All Commentary
Saturday, June 1, 1963

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1963/6


Techniques in politics are one thing. and the moral view of man is another. Yet the two things can­not be separated, for “method­ology” in politics is indissolubly connected with a people’s concep­tion of its proper moral life.

In the eighteenth century, when the American colonies were sever­ing their connection with the Brit­ish Empire, the Christian view of man’s nature prevailed. This is magnificently established in a grand collection of contemporary documents assembled in a huge book called Self-Government With Union (San Francisco: American Christian Constitution Press, 617 pp. $9), which is volume two in a Christian History of the U.S. Con­stitution that will run to four big installments before it has been completed.

The documents in this particu­lar installment are drawn from sources as widely scattered in space and time as the New Testament, the writings of Grotius, Pufendorf, and John Locke, the speeches of Sam Adams and James Otis, and the acts of “tyranny” perpetrated by the ministers and parliaments of King George III of England and objected to by many colonial citizens who are also lib­erally quoted. There are long se­lections from “natural law” think­ers extending over some twenty centuries. To provide a sense of narrative, the compilers of this book have levied, for connective tissue, upon a number of excellent though largely forgotten histori­ans, from John W. Burgess to Richard Frothingham — proving, incidentally, that American histor­ical writing did not begin with Charles A. Beard and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Felix Morley has provided a perceptive introduction. The general thesis of the book is that man is by nature a free moral agent, endowed with a con­science and a sense of responsibility. Certain rights are commensu­rate with his nature. If that na­ture is not violated, he will, in concert with his fellow citizens, establish a limited government to protect his inalienable natural rights. If he lives in a large land of great geographical variety, he will seek a blend of local and cen­tral government, letting the larger political unit handle only a few stipulated things such as foreign affairs, the regulation of the cur­rency, and the conduct of com­merce on a nation-wide basis. In brief, the nature of man results in what we now speak of as the Mad­isonian system, which leaves much to local government and to private individuals. Christianity is a true expression of the nature of man, or at least thoroughly congruent to it, and the Madisonian system may be deduced in its outlines from Holy Writ.

Christian Orientation

All this being true, as attested by the documents and the histori­ans quoted in Self-Government With Union, we got a form of gov­ernment in 1787 that was an inev­itable extension of what had been happening to the minds of men of English descent ever since Wy­cliffe and a couple of friends or pupils translated the Bible. The colonies had originally been set­tled by men who were convincedby their own reading of Scripture of their Christian and individual­istic worth. In the early New Eng­land Confederation, and in the abortive talks about the Albany plan of cooperation, they had sha­dowed forth the idea of pooling certain of their functions and re­sources to protect themselves against repetitions of the Deerfield Massacre and the sack of Schenec­tady by the Red Men. The Madi­sonian conception of federalism for limited purposes, with all its technical paraphernalia of checks and balances, regional concurrent vetoes, enumerated federal powers, and taxation for revenue only, was in the air long before “Little Jamie” was born.

Departures from Tradition

Whether it is still in the air is now a subject for debate. When Southern Democrats combine with Northern Republicans to defeat a presidential bill or policy in Con­gress, we see the Madisonian sys­tem at work. But when adminis­trative agencies make their own laws, we dimly feel that the sys­tem of checks and balances and re­gional concurrent vetoes has been superseded by something else. To a Cuban like my friend, Dr. F. Penabaz, the United States no longer seems to have a government of laws; it has become, so Pena­baz says, a government of men. A private citizen, James B. Donovan, makes agreements on his own with Castro, the tyrant of a foreign power — and nobody rises to com­plain.

The Bill of Rights says that all powers not assigned by the Con­stitution to the federal government shall belong to the states or to private citizens—yet the Supreme Court rules that the non-enumer­ated right to establish schools or the right to set up local voting conditions really belongs to Wash­ington, D.C., not to local legisla­tures under the Tenth Amend­ment. It’s all very confusing until we stop and reflect on the fact that many modern Americans have lost any sense of connection with the Christian tradition and the Madisonian techniques of government that are the natural expression of that Tradition.

A Semantic Twist

The nature of man does not, of course, really change, but James MacGregor Burns, author of The Deadlock of Democracy: Four-Party Politics in America (Pren­tice-Hall, $5.95) thinks it does. His own view is that man is not a creature of inalienable rights. To Professor Burns, man is a crea­ture of wants, and any want that can be certified as desirable by 51 per cent of the population is legi­timate no matter what havoc it creates among those who take their inalienable rights seriously.

The natural political expression of this view of man is the leader, the duce, the fuehrer. Once a rapport has been established between a majoritarian group and a leader, there is no excuse in Burns’s mind for a “deadlock” imposed by a Madisonian House of Representa­tives Committee chairman, or a lit­tle group of willful senatorial fili­busterers, or an anti-presidential Congress elected in a nonpresiden­tial year.

Professor Burns’s book is learned; he knows the techniques of politicians, and he is particu­larly impressed with the ability which our “strong” presidents, from Jefferson to Harry Truman, have shown in getting their way despite Madisonian checks and bal­ances and regional concurrent ve­toes. But his book depends for its final force on his assumption that “leadership” qualities and a belief in modern collectivistic liberalism are co-extensive. Passing by this assumption for the moment, Pro­fessor Burns neatly divides each major political party into two par­ties, the “congressional” and the “presidential.” The “congres­sional” Democratic Party, drawn largely from the Southern states, tends to vote with the “congres­sional” Republicans, mainly rural in origin. The “presidential” Democrats and Republicans, on the other hand, will often ally them­selves to support the demands of the “liberal” man in the White House.

“Leadership” Means Turn Left

When the truisms of Professor Burns’s reporting on the natural workings of Madisonian govern­ment have been accepted, however, it by no means follows that the author’s definition of “leadership” as consisting only of an ability to force “liberal” or “international­ist” policies on a people is worth very much. Professor Burns man­ages everything to his own seman­tic convenience. When a William Howard Taft in the White House makes common cause with a con­servative Senator Nelson Aldrich, Taft is a “congressional” Presi­dent, not a man who is using an Aldrich to help put over his own conservative point of view. But when William Howard Taft, as an ex-president, puts on his “inter­nationalist” hat to help further the cause of a League to Enforce Peace or a Hague International Tribunal, he belongs to the Re­publican “presidential” party. A Nelson Rockefeller, being “liberal” in the Burns sense, is a “presiden­tial Republican” even before he gets the Republican nomination, but a Barry Goldwater, who might use the power of the White House to oppose the growth of the wel­fare state if he were elected Presi­dent, would not be a “presidential” Chief Executive even if he suc­ceeded in making his own force­fully held ideas prevail. Gold-water’s philosophy guarantees him against acceptance by Professor Burns as a “leader.”

Professor Burns plays his se­mantic tricks on virtually every decisive page of his book. Grover Cleveland, to pick one example, was not a “leader” or a “presiden­tial” Democrat when he vetoed bills which offended his ideas of fiscal integrity. But Bryan would have been a “presidential” Presi­dent if he had beaten McKinley and put the nation on a silver standard. Does such a play with words make any sense?

In view of its semantic antics, Professor Burns’s book boils down to a straight plea for a philosophy of man’s nature and its expression in government that denies our whole history as a people. The en­tire tradition of the American Re­public is so alien to Professor Burns that it is doubtful that he could read the documents collected in Self-Government With Union with any comprehension.

The Fateful Turn by Clarence B. Carson (Irvington-on-Hud­son, New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 255 pp. $3.50 cloth, $2 paper).

Reviewed by Melvin D. Barger

A critical degree of collectivism is the established order in the United States today; a situation we have backed into, many think, or had left on our doorstep by a kind of social “drift.” Historian Carson thinks otherwise. In this remark­able analysis he offers compelling evidence that the “drift” was rather the inevitable result of a course plotted by persuasive lead­ers and influential thinkers of the nineteenth century, by men who gradually uprooted traditional American beliefs in individual lib­erty and planted the seeds of col­lectivism. The result has been a vast enlargement of government powers and an enhancement of prerogatives of privileged groups at the expense of individuals.

When did all of this take place and who were the influential thought leaders? The nineteenth century assault on the traditional values was mounted by such men as Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and later Freud, but it was the theory propounded by Darwin that probably proved most corrosive. For whatever Darwin’s evolution­ary theories may have seemed on the surface, they contained impli­cations which are incompatible with belief in natural rights, im­mutable law, human reason, and the worth and dignity of man. As the deeper implications of Darwin­ism were accepted by the intellec­tual community, the older outlook was rejected. From there, it was an easy walk into widespread ac­ceptance of economic determinism, environmentalism, and behavior­ism — theories that left no room for such a thing as man’s free will and, by implication, a Creator who would call him to account for his actions. An almost fatal blow was delivered to self-reliance, individ­ual initiative, and personal inde­pendence.

In the 1880′s, the “fateful turn” in law and government began when the Supreme Court upheld the doctrine that a corporation is a person (thus conferring special privilege on a certain kind of as­sociation), and Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act, an opening wedge for a regulated economy. Dr. Carson does not hold businessmen blameless for the “turn” and feels that their ac­tions in turning to government for special powers and solutions to their own problems helped bring the controls they fret under. Other collectives appeared, too, such as unions and farm groups, all demanding special powers and fa­vors. The trend was mild at first, but it finally reached floodtide pro­portions and culminated in the New Deal, the Fair Deal, and the New Frontier.

Dr. Carson’s major target, how­ever, is not the collectivist pro­grams themselves, which he seems to view as effect rather than cause. He attaches far more significance to something he calls the “collec­tivist curvature of the mind,” which depends for its existence on the organic view of society — on viewing society and groups, rather than the individuals comprising them, as living things.

After Darwin and the earlier thinkers laid down the first chal­lenge to the older ideas, subse­quent writers, educationists, jur­ists, and novelists completed their work. The American tradition was discredited before it was replaced, and some of those who partici­pated in this large-scale assault were men like Henry George, Eu­gene Debs, Edward Bellamy, Jack London, H. L. Mencken, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and many others. This was not a conspiracy, though some of the work was carried out by organized groups of commu­nists, socialists, and progressives.

Some individualists tried to ef­fect a co-existence with collectiv­ism through compromise. But in­dividual liberty lost every time —for the simple reason, Dr. Carson believes, that the principle of lib­erty is not negotiable. He cites Herbert Hoover as a dedicated in­dividualist who made the mistake of compromising with collectivist principles, only to lose out all around. And he has hard words for today’s so-called mixed econ­omy, which is actually a halfway house on the road to more social­ism.

Is the outlook hopeless for those who would restore individual lib­erty? Dr. Carson doesn’t think so, and he refuses to accept the subtle notion that collectivism is “the wave of the future.” To the con­trary, he suggests that collectiv­ism itself may be on the verge of being discredited, and that a res­toration of the American tradition might be not only possible but im­minent. He has no wish to “turn back the clock,” but he points out that historically it has often been necessary to recover the lost tra­ditions of a previous period; Charlemagne, for example, re­stored order and security in the chaos that was Western Europe by looking back to the model of Rome. And Dr. Carson also con­cedes that industrialization, ur­banization, and mechanization bring their own social and eco­nomic problems that must be solved. But he refuses to believe that the resultant complexity makes government intervention unavoidable; in fact, the opposite may well be the case.

The Fateful Turn has a way of reminding one of Hayek’s power­ful Road to Serfdom of two dec­ades ago. And as one scrutinizes the ideas and actions of those who executed the fateful turn, he is also reminded of Hayek’s comment about those who brought to Ger­many the social change that finally became National Socialism: “The supreme tragedy is still not seen that in Germany it was largely people of good will, men who were admired and held up as models in the democratic countries, who pre­pared the way for, if they did not actually create, the forces which now stand for everything they de­test.” One wonders if that same supreme tragedy will be recog­nized when collectivism finally goes completely sour in America.

Automation: The Impact of Technological Change by Yale Brozen. (Washington, D. C.: American Enterprise Insti­tute, 1963. 44 pages. $1.00)

Reviewed by Paul L. Poirot

Automation, concludes the emi­nent professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business, Uni­versity of Chicago, makes it pos­sible to do more things and have more things than otherwise. It is

to be welcomed rather than feared. The rate of automation depends upon the availability of capital, and is necessarily slow. Much new capital is required each year to equip 1.3 million or more new en­trants to the labor force. And the more highly mechanized a job, the more capital is required for furth­er automation in that area. So au­tomation is not a sudden upheaval that may overwhelm us.

Technological change, says Dr. Brozen, created 20 million new jobs during the decade of the fif­ties, while various causes were de­stroying 13 million jobs — a net gain of 7 million. So the fear is misplaced that workers are being replaced by machines on a broad scale.

True, individual workers may lose jobs in a given plant or indus­try; but often the automation comes after many of the workers have been lured away to better op­portunities elsewhere. The greater dangers of unemployment are from the effects of minimum-wage laws, unemployment compensation, and other governmental intervention. So the solution would seem to be less government, less taxation, more opportunity for saving, in­vestment, education, and further automation.

For full documentation, get your own copy of Dr. Brozen’s vital analysis.

 


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.