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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Accidentally Stumbling Upon Greatness

No, not my greatness, dear reader, I would not be so foolish as to make such a claim. I refer to the greatness of Garet Garrett, or at least the greatness of his forward to his book, The People's Pottage.

Y'see, Mrs. MOTW brought home, quite unbidden, a library book she thought I might like. It was titled The Conservative Bookshelf, and I quickly found that the author thereof had political ideas very similar (not identical) to mine own. In them, he recommended the work of Garet Garrett, of whom I do not believe I had heretofore heard. So I looked to our local library, and much to my surprise, I found that they had something by Mr. Garrett.

I have only just started the book, but I must confess myself duly impressed. The forward alone, written in 1953, is a thing of greatness. I wish everyone would read it. I reproduce most of it here and ask you, gentle reader, to consider what Mr. Garrett says in light of the last two years of political history.

I will provide more quotes later on. Anything in bold (including bolded italics) reflects my emphasis.
A time came when the only people who had ever been free began to ask: What is freedom?

Who wrote its articles--the strong or the weak?

Was it an absolute good?

Could there be such a thing as unconditional freedom, short of anarchy?

Given the answer to be no, then was freedom an eternal truth or a political formula?

Since it was clear to reason that freedom must be conditioned, as by self-discipline, individual responsibility and many necessary laws of restraint; and since there was never in the world an absolute good, why should people not be free to say they would have less freedom in order to have more of some other good?

What other good?


What else?


And beyond that?

Beyond the sympathies of we, and all men as brothers, instead of the willful I, as if each man were a sovereign, self-regarding individual?

Well, where there is freedom doubt itself must be free. You shall not be forbidden to interrogate the faith of your fathers. Better that, indeed, than to take it entirely for granted.

So long as doubts such as these were wildish pebbles in the petulant waves that gnaw ceaselessly at any foundation, perhaps only because it is a foundation, no great damage was done. But when they began to be massed as a creed, then they became sharp cutting tools, wickely set in the jaws of the flood. That was the work of a disaffected intellectual cult, mysteriously rising in the academic world; and from the same source came the violent winds of Marxian propaganda that raised the waves higher and made them angry.

Even so, the damage to the foundations might have been much slower and not beyond simple repair if it had not happened that in 1932 a bund of intellectual revolutionaries, hiding behind the conservative planks of the Democratic party, seized control of government.

After that it was the voice of government saying to the people there had been too much freedom. That was their trouble. Freedom was for the strong. The few had used it to exploit the many. Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, boom and bust, depression and unemployment, economic insecurity, want in the midst of plenty, property rights above human rights, taking it always out of the hide of labor in bad times--all of that was what came of rugged individualism, of free prices, free markets, free enterprise and freedom of contract. Let that be the price of freedom, and who would not say it was too dear?

So, instead of this willful private freedom, trust the government to administer freedom, for all the people alike, especially the weak. To begin with, the government would redistribute the national wealth in an equitable manner. Then its planners would plan production and distribution in perfect balance, and thus no more boom and bust; the government then would see to it that everybody had always enough money to buy a decent living, and beyond that it would provide for the widows and orphans, the sick and disabled, the indigent and the old.

To perform these miracles it would require more freedom for itself--that is, freedom to intervene in the lives of people for their own good, freedom from old Constitutional restraints that belonged to our horse-and-buggy days, and freedom to do as it would with the public purse. And if it should be said that this increase in the government's own sphere of freedom meant a curtailment of the individual's freedom, it came to this--that the individual was asked to surrender only the freedom to starve and what he received in return was freedom from want. Was that not a good bargain?

What the people did in fact surrender was control of government.

They did not intend to do that. For a long time they did not realize they had done it, and when at last it came to them they were already deeply infected with a virus that devours the copy book virtues, creates habits of dependence and destroys the valiant love of self-responsibility.

The crisis was moral.

Happily for their designs, the New Deal physicians found the patient in a state of economic pain, extreme but not fatal, and proceeded to administer imported narcotics, all habit forming, such as:

(1) Repudiation of the United States Treasury's promises to pay.

(2) Confiscation of the people's gold by trickery.

(3) Debasement of the currency.

(4) Deliberate inflation.

(5) Spoilation of the savers, whose little rainy day hoards melted away.

(6) Deficit spending to create buying power by conjury.

(7) Monetization of debt.

(8) The doctrine of a planned economy.

(9) A scheme of taxation, class subsidies and Federal grants-in-aid designed ostensibly to redistribute the national wealth for social justice, but calculated in fact to reduce millions of citizens to subservience, to bring forty-eight sovereign states to the status of provinces and to create in the executive principle a supreme government with extensive new powers, including the power to make its own laws by simply publishing from its bureaus rules and regulations having the force of law, disobedience punishable by fine or imprisonment.

These physicians kept saying to the patient, "Now aren't you feeling better?" Many, very many, were feeling immediately better, and because they were feeling better and because the government offered to provide them all with economic security forever, they were easily persuaded to exchange freedom for benefits, until at last they had surrendered, almost unawares, the most elementary freedom of all, namely, the right to receive in your pay envelope the full reward for your labor and do with it what you will.

Thus the Welfare State was built. The facade was magnificent; the cornerstone rested on quicksand; the moral cost of it may be reckoned in terms such as these:

If the great Government of the United States were a private corporation no bank would take its name on a piece of paper, because it has cynically repudiated the words engraved upon its bonds.

The dollar, which was long the most honored piece of money in the world, became an irredeemable scrap of paper, with no certain value.

The executive power of government was exalted to be the paramount power, uncontrollable, and the exquisite Constitutional mechanism of three co-equal powers--the Congress to make the laws, the President to execute the laws and the Supreme Court to interpret the laws--no longer functioned.

The symbol of Executive Government is the President. Actually, Executive Government became a vast system of bureaus and commissions writing 90 per cent of our laws, touching our everyday lives to the quick.

The purse and the sword were in one hand, which is solemnly forbidden by the constitution. In fact this was so. True, Congress still appropriated the money, but it could no longer pretend to understand the budgets that came from the White House and bitterly complained that it could not appropriate money intelligently. And as for the sword, the State Department, speaking for Executive Government, held that to be an obsolete provision of the Constitution which says only the Congress hsall have the power to declare war. The President alone could make war, as he did in Korea.

In these twenty years a revolution took place in the relationship between government and people. Formerly government was the responsibility of people; now people were the responsibility of government.

This change was silently geared to the popular idea of Social Security, for which the money was to come from a law of compulsory thrift imposed upon the individual and a pay roll tax imposed upon employers, all to be managed by a paternal Federal government. But this Social Security is delusive. In the first place, you have no surety that the money the government takes currently out of your income or your wage envelope as a social security tax will be worth as much when you get it back as it was when the government took it. Indeed, it is now worth only half as much as it was when the government began to take it a few years ago. With one hand it held out the apple; with the other hand it introduced the worm that was going to devour it. The worm was inflation. Secondly, as fast as the government receives those social security taxes it spends the money and puts in place of it a paper promise to pay you when you are entitled to receive it back, so that the only security behind all this Social Security scheme is more government debt. The right way would be to meet the cost of Social Security currently by an annual tax on the national income.

Nor is that all.

As the religious apostate seems to pass under a kind of emotional necessity to revile the symbols and images of his abandoned faith, so in the last twenty years the popular meaning of old American words has undergone enormities of semantic change and are scourged accordingly. The word freedom itself has come to be regarded as a reactionary word, if you use it to mean, freedom from the coercions and compulsions of government, even when they might be benign. Individualism is a word that will class you with the greedy few who wish to exploit the many for profit. The honorable word capitalism is anathema. Likewise nationalism and sovereignty. And the mere thought of America first, associated as that term is with isolationism, has become a liability so extreme that politicians feel obliged to deny ever having entertained it. But if you use the word freedom to mean freedom for mankind, that is all right.
It does occur to me that some readers may not understand what Mr. Garrett means by:
...the power to make its own laws by simply publishing from its bureaus rules and regulations having the force of law, disobedience punishable by fine or imprisonment.
...Executive Government became a vast system of bureaus and commissions writing 90 per cent of our laws, touching our everyday lives to the quick.
It is not so hard to understand. Think about our government and our country today.

How much of what the FDA holds companies responsible for is law passed by the Congress and signed by the President?

How much of what OSHA holds companies responsible for is law passed by the Congress and signed by the President?

How much of what the EPA holds companies and individuals responsible for is law passed by the Congress and signed by the President?

It would not be difficult to multiply examples. The reality today is that much of what has the force of law in our country has never been passed by Congress and signed by the President. Congress long ago abdicated much of its law-making (and repealing) responsibility. Instead, too often we create bureaucracies with the power to make rules and regulations and the power to punish people for disobedience. It is a hideous expansion of government that was never envisioned by the people who created the Constitution.

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