Wars and Great Leaders (2010). An MP3 audio file of this
article, narrated by Keith Hocker, is available
of Prussia, Frederick II ("the Great"), confessed that
he had seized the province of Silesia from the Empress Maria Theresa
in 1740 because, as a newcomer to the throne, he had to make a
name for himself. This initiated a war with Austria that developed
into a worldwide war (in North America, the French and Indian
War), and went on to 1763. Of course, many tens of thousands died
in that series of wars.
admission is probably unique in the annals of leaders of states.
In general, rulers have been much more circumspect about revealing
the true reasons for their wars, as well as the methods by which
they conduct them. Pretexts and evasions have proliferated. In
today's democratic societies, these are endorsed often
invented by compliant professors and other intellectuals.
the unmasking of such excuses for war and war making has been
the essence of historical revisionism, or simply revisionism.
Revisionism and classical
liberalism, today called libertarianism, have always been
classical-liberal thinker on international affairs was Richard
Cobden, whose crusade for repeal of the Corn Laws triumphed in
1846, bringing free trade and prosperity to England. Cobden's
two-volume Political Writings are all revisionist accounts of
British foreign policy.
The middle and industrious classes of England can have no interest
apart from the preservation of peace. The honours, the fame, the
emoluments of war belong not to them; the battle-plain is the
harvest-field of the aristocracy, watered by the blood of the
forward to a time when the slogan "no foreign politics"
would become the watchword of all who aspired to be representatives
of a free people. Cobden went so far as to trace the calamitous
English wars against revolutionary France which went on
for a generation and ended only at Waterloo to the hostility
of the British upper classes to the antiaristocratic policies
of the French.
the aristocracy for its alleged war lust was standard for liberal
writers of earlier generations. But Cobden's views began to change
when he observed the intense popular enthusiasm for the Crimean
War against Russia and on behalf of the Ottoman Turks. His outspoken
opposition to that war, seconded by his friend and coleader of
the Manchester School, John Bright, cost both of them their seats
in the Commons at the next election.
his colleague by 20 years, witnessing the growing passion for
empire in his country. In 1884, the acclaimed Liberal prime minister,
William Gladstone, ordered the Royal Navy to bombard Alexandria
to recover the debts owed by the Egyptians to British investors.
Bright scornfully dismissed it as "a jobbers' war,"
war on behalf of a privileged class of capitalists, and resigned
from the Gladstone cabinet. But he never forgot what had started
him on the road to anti-imperialism. When Bright passed with his
young grandson in front of the statue in London, labeled "Crimea,"
the boy asked the meaning of the memorial. Bright replied, simply,
the most widely read philosopher of his time, was squarely in
the classical-liberal tradition. His hostility to statism is exemplified
by his assertion that, "Be it or be it not true that Man
is shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, it is unquestionably
true that Government is begotten of aggression and by aggression."
the state's inborn tendency toward "militancy"
as opposed to the peaceful intercourse of civil society
Spencer denounced the various apologias for his country's wars
in his lifetime, in China, South Africa, and elsewhere.
In the United
States, anarchist author Lysander Spooner was a renowned abolitionist,
even conspiring with John Brown to promote a servile insurrection
in the South. Yet he vociferously opposed the Civil War, arguing
that it violated the right of the southern states to secede from
a Union that no longer represented them. E.L. Godkin, influential
editor of The Nation magazine, opposed US imperialism to
the end of his life, condemning the war against Spain. Like Godkin,
William Graham Sumner was a forthright proponent of free trade
and the gold standard and a foe of socialism. He held the first
professorship in sociology (at Yale) and authored a great many
books. But his most enduring work is his essay "The
Conquest of the United States by Spain," reprinted many
times and today available online. In this ironically titled work,
Sumner portrayed the savage US war against the Philippines, which
cost some 200,000 Filipino lives, as an American version of the
imperialism and lust for colonies that had brought Spain the sorry
state of his own time.
the most thoroughgoing of the liberal revisionists was the arch-radical
de Molinari, originator of what has come to be known as anarchocapitalism.
In his work on the Great Revolution of 1789, Molinari eviscerated
the founding myth of the French Republic. France had been proceeding
gradually and organically towards liberal reform in the later
18th century; the revolution put an end to that process, substituting
an unprecedented expansion of state power and a generation of
war. The self-proclaimed liberal parties of the 19th century were,
in fact, machines for the exploitation of society by the now victorious
predatory middle classes, who profited from tariffs, government
contracts, state subsidies for railroads and other industries,
state-sponsored banking, and the legion of jobs available in the
In his last
work, published a year before his death in 1912, Molinari never
relented. The American Civil War had not been simply a humanitarian
crusade to free the slaves. The war "ruined the conquered
provinces," but the Northern plutocrats pulling the strings
achieved their aim: the imposition of a vicious protectionism
that led ultimately "to the regime of trusts and produced
revisionism continued into the 20th century. The First World War
furnished rich pickings, among them Albert Jay Nock's The
Myth of a Guilty Nation and H.L. Mencken's continuing,
and of course witty, exposés of the lies of America's wars
and war makers. In the next generation, Frank Chodorov, the last
of the Old Right greats, wrote
that "Isolationism is not a political policy, it is a natural
attitude of a people." Left to their own devices, the people
"do not feel any call to impose their own customs and values
on strangers." Declining to dodge the scare word, Chodorov
urged a "return to that isolationism which for over a hundred
years prospered the nation and gained for us the respect and admiration
of the world." Chodorov founder of ISI, which he named
the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, later tamed down
to "the Intercollegiate Studies Institute" broke
with the "New Right," the neocons of the that era, over
his opposition to the Korean War.
Rothbard was the heir to this whole legacy, totally familiar
with it and bringing it up to date. Aside from his many other,
really amazing contributions, Murray and his colleague Leonard
Liggio introduced historical revisionism to the burgeoning American
libertarian movement (including me). This is a work now carried
on with great gusto by Lew
Rockwell, of the Mises Institute,
and his associated accomplished scholars, particularly the indefatigable
and reviews I have published and now collected and mostly expanded
in this volume are in the tradition of libertarian revisionism,
animated by the spirit of Murray Rothbard. They expose the consecrated
lies and crimes of some of our most iniquitous, and beloved, recent
rulers. My hope is, in a small way, to lay bare historically the
nature of the state.
I've also taken into account the strange phenomenon, now nearly
forgotten, of the deep affection of multitudes of honored Western
intellectuals in the 1930s and '40s for the great experiment in
socialism taking place in Soviet Russia under Josef Stalin. Their
propaganda had an impact on a number of Western leaders and on
Western policy towards the Soviet Union. To my mind, this is worthy
of a certain revisionism even today.