Dr. Carson is Professor of American History at Grove City College, Pennsylvania.
A clever man can survive and even appear to prosper for awhile on very limited resources. He can live on borrowed money, shifting from creditor to creditor as bills come due, going ever deeper into debt. Promises flow from him, and plans for recouping his fortunes and producing great wealth. Many will extend credit to him, for he puts up a good front, weaves fascinating justifications for his failures, and paints seductive word-pictures of his prospects. There comes a time, however, in the affairs of the cleverest of such men when their confidence game no longer works its magic. A "credibility gap" appears; the promises, instead of attracting further credit, have all become notes falling due. Notes are presented for payment; credit is not extended; the debts cannot be paid. When that happens, a man is bankrupt. Any resources he has are taken from him to satisfy, as far as they will, the claims of his creditors.
There is every reason to believe that Americans, as creditors, have been seduced for many years by the promises of men with few resources but quick wits, ready justifications of failures, and prolific promises of future returns from their policies. These people go by the name of "liberals." The estate in which they reside—their fund of ideas — they call "liberalism." They have claimed the title to this estate for so long that most Americans believe them. There is little point here in disputing their claim, though their fund of ideas might better be called by such names as utopianism, collectivism, reformism, meliorism, or even socialism. What matters is that we all recognize the subject of discussion. For this purpose, let them have the title they want: Liberalism.
At any rate, they have promised freely a great variety of blessings that would befall the American people if we would give them credit, and then extend it, and extend it, and extend it. For decades, Americans have acted as if they believed the promises; credit has been extended time and again. Their promises might be expected to attract men of good will anywhere. They have ranged from a projected world-wide good to benefits for men in their most intimate affairs. The promises have been imaginative, detailed, universal, varied, and almost innumerable.
Endless and Empty Promises
The "liberals" have promised world peace through international organization (first the League of Nations and then the United Nations), a modus vivendi with communists through concessions, the good will of all nations that would result from foreign aid programs, recovery from depression by inflation, a balanced budget with increased taxes, a balanced budget through reduced taxes, the solution of the farm problem by government programs, the solution to crime and delinquency through housing programs and aid to the poor, security in old age by way of social security taxes, quality education as a result of higher taxes, peaceful labor relations by way of government empowerment of labor unions, the rescue of small business by antitrust action, the revival of cities by pouring government credit and money into them, an end to monetary problems by a Federal Reserve System, better transportation service at lower prices by government regulation, the restoration of a "balance" between rural and urban inhabitants by farm subsidies, and so on, almost endlessly.
All the while, "liberals" have boasted that they were pragmatists, that they were interested only in results, that they tested programs by their workability. This is a most interesting claim, because, as we shall see, programs that have not worked have been expanded rather than abandoned. This pragmatic claim is one that should be expected in a confidence game. The man seeking credit will wish to assure his potential creditor that he, too, is a businessman, that results alone count with him, that he will oversee carefully every aspect of his undertaking and subject it to the most critical tests. Only when he is thus assured will the businessman extend credit. There may be nothing more to this, however, than verbal assurances.
There is a sense, of course, in which the borrower who will never repay is a pragmatist. He is pragmatic in that he judges his program of appeal for credit on whether he gets it or not. To the professional borrower, if he gets credit, his appeal worked; if the loan is denied, it did not. In like manner, the politician who gets elected to office concludes that his promises worked, though the substantial programs he proposed may have been miserable failures. In this sense, there should be no doubt that many "liberals" are pragmatists.
Foreign and Domestic Failures
Evidence mounts higher with the passage of time that the "liberal" programs do not work, that however much credit generous Americans extend, it only brings appeals for more time and larger amounts of money. Decades of experiments with reformist programs have brought results quite different from those promised. Vaunted international organizations have not brought peace and brotherhood to the world. This century has witnessed already two horrendous world wars and, on a smaller scale, perpetual wars and rumors of wars over much of the earth. The United Nations is today a Tower of Babel on the East River where delegates of the nations of the earth gather to wrangle over whether to take up some question or other and, if they ever agree to do that, to quarrel over the agenda, the procedures to be followed, and who the villains of the piece may be. Major disturbances are placed off limits from their concern and inconsequential matters are the subject of bootless resolutions.
Concessions to communists have not resulted in a modus vivendi betwixt us and them. On the contrary, such concessions have served time and again as opportunities for them to spread their ideas and extend their power. Diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union by the United States in the 1930′s did not result in a mellowing of communists. On the contrary, it gave the government of the Soviet Union a means of bringing in more spies and organizing and controlling clandestine activities more effectively. Concessions, aid, even outright capitulation to the demands and requirements of Russian Communists during World War II did not transform them into warm friends emanating good will. On the contrary, Stalin used the concessionary mood as an opportunity to extend Soviet power into eastern Europe and Asia. Nor have later concessions produced useful results. The Soviet Union and other communist countries currently are extending aid and comfort to America’s enemies on the battlefield.
Foreign aid has hardly produced a world filled with nations friendly to the United States and eager to help us in whatever exigency arises. On the contrary, France, a beneficiary of American aid going back to World War I, is vigorously following policies antithetical to those of the United States. India has a consistent record of biting the hand that feeds it. Yugoslavia has hardly been won over from communism by American bounty. Many small countries use the occasion of American aid to make even more bellicose demands. In the American struggle with the Viet Cong, most of those with whom there are alliances can offer only carping criticism of American policy and practice. It may be that much of this failure stems from the ambiguous character of the aid in the first place, but this cannot alter the fact of the failure of the programs to produce the desired results.
The domestic programs of the "liberals" have met with similar failures over the years. Millions upon millions of people have left the farms in the wake of government programs which were supposed to make farming attractive. Surpluses accumulate of farm products priced above the market, while the prices of food and clothing rise, and more and more farmers find it difficult to make ends meet. Federal housing and urban development projects have succeeded thus far in making the hearts of many cities intolerable places in which to live and aggravating the lot of the poor. The Federal Reserve System was in vigorous operation when the United States suffered the worst depression in history. Small businessmen find it ever more difficult to survive because of the obstacles thrown in their way by government rather than by large corporations. Taxation for social security makes it increasingly difficult for wage earners to provide for their own retirement and medical care. And those who rely upon a social security "fund" for these purposes should know that there is no real fund, only the chance for Congressional appropriations when one reaches an age or condition to receive benefits.
The "liberal" programs have failed more dramatically than the above would suggest. They have failed to diminish crime and delinquency, to bring peace in labor relations, to stop the clamor of the poor and dissident, or to maintain fundamental order in the land. "Liberal" efforts to wipe out crime by spending billions to change the environment have been confronted by increasing crime and delinquency, violence on city streets, and more and more danger to life and property in America. Billions for education go in some part to give aid and comfort to impudent and arrogant beatniks, hippies, and whatever the unwashed may call themselves. Rioting and looting in city after city have followed government programs supposed to aid just these people. Labor strife is spreading from industrial workers to firemen, police, and school teachers. Demonstrators arise over any cause, or none at all, to disrupt services, to hurl insults at public officials, to belabor Congress, to picket the White House, to stop rent payments, to force entrance of Negroes into suburban communities, or to prevent the shipment of munitions to Vietnam. Rapists and murderers, turned loose by courts enamored with technicalities, return to commit atrocities upon innocent citizens.
The fund of ideas of the "liberals" has run dry, though excuses still pour forth from them and their apologists. In the face of failure, they can only call for more of the same that has produced the failure in the first place. A man standing on the verge of bankruptcy will plead with his creditors to make yet another extension of the loan. His project will be successful yet, if he can only pour more money into it. So it is with the "liberals." The problems, they say, are very complex and it will take many more years to solve them. Much larger appropriations must be made in order to lick particularly tenacious problems.
The Socialist Formula Affords No Way Out
Deeper than this, there are increasing signs of paralysis of will and failure of nerve by the Liberal Establishment, as M. Stanton Evans has called it. This is not new, but it is becoming more widespread. It has been apparent for many years now that the farm program was a failure, but "liberals" have been unable even to confess their error or to abandon the programs. The failure of foreign aid has hardly diminished their cry for more for the future. That communists have not been pacified by concessions becomes the "liberal’s" case for further concessions. Looting and pillage are greeted by calls for more far-reaching aid to the inner cities. Those in power can hardly muster the courage to deal with looting and pillage in the only way that has ever been effective — that is, by shooting looters until they stop. "Liberals" can neither pursue wars to a victorious conclusion nor withdraw. They can neither consent to vigorous punishment of criminals nor to the guilt of those who commit crimes. They can neither pay off the national debt nor even balance the budget.
In short, the "liberals" cannot cope with the situations which they have largely created. They cannot cope with them because all effective means of dealing with them are precluded by their fund of ideas. Their ideas call for peace through international organization, for accommodation with communists and dialogue to be opened up between East and West, for deficit spending to increase prosperity, for government regulation and control of the economy, for the curing of crime by improving the environment, for belief in the guilt of society rather than of individual criminals, continuous open-mindedness to all opinions however novel they may be. These assumptions must be abandoned or greatly modified if government is to become effective once again and if men are to have a better than even chance to deal with their own difficulties.
In the loose sense of the word, then, "liberalism" is bankrupt. It has been in the ascendant for many years now. It has had ample opportunity to try its ideas. They have been tried again and again, to no avail. It is devoid — bankrupt — of new ideas to deal with the situation that confronts America. It is short — bankrupt — in programs to meet the crises that loom in America. For example, its leaders can neither bring themselves to remove the privileges of organized labor nor to administer even the laws that exist for holding it in check. The War on Poverty or Great Society of President Johnson is only a warmed over version of the New Deal — but without a depression to whet peoples’ appetites. "Liberalism" is paralyzed — bankrupt — by its commitment to programs that have been going on for decades. It is incapable of innovating. It can only press on half-heartedly to the enactment of new sumptuary laws (vis a vis cigarette smoking or safety features of automobiles or the inspection of meat), to special enactments of the legislature to put strikers back to work, to new controls upon enterprise, and so on, and on. In the technical sense, "liberalism" is not yet bankrupt. Bankruptcy only occurs when a man is confronted with bills that he cannot pay, when he is forced to admit that he cannot meet his obligations or fulfill his promises. (There is also voluntary bankruptcy which occurs when a man simply states that he cannot meet his obligations, though his creditors have not yet foreclosed.) "Liberalism" is not yet bankrupt in this sense. It is still in the ascendant, politically. It is still making successful appeals for the extension of credit from the people, as it were. The national debt "limit" is still being raised, and appropriations are still being made for a vast assortment of programs. So long as this continues, "liberalism" remains in business.
Creditors Have the Option
Bankruptcy is not automatic. It does not come simply because projects fail or because a promoter goes deeper and deeper into debt. In short, a debtor may ruin both himself and his creditors. If they will allow him, he can drag them down with him. Bankruptcy is a proceeding by which a halt is called to the whole process. Creditors decide that they will throw no more good money after bad, that they will give up on the debtor and recoup as much as they can from such resources as remain.
It is the same with "liberalism." There is no automatic point at which "liberals" must or will proclaim their insolvency. The American people, as creditors, have the option of continuing to extend credit, to plunge themselves finally into bankruptcy along with the "liberals." They can acquiesce, or stand by inactive, while the budget is unbalanced year after year and the national debt mounts and the value of money declines, while foreign war continues with no conclusion in sight and presumptuous diplomats to the United Nations continue to whittle away at national sovereignty, while regulation destroys business after business, while the streets of cities and towns become unsafe, while looters, pillagers, and murderers prey upon Americans until the final disorder has engulfed us all in a new Dark Ages. Whole peoples have, in times past, been pulled down into the same state of moral and intellectual bankruptcy as their leaders.
Someone Must Take Action
The present mode of temporizing with "liberalism" practiced by most politicians, even those who oppose it as a direction, will not bring it to bankruptcy in time to forestall the bankruptcy of the American people. It does no good to insist that the debt "limit" be raised only by $6 billion this year instead of $10 billion or that the budget be unbalanced by only $4 billion instead of $16 billion. A little more bombing in North Vietnam is unlikely to bring the war to a successful conclusion. The man on the verge of bankruptcy will take whatever credit is extended and continue to make his unproductive schemes seem to work.
"Liberalism’s" bankruptcy will only be proclaimed when credit is shut off, when the bills are presented for payment, when the promissory notes are called. The "liberals" must be held to an accounting. They must be presented with their cumulative promises over the years, and be shown that one after another their programs have failed. They must be shown that when they have taken action it has produced such and such results.
More, for bankruptcy to be proclaimed, for the choice to be made, men must stand for political office who will promise not to temporize with the "liberal" programs and who will keep that promise when elected. They must say that the budget will be balanced, that the inflation will cease, that the debt will be funded (however painful this may be), that wars will be fought to conclusion, that enterprise will be freed from bondage, that union violence and threat of violence will cease, that criminals will be apprehended, that rioters will be shot, that insurrection and sedition will be dealt with harshly, that order will be maintained and liberty restored to America.
Such stands will not be easy to take and maintain. "Liberalism" dominates the major media of communication. Anyone who insists upon the principles of freedom can expect a full measure of villification and denunciation. He will find himself and his ideas held up to the most searching scrutiny by newspaper reporters and commentators. As a reward for all this, he may very well be rejected by the American people and never again appointed or elected to office. Yet, if "liberalism" is to be thrown into the bankruptcy upon which it totters today, such stands must be made. Credit must be cut off from the "liberals," lest the American people be pulled downward into ruin as well.
A Time of Testing for Politicians and Voters
The test of the politician comes when he confronts the issue of taking a stand on principle or continuing to drift with the tide.
The test of voters comes when they are confronted with a choice of politicians, some of whom take their stand on principle, while others continue promising the marvels that will be accomplished by following the "liberal" prescriptions yet another mile. The acid test for bankruptcy occurs when the creditors decide whether to extend credit one more time or to demand payment. The American people have been the long suffering creditors of "liberalism." For four decades they have extended credit time after time, for one unbalanced budget after another, for ever higher taxes (local, state, and national), with accelerations in the depreciation of the currency. For their efforts, they have unfulfilled promises, depleted purses, and spreading disorder, national and international. Their choice is either to proclaim the bankruptcy of "liberalism" or to be dragged down with it. The evidence is in that "liberalism" is bankrupt in all but name. The way Americans choose, when and where they have the opportunity, will tell whether they, too, are bankrupt.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.