It Didn't Start With Bush

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George W. Bush should be the poster boy for Hayek’s dictum of Why the Worst Get On Top; in other words, he is the worst. His statements are the worst; virtually everything that comes out of his mouth is either stupid, illiterate, ill informed, false and/or a lie (e.g.; "Major combat operations have ended," "I’m the decider."). His administration is the worst, responsible for putting the US in its worst condition in terms of the economy, military readiness, international standing, education, and medical care. From the 2000 election to the present, Bush and his administration have consistently and successfully worked to undermine the remains of the constitutional republic that was the United States.

Yet, we must remember that though Bush has accelerated what was a descent into a freefall, the descent itself didn’t start with him and will thus not likely end with him. I was reminded of this fact recently while following an internet thread. It started at the blog at Takimag, where there is an interesting remembrance of William Buckley, especially regarding his personality. Among the civil discourse in the responses was a discussion of the conservative culture journal Modern Age. The archive of the journal contains all of the back issues starting from volume 1, number 1 issued in the summer of 1957. In that first issue is an article by Felix Morley. He was a Pulitzer Prize winning editor (Washington Post), a college president (Haverford College), and co-founder of the magazine Human Events. This apparently very establishment rsum should not obscure the fact that Morley was a stalwart of the Old Right ("See Joseph R. Stromberg’s Felix Morley: An Old Fashioned Republican Critic of Statism and Interventionism (Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp 269—77) and Felix Morley: An Old Fashioned Republican. Leonard Liggio, in Felix Morley and the Commonwealthman Tradition: The Country-Party, Centralization and the American Empire (Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 279—86) looks at Morley’s historical analysis of the libertarian movement and the rise of the state. Of Morley’s books, Freedom and Federalism (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981 [1959]) and The Power in the People (Nash Publishing, 1972 [1949]) are his best critiques of imperialism abroad and the welfare state at home.")

The article from 1957 is called American Republic or American Empire. I happened to use a green highlighter to mark significant passages, including the title, on my printout of the article. As a whole, the article was so significant that it became as green as Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. I will present several of these passages below with a few comments (though they are generally self-evident) but I highly recommend that you read the article yourself.

The article is preceded by a note from the editors (among them was Russell Kirk) that the goal of publishing this particular piece was to "stimulate thought, rather than to express a single point of view." Morley’s opening passage questioned the raison d’être of the American Right during the height of the Cold War, the targeted audience of the new magazine.

We seem to have reached the stage, in our national evolution, where we have a vested interest in preparation for war. It has become necessary for us to have a powerful enemy. Soviet Russia is currently our target not only because its economic system is communistic and its political system tyrannical, but perhaps primarily because the Russian organism rivals ours in actual or latent physical power. Russia could revert to free enterprise, or restore an hereditary Czardom, tomorrow; and still our Secretary of State would be compelled to question her bona fides. Peaceful co-existence with Russia is impossible not simply because of Communist plotting but because our economy apparently needs the constant stimulus of a threat of large-scale war.

Today, as NATO pushes east and the bellicosity toward Russia continues years after the fall of the Soviet Union helps prove the truth of Morley’s hypothetical point. He then presents a discussion of the economics of the military industrial complex, how it drives foreign policy, and the symbiosis between them. Simply stated by Morley, "As long as the country is menaced, or thinks itself menaced, Congress will patriotically vote almost unlimited funds for armament," as the menace lies throughout the world. In Morley’s time this was the Soviet menace, today it is terrorism (and perhaps once again the Russians and Chinese in the future). Furthermore, "Congress, which nominally controls the purse strings, seldom does much to cut the military estimates. They are presented as essential for the national security, and it is all but impossible for even the most conscientious legislator to prove that they are not essential." Robert Higgs has written extensively on how this practice operates today (e.g., see here and here).

Morley then explains why these economic issues are so serious to the state of our domestic political system.

Political scientists should give much more attention than is customary to the effect of these huge defense appropriations, continued in terms of tens of billions of dollars year after year. For while the immediate consequences may be primarily financial and economic, the ultimate consequences — which we are now beginning to witness — are political in the deepest sense of the word.

He then gives several examples of the propaganda that is necessary to the empire and the dangers that it leads to.

Today, with increasingly rare exceptions, you only read or hear — in matters of foreign policy — what Washington wants you to read or hear.

And what Washington wants one month may be, and often is, the exact opposite of what Washington wants the next month. That is why the American people are so bewildered trying to follow the contortions of a foreign policy which first disarms and then rearms the Germans; which first prohibits and then insists upon Japanese conscription; which gives tanks to the French in Algeria and then chides the French for using them; which encourages the Chinese Communists to take over the mainland but then says touch Formosa at your peril; which first arm Israel against the Arabs and then the Arabs against Israel; which denounces the Russians for refusing to disarm and then denounces them for offering to disarm. The net effort of these and many other contradictions is that, while we are undeniably feared, we are no longer either respected or admired abroad. And, which is more to the point, we are certainly both confused and uneasy here at home.

The fundamental difficulty that gives rise to this painful and dangerous confusion is, I think, clear. We are trying to make a federal republic do an imperial job, without honestly confronting the fact that our traditional institutions are specifically designed to prevent centralization of power. With this direct contradiction between the traditional form of our government and the current purposes of our government, a sort of political schizophrenia is inevitable. It is revealed in wavering, wobbling, and wasteful policies. The wealth of this country is so great, and its power so enormous, that we can stagger around for a long time, like a drunken giant, with relative immunity. At some time and at some point, however, this fundamental conflict between our institutions and our policies will have to be resolved.

Thus, it is clear that the transformation of republic to empire was occurring more than 50 years ago. Furthermore, with the Bush regime’s continuous onslaught of the Constitution in favor of the unitary executive and a series of horrible blunders at home and abroad that are leading to national collapse, perhaps the point in time that this u201Cfundamental conflict between our institutions and our policiesu201D that Morley suggested is now.

Ira Katz [send him mail] lives in Paris and works as a research engineer for a French company. He is the co-author of Handling Mr. Hyde: Questions and Answers about Manic Depression and Introduction to Fluid Mechanics.

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