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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Garet Garrett: The Journalist Who Predicted Americans Would Sacrifice Liberty to a Government Leviathan

"Unless people can reconquer government its bigness will swallow them up."

This image is a work of the US federal government and in the public domain.

February 19 marks the birth of a great American individualist, called “one of the most eloquent defenders of freedom in America”—Garet Garrett, who offered what Jeffrey Tucker called “a sparkling vision of peace under free markets.”

Of particular relevance is The People’s Pottage, of which Ludwig von Mises wrote, “His keen penetration and his forceful, direct language are…unsurpassed by an author.” Written during an earlier episode of metastasizing government, they still apply today after we have compounded those abuses.

“About 1900 began the flowering of…the intellectual…a social theorist who knew…all about nothing, except how to subvert the traditions and invert the laws.”

“The first great turning…was the amendment of the Constitution in 1913, giving the Federal government power to impose a progressive tax on all incomes…one of the cardinal points of the Communist Manifesto.”

“Then the Federal government seized control of money, credit, and banking…After that it was merely nostalgic to talk any more of controlling government or limiting its powers of self-aggrandizement.”

“No one can imagine that [people] would have said yes…to accept the coils of octopean government, the dim-out of the individual…They voted against it…they elected Mr. Roosevelt on a platform that promised less government, a balanced Federal budget, and sound money.”

“They never voted for the Welfare State, with…its endless vista of confiscatory taxation, its compulsions and its police-like meddling with their private lives…Yet step by step they accepted it and liked it.”

“They never voted for whittling away the restraints imposed by the Constitution on the power of executive government…the sanctity of the Constitution was so strong that when Mr. Roosevelt proposed to…pack it with New Deal minds he was defeated by a spontaneous protest of extraordinary intensity.”

“Nevertheless…By a series of reinterpretations of the Constitution, the reformed Supreme Court has so relaxed the austerities of the supreme law as to give government a new freedom…Thus law is made subordinate to the discretions and judgments of men, whereas the cornerstone of freedom was that the government should be a government of law, not of men.”

“A momentous change has taken place in the relationship between government and people…people have lost control of government. It is a thing too vast, too complex, too pervasive…to be comprehended by the individual citizen. Indeed…the government no longer comprehends itself.”

“The power of the individual to resist the advance of its authority…has diminished. Even organized pressure groups…no longer resist. They ride it and use their influence to gain freer access to the illusory benefits that now flow in all directions from Washington.”

“The taxpayer…does not tell the bureaucrat; the bureaucrat tells him…a vast impersonal power…may legally take away his entire income.”

“Various administrative agencies…make and execute their own laws, thereby exercising legislative, executive, and judicial functions, all three at once.”

“The founders of the American government knew…all governments…had certain features in common, such as a natural appetite for power…What they did was to create a government that could not obey such a law.”

“When [government] goes into debt for what it calls the public welfare …it extends its authority over the lives and liberties of the people. It suborns them…corrupting the people for their own good.”

“As the government expands explosively the people…become dependent on government…first enticed by the benefits and then obliged by authority to exchange freedom for status…The moral debacle is cancerous and possibly incurable.”

“Unless people can reconquer government its bigness will swallow them up.”

Garet Garrett spoke boldly and consistently against “the dim-out of the individual” represented by the political centralization and bureaucratization of American life under FDR. As his Facebook page described it, “he believed that Americans were signing away their birthright of freedom, through trading in their responsibilities of self-governance and self-responsibility, in return for…expansion of government.”

Having now moved much farther away from what Garrett defended as “limited constitutional government in the republican form,” we could profit greatly from revisiting his insights.

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).