Garet Garrett Revived

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Garet Garrett
is a man of special flavor on the Right. Here is how he introduced
his enduring work, The
People's Pottage
:

A time
came when the only people who had ever been free began to ask:
What is freedom?

Who wrote
its articles – the strong or the weak?

Was it
an absolute good?

…Since
it was clear to reason that freedom must be conditioned, as by
self-discipline, individual responsibility and many necessary
laws of restraint; and since there was never in the world an absolute
good, why should people not be free to say they would have less
freedom in order to have some other good?

What
other good?

Security.

What
else?

Stability.

And beyond
that?

Beyond
that the sympathies of we, and all men as brothers, instead of
the willful I, as if each man were a sovereign, self-regarding
individual.

The
People's Pottage, published in 1953, consisted of three essays
– the first on the New Deal, the second on the Marshall Plan
mentality and the third called "Rise of Empire." The first
and the third are probably the most radical things Garrett ever
wrote. But there are many other things from this Old Right libertarian
that have been uncirculated for more than half a century.

I'm
making up for that, at least a start, by offering Salvos
Against the New Deal
, the first new collection of Garrett's
work in 49 years. It is available for $12.95 from Laissez Faire
Books.

The book
is subtitled, Selections from the Saturday Evening Post, 1933-1940.
Garrett, who had been a financial journalist through the Panic
of 1907, became the chief economics writer for the Post in
1922, when he denounced the financial bailout of Germany and the
push by Britain and France to weasel out of their war debts. In
the 1920s he wrote about international finance and about the push
for a federal bailout of farmers; in the early 1930s, about bank
failures and the international debt crisis of 1931. Beginning in
1933, he turned his rhetorical cannon on the New Deal.

In his
day, Garrett was thought of as a conservative – a hard-core
conservative. If we remember him now a libertarian, it is because,
conservatives are not nearly so hard-core today. His argument for
liberty was not from natural rights, and though his arguments were
very often economic, his basic premises were not. He argued for
liberty in at least three ways.

First,
liberty was American. Liberty was what made us different from Europeans.
It was not just capitalism. Lots of countries had that. Americans
had a unique, freewheeling, exuberant subspecies of it: Capitalism
with liberty. Such was was our identity. It was who we were.

Socialism,
in his view, was bad not only because of its intrinsic qualities,
but also because it was alien. It was European. It was not
who we were.

The second
reason Garrett was for liberty is that liberty made individual Americans
strong. There is a scene in one of the chapters in Salvos Against
the New Deal. Garrett is describing a crowd in a New York City
park, most of them unemployed and on relief, listening to a government
band. The crowd was warmly dressed and appeared well-fed. Garrett
wrote:

"As
I looked at this scene, I said to myself, u2018Here is civility of a
very high order.' I had a warm feeling about it. In no other country
in the world were the unemployed taken care of like this, and never
in this one before. But then it occurred to me to project these
people into their own future, into the future of the country –
these who were saying, each one to himself, u2018No matter what happens,
I shall be fed and clothed and housed. The Government will see to
it.' And then, by way of contrast, to project in like manner another
crowd of the same general character, with only the difference that
each one is saying to himself, u2018This is very nice, but I ought to
be thinking of tomorrow. I must be thinking of how to take care
of it myself.' At the end of twenty years, how will the works of
one crowd compare with the works of another?"

The third
reason Garrett was for liberty is that it made the nation strong.
One of the ways it did that was by providing elbow room for remarkable
people to do remarkable things. To Garrett, this was personalized
by Henry Ford. He believed that only under laissez-faire could the
auto industry have arisen in the exuberant, anarchic way it had,
or the steel industry could have been created the way it had, and
it was because of laissez-faire that America led the world in both
industries.

In organizing
Salvos, I tried to have a mix of subjects spread over every
year of the New Deal. Given the acreage of material, that was not
difficult. Here are the chapter heads and a hint of what they cover:

  1. Premonitions
    (1932 & 1933) (Hints of the New Deal)
  2. Revolution
    (1933) (Roosevelt's 100 days, inflation and gold)
  3. We Are
    Building (1933) (From skyscrapers to post offices)
  4. The Blue
    Eagle (1933 & 1934) (The managed economy)
  5. The
    Kohler Strike (1934) (Unionism by majority vote)
  6. Taming
    the Machine (1933 & 1938) (The attack on productivity)
  7. A Particular
    Kind of Money (1935) (Gold and paper)
  8. That
    Old Straitjacket (1935) (The Constitution)
  9. A New
    Culture (1936) (The death of self-reliance)
  10. The Work
    of Agriculture (1936) (The real problem of farming)
  11. In the
    Name of Labor (1937) (Unionism goes political)
  12. The C.I.O.
    at Weirton Steel (1937) (A battle for control)
  13. Fear
    (1938) (Government and business)
  14. Fifth
    Anniversary (1938) (New Deal after five years)
  15. The Perfect
    Closed-Shop Town (1939) (Seattle and Dave Beck)
  16. Pharoahs
    (1939) (The Columbia River dams)
  17. A World
    That Was (1940) (Henry Ford and Laissez Faire)
  18. To Work
    (1940) (The New Deal meets World War II)

All these
pieces are imbued with Garrett's political outlook: He was a journalist,
but never impartial. The short pieces are the most explicitly libertarian.
In "Fear," Garrett, who calls himself the Old Reporter,
is recalling a dinner in 1938 in Washington, DC, in which a utility
man, some lawyers and a PR man were complaining about government
domination of business and its ignoring of the Constitution. Garrett
agrees that a huge change has taken place in the character of government:

"Well,"
said the Old Reporter, "has the Constitution changed? Has
the Bill of Rights been rewritten?"

"Only
violated," said the lawyer.

"You
to say that," answered the Old Reporter. "A man of the
law. You should say reinterpreted. You are fooling yourselves
who talk of defending the Constitution as if it were an immutable
thing, like the Ark of the Covenant. This change we are looking
at has taken place within the grammar of the Constitution. There
is no power in phrases written on a piece of skin to stop government.
Forget what is written in the document. Defend, instead, the spirit
and philosophy that wrote it."

And that's
what Garrett did.

A final
note: The publisher of Salvos Against the New Deal is the
Caxton Press, an old name
that many libertarians assumed had gone out of business. In the
1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, this Caldwell, Idaho, printer published
Rand's Anthem,
Spencer's Man
Versus the State
, Paterson's God
of the Machine
, the collected letters of Rose Wilder Lane,
Albert Jay Nock and other books. Caxton is a family company, and
it passed to a new generation that was more interested in Western
Americana than in political ideas. But today's owner, Scott Gipson,
wants to try his hand at political publishing. If Salvos Against
the New Deal is successful, Caxton may be revived as a libertarian
publisher.

March
26, 2002

Bruce
Ramsey [send him mail]
writes for the Seattle Times.

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