Freedom (sort of) but only in peacetime

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Gregory L. Schneider’s edited collection called Conservatism in America since 1930 (NYU Press, 2003) (which includes some material by Rothbard!) prints William F. Buckley’s first memo (early 1950s) about the founding of National Review. In it, we find the opening statement of conviction: “It is the job of centralize government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty, and property.”

At first this sounds somewhat Lockean-Jeffersonian, but wait. Why assume “centralized government” as a given? The whole idea of the federalism principle is that government is decentralized, with the essential functions of government performed by the states. The federal government was never in American history charged with protecting your personal property, for example, except to perhaps compensate you when it is violated by the federal government (5th amendment) itself.

Then there’s this “peacetime” proviso. So all bets are off in war, when the feds need not protect life, liberty, and property, but rather are free to violate it? Interesting, especially given that two paragraphs later Buckley announces that “we find ourselves irrevocably at war with Communism”–and hence we are to assume that all bets are indeed off, and NR should wholly approve of this.

Continuing with the chronicle of contradiction, we later find this statement: “Perhaps the most important and readily demonstratable lesson of history is that freedom goes hand in hand with a state of political decentralization.” Who can make sense of this? Maybe it’s not supposed to make sense.

4:15 pm on October 16, 2003