Dr. Carson is Professor of American History at Grove City College, Pennsylvania. Among his earlier writings in THE FREEMAN were his series on The Fateful Turn and The American Tradition, both of which are now available as books.
It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. The phrase is poetic; it calls attention to a paradox. Taken literally, the statement is not true, of course. A swordsman pitted against a penman might be expected to make quick work of him. Obviously, the phrase is not meant to evoke the vision of any such contest when it is employed. It is meant, instead, to call attention to the sway of ideas in the affairs of the world, a sway more complete and determinative even than that of the sword.
However this may be, there should be no doubt that the pen and the sword together are invincible. That is the situation which confronts us today. The flight from reality has culminated in the linking of the pen and the sword. The commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States with his brain trust signalizes the union.
The direction in which we are impelled by the combined force of pen and sword should not be in doubt. Earl Browder, former head of the Communist Party of the United States — but unrepentant socialist — has lately described the tendency felicitously:
America is getting socialism on the installment plan through the programs of the welfare state. There is more real socialism in the United States today than there is in the Soviet Union.
Americans may not be willing to vote for a program under the name of "socialism," but put it under another party label — whether liberal Republican or Democrat—and they’re by and large in favor of the idea….
We have no real socialist party, no socialist ideology, but we have a large — and growing — degree of what 50 years ago would have been recognized as socialism.¹
Some of Browder’s points may be debatable, such as that there is more socialism in America than in the Soviet Union, or that we have no socialist ideology; but his main contention—that the United States has been moving gradually toward socialism — should be beyond dispute. The evidence for this is mountainous. It can be seen in the spreading government intervention in the economy, in the increasing control of the economy, in the numerous welfare programs, and in the amazing array of governmental activities and programs. The question for the historian should be not whether we have been moving toward what was once billed as socialism but rather how has this development come about. In the absence of a victorious Socialist Party, without political leaders who profess the socialist ideology, in a situation in which most of the populace has never consciously accepted socialism, how has America proceeded to the point that an old Communist can proclaim we are achieving socialism?
To Meet Changed Circumstances
Though few American historians would be as blunt as Earl Browder, there is a conventional explanation of the phenomena to which he refers. Indeed, in the interview cited above, Browder referred to and used the conventional explanation. He said, "We got it… merely in the piling up if [sic] single decisions under the pressures of need and crisis."2 In greater detail, the explanation would go something like this: In consequence of industrialization, the mechanization of agriculture, urbanization, and the transportation revolution came depressions, concentrations of wealth, the dependency of the worker, declining opportunity, "monopolies," and spreading poverty. Government had to intervene to bring justice to the people in view of these changing circumstances. Politicians, operating pragmatically, have tried first this, then that, to come up with programs which would work. They have been moved not by ideology but by the pressure of circumstances.
The generality of men do not question familiar explanations; they do not even analyze them. In order for an explanation to become familiar it need only have been repeated enough times. This has occurred regarding the justification of reform on the grounds of changing circumstances. It has been drummed into our ears for decades now. It sounds right to us. The rhetoric by which it is expressed has etched grooves in our minds which allow each additional statement of it to be taken in without causing pain. The point approaches where it is hardly more apt to be challenged than was the view that the earth was flat seven hundred years ago. Yet, it is an explanation that does not explain when put to the test.
Some of the reformist surges have come at times of general prosperity. The Progressive movement, in the early twentieth century, came at a time of the greatest prosperity America had known. The Kennedy and Johnson programs were introduced at times billed as ones of unprecedented prosperity. The rationale changes with the times, not the programs or direction. If it is a period of depression, the programs are described as remedies for depression. If it is a period of prosperity, they may be justified on the grounds that poverty is inexcusable in a land of plenty.
Nor does the pragmatic claim stand up under analysis. If the reformers were pragmatists, they should be concerned with whether their programs work or not. On the contrary, they cling to them, once established, and press for the enactment of others of like nature. If workability were the test, the farm programs should have been scrapped long ago. They were supposed to rescue the small farmer and benefit agriculture generally. On the contrary, the number of farmers has decreased from 1930 to the present, and the brunt of this has been borne by small farmers. Large farmers generally have become more wealthy; and we have all paid for this continuing experiment with higher prices for certain products.
Various programs, such as housing projects, were supposed to reduce delinquency, yet crime mounts in America. Americans were supposed to be helped by government programs to become independent, but dependency on government increases apace. Antitrust legislation was supposed to prevent the fixing of prices, yet prices in numerous instances are set by government decree and union monopolies. Far from working as intended, the programs often have produced results the opposite of those desired. If their proponents were pragmatists, they long since should have abandoned many of the programs which they still cherish.
Though a much more thorough analysis of the explanation by circumstances and comparison of it with the evidence would be valuable, it is not necessary. An explanation is satisfactory to the extent that it accounts for all of the relevant phenomena. This one does not, and it must be discarded as inadequate. There not only are too many loose ends, but it does not even come to grips with the process of historical change.
The Conspiracy Theory
Another explanation has gained some following, though not generally in academic circles. It is that the trend to socialism is a product of a conspiracy, or of conspiracies. Such an explanation is particularly appealing because, if true, it would account for the fact that we have moved toward socialism without those responsible for it ever announcing it as the goal. The plausibility of this explanation is increased by the existence of a communist conspiracy, by a magnetic field surrounding it into which sympathizers are drawn, and by the affinity which many reformers have had for Communists. Its attraction is probably greatly enhanced by the obvious solution it offers: expose the conspiracy or conspiracies, imprison the malefactors, throw the scoundrels out, and get on with the business at hand.
The exposé occupies a position today in the Conservative movement similar to the place it had for Progressives at the beginning of the century. Books gain considerable currency that deal with Red spies at the United Nations, that rehash the story of the fall of Nationalist China, that tell again the story of Pearl Harbor, and so on. Much of their appeal is but testimony to the frailty of human nature, to the preference of men for reading something that will make their blood boil rather than help to make their minds work. Even so, if the present Conservative movement should emerge victorious politically, some part of its rise probably could be attributed to the exposés. Moreover, some of these have made valuable contributions to our understanding of what has happened.
Nonetheless, the exposés are largely offshoots of the conspiracy theory, so far as they offer any general explanation of what has happened. They deal with events which are only the flotsam and jetsam of the major developments of our time. They are of the surface of the waters on which we ride, not of the undertow which pulls us in the particular direction. The conspiracy theory may account for a particular coup d’ état, for this or that hidden manipulation, for some particular bit of espionage, for the introduction of some unfortunate phrase in a document, and so on. But it does not tell us what made the conspirators become what they are. Moreover, it does not account for the millions, perhaps billions, of people in the world who are drawn to support what is being done, or what they think is being done.
Victims of Illusion
We are the victims, not of conspiracy, but of illusion. Even the conspiracies are largely sustained by the illusion. The illusion is that men are, or can be, gods, that they can by taking thought reconstruct human nature, that they can create a world of their own devising, that decision-making can be separated from power, that tension and stress can be removed from the world, that reward can be separated from effort, that all-embracing governments can bring peace, that people can be treated as things and retain their dignity, that men will cease to pursue their own interests when the social system is changed, that evil is the product of circumstances and not of men, that consequences are determined by motives rather than by the nature of the acts, that the nature of acts is altered by the number of people who participate in them, that the nature of man is plastic, and that the universe is malleable.
The heart of the illusion is in the view that the meaning of life is to be found in participation in the political process through which utopia is to be achieved by continuing social reconstruction. According to this view, men find their fulfillment in voting, in collective activity, in group projects, in civic undertakings, and in extending these methods as widely and universally as possible. This ethos goes by the name of democracy. It provides the rationale for the progressive politicalizing of life, for the interpenetration of all human activity with force.
The transcendant rituals of this pseudo-religion are group discussion and voting. Its end is a heaven-on-earth utopia which is to be achieved by social transformation. Its chief virtue is action, social action, action to produce the desired changes according to the modes of the rituals. Anything that is not politicalized is an affront to the adherents of this ethos. They talk continually of peace, but they foment strife because they continually intrude in the affairs of other men. They arouse the vague and restless discontents which are a part of the human condition and attempt to harness these for the purposes of social reconstruction.
The Philosophical Break
The burden of this work has been to show that men have succumbed to illusion by a flight from reality. This flight from reality has had a long and checkered career. It began at a level remote from the lives of most people, on the philosophical plane. Philosophers began to break the connection between cause and effect, between the evidence of the senses and logic, between the metaphysical and the physical realms, between ideas and reality. After Immanuel Kant, if there was a duality to reality — if there was body and soul, heaven and earth, physical and metaphysical, temporal and eternal, and so forth —the two realms were so disjoined from one another as to make them distinct and unrelated orders of being. The pure reason cannot arrive at validatable propositions; the practical reason can establish facts, but these fall far short of the truth for which man yearns.
Kant had, in effect, demolished the connections which enabled philosophers to provide a unified account of all the levels of reality. Philosophy gave way to ideology, and "isms" multiplied as thinkers attempted to account for all of reality by some piece from the wreckage of philosophy. Perhaps no better description can be given of ideology than that it is an attempt to account for the whole of reality by some abstraction of a fragment of it.
Many ideologies emerged in the nineteenth century, but two of them were basic to the particular direction of the flight from reality: idealism and materialism. Dualism did not disappear; it tended to survive in the more or less independent development of idealism and materialism. Idea and matter remained, and thinkers labored to bring them together into some kind of synthesis. The work of G. W. F. Hegel was central to the development of thought. He held that idea became actuality in the historical process. All of reality was reduced to the historical plane where its being consists of its becoming. The purpose of life becomes the rendering of the ideal into the actual. Here is the tap root of the meliorist and revolutionary roads to socialism.
There was no longer any fixed and enduring reality for most thinkers, only an historical process of change. Some followed Hegel in holding that ideas can be used to shape actuality from matter (though Hegel did not think much of matter); others followed Marx in holding that there is a dialectic of matter and that ideas are really a product of this. To the materialists, all things are determined by the fluctuations of matter; to the idealists, all things are a product of ideas. Both of these notions went into the stream of thought picked up by American meliorists, have been strangely combined and eclectically used.
At any rate, idealism provided the mental framework for the construction of utopias, while materialism gave substance. For many, the utopian vision served as the idea which they would make an actuality. The utopian idea was not new to the nineteenth century; it had been around for some time. But men had treated such ideas largely as playthings of the imagination, ridiculous because unattainable, undesirable even if attainable because they do not take into account the character of life on this earth.
A Fragment of Truth; Ideas Have Consequences
The atmosphere began to change in the nineteenth century. Not only were more utopian novels written but also they began to get a wider acceptance. For some at least, utopia began to seem both possible and desirable. Many had lost their certainty of a metaphysical and enduring order which would make them impossible. The declining vitality of belief in life after death opened up the possibility that Heaven would have to be on this earth.
Even so, most men have not consciously accepted the notion that utopia actually could be achieved. Any man of common sense can find numerous flaws in any particular version of utopia. Probably, most men will never accept the notion that utopia actually can be attained. They can, however, be convinced that conditions can be improved. This has been the method of the meliorists in America. Behind the thrust of meliorist effort lies the utopian vision, which is itself the impelling dream of socialism, but the programs which are supposed to lead to it are billed neither as socialism nor utopianism in America. They are only called improvements. Not all of them would produce utopia, but each of them might result in some improvement, so men have been led to believe.
There is a fragment of truth in the conception of translating ideas into actuality, a most interesting and important fragment of truth. Men do translate ideas into actualities, not perfectly but sufficiently well for us to recognize that it happens. A boy has a dream, a vision, an idea of what he will become when he is a man. If he plans well, if his idea is viable, if he works hard at it, the man he will become will bear some relationship to his dream.
Ideals, too, have played an invaluable role in the lives of men. The world would be immeasurably poorer, indeed an intolerable place, if individuals did not seek truth, strive to act justly, and yearn for the good. The Revelation by Jesus Christ of what is good in the sight of God contains the highest ideals for Christians. Each man who labors to order his actions to accord with ideals is, in a sense, translating idea into actuality.
In many ways, both mundane and sublime, men labor to translate ideas into actuality. The farmer who raises a crop translates his ideas about the employment of his land, labor, and capital into the actuality of produce. The man who builds a factory starts with a conception of it, even a dream, just as does the builder of a house. An artist who paints a picture begins with an idea; so does a novelist, a composer, an architect, and a cook. The inventor begins with a conception of a device that does not exist but which he believes can be produced by combining certain materials and principles. If his idea is valid, and if he knows how to apply it, an invention can result. Indeed, translating ideas into actuality plays a most important part in our lives. That this can be done is such an important fragment of truth that men might be expected to want to apply it universally.
Let us return to the process of invention. Inventors have supplied us with an amazing array of conveniences and technology in the last hundred years. In no other area of human activity has the process of translating ideas into actuality been so dramatically demonstrated. We have come to associate this process of technological development with progress, and the word "progress" has for us the attraction derived from the association. Meliorists were able to capitalize on this association and claim that they were using the method in a new area. Both Lester Frank Ward and John Dewey talked of "social invention." The pseudo philosophy of pragmatism, with its emphasis upon experimentation, is largely built upon an abstraction from the process of invention. Reformists were going to produce the marvels in society that mechanical invention had done for technology. Their innovations would constitute progress in the social realm just as invention does in the realm of technology. Hence, those who were opposed to the political innovation and intervention which resulted would be described as anti-progressive and reactionary.
There is a major difference, however, between mechanical invention and "social invention."
The mechanic works with things.
He shapes them in such ways that they do his bidding. He becomes master of them. By contrast, the "social inventor" deals with people. They have hopes, plans, and wills of their own. Otherwise, the analogy with mechanical invention holds. The "social inventor" attempts to shape people so that they will do his bidding (though this is supposed to be for their own good). He becomes their master to the extent that he gains political power over them. That is, to the extent that the "social inventor" (or social planner as he has come more commonly to be called) succeeds in his efforts, men lose control of their own affairs. The association with what men have thought of as progress is a bogus one, though it does become progressively tyrannical.
The Path to Tyranny
The flight from reality has had many facets. Some of them have been described in earlier chapters. My point, however, is that the flight from reality took place in the realm of ideas and was a product of what are called intellectuals. Many ideologies have provided grist for the mills of American reformers or meliorists, but the central idea is the translation of a vision, a vision of utopia, into actuality by the use of political power. It is a perversion of idealism, an extension of it into unwarranted areas.
For an individual to have an ideal which he wishes to translate into the actuality of himself is healthy on the whole. But for a man to have an ideal for what others should become is likely to make him a nuisance at the best and a tyrant at the worst. When he uses force to make others over, he certainly becomes a tyrant.
The idea of transformed men and society was projected as utopia. It was taken up by American thinkers, read into an evolutionary framework, and methods were devised for a gradual movement toward its fulfillment. The ideologies were subsumed into mythologies which bent those who accepted them toward programs of amelioration and reform. These reformist ideas were intermingled with religion by the social gospelers and injected into educational theory and practice by progressive educationists. They were propagated in the media of communication. Earl Browder would have been correct if he had said that most Americans have no conscious socialist ideology; they have, instead, a mythology which carries in it an implicit socialist ideology. The method of translating these ideas into actuality is epitomized and concentrated in the presidential four-year plans — the Square Deal, New Freedom, New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier, and Great Society. The pen has been linked with the sword in these plans. As was shown above, intellectuals provided the ideas. It will be enough now to indicate briefly that Presidents put them into effect.
Most of these Presidents have not frankly avowed their aim to reconstruct society. However, occasionally it has come out, as in the following declaration by Woodrow Wilson:
We stand in the presence of a revolution, — not a bloody revolution; America is not given to the spilling of blood, — but a silent revolution….
We are upon the eve of a great reconstruction. It calls for creative statesmanship as no age has done since that great age in which we set up the government under which we live, that government which was the admiration of the world until it suffered wrongs to grow up under it which have made many of our compatriots question the freedom of our institutions and preach revolution against them. I do not fear revolution…. Revolution will come in peaceful guise…. Some radical changes we must make in our law and practice. Some reconstructions we must push forward, for which a new age and new circumstances impose upon us. But we can do it all in calm and sober fashion, like statesmen and patriots.3
In milder language, Franklin D. Roosevelt made a similar proclamation:
At the same time we have recognized the necessity of reform and reconstruction — reform because much of our trouble today and in the past few years has been due to a lack of understanding of the elementary principles of justice and fairness by those in whom leadership in business and finance was placed — reconstruction because new conditions in our economic life as well as old but neglected conditions had to be corrected.4
As a general rule, however, Presidents with four-year plans have not emphasized the revolutionary character of what they were proposing. On the contrary, they have made as little of the innovation as possible and have tried to maintain that what they were doing was somehow profoundly in keeping with true American tradition and purpose. For example, when Theodore Roosevelt called for out-and-out regulation and supervision of American corporations in 1905, he described the program as in keeping with the American past. He said, in part:
This is only in form an innovation. In substance it is merely a restoration; for from the earliest time such regulation of industrial activities has been recognized in the action of the law-making bodies; and all that I propose is to meet the changed conditions in such a manner as will prevent the commonwealth abdicating the power it has always possessed not only in this country but also in England before and since this country became a separate nation.5
The second Roosevelt was even more masterful in describing his alterations as if they were entirely constructive in character. On one occasion, he likened them to the way an architect can renovate a building, joining the new to the old so felicitously that the whole will retain its integrity. The following references were to a renovation of the White House that was going on:
If I were to listen to the arguments of some prophets of calamity who are talking these days, I should hesitate to make these alterations. I should fear that while I am away for a few weeks the architects might build some strange new Gothic tower or a factory building or perhaps a replica of the Kremlin or of the Postdam Palace. But I have no such fears. The architects and builders are men of common sense and of artistic American tastes. They know that the principles of harmony and of necessity itself require that the building of the new structure shall blend with the essential lines of the old. It is this combination of the old and the new that marks orderly peaceful progress, not only in building buildings but in building government itself.6
Emphasis on Gradualism
The above is, of course, the rhetoric of gradualism. It is the beguiling language which has concealed the thrust of the sword into virtually every area of American life. The sword is an apt symbol for the use of government power. The first penetration of the flesh by a sharp sword will hardly be noticed. It is a mark of the ingenuity of American gradualists that they are able to appeal to the fact of the lack of pain caused by their programs at first as an argument for extending them. The argument goes something like this, figuratively: the sword is already in; the first thrust did not hurt much; there can, therefore, be no objection to driving it further in. It is not even much of an innovation to drive the sword deeper once it has been introduced into the body.
Rhetoric aside, however, this is how the application of meliorism has resulted in extending force into more and more of American life. Step by step the control, regulation, and intervention has mounted. It began mildly enough in the early twentieth century. At first, it involved only such things as regulating interstate transportation, a pure food and drug law, a meat inspection act, the establishment of a postal savings system, the interstate transportation of females for immoral purposes, and the bringing of telephones and pipelines under government regulation. It proceeded to the passage of a minimal graduated income tax, to the setting up of the Federal Reserve System, to the establishment of rules for dealing with railroad labor, to the exemption of organized labor from antitrust legislation, and to special rules for the directors of large corporations.
Leaving out of account the war years of World War I, the speed of intervention mounted precipitately in the 1930′s. Farm prices were subsidized, crops restricted, the stock exchange regulated, labor unions empowered, a government arbitration board created, the income and inheritance tax raised, minimum wages and maximum hours established, loans to farmers provided, Federal aid for slum clearance authorized, vast relief programs undertaken, and so on.
Since World War II, the pace of intervention has been maintained. Social security has been extended to ever larger portions of the population, labor unions regulated in new ways, Federal aid to education extended, conscription extended into peacetime, relief programs of various sorts continued, disaster relief inaugurated, vast programs of urban renewal started, world-wide embroilment by foreign aid begun, and so on.
The above only scratches the surface of the total regulation, control, and intervention by governments in America. There are, in addition to the above, many Federal laws not alluded to, the rules and regulations propounded by boards and commissions, and the fantastic variety of state and local laws, rules, and decrees. To these should be added an increasing number of judicial decrees which are given the force of law.
Depending upon the circumstances and locale, in some instances, an American cannot decide how much he will plant, how he will build, what interest he will charge, what he will buy, to whom he will sell, whom he will serve, what price he will charge, how much education his children will have, what school they will attend, what he shall say (on radio and television), what causes he will support, what size container he shall use, what medication his family shall receive, what business he will enter (since there are government monopolies in certain enterprises), whom he will hire, whom he will fire, with whom he will negotiate, whether he will go out of or remain in business, whether he will contribute to funds for his old age or not, what kind of records he will keep, what he will pay to those he employs, what books his children will be exposed to, and much more besides. The amount determined by the exercise of political power increases and those things left to individual choice decline.
A Fatal Dosage
The sword is now deep in the body. However slowly it has entered and however gradual the thrusts, it must eventually reach the vital organs. That this has already occurred and is occurring is indicated by the loss of liberty, the destruction of money by inflation, a mounting and unpaid national debt, rising costs, increasing relief rolls, inflexibilities and rigidities, and spreading lawlessness.
It is not illusion alone that sustains the movement toward socialism, however. Some men may have succumbed to the illusion that the politicalizing of life is desirable. There may be those, even a great number, who believe that the melioristic programs of politicians are advanced for altruistic reasons. Some portion of the populace may believe that the meaning of life is to be found in democratic participation. Certainly, there are ideologues who are committed to socialism and are utterly blind to the consequences of the efforts in that direction. But behind the facade of altruism, beyond the cloud cover of rhetoric, there is a solid reality which sustains even the flight from reality. It is the reality of government favors and the enticements of political power and prestige.
Men do not readily succumb to illusion in matters close to them with which they are familiar. They follow their own interests, narrowly or broadly conceived or misconceived. Pen and sword are linked together in a web of self-interest that extends outward from the centers of power in America to embrace almost everyone who has some special prerogative, franchise, benefit, exemption, concession, or office derived from government. These are too numerous even to summarize here, but they include such diverse favors as welfare checks, government contracts, radio and television franchises, oil depletion allowances, F. H. A. requirements for escrow balances, loans, subsidies, building projects hoped for, military establishments in the vicinity, and so on through an almost endless array of special privileges.
Almost All Are Involved
Virtually every American has been drawn into the orbit of dependency upon government, willingly or not, and to a greater or lesser extent. It may be an illusion to believe that each of us can benefit from the largess taken from all of us, but it becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to calculate whether his benefits exceed his costs or not. Since they do not know the answer to this sixty-four (or 104) billion dollar question, men fear to disturb the status quo of benefits.
At the apex of this structure of power and privilege is an elite of politicians, intellectuals, labor leaders, scientists, military men, and assorted leaders of specially privileged minority groups. At the pinnacle is the President and those who enjoy his favor. Here, the benefits are such as would dazzle and tempt a saint. There are the obvious perquisites of office, of course: the black limousines, the jet planes, the helicopters, the Marine band, the medical care at Walter Reed Hospital, the admiring crowds, and the fawning assistants. Some of these might be found, even if there were no welfare state, no movement toward socialism, and no spreading assertion of government power.
But the pushers of the pen have provided the wielders of the sword with a rationale and justification of their position that places them above mere mortals. They have set forth an ethos supporting the concentration and exercise of power which makes of those who wield it virtual gods. As more and more of American life is politicalized, the stock of the politician rises in direct ratio. As more and more of our actions are politically directed, the importance of the politician increases. As decisions over their lives are taken from individuals and made political, the politician who makes the decision rises in his own estimation and that of his fellows. As the political mode of doing things — that is, voting, debating, legislating, negotiating —is made the ideal for all activity (such procedures being called democratic in the contemporary argot), the man who has politics as his profession can believe that his is the most meaningful of lives.
My point is that meliorist intellectuals have shown politicians the way to enhance their prestige and increase their power. They have led them to believe that they can control the economy, increase purchasing power, rehabilitate cities, rescue farmers, promote learning and the arts, integrate the races, abolish poverty, produce plenty, develop undeveloped nations, remove fear and want, provide medical care, and give security to a whole people. Politicians have not been slow to claim the credit for anything desirable that is accomplished. If the "national income" increases, it must surely be the result of political effort. If unemployment decreases, the party in power must have provided the jobs. The following pronouncement by President Johnson is typical of such claims:
We have come far in the past few years. Since January 1961 [the date of inauguration of John F. Kennedy, by which we are to understand that what has been done can be credited to the Democrats] our gross national product has risen 22 percent, industrial production is up 25 percent, the unemployment rate is down 24 percent, disposable personal income is up 18 percent, wages and salaries are up 19 percent, and corporate profits are up 45 percent.7
Presidents have claimed credit for virtually everything now but the weather, and they are working on controlling that.
There has been an attempt to give the electorate a sense of participation in the heady experience of exercising power. The instrument by which this is supposed to be accomplished is voting. According to the lore of our time, when a man votes, he is making the ultimate decisions, is causing the whole paraphernalia of government to dance to his tune. Whatever action government takes is his action; whatever good is accomplished is done by him; whatever power is exercised is his power. Through the mystique of the ballot box, the mighty are supposed to be brought low and made to answer to the will of the voter.
Voting is important; it can be used to hold politicians in check, to control, to some extent, the exercise of power, and to short-circuit the surge to power of government agents. But voting does not work this way when it becomes an instrument in the gradual movement toward socialism. The voter does not increase his power by voting for more government intervention; he decreases it. It is an illusion that an increase in government power over the lives of the citizenry is an increase of the power of the individual voter. The man who votes for more government intervention is voting for diminishing his control of his own affairs. It is a sorry swap to trade the very real control which a man may have over his life for the illusory control this is supposed to give him over the lives of others. He who does this is exchanging his heritage for a mess of pottage. He exalts the politician and debases himself.
A Vested Interest in Promoting Socialism
Politicians have acquired a vested interest in moving the United States toward socialism. Not only does it provide them with prestige and power, but it helps them get elected to office. Politicians run for office on the basis of benefits, favors, subsidies, exemptions, grants, and so forth which they did or will provide for the electorate. Notice how this impels us toward more and more governmental activity, for the man who would continuo to be elected should promise ever greater benefits to his constituency. Most men have long since forgotten how to run for office without buying votes with money to be taken directly from the taxpayers, or indirectly by way of inflation.
There is a sense in which meliorist politicians may be described as pragmatists, though not in the way we have been led to believe. The workability or success of a plan or undertaking is relative to the goal for which it has been adopted. The stated goal of the various meliorist programs is the improvement of the lot of the people. If this had been the goal of the farm program, for instance, it has not "worked." Instead, farmers have left the farms in ever larger numbers; the marginal farmers were progressively impoverished and those with large holdings and considerable capital enriched. The generality of the population have paid for this by taxation and higher prices for farm products.
If, however, the objects of the farm program (and other such programs) were socialization and/ or political power, it has worked. More and more of the decisions about the utilization of farm land are politically ("socially") determined, and those who have supported the farm programs have quite often been elected and reelected to office. The same is true for many other interventionist programs. In short, the programs do "work" in moving America toward socialism and in maintaining or increasing the political power of those who advance them. In this sense, they are pragmatic, and those who advocate them are pragmatists.
The Pleasures of Power
Those who provide the justification for Leviathan have their reward, too. A select few are able to move into the circle of the President himself. One intellectual who did — Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. — has described the rewards dramatically: "One could not deny a sense of New Frontier autointoxication; one felt it oneself. The pleasures of power, so long untasted, were now being happily devoured — the chauffeur-driven limousines, the special telephones, the top secret documents, the personal aides, the meetings in the Cabinet Room, the calls from the President."8
There are other rewards of a more tangible nature. Schlesinger wrote a best-selling book which was an account of the Kennedy days when he was close to the President. It won a Pulitzer prize. Nor did the rewards end with the period of residence in the White House. Since leaving Washington, Schlesinger has "signed a contract for the $100,000 Albert Schweitzer chair in humanities at City University of New York."9 The rewards are not so great for the generality of intellectuals, of course, but those who support Leviathan are more apt to find their talents rewarded than those who do not.
Yet the reality of power and privilege is based on illusion, too. It is an illusion that the wielding of the sword can produce prosperity. The actions of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson did not really increase the gross national product by 22 per cent, or industrial production by 25 per cent, or reduce unemployment by 24 per cent, and so on. They could, of course, have used political power to inflate the currency to the extent that these statistics would be accurate in monetary terms, and that unemployment could have been reduced because workers formerly priced out of the market could now be afforded. But any solid gains that occurred would have been the result of the efforts of those who actually produced the goods or hired the workers. If this were not true, we could all quit work and let Presidents provide for us by waving the magic wand.
Facing the Consequences
The most profound illusion of all is that men can escape the consequences of their acts. Jesus said that "all who take the sword will perish by the sword." There are different levels upon which Scripture should be interpreted, but this one seems to apply, too, to what actually happens in history. From 1865 to the present, four Presidents have been assassinated, and attempts have been made on the lives of others. In the twentieth century, Presidents have been placed under heavier and heavier guard. They are now preceded by a host of government agents on their visits anywhere, agents who strive to make sure no dangerous characters shall get a vantage point from which to attack the President. There is an obvious explanation for this increasing danger of assassination. It is the increasing power of the President. To the extent that the President symbolizes the government, to the extent that he is responsible for government action, to that same extent does his position become more perilous for him. In short, the increasing power and prestige of his office exposes him the more to an assassin’s bullet. When he becomes the wielder of the sword, he becomes subject to perishing by the sword.
The nation that takes the sword may be expected to perish by it also. This can occur in numerous ways, or combinations of them. Most obviously, a nation may be defeated by some foreign power. But this is most apt to occur after death has already begun. It may perish by the corruption that attends reliance upon the loot brought in by wielding the sword. It may succumb by the route of the runaway inflation which follows prolonged political manipulation of the money supply. It may be weakened gradually by the loss of incentive to produce that attends the ever larger amounts taken from producers by taxation. It may fall finally as a result of the inflexibilities and rigidities introduced by government intervention which eventually make it impossible to adjust to changed conditions. Any or all of these, or others unnamed, may cause a nation to perish.
Fate of the Intellectuals?
But let us return to the particular once more to exemplify the destination of those on the flight from reality. What of the intellectuals who have engineered the journey? What is their fate? What are the ineluctable consequences of their act? They have moved the pen into the orbit of the sword; in a sense, they, too, have taken the sword. The pen is only mightier than the sword so long as it is independent of the sword. Once it comes into the orbit of the sword, it comes under its sway. Those who push the pen must serve those who wield the sword. They must become the adjuncts of those who have political power, or give up their influence. It depends upon the circumstances whether they will literally perish or not. For those interested, there is an object lesson in what happened to communist intellectuals in the Soviet Union. They either knuckled down to the political power or were silenced. What is going on in the United States is much more subtle today. More and more research and teaching are becoming dependent upon government bounty. Already the path to preferment — to research grants, to positions in great universities, to book publication, and so forth — is virtually closed to those who will not pay their tribute to Caesar in the form of fulsome praise for Leviathan.
The pen is mightier than the sword when it is moved to express truth; it is but an adjunct of the sword when it can only be effectively used in praise of the state. Free speech and press may never be forbidden in America, but the time approaches swiftly when there will be no organizations which are independent of government support and whose leaders will dare to risk the consequences of biting the hand that feeds them by succoring those who dissent from official positions. When this occurs, tyranny may have come, but there will be no effective voices to say it nay. Those who take the sword perish by it