EX-AMERICA: PART TWO
Since the world is people and the one universal tragedy in it is human behavior, we may know that the richest and most powerful nation will not be loved. It must expect to be feared, to be hated because it is feared, to be maligned and misjudged. Last before us it was Great Britain, whose other name was Perfidious Albion. Now it is our turn. But why should we be so tender-minded about it? Why do we suffer the censorious opinions of the world to be as sackcloth on our skin and ashes on our forehead? Why must we accept the expectations of other people as the measure of our obligation to them?
It was not always so. Since Washington—until this generation—Europe was Old World and America was New World; and even as we broke the tradition of orbital separation the feeling for it was so strong that we said our role in World War I was that of associate, not ally.
The questions we ask are new. They have arisen in our time and they have a certain history.
About 1900 began the flowering of that alien graft upon our tree of sapience called the intellectual. He was the precious product of our free, academic world—a social theorist who knew more than anybody else about everything and all about nothing, except how to subvert the traditions and invert the laws. He was neither creative nor inventive; therefore there was no profit for him in the capitalistic scheme, and his revenge was to embrace Old World socialism. As a teacher, writer of textbooks, master of the popular diatribe of discontent, he was primarily a sower of contrarious ideas. Living comfortably on the fringe of capitalistic opulence, he compared his income with that of a bond salesman or a self-made executive and was moved to scorn the profit motive and trample upon private wealth.
In the academic world this disaffected intellectual multiplied by fission. One made two, two made four, and so on. Their superior manners and university passports caused them to be received in the houses of the rich, where they dined on fine plate and denounced success. Standing on the eastern seaboard they gazed dotingly on Europe, which, they said, was twenty years ahead of America in social consciousness.
Notwithstanding our "cultural lag," Europe would have been glad at any time to trade her standard of living for ours. What did that mean? To the intellectuals it meant nothing. All they knew about the American affair—all they wanted to know—was what was wrong with it. They could see only its pimples and festers and treated these minor excrescences as symptoms of deep disease. Their influence for a while was underestimated, especially by those who thought their free enterprise world was too strong to be in danger, and said: "A little radicalism is perhaps good for us. It will make us think."
And so it was that after 1900 we began to import political ideas from Europe. This was reversal. Until then for more than one hundred years Europe had been taking ideas from us—ideas of liberty from the Declaration of Independence, ideas of limited government from our Constitution, and then, though very dimly, the idea that wages were paid not out of profits but out of production, which meant that profits and wages could rise together, provided only you went on expanding production.
But now, from the intellectual's transmission belt, we began to take ideas from Europe—ideas of social security from Germany, ideas of slow socialization from the British Fabians, and from Great Britain also the idea of political laborism, in contradiction of the American idea as expounded by Samuel Gompers that the ground of organized labor's struggle was economic, not political. Gompers had once said that he would sooner be shot than become a number on a socialsecurity card. A right division of the economic product, and then let the wage earner do as he would with his own; that was the American philosophy. The intellectuals represented socialism to be a working-class movement. That certainly was not true here, and Friedrich Hayek is probably right when he says that "socialism has never and nowhere been at first a working-class movement." In every case, historically, it has been first a movement in the minds of the intellectuals.
The first great turning was accomplished with the ease of a Pullman train passing from one track to another over a split-point switch. The landscape hardly changed at all for a while, and then gradually, and when people found themselves in a new political region, there was no turning back.
The event was the amendment of the Constitution in 1913, giving the Federal government power to impose a progressive tax on all incomes. This idea was not only European, it was Marxian, one of the cardinal points of the Communist Manifesto. President Wilson disarmed opposition by saying the Federal government would use this power, if at all, only in time of emergency and yet, as we now know, the obsequies of limited government ought then to have been performed. Only the intellectuals knew what it meant. Nobody else dreamed, least of all perhaps President Wilson, that the Federal income tax would be used not for revenue only, which was until then the only kind of taxation Americans knew, but for the purpose of redistributing the national wealth from the top downward, according to European ideas of social amelioration.
The Federal income tax was but one tool and had not its full leverage until other turnings took place. It was not until the first year of the Roosevelt era that the intellectuals achieved political power at the foot of the throne. Then the Federal government seized control of money, credit, and banking, and introduced an irredeemable paper-money currency. Next, the Federal Reserve System, which was never, never to be a political instrument, became an engine of inflation, and the New Deal Treasury perfected a method of converting public debt into dollars—a process now called "monetization of the debt."
By this chain of events a revolution was brought to pass, almost unawares. Many people are still dim about it. The revolution was that for the first time in our history the government was free. Formerly free government was understood to mean the government of a free people. But now that meaning changed. The government itself was free. Free from what? Free from the ancient limitations of money. It no longer had any money worries; it had no longer to fear a deficit because it could turn a deficit into money; the bigger the deficit the richer the government was. It had only to think billions and behold, the billions were in the Treasury.
After that it was merely nostalgic to talk any more of controlling government or limiting its powers of self-aggrandizement. What had limited it before was the public purse, which the people filled. Now, by this new magic, it could fill its own purse and scatter beneficence not only at home but throughout the world. If it had not possessed the wand that could command billions at will, the story of this country's relations to the rest of the world during the last twenty years might have been very different, and indeed one might almost say that for want of dollars World War II would have been impossible.
But if dollars made it possible, still dollars did not do it. The American mind had to be reconditioned for intervention a second time in the quarrels of the world.
After World War I American feeling soured on Europe. To President Wilson's impassioned question—“Shall we break the heart of the world?"—the American people said, "Even so," and refused to join the League of Nations. In the resolve to keep out of another world war they went so far as to scuttle the ancient tradition of neutral rights and passed a neutrality law forbidding the sale of arms and ammunition to any combatant nation, and, remembering the Lusitania, forbade American citizens to travel abroad in wartime on any but neutral vessels.
Such was the state of feeling when, in 1937, with the New Deal at low ebb, resident Roosevelt made his startling "quarantine speech" in Chicago, aimed at the German aggressor. This was a sign of release for the intellectuals, whose evangel of internationalism until then had been hindered by its unpopularity. They went to work for the second crusade. Both their convictions and their political ambitions harmonized perfectly with the new foreign policy of intervention.
In the orchestration of this policy the intellectuals had the drums, the percussion instruments and the brass; the administration played the strings and the woodwinds. To the science of propaganda a new book was added. Never before in a free country, with no actually imposed forms of thought control, had the mind of a people been so successfully conditioned. In three years isolationist became a smear word, supposed to be politically fatal, and to say or think America first was treason to mankind. Nine months before Pearl Harbor the country, actually and illegally, was at war with Hitler.