Recently by Robert Higgs: It's
Pearl Harbor Day — TrotOut the OfficialFable
Wars and Great Leaders by Ralph Raico (2010)
For many years,
I have described Ralph Raico as "my favorite historian."
When David Theroux and I were making our plans in 1995 for the publication
of a new scholarly quarterly, The Independent Review, and
selecting the scholars we would ask to serve as associate editors,
I knew that I would want one of them to be an excellent historian,
and I knew also that the person I wanted most was Raico. I had complete
confidence that he would bring to our project precisely the combination
of personal integrity, scholarly mastery, and sound judgment I needed
in an associate. In the 15 years since then, I have never regretted
that I prevailed on Ralph to serve in this capacity and that he
graciously accepted my invitation. Three of the marvelous review
essays that appear here were first published in TIR.
I had developed a deep respect for Raico as a scholar and as a person.
I insist that these two qualities cannot be separated without dire
consequences. Some scholars have energy, brilliance, and mastery
of their fields, but they lack personal integrity; hence they bend
easily before the winds of professional fashion and social pressure.
I have always admired Ralph’s amazing command of the wide-ranging
literature related to the topics about which he lectures and writes.
But I have admired even more his courageous capacity for frankly
evaluating the actors and the actions in question, not to mention
the clarity and wit of his humane, levelheaded judgments.
who long ago came to dominate the writing of serious history in
the United States, have not distinguished themselves as independent
thinkers. All too often, especially in the past 30 or 40 years,
they have surrendered their judgments and even their attention spans
to a combination of hypersensitive multiculturalism and power worship.
They tend to see society as divided between a small group of oppressors
(nearly all of whom are, not coincidentally, straight white males
engaged in or closely associated with corporate business) and a
conglomeration of oppressed groups, among whom nonwhites, women,
homosexuals, and low-wage workers receive prominent attention and
When the historians
write about the economy, they usually view it through quasi-Marxist
lenses, perceiving that investors and employers have been (and remain)
the natural enemies of the workers, who would never have escaped
destitution except for the heroic struggles waged on their behalf
by labor unions and progressive politicians. When they write about
international affairs, they elevate the "democratic" wartime
leaders to godlike status, especially so for Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow
Wilson, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D. Roosevelt – politicians
whose public declarations of noble intentions the historians tend
to accept at face value.
Raico, in contrast,
steadfastly refuses to be sucked into this ideological mire. Having
attended Ludwig von Mises’s famous seminar at New York University
and having completed his PhD dissertation at the University of Chicago
under F.A. Hayek’s supervision, he understands classical liberalism
as well as anyone, and his historical judgments reflect this more
solid and humane grounding. For Ralph, it would be not only unseemly
but foolish to quiver obsequiously in the historical presence of
a Churchill, a Roosevelt, or a Truman.
He knows when
he has encountered a politician who lusted after power and public
adulation, and he describes the man accordingly. He does not sweep
under the rug the crimes committed by the most publicly revered
Western political leaders. If they ordered or acceded to the commission
of mass murder, he tells us, without mincing words, that they did
so. The idea that the United States has invariably played the role
of savior or "good guy" in its international relations
Raico recognizes as state propaganda rather than honest history.
Thus, in these
pages, you will find descriptions and accounts of World War I, of
the lead-up to formal US belligerence in World War II, and of Churchill,
Roosevelt, and Truman, among others, that bear little resemblance
to what you were taught in school. Here you will encounter, perhaps
for the first time, compelling evidence of how the British maneuvered
US leaders and tricked the American people prior to the US declarations
of war in 1917 and 1941. You will read about how the British undertook
to starve the Germans – men, women, and children alike –
not only during World War I, but for the greater part of a year
after the armistice. You will be presented with descriptions of
how the communists were deified and the German people demonized
by historians and others who ought to have known better. You will
see painted in truer shades a portrait of the epic confrontation
between the great majority of Americans, who wished to keep their
country at peace in 1939, 1940, and 1941, and the well-placed, unscrupulous
minority who sought to plunge the United States into the European
essays are not for the faint of heart nor for those whose loyalty
to the US or British state outweighs their devotion to truth and
humanity. Yet Ralph did not invent the ugly facts he recounts here,
as his ample documentation attests. Indeed, many historians have
known these facts, but few have been willing to step forward and
defy politically popular and professionally fashionable views in
the forthright, pull-no-punches way that Raico does.
principal defect for the most part has not been a failure or refusal
to dig out the relevant facts but rather a tendency to go along
to get along in academia and "respectable" society, a
sphere in which individual honesty and courage generally count against
a writer or teacher, whereas capitulation to trendy nonsense often
brings great rewards and professional acclaim.
Those who have
not read Raico’s essays or listened to his lectures have a feast
in store here. Those who have read some, but not all, of the essays
in this collection may rest assured that the quality remains high
throughout the volume. Any one of the main essays well justifies
the price of the book, and each of the review essays is a jewel
of solid scholarship and excellent judgment. Moreover, in contrast
to the bland, uninspired writing that most academic historians dish
out, Ralph’s clear, vigorous prose serves as a tasty spice for the
meaty substance. Bon appétit.
Higgs [send him mail] is
senior fellow in political economy at the Independent
Institute and editor of The
Independent Review. He
is also a columnist for LewRockwell.com. His
most recent book is Neither
Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government.
He is also the author of Depression,
War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy, Resurgence
of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 and Against
Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society.