Postwar Renaissance III:
Libertarians and Foreign Policy
Chapter 9 of The Betrayal of the American Right
by Murray N. Rothbard
of the most brilliant and forceful attacks on Cold War foreign policy
in this era came from the pen of the veteran conservative and free-market
publicist Garet Garrett. In his pamphlet "The Rise of Empire," published
in 1952, Garrett began by declaring: "We have crossed the boundary
that lies between Republic and Empire." Linking his thesis with
his pamphlet of the 1930s, "The Revolution Was," denouncing the
advent of domestic executive and statist despotism within the republican
form under the New Deal, Garrett saw once more a "revolution within
the form" of the old constitutional republic:
Truman, alone and without either the consent or knowledge of Congress,
had declared war on the Korean aggressor, 7,000 miles away, Congress
condoned his usurpation of its exclusive Constitutional power
to declare war. More than that, his political supporters in Congress
argued that in the modern case that sentence in the Constitution
conferring upon Congress the sole power to declare war was obsolete.
. . .
supporters argued that in the Korean instance his act was defensive
and therefore within his powers as Commander-in-Chief. In that
case, to make it Constitutional, he was legally obliged to ask
Congress for a declaration of war afterward. This he never did.
For a week Congress relied upon the papers for news of the country’s
entry into war; then the President called a few of its leaders
to the White House and told them what he had done. . . .
A few months
later Mr. Truman sent American troops to Europe to join an international
army, and did it not only without a law, without even consulting
Congress, but challenged the power of Congress to stop it.1
that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee then asked the State
Department to set forth the position of the executive branch on
the powers of the President to send troops abroad. The State Department
declared that "constitutional doctrine has been largely molded
by practical necessities. Use of the congressional power to declare
war, for example, has fallen into abeyance because wars are no longer
declared in advance." Garrett added that "Caesar might
have said it to the Roman Senate," and that this statement
"stands as a forecast of executive intentions, a manifestation
of the executive mind, a mortal challenge to the parliamentary principle."
were the hallmarks of Empire? The first requisite, Garrett declared,
was that "the executive power of government shall be dominant."
needs above all in government is an executive power that can make
immediate decisions, such as a decision in the middle of the night
by the President to declare war on the aggressor in Korea.2
years, he added, it was assumed that the function of the Congress
was to speak for the American people. But now
it is the
President, standing at the head of the Executive Government, who
says: "I speak for the people" or "I have a mandate
from the people.". . . Now much more than Congress, the President
acts directly upon the emotions and passions of the people to
influence their thinking. As he controls Executive Government,
so he controls the largest propaganda machine in the world. The
Congress has no propaganda apparatus at all and continually finds
itself under pressure from the people who have been moved for
or against something by the ideas and thought material broadcast
in the land by the administrative bureaus in Washington.
of the executive are aggrandized by delegation from Congress, by
continual reinterpretation of the language of the Constitution,
by the appearance of a large number of administrative bureaus within
the executive, by usurpation, and as a natural corollary of the
country’s intervening more and more into foreign affairs.
A second hallmark
of the existence of Empire, continued Garrett, is that "Domestic
policy becomes subordinate to foreign policy." This is what
happened to Rome, and to the British Empire. It is also happening
to us, for
as we convert
the nation into a garrison state to build the most terrible war
machine that has ever been imagined on earth, every domestic policy
is bound to be conditioned by our foreign policy. The voice of
government is saying that if our foreign policy fails we are ruined.
It is all or nothing. Our survival as a free nation is at hazard.
That makes it simple, for in that case there is no domestic policy
that may not have to be sacrificed to the necessities of foreign
policy even freedom. . . . If the cost of defending not
ourselves alone but the whole non-Russian world threatens to wreck
our solvency, still we must go on.3
We are no
longer able to choose between peace and war. We have embraced
perpetual war. . . . Wherever and whenever the Russian aggressor
attacks, in Europe, Asia, or Africa, there we must meet him. We
are so committed by the Truman Doctrine, by examples of our intention,
by the global posting of our armed forces, and by such formal
engagements as the North Atlantic Treaty and the Pacific Pact.
Let it be
a question of survival, and how relatively unimportant are domestic
policies touching, for example, the rights of private property,
when if necessary, all private property may be confiscated; or
touching individual freedom, when, if necessary, all labor may
be conscripted. . . . The American mind is already conditioned.
himself prophetically pointed to the keen prophetic
insight of a New York Times editorial of October 31, 1951,
in detailing the permanent changes in American life wrought by the
Korean War. Wrote the Times:
We are embarking
on a partial mobilization for which about a hundred billion dollars
have been already made available. We have been compelled to activate
and expand our alliances at an ultimate cost of some twenty-five
billion dollars, to press for rearmament of former enemies and
to scatter our own forces at military bases throughout the world.
Finally, we have been forced not only to retain but to expand
the draft and to press for a system of universal military training
which will affect the lives of a whole generation. The productive
effort and the tax burden resulting from these measures are changing
the economic pattern of the land.
What is not
so clearly understood, here or abroad, is that these are not temporary
measures for a temporary emergency but rather the beginning of
a whole new military status for the United States, which seems
certain to be with us for a long time to come.
this insight, added sardonically that "probably never before
in any history, could so dire a forecast have been made in these
level tones" tones made possible by the myth that this
new state of affairs was "not the harvest of our foreign policy
but Jehovah acting through the Russians to afflict us and
nobody else responsible."4
A third brand
of Empire, continued Garrett, is the "ascendancy of the military
mind." Garrett noted that the great symbol of the American
military mind is the Pentagon Building in Washington, built during
World War II, as a "forethought of perpetual war." There
at the Pentagon, "global strategy is conceived; there, nobody
knows how, the estimates of what it will cost are arrived at; and
surrounding it is our own iron curtain." The Pentagon allows
the public to know only the information that it wills it to learn;
All the rest
is stamped "classified" or "restricted," in
the name of national security, and Congress itself cannot get
it. That is as it must be of course; the most important secrets
of Empire are military secrets.
on to quote the devastating critique of our garrison state by General
Talk of imminent
threat to our national security through the application of external
force is pure nonsense. . . . Indeed, it is a part of the general
patterns of misguided policy that our country is now geared to
an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis
of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear.
While such an economy may produce a sense of seeming prosperity
for the moment, it rests on an illusionary foundation of complete
unreliability and renders among our political leaders almost a
greater fear of peace than is their fear of war.
interprets that quotation as follows:
an instrument of domestic policy. . . . [The government may] increase
or decrease the tempo of military expenditures, as the planners
decide that what the economy needs is a little more inflation
or a little less. . . . And whereas it was foreseen that when
Executive Government is resolved to control the economy it will
come to have a vested interest in the power of inflation, so now
we may perceive that it will come also to have a kind of proprietary
interest in the institution of perpetual war.5
A fourth mark
of Empire, continued Garrett, is "a system of satellite nations."
We speak only of Russian "satellites," and with contempt,
but "we speak of our own satellites as allies and friends or
as freedom loving nations." The meaning of satellite is a "hired
guard." As Garrett notes:
say we have lost China or that if we lose Europe it will be a
disaster, what do they mean? How could we lose China or Europe,
since they never belonged to us? What they mean is that we have
lost or may lose a following of dependent people who act as an
a vast array of satellites, we then find that "for any one
of them to involve us in war it is necessary only for the Executive
Power in Washington to decide that its defense is somehow essential
to the security of the United States." The system had its origins
in the Lend-Lease Act of 1941. Garrett concludes that the Imperial
Center is pervaded by a fear of standing alone in the world, without
Fear at last
assumes the phase of a patriotic obsession. It is stronger than
any political party. . . . The basic conviction is simple. We
cannot stand alone. A capitalistic economy, though it possesses
half the industrial power of the whole world, cannot defend its
own hemisphere. It may be able to save the world; alone it cannot
save itself. It must have allies. Fortunately, it is able to buy
them, bribe them, arm them, feed and clothe them; it may cost
us more than we can afford, yet we must have them or perish.6
The final hallmark
of Empire is "a complex of vaunting and fear." Here Garrett
cuts to the heart of the imperial psychology. On the one hand vaunting:
of Empire . . . are mighty. They have performed prodigious works.
. . . So those must have felt who lived out the grandeur that
was Rome. So the British felt while they ruled the world.
So now Americans feel. As we assume unlimited political liabilities
all over the world, as billions in multiples of ten are voted
for the ever expanding global intention, there is only scorn for
the one who says: "We are not infinite." The answer
is: "What we will to do, that we can do’."
But in addition
to vaunting is the fear.
Fear of the
barbarian. Fear of standing alone. . . . A time comes when the
guard itself, that is, your system of satellites, is a source
of fear. Satellites are often willful and the more you rely upon
them the more willful and demanding they are. There is, therefore,
the fear of offending them. . . . How will they behave when the
test comes? when they face . . . the terrible reality of
becoming the European battlefield whereon the security of the
United States shall be defended? If they falter or fail, what
will become of the weapons with which we have supplied them?7
that we now have all the hallmarks of Empire, Garrett then points
out that the United States, like previous empires, feels itself
"a prisoner of history." Americans feel somehow obliged
to play their supposed role on the world stage. For beyond fear
lies "collective security" and beyond that lies "a
greater thought." In short:
It is our
to do what?
to assume the responsibilities of moral leadership in the world.
to maintain a balance of power against the forces of evil everywhere
in Europe and Asia and Africa, in the Atlantic and in the
Pacific, by air and by sea evil in this case being the
Our turn to keep the peace of the world.
to save civilization.
to serve mankind.
is the language of Empire. The Roman Empire never doubted that
it was the defender of civilization. Its good intentions were
peace, law and order. The Spanish Empire added salvation. The
British Empire added the noble myth of the white man’s burden.
We have added freedom and democracy. Yet the more that may be
added to it the more it is the same language still. A language
his splendid work by calling for the recapture of the "lost
terrain" of liberty and republicanism from executive tyranny
and Empire. But, as he pointed out, we must face the fact
cost of saving the Republic may be extremely high. It could be
relatively as high as the cost of setting it up in the first place,
one hundred and seventy-five years ago, when love of political
liberty was a mighty passion, and people were willing to die for
it. . . . [D]eceleration will cause a terrific shock. Who will
say, "Now?" Who is willing to face the grim and dangerous
realities of deflation and depression? . . . No doubt the people
know they can have their Republic back if they want it enough
to fight for it and to pay the price. The only point is that no
leader has yet appeared with the courage to make them choose.9
No less enthusiastic
was the devotion to peace and the opposition to the Korean War and
militarism on the part of the more narrowly libertarian wing of
the Old Right movement. Thus, Leonard Read published a powerful
pamphlet, "Conscience on the Battlefield" (1951), in which
he imagined himself as a young American soldier dying on a battlefield
in Korea and engaged in a dialogue with his own conscience. The
Conscience informs the soldier that
many respects you were an excellent person, the record shows that
you killed many men both Korean and Chinese and
were also responsible for the death of many women and children
during this military campaign.
replies that the war was "good and just," that "we
had to stop Communist aggression and the enslavement of people by
dictators." Conscience asks him, "Did you kill these people
as an act of self-defense? Were they threatening your life or your
family? Were they on your shores, about to enslave you?" The
soldier again replies that he was serving the clever U.S. foreign
policy, which anticipates our enemies’ actions by defeating them
and such are simply phrases, mere abstractions behind which persons
often seek to hide their actions and responsibilities. . . . In
the Temple of Judgment which you are about to enter, Principles
only are likely to be observed. It is almost certain that you
will find there no distinction between nationalities or between
races. . . . A child is a child, with as much right to an opportunity
for Self-realization as you. To take a human life at whatever
age, or of any color is to take a human life. . . . According
to your notions, no one person is responsible for the deaths of
these people. Yet they were destroyed. Seemingly, you expect collective
arrangements such as "the army" or "the government"
to bear your guilt.10
On the matter
of guilt, the Conscience adds that
be no distinction between those who do the shooting and those
who aid the act whether they aid it behind the lines by
making the ammunition, or by submitting to the payment of taxes
for war. Moreover, the guilt would appear to be even greater on
the part of those who resorted to the coercive power of government
to get you to sacrifice your home, your fortune, your chance of
Self-realization, your life none of which sacrifices do
they themselves appear willing to make.
his pamphlet, Read wrote: "War is liberty’s greatest enemy,
and the deadly foe of economic progress." Seconding that view
was libertarian leader F.A. "Baldy" Harper, in a FEE pamphlet,
"In Search of Peace," published in the same year. There
pacifism are likely to be hurled at anyone who in troubled times
raises any question about the race into war. If pacifism means
embracing the objective of peace, I am willing to accept the charge.
If it means opposing all aggression against others, I am willing
to accept the charge also. It is now urgent in the interest of
liberty that many persons become "peacemongers . . ."
So the nation
goes to war, and while war is going on, the real enemy [the idea
of slavery] long ago forgotten and camouflaged by the processes
of war rides on to victory in both camps. . . . Further
evidence that in war the attack is not leveled at the real enemy
is the fact that we seem never to know what to do with "victory
. . ." Are the "liberated peoples to be shot, or all
put in prison camps, or what? Is the national boundary to be moved?
Is there to be further destruction of the property of the defeated?
Or what? . . . Nor can the ideas of [Karl Marx] be destroyed today
by murder or suicide of their leading exponent, or of any thousands
or millions of the devotees. . . . Least of all can the ideas
of Karl Marx be destroyed by murdering innocent victims of the
form of slavery he advocated, whether they be conscripts in armies
or victims caught in the path of battle.11
added that Russia was supposed to be the enemy, because our enemy
But if it
is necessary for us to embrace all these socialist-communist measures
in order to fight a nation that has adopted them because
they have adopted these measures why fight them? Why not
join them in the first place and save all the bloodshed? . . .
There is no sense in conjuring up in our minds a violent hatred
against people who are the victims of communism in some foreign
nation, when the same governmental shackles are making us servile
to illiberal forces at home.
another staff member at FEE, added to the antimilitarist barrage.
advocate the "temporary loss" of our freedom in order
to preserve it permanently are advocating only one thing: the
abolition of liberty. In order to fight a form of slavery abroad,
they advocate a form of bondage at home! However good their intentions
may be, these people are enemies of your freedom and my freedom;
and I fear them far more than I fear any potential Russian threat
to my liberty. These sincere but highly emotional patriots are
clear and present threats to freedom; the Russians are still thousands
of miles away12.
would only attack us, Russell pointed out, "for either of two
reasons: fear of our intentions or retaliation to our acts."
The Russians’ fear would
if we pulled our troops and military commitments back into the
Western Hemisphere and kept them here. . . . As long as we keep
troops on Russia’s borders, the Russians can be expected to act
somewhat as we would act if Russia were to station troops in Guatemala
or Mexico even if those countries wanted the Russians to
concluded his critique of American foreign policy:
I can see
no more logic in fighting Russia over Korea or Outer Mongolia,
than in fighting England over Cyprus, or France over Morocco.
. . . The historical facts of imperialism and spheres of influence
are not sufficient reasons to justify the destruction of freedom
within the United States by turning ourselves into a permanent
garrison state and stationing conscripts all over the world. We
are rapidly becoming a caricature of the thing we profess to hate.
My own reaction
to the onset of the Korean War was impassioned and embittered, and
I wrote a philippic to an uncomprehending liberal friend which I
believe holds up all too well in the light of the years that followed:
I come to
bury Liberty, not to praise it; how could I praise it when the
noble Brutus Social Democracy has come into full
flower? . . . What had we under the regime of Liberty? More or
less, we had freedom to say whatever we pleased, to work wherever
we wanted, to save and invest capital, to travel wherever we pleased,
we had peace. These things were all very well in their day, but
now we have Social Democracy. . . . Social Democracy has the draft,
so all of us can fight for lasting peace and democracy all over
the world, rationing, price control, allocation . . . the labor
draft, so we can all serve society at our best capacities, heavy
taxes, inflationary finance, black markets . . . healthy "economic
expansion." Best of all, we shall have permanent war. The
trouble, as we all know, with the previous wars is that they ended
so quickly. . . . But now it looks as if that mistake has been
rectified. We can . . . proclaim as our objective the occupation
of Russia for twenty years to really educate her people in the
glorious principles of our own Social Democracy. And if we really
want to battle for Democracy, let’s try to occupy and educate
China for a couple of generations. That should keep us busy for
In the last
war, we were hampered by a few obstructionist, isolationist, antediluvians,
who resisted such salutary steps as a draft of all labor and capital,
and total planning for mobilization by benevolent politicians,
economists, and sociologists. But under our permanent war setup,
we can easily push this program through. If anyone objects, we
can accuse him of giving aid and comfort to the Commies. The Democrats
have already accused the reactionary obstructionist [Senator]
Jenner (R., Ind.) of "following the Stalinist line."
Yes, the obstructionists
are licked. Social Democracy has little to fear from them. Whoever
the genius was who thought up the permanent war idea, you’ve got
to hand it to him. We can look forward to periods of National Unity,
of a quintupling of the National Income, etc. There is a little
fly in the ointment that some obstructionists may mention
the boys actually doing the fighting may have some objections. But
we can correct that with a $300 billion "Truth" campaign
headed, say, by Archibald MacLeish, so they will know what they
are fighting for. And, we’ve got to impose equivalent sacrifices
on the home front, so our boys will know that things are almost
as tough at home. . . .
There you have
it. The Outlines of the Brave New World of Democratic Socialism.
Liberty is a cheap price to pay. I hope you’ll like it.13
- Garet Garrett,
The People’s Pottage (Caldwell, Id.: Caxton Printers, 1953),
- Ibid., p.
- Ibid., p.
- Ibid., pp.
- Ibid., pp.
- Ibid., pp.
- Ibid., pp.
- Ibid., pp.
- Ibid., pp.
F. Read, Conscience on the Battlefield (Irvington-on-Hudson,
N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1951), pp. 8–11. It is
indicative of the decay of the older libertarian movement and
of FEE that Read’s pamphlet was never included in FEE’s Essays
on Liberty and was allowed to disappear rather quickly from
- F.A. Harper,
In Search of Peace (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation
for Economic Education, 1951), pp. 3, 23–25; reprinted by the
Institute for Humane Studies, 1971.
- Dean Russell,
"The Conscription Idea," Ideas on Liberty (May
- The only
response of my liberal friend was to wonder why I had written
him a letter sounding like the statement of "some business
of Contents: The Betrayal of the American Right
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