indomitable men and women brought here by visions of wider lives. But this blood will remain a clean, Aryan blood, because there are no hordes of inferior races about us to sweep over us and debase our stock. We are segregated by two oceans from the inferior races, and by that instinctive race revulsion to cross-breeding that marks the American wherever he is found.4
And now, nearly forty years later, is not this what we hear? Are we not being told that it is our high destiny to regenerate the world, to administer savage and senile peoples? Senator Beveridge was liberal enough to include the Teutonic along with the Anglo-Saxon peoples as the “master organizers of the world.” Now, of course, the Teutonic peoples are ousted from the great fraternity of the master race and we alone—with our junior partners, the British—claim that proud distinction. We have been chosen by God to establish system where chaos reigns, to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the world. We are the trustees of the world’s progress and the guardians of its righteous peace—the “we” referring to the Anglo-American peoples, since our former partners, the Teutons, have been discovered to be criminals for holding these same views though, of course, some of our most generous-souled commentators are willing to acquit them on the plea of insanity. But “we” Americans, above all, are chosen as God’s missionaries to bring freedom and civilization and three square meals a day to all lands everywhere. What Beveridge and his colleagues were talking about were those first feeble steps of ours in the direction of American imperial destiny. Beveridge said prophetically that our first century was taken up with self-government and that the development and administration of other lands will be the dominant note of our second century. Now Mr. Henry Luce, who probably never read this Beveridge speech, bobs up with the glorious evangel and gives to this century its proper name—the American Century.
Nothing could be further from the truth than to suppose that these ideas spring up in the minds of only wicked people. And nothing could be more dangerous than to imagine that these fatal illusions cannot be generated here among men and women who in all the relations of life appear to us as good human beings and good citizens and who can, yet, nourish a philosophy that is not one whit different from that which has driven European aggressors along their careers of cruelty and disaster.
Of course these ideas may be conveyed in the soft, scholarly terms of high religious duty by a scholar like Ruskin or they may be shouted at us in the raucous tones of Hitler in the Sportpalast. When we announce our racial mastery and our intention to use this high privilege for any purpose we do so with a careful choice of words in order to exhibit our intentions in the best light. When we ascribe the same sentiments to some hostile alien aggressor we do it in words designed with equal care to express precisely the same ideas in the worst possible light. The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine, and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims while incidentally capturing their markets, to civilize savage and senile and paranoidal peoples while blundering accidentally into their oil wells or metal mines. The truth is that the hateful and destructive doctrine takes its root in different minds in different ways—for religious or racial or commercial or political or economic reasons or for the sake of glory. The urge that in the end drives us forward may be compounded of all these reasons. Generally the condition which is essential to such adventures is economic. But the economic factors are usually subordinated in the public discussions to the ethical and adventurous. The practical men let the preachers and the poets do the talking.
I have called attention, in the chapters on Italy and Germany, to the rise, in times of distress and frustration, of these dangerous ideas. In one form or another the d’Annunzios appear under widely differing manifestations to inflame the imagination of youth and to play upon the strings of national and racial greatness. In Italy it was the philosopher Gentile saying “faith in the necessity of the advent of an ideal reality, a conception of life which must not enclose itself within the limits of fact,” or socialists like Papini taking up the cult of the “dangerous life” talking to Italy of the great anvil of fire and blood on which strong people are hammered and who could see in war “the great reawakening of the enfeebled—as a rapid and heroic means to power and wealth.” Here is the same mixture of glory, spirit, power, and wealth as in the Beveridge evangel. Here is that same spirit Josiah Royce identifies: “Trust your genius, free your noble heart.” Here come the “excellent men” for whom life has no savor unless it has something in it—something transcendental in which they sweep themselves to the achievement of some great purpose, when the normal pursuits of men are sneered at and the nation is summoned off in pursuit of “greatness.” All that is here.
In a period of depression—and we have had this now for fourteen years—facts become after a while exceedingly irksome and bleak companions. Poverty, unemployment, bitter controversy, hatreds, the frustration of the middle classes, the seemingly hopeless struggle between labor and capital, all floating upon a precarious tide of government debt which might run out on us any minute leaving us stranded on the beach—the whole thing seems so difficult, so impossible, so insoluble that men run away from these facts after a while. Young people who in 1929 were twenty years old are now thirty-five. These fairest years of their lives have slipped away from them—the opportunity to build, to make homes, to have children, to get definitely started in some hopeful direction is gone. Little businessmen who for fifteen years have struggled to hold onto their shops and their stores, who were twenty-eight or thirty when the depression started and were moving toward that state of security which is their great objective, are now past forty, moving into middle age. Hundreds of thousands of them have gone under. Hundreds of thousands more have gotten nowhere and middle age approaches with the dream of security almost completely broken and the future for them darker than ever. These are the conditions which make the going easy for the romanticist. Men who run away from facts, from these dark and foreboding facts, do not like to run away frankly. They prefer to give their retreat the character of a great advance in another direction. It is the advance to “greatness.” When the romantics leap up with their bugle calls and banners inscribed with florid slogans summoning to greatness, to high adventure, it is possible to perceive the incredible spectacle of men who have failed to operate their own society and are now in defeat and retreat sounding the drums and raising the banners for a great crusade to do for the whole world what they could not do for themselves.
Thus we find these very poorly disguised admirations of Adolf Hitler:
A few years ago the “practical men” and the economic scholars were saying that Hitler was the greatest money crank of all. They announced that he had bankrupted Germany. In fact, he had bankrupted the experts and the practical men. Today in the dark continent of his contriving the experts are demoted to the job of finding ways and means of serving Hitler’s will (in the democratic world they are allowed to spend their time explaining why it is impossible to do what man desires) and the practical men in Hitler’s continent can now be divided into three classes—those who have been interned, those who have been in jail, and those who have been blackmailed into becoming Quislings. It would seem that in our forcing-house of history the practical view of life is not a success.5
Here is Mr. Herbert Agar, one of our leading apostles of the cult of greatness, who cannot help observing that Hitler has succeeded and that the practical men who said he could not succeed have been liquidated. I know Mr. Agar does not like to see practical men or others murdered, but he reveals clearly at least implied acceptance of Dr. Gentile’s theory that the world cannot be enclosed in fact and that some kind of leader must arise who does not believe in facts, who does not believe in money, who does not believe in budgets, who does not believe in arithmetic, and who does not believe in history, and who will set the experts and the practical men not to advising him but to contriving means to achieve his ends. There is also the singular illusion in this quotation that the experts who predicted that Hitler would bankrupt Germany were wrong. It all depends upon what one means by the word “bankrupt.” If ever there was a bankrupt nation in this world it is Germany, whether we take the orthodox or the moral meaning of the word.
Yet it is this spirit, brewed in the minds of a frustrated strong people, that will provide the dynamic element which will enable the more pragmatic imperialists to unfurl the banners and weave the philosophies and produce the slogans behind which the nation may be drawn away from its own unsolved problems to the regeneration of the world.
To sum it up, what I am trying to say with as much emphasis as I can is that the germs of a vigorous imperialism are here among us—I mean the moral germs. And if the economic problem of the nation should seem, when the war ends, to lead us off into some imperialist adventures, the moral support of such adventures will not be lacking. Our peculiarly happy geographical situation has in the past kept us free from the powerful temptations to aggression that have overwhelmed other nations. Nevertheless, we have managed to run up a little history of imperial adventure upon a small scale of which we may well be ashamed. It is a long story, but the whole unpleasant business may be summed up in a single short paragraph uttered by the military commander who led most of our little imperialistic expeditions. The late Major General Smedley Butler, who was commander of the Marines, said some years before his death:
I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service in the country’s most agile military force, the Marines. I served in all ranks from second lieutenant to major general. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. Thus I helped make Mexico, and especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers and Co. in 1909–12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
These were strong words from a man who felt a deep devotion to and pride in the Marines but resented the uses to which they had been put.
We have managed to accumulate a pretty sizable empire of our own already—far-spreading territories detached from our continental borders—Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Panama Canal Zone, Virgin Islands, with a territorial area of 711,000 square miles or as much as Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, and Holland all combined, and a population of 19,000,000.
We have now managed to acquire bases all over the world—islands as distant as the Australian Archipelago which President Roosevelt seized in 1938 without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress. There is no part of the world where trouble can break out where we do not have bases of some sort in which, if we wish to use the pretension, we cannot claim our interests are menaced. Thus menaced there must remain when the war is over a continuing argument in the hands of the imperialists for a vast naval establishment and a huge army ready to attack anywhere or to resist an attack from all the enemies we shall be obliged to have. Because always the most powerful argument for a huge army maintained for economic reasons is that we have enemies. We must have enemies. They will become an economic necessity for us.
VI · The Last Mile
THERE REMAINS the final ingredient—the totalitarian state. Surely that cannot come here! Let us see.
We have seen that already we have introduced:
- The institution of planned consumption or the spending-borrowing government.
- The planned economy.
- Militarism as an economic institution, and
- Imperialism as the handmaiden of our militarism.
But what of the totalitarian state? Can it be that America will ever complete that job? It may be, I hear the critic say, that we have embraced four of the elements of the fascist state but we will not have fascism or national socialism until we add the fifth—the totalitarian political idea. Between a democratic state seeking to plan and manage its economic life and supporting it by means of national debt, even though it becomes militaristic and imperialist, and the fascist state managing these things through a dictatorship there is a world of difference.
Let us say at once that there is at least a difference—even though it be not a world of difference—between an autarchial public-debt-supported militaristic state managed by a democratic parliament and one managed by a dictator. But let us also admit frankly that the two are perfectly alike in all but that. Let us say to ourselves frankly that we have now adopted four of the factors of the five which make fascism. This may be called the prologue to fascism. Having adopted these four I now lay down the proposition that we must adopt the fifth or abandon the other four. And this I assert because it is impossible to operate a public-debt-supported autarchy save by means of a totalitarian government. The system of planning calls for interferences and intrusions into the private affairs of business organizations and of private citizens. It implies of necessity the multiplication of rules and regulations upon an oppressive scale. It involves endless improvisation of these regulations and the administration of them by vast bureaucratic organizations. All this must be on a scale that will inflict so many irritations and annoyances and oppressions that men will not submit to them save in the presence of overwhelming and ruthless force. No democratic society will submit to them. Only the dictator with the last ounce of coercion in his hands and the willingness to use it can extort compliance.
At this moment we have a planned and managed society. We have but to recognize that fact and survey the scene. Its harrying oppressions are endured because this country is at war. In such a time men surrender upon a large scale their individual interests and personal autonomy in the face of a great national effort. Does anyone really believe that these intrusions, limitations, interferences, regimentations would be submitted to in peacetime in this country under our present form of government, where businessmen, workmen, and citizens can put pressure on their congressmen and senators to resist the regulations of the public managers? They will use their political power to wreck the whole thing, as they did during the NRA episode of evil memory, which was ready for the scrap heap before the Court administered the coup de grâce. It fell down upon the issue of compliance. Let the planners and the autarchists wring their hands in lamentation over that fact. Maybe it is a sad fact that men will not submit more tamely to being thus ruled. But it is a fact which settles definitively the proposition that planning must be carried on by a totalitarian government with unlimited powers of coercion and in which the citizen is powerless to express or enforce his resistance, or the idea must be abandoned.
The same holds true in the matter of public spending to support such a regime. Public spending necessitates heavy taxes to begin with. But under this fascist system a large part of the public spending is made possible by public borrowing. The spending of borrowed money as a permanent policy with a continuous rise in the public debt can have only one effect. As the debt rises, the yearly interest charge increases. In time the interest charge gets to be more than all the other costs of government. Funds for interest can be obtained only by taxes. A rising public debt means a continuously rising interest charge and persistently rising taxes to service the debt. When this war ends, this government will have to collect more money just to pay interest on the debt than it has ever collected for every other purpose in any year up to and including 1941. And this is only the beginning. For as the war ends, the government is planning new and more adventurous and, as it likes to say, “dynamic” uses of public debt than ever. Of course businessmen and individuals will resist such taxes. The free society knows such a device as the “tax strike.” We have seen that happen in our cities within the last dozen years when in some places—Chicago noticeably—schoolteachers had to go unpaid for several years because the payment of taxes ceased. Only in a totalitarian state can these oppressive levies be imposed and enforced. And even in such a state there is a limit. But the limit in the free society is swiftly reached. Mussolini could operate a system like this for twenty-one years in Italy. But he would have come to an end long before if Italy had had a free parliament answerable to the people to make its laws. It is for this reason—and there are other reasons as well—that I make the statement that this managed public-debt-supported autarchy must turn to the totalitarian government or abandon its plans.
1. THE TOTALITARIAN STATE
Does anyone seriously believe that a totalitarian government will appear here? Where is this dictator to come from? Is not our Constitution an impassable barrier to dictatorship? Are we likely to amend it—which requires the consent of thirty-two states—to invite a dictator to govern us? If not, then where is he to come from? Is he to spring out of the ground? No. He will not spring out of the ground. And probably we will not amend our Constitution to oblige him. I say probably, because one cannot be sure. Before the last war, when prohibition by constitutional amendment was proposed, it seemed the most fantastic thing in this world. But a little touch of crisis—a war crisis—and the thing was done with bewildering swiftness. Then men said repeal was impossible. It would never be possible to get the assent of thirty-two states. Clarence Darrow, doughtiest anti-dry, said the hope was utterly illusory. Prohibition, he said, would die by the dead-letter route. Then came another crisis—the depression—and the Eighteenth Amendment vanished almost as swiftly as it came. Crises have a way of dissolving many things—often very old things and sometimes very precious things. Before us now lies another crisis—a momentous one—as great, at least, and perhaps greater than the Civil War crisis, though in a different way. What will vanish amid its dislocations we cannot say.
However, a great deal may be done without constitutional amendment. Here is another point at which we will do well to choose our words with caution. The words dictatorship and totalitarianism are used very loosely as perfectly synonymous. This is not so. The totalitarian government is one which possesses in itself the total sovereignty of the nation. In our government that total sovereignty resides in the people. Only parts of it are delegated through the Constitution to the federal government. A very great part of it—indeed the greatest part—is reserved to the states. And very vital portions of the sovereignty are delegated neither to federal government nor to states but are held wholly by the people.
Our government, then, is the antithesis of the totalitarian government. However, it is possible to imagine a parliamentary government in which the central government would have practically unlimited or total sovereignty. That is true of the English government. The Parliament in England is pretty nearly supreme. It could change the form of government from a monarchy to a republic. It is subject to being elected by the people. But even this limitation is not absolute. Members of Parliament are elected for five years. But that term of office is fixed not by a constitution but by an act of Parliament. Parliament can change it from five to seven or to ten. Indeed in the past Parliament has called off elections and lengthened its life to twelve years once. In this war crisis Parliament by its own vote has deferred general elections until the crisis is over. Parliament could call off elections indefinitely if there were enough votes to support a cabinet in such a course. Our House of Representatives must be elected every two years. That is fixed by the Constitution. There is a long series of popular rights established by tradition and law in England, but Parliament can change the law on every one of them.
A totalitarian government, therefore, is one—whatever its form—which possesses the power to enact any law or take any measure that seems proper to it. That government may consist of a dictator, or a king and cabinet, or a king, cabinet, and parliament, or just a parliament and a president. Provided that government is clothed with the power to do anything without any limitation on its powers, it is totalitarian. It has total power. Now with us the federal government consists of a president and congress. Even if the President and Congress agreed on a measure it could not be adopted unless under the Constitution they have the express or implied power to adopt it. The powers conferred on our federal government are very limited. The governments of our states possess powers which in England reside in the central Parliament. And there are great powers which are not granted either to federal government or state, but are reserved to the people. Not only are the powers of the central government divided among Congress and the President and the Court, but there is an immense range of sovereign powers which the federal government does not possess at all. If our system could be changed so that all the powers of the state legislature could be vested in the central government and all the limitations set out in the Constitution could be repealed, we would have a totalitarian government here even though we preserve the presidency and the Congress and the Court to determine the division of powers among themselves. In theory such a change could not take place here without a constitutional amendment. But it is possible for the powers of states and of Congress itself to be lost by non-use, by slow abdication under powerful economic pressures. It is possible for the central government, under one pretext or another, to draw slowly to itself these powers. We have seen this happen on a limited scale under limited pressures. What may happen under more irresistible pressure we can guess.
We have a dictator when the unlimited powers of a totalitarian government are deposited with the executive or an executive council. No one will admit that he wants a dictator in Washington. But there are many who say with complete frankness that they want the central government to have whatever power is necessary to carry out its will—to have absolute power, some are willing to admit. Of course they do not advocate the abolition of the bill of rights protecting the citizens against abuses by the central government. But no less a person than Vice-President Wallace has expressed the fear that we have put too much emphasis on “bill-of-rights” democracy.
There is a powerful school in Washington that wants to make great fundamental changes in the structure and powers of our federal government which will remove if not all, at least all of the important, restrictions upon its powers. They will not call the product of these changes a totalitarian government. But that is what it will be. They wish to endow the central government with vast powers over every phase of our social and economic life. A dictatorship is a totalitarian government in which all the powers of sovereignty are centered not in a balanced government but in a single man. Our fascist-minded “democrats” want a totalitarian government. No one will admit he wants those powers lodged with a single man—a dictator. Nevertheless, they play even with that fire.
2. THE NEW ORDER
When our government was formed, the great tyrant was the tyrant state. Its founders had seen the tyrant state operated by an absolute monarch like Louis XIV and XV or a parliamentary monarchy like England. They were determined to make an end of the tyrant state in America.
But a state must have power. How endow it with power and yet prevent it from becoming despotic through the abuse of that power? The problem was solved by splitting up the powers of the state and lodging those fractional parts in different agencies. Each agency, the founders rightly believed, could be depended on to guard with jealous vigilance their several possessions of power. The federal government would have a fraction. That fraction would be divided among the Congress, the executive, the Court. Another fraction should be deposited with the states—each in its own territory. Still another should remain, undelegated to anyone, in the source of all power, the people.
This made state despotism impossible. In a world where free societies began to blossom and representative government flourished until the last war, this country almost alone held fast to its freedom. Almost everywhere else those hard-won freedoms have been withering. Now men—men of good will, as they like to think themselves, lovers of freedom as they proclaim themselves, the monopolists of freedom—are busy with plans to junk the structure of government which alone in the world has resisted the erosion of tyranny. The anointed lovers of free government propose to scrap the government which has remained free and to replace it with some pale imitations of the governments which were the first to lose freedom. Incredible? It is no more incredible than the spectacle of social democrats in Germany supporting Von Hindenburg, the Junker, and Junkers supporting Hitler, the iconoclast.
Nevertheless, those men who are in positions of the highest power have now grown utterly weary of the present structure of government in America. The functions of government, they say, are now different. Government must take upon itself the redemption of the economic life and the organization of the whole social structure of the people. It is not just a police force, an army and a navy, a postal system, a diplomatic service along with some minor dabblings in farm and river and harbor aid. Now it is responsible for creating the purchasing power of the nation. Now it must preside over the organization of industry and supervise through great bureaus the prices and distribution of the products of farms, mines, factories. It must engage in vast enterprises of its own, the production of power, the management of transportation by air, sea, and land. Above all, it is to become the great banker and investment trust and finance holding company. It is to be the great insurance company bringing security to old and young, employer and employee, the widow, the maimed, and the halt. It will have billions—incomprehensible billions—to invest. It will build dams and roads and schools and highways and seaways. It will manage our exports and imports. It will do a hundred other things, including educational and recreational and cultural and scientific things.
Obviously such a government, dominating and guiding such vast enterprises, cannot be run by a Congress such as ours. The thing is unthinkable. We must now see the imperious necessity of efficiency. It was only the other day when the same kind of men were pointing with scorn and hatred to our great holding companies and denouncing them as instruments of the devil. They were telling us these evil things must be dissolved, that the stockholders who were the owners must be emancipated and given power over their properties which had been taken out of their hands by bankers and managers. We had won political democracy in which the common man conquered control of his political life. But it was a futile conquest because he did not possess the control of his economic life. We must, they said, set up economic democracy in which the owner of industry, as well as labor, will have something to say about these great corporations. But all that is changed. Now the magnificent efficiency of the great corporation and holding company has fascinated them. Instead of modeling the corporation on the pattern of the democratic state, they wish to alter the state to form it on the model of the totalitarian corporation.
“How many subscriptions,” asked Professor Henry J. Ford, one of the pioneer exponents of this theory, “would a promoter of a new joint stock company get if he used the argument that the interests of the stockholders would be perfectly secured because it had been arranged that they themselves would elect all the employees?” Can citizens, they conclude, suppose themselves to be any more secure because they are called on to elect all their public officials? The point seems to be that the management of a joint stock company and a community of citizens is quite the same thing. The primary end is efficiency of operation. And this view has been expressly approved by our current New Dealers. But, after all, efficiency in the corporate management and efficiency in the state are two very different things. And this for the reason that the product in each case is different. The corporation executives are asked to produce goods and profits. But one of the products of government is social freedom. The corporate management is not called on to secure to all its employees the perfect atmosphere in which to follow their own aspirations and methods of working. All this is laid down for them and the severest compliance is exacted in the most efficient corporations. The government’s objective is to create a climate and an environment in which free men may follow their own dreams and ambitions and forms of living and striving. It will be efficient in proportion as it makes that fully possible. It must, of course, in a modern state, do other things too. But it must never interfere with this greatest and primary aim.
While talking endlessly of freedom, these planners forget it when they make their blueprints for our new state. For they have political blueprints quite as definite as for the economic system. Generally their program is based on the following principle:
The government of divided powers is no longer suited to the modern economic state.
It is necessary that we erect a strong central government whose powers are unlimited.
These powers of the central government should be concentrated in the executive with the Congress acting as a mere supervisory body.
We have made the mistake up to now, so the argument goes, of scattering power in order to weaken the government that it may not oppress us. We have weakened it so that it cannot serve us. The correct principle is to concentrate power, supply the government with unlimited power and adequate force, and then make that government responsible. The way to achieve such government, says Mr. Herbert Agar, one of the more vocal New Dealers, is to “make the responsibilities of the executive absolute and public.” He argues the point thus: “The problem of constitutional government, however, is not merely the problem of how to restrain the use of power. It is not force which is to be feared, but force in the hands of rulers who cannot be held responsible by their fellow men. A government must have unlimited power to act, and at times act fast, or it cannot survive the emergencies of our unquiet world.”1
Something like this has already happened in the British Parliament. Mr. Harold J. Laski, economic adviser to the British Labor party, who enjoys peculiarly intimate relationships with our White House, tells us that the British Parliament is hardly to be classed as a formal legislative body any more. “Its real business is to act as the Cabinet’s organ of registration.”2 And Mr. Carr, of the London Times, confirms this view by assuring us that “the best Parliament can do is to confine itself to vague pronouncements of its intention and then give wide powers to the executive to carry this intention into effect.”3
If this is true, it is easy to understand Mr. Laski’s characterization and Mr. Carr’s assurance that the Parliament is “rapidly losing power to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister.” There is, of course, no doubt that the objective of our New Dealers is a government nearer this type—where almost unlimited power is in the hands of the central government but with that power centered mostly in the hands of the executive.
It must not be supposed that these are the views of men who are outside of the New Deal high command. On the contrary. As I have pointed out, the New Deal has had, up to recently, a great planning agency—the National Resources Planning Board. It was a bureau of the President’s own executive office. It was headed by his uncle, a very aged but highly respected gentleman who was mere window dressing. It was supposed to be making blueprints for projects in the postwar world. Actually it was making a blueprint for the new social order. It was this board which was propagandizing the program of Dr. Alvin H. Hansen for unlimited postwar spending of borrowed funds. But it had views also respecting our political mechanisms. Dr. Hansen himself outlined them. In an interview printed in the Chicago Journal of Commerce he said:
Congress will surrender to the administration the power to tax, keeping to itself the right only to establish broad limits within which the administration may move.
Congress will appropriate huge sums; will surrender the power of directing how and when they will be spent.
Other extraordinary powers such as, for instance, to effect wholesale social reforms, will be delegated to the administration which will retain most, if not all, of its present extraordinary wartime controls.4
The same view is supported by Dr. Charles Merriam, of Chicago University. Dr. Merriam was vice-chairman of the President’s personal planning body—this same National Resources Planning Board. He insists that our government must be streamlined. By this he means that Congress must withdraw as a formal legislative body. It must adopt a few very general directives at each session instead of passing laws. It must do what Carr says is the very most the British Parliament can do—express a “vague pronouncement of its intention and then give wide powers to the executive to carry it into effect.” It must limit itself to granting to the President large lump sums leaving it to him to allocate them as he pleases. Drs. Lewis Meriam and Laurence F. Schmeckebier indicate that the manner of attaining this new form of government will be “to have Congress delegate some of its powers to the President and by having it forego the exercise of some of the powers it possesses. The argument advanced in support of this change is briefly that the President alone represents all the people; the people hold the President responsible for the success of the government; and consequently the President should have power commensurate with that responsibility.”5
These views represent the opinions upon which the President’s planning boards operated. They represent the views of most of that group of economists, political scientists, and lawyers who for the last six years have moved around from one bureau to another as their guides and philosophers and who generally are looked upon in Washington as the thinking element of the New Deal. It was, indeed, the rather slow and even reluctant discovery by Congress of the persistence and virility of the drive for these ideas which had much to do with the revolt of Congress, the indignant sweep with which it destroyed the National Resources Planning Board and later turned its wrath upon the Board of Economic Warfare in such a way as to end in its liquidation.
There is something in all this alarmingly like those ideas which flourished in Hitler’s Germany. “The principle of unconditional connection,” said Hitler, “between absolute responsibility and absolute authority will gradually breed up a choice of leaders inconceivable today in the era of irresponsible parliamentarianism.” The state, he conceded, will not be able to do without these things called parliaments. They, however, “will give counsel, but responsibility can and must be borne by one man.”6
In the light of this movement it is easy to understand the persistent, concerted attacks upon Congress which have featured the last two years of our history. Men like Herbert Agar ask: “In a world that must be first class or nothing can we afford a congress?” He looks upon congressmen as buffoons. Mr. Raymond Clapper, who has leveled a good many rather dull-edged shots at Congress, has informed us that “99 per cent of what you hear in Congress is tripe, ignorance, and demagoguery.” The crime Congress commits is twofold. It disagrees with the columnist and indulges in what is sneeringly called “talk.” Congress would have great difficulty agreeing with columnists since they disagree among themselves as vigorously as congressmen do. And how a democratic chamber is to arrive at any kind of conclusion without discussion, which is carried on by means of talk, it is difficult to say. As a matter of fact, more sapient students and critics of our House of Representatives have complained that debate has been dangerously curtailed. However, no man familiar with the Washington scene and the often weird phenomena of capital propaganda can have the slightest doubt that many columnists, radio announcers, and newspaper editorial columns lent themselves, some unwittingly, to an inspired and directed attack upon the institution of Congress for the purpose of discrediting it in the interest of this new theory of the centralized executive government.
3. THE POWER OF THE PURSE
The greatest weapon in the hands of the people against the irresponsible state is the power of the purse. That power was the instrument by which the commoners of England first drew from the King a recognition of their rights and then erected those rights into a House of Commons and from there went on to possess themselves of complete domination of the government, including the power of life and death over the King. In our Constitution that power is deposited in the Congress and even the Senate is denied the right of originating money bills. Now it is proposed to put the origination of such bills in the hands of the executive, to limit the Congress to a mere approval of large lump-sum or blank-check appropriations, giving to the President the power to allocate those funds. Mr. Harold Laski has suggested that the Congress should “by a self-denying ordinance, which has worked admirably in the House of Commons, deny any member the right to ask for appropriations that is not sought under the direct authority of the President.” Imagine what would be the final result of such a plan. We have seen what can happen when this blank-check method is used, that is, when the Congress grants to the President four or five billions, leaving to him the power to say how it shall be spent.
For many years every session of Congress was featured by what was called a pork-barrel bill. “Pork” was a colloquialism for those appropriations which congressmen asked for their own districts. Every congressman had a pet project for his district which might cost from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand. The district wanted a new post office or federal building, an agricultural experiment station or a fish hatchery, a drydock or army post, a naval station, or some appropriation for roads or other projects within the limited functions of the federal government. All together these appropriations amounted to little more than sixty or seventy millions and probably two thirds of the money appropriated was for useful purposes. Yet each year these pork-barrel bills, exposed to pitiless publicity, evoked a storm of criticism. To get such an appropriation the congressman or senator merely introduced a bill or made application to the Appropriation Committee and the subject was passed on by the whole House.
But in 1933 Congress passed its first “blank-check” bill, handing over to the President $3,300,000,000 to be spent as he chose. When it did that something very fundamental, which nobody bargained for, happened in this country. After that, instead of appealing to Congress for an appropriation, the congressman and senator had to go with his hat in his hand to get his share of the public funds from the President. Overnight that measure put the Congress into the hands of the President. The Congress, indeed, still possessed the power of the purse. But it had handed the purse over to the President filled with money. Now congressmen had to sue at the feet of the President for handouts. Governors and mayors of cities, instead of petitioning Congress, were forced to go as mendicants to the President, who became the dispenser of all good things. The great question in every congressional district was—can our congressman get us our share from the President? How does our congressman stand at the White House? Why, asked constituents, is it that we get nothing while in the next district the people are enjoying all sorts of rich benefits? The answer was simple. The congressman over in that neighboring district votes with the President; our congressman fights him. How can we expect to get anything? What we need in this district is a man who can get along with the President, who will get us playgrounds, high schools, parkways, a magnificent post office, a great dam, and other millions besides.
Congressmen—even Republicans—had to convince their constituents that even though they were in the opposition they were “playing along” reasonably with the administration. Of course the billions voted to the President would one day be exhausted and, presumably, Congress would get a chance to emancipate itself. But the President always had countless hundreds of millions of unexpended balances in his hands from the old bill for which congressmen and senators were scrambling.
Amid the many tons of abuse heaped upon Congress, it must be said in good truth that none was so richly deserved as that which was directed at the Congress from 1933 to 1939. Never in the history of congressional government in this country had Congress sunk to so low a level. It threw away its dignity, its self-respect; it discarded its functions to such an extent that it had to be rebuked by the Supreme Court—unanimously in the NRA case. Congress literally abdicated. Its leaders became the pliant office boys and messengers and stooges of the White House. The President publicly sent “must” bills to it. He lectured it. And his bureaucrats openly sneered at its members. The congresses of those years must remain as monuments of weakness and docility. Worse, they supply to us the complete proof that when the power of the purse is surrendered to the President, the Congress becomes a mere rubber stamp. This is the plan which the remodelers of our government propose to fasten on the nation as its permanent form.
4. THE BUREAUCRATIC STATE
Congress is being incessantly badgered because of its failure to deal to the satisfaction of everyone with all the innumerable problems that demand its attention. The explanation of this takes us to the very center of the great problem of national government, which cannot longer be ignored. For a good many years the people in local communities and in states have been calling upon government to assume first one and then another function hitherto belonging to private arrangement. The problems of farmers, of little and big businessmen, of human welfare, of education, of all sorts of things have been saddled on the government. Along with these has gone another movement to push all those problems toward Washington. Under the interstate-commerce clause of the Constitution almost everything under the sun, including taking a girl on a party across a state line, has been held to be interstate commerce. The most fantastic manipulations of that phrase—interstate commerce—have been invoked to bring the matter under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
The effect of this has been to pile upon the desk of Congress a mountainous heap of problems with which no human beings ever created can possibly deal. The only escape from this impossible assumption of tasks has been to pass them on to some subordinate agency. Congress, therefore, began to create bureaus. And as fast as new functions were thrust upon Congress it expanded the bureaus already created and then created new ones. This practice began before the last war. The war gave the movement a great impetus. The problems of the postwar world added to the tendency. The Great Depression of 1929 gave an immense push to the whole movement. This war has finally completed the job until today, under the pretense of interstate commerce or of emergency or the “general welfare,” the central government has taken jurisdiction over almost every phase of our national life.
Against these bureaus a storm of public damnation has broken. And the very word “bureaucrat” has come to express an extreme brand of public odium. As a matter of fact, there is plenty of justification for this criticism. At first the growth of this bureaucracy was one of those unplanned strategems which an overworked and bewildered Congress turned to in a spirit of frustration. But now the bureaus are defended by a new school which looks upon this institution as the model form of government. This word “bureaucrat” must not be confused with the same word as used in former days. Once upon a time anybody working in a public office was called a bureaucrat and, in its most odious sense, it described nothing more than the official who lived on red tape. The present-day meaning, however, comprises a significance of far more serious character. The old bureaucrat was a public employee who carried out the laws and orders of Congress. But today he is something very much more than this. Congress, in its impotence to deal with the multitude of its assignments, delegates to these bureaus great gobs of its own legislative power, clothes them with the authority to make laws which they call “regulations” and more recently “directives.” But these regulations and directives are actually laws and have the force of law. The grand result of this is that the bureau officials who are appointed by the President are answerable to him and pliant in his hands. And as they have this power through “directives” to enact laws, a vast sector of the power of Congress to legislate has passed to the hand of the executive. Judge Hatton W. Sumners, distinguished chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the House, says that today more law is being enacted by these bureaus than by Congress itself.
More recently the President has taken to creating bureaus without any authority of Congress and without so much as notifying it. With vast sums of money voted to him in lump sums by Congress, he can allocate any amount he chooses to these bureaus, which exercise over the lives and fortunes and affairs of the people the most extensive supervision. This practice has led to a curious experiment in extraconstitutional activity by the executive. The President creates these bureaus, endows them with the most arbitrary powers and the most generous supplies of money. If Congress does not like the bureau or wishes to destroy it, then Congress must pass a law forbidding its continuance or stripping it of its powers. When Congress does that, the President can veto the law and Congress, to pass it over the veto, must have a two-thirds vote. This executive technique of usurping powers he does not possess, until stopped by Congress, is putting into the hands of the President the power to govern without congressional collaboration.
Little by little these bureaus are exercising power over a multitude of subjects that were once the province of the states. They may be exercising unconstitutional powers, but states and individuals and cities are often powerless to resist their ordinances because the executive has in his hands the distribution of such immense sums that the local authorities cannot afford to challenge the power.
This vice takes its origin, however, in the great drift of states, towns, trade and labor and welfare bodies, and every kind of pressure group toward taking their problems to Washington and demanding solution at its hands. As long as this continues, Congress must abandon most of its work to bureaus. And bureaus will always be under the domination of the executive. The whole tendency plays into the hands of the champions of highly centralized executive power. From this there is no escape but to begin to reverse the tendency—to begin to send all those non-federal powers back to the states and the cities where they belong.
1Speech before American Economic Association, December 1931.
2Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1928–36, Random House, New York, 1938.
4Report of the Committee on Continuity of Business and Employment, H. I. Harriman, chairman. U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C., 1931.
5“Autarchy,” by Stuart Chase, Scribner’s Magazine, September 1933, Vol. XCIV.
1Conditions of Peace, by Edward H. Carr, Macmillan, New York, 1942.
2The Moral Equivalent of War, by William James. American Association for International Conciliation, February 1910, No. 27.
156th Congress, 1st Session, Vol. 33, p. 704.
2Congressional Record, February 6, 1900, pp. 1566–66.
3Literary Digest, October 27, 1900.
4The Old Order Changeth, by William Allen White, Macmillan, New York, 1910.
5A Time for Greatness, by Herbert Agar, Little, Brown, New York, 1942.
1A Time for Greatness, by Herbert Agar, Little, Brown, New York, 1942.
2The American Presidency, by Harold J. Laski, Harper’s, New York, 1940.
3Conditions of Peace, by Edward H. Carr, Macmillan, New York, 1942.
4Chicago Journal of Commerce, June 27, 1942.
5Reorganization of the National Government, by Lewis Meriam and Laurence F. Schmeckebier, Brookings Institution, Washington, 1939.
6Mein Kampf. Reynal & Hitchcock, American translation, 1940.