Blood and the Treasury

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Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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113 Responses

  1. Elias, nice post. Conservatives (I’m specifically thinking of libertarian conservatives like Ron Paul) have been emphasizing this narrative for years. Wilson is rightfully included for getting us into WWI.

    The idea of liberalism as an ideology of peace and conservatism as an ideology favoring constantly-increasing military budgets certainly comes after Eisenhower’s warning of the military/industrial complex and before “Reagan’s arms-race bankrupting” of the Soviets. Since both parties now favor massive U.S. military presence throughout the world, it seems that either one party failed to get the memo about the Boomer switcharoo or we actually have become increasingly militaristic since the sixties.Report

  2. Avatar Steve the hyena says:

    The party of dirty peacenik hippies, Jane Fonda, and a bunch of other long-defunct clichés of the Baby Boomer era (like zombies, they refuse to die).

    Last I checked, the generation which developed those clichés had not yet physically died, so they’re not yet zombies so much.

    I find the thrust of the post to be misguided, however.  I can sketch alternatives:

    • Liberalism is deeply involved with the reallocation of power in society and its reforms can be resisted by elites. Particularly when those elites possess military power–as in the Revolutionary, Civil and Great Wars (Austria-Hungary, recall)–they may violently resist the dissolution of their authority. Under this model, we see clearly that liberalism finds itself on the defense.
    • Liberalism always amounts to change in societies and, until the post-War period, great changes. As such, they were only possible when existing power structures had decayed sufficiently to allow liberal reforms to advance. But decaying power structures also often mean that it is a time of conflict, so the period of great liberal reforms (or any reforms, to be honest) will often be marred by war.
    • The great trend of liberal reform simply went in tandem with technological changes which greatly upset the balance of power for hundreds of years because all major movements were affected by those changes. The wars and liberalism both have a secular precursor, so they went together for centuries.
    • The author is simply cherry-picking his data points, concentrating on big binary questions (slave-free, republic-monarchy, etc.) which don’t accurately capture the long sweeps of liberal reforms which occurred over time.
    • Wars expose great weaknesses in the ability of elites to rule and so liberal reform springs up from this tension.

    Report

    • This is a good comment that I can’t adequately respond to right now and might address in a subsequent post. I just didn’t want to go without acknowledging its quality.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Steve the hyena says:

      “Last I checked, the generation which developed those clichés had not yet physically died, so they’re not yet zombies so much.”

      It’s taking a tremendous amount of effort here to refrain from making some kind of irreverent comment in response to this. The comment is wise and funny and tragic on so many different levels.Report

  3. I don’t see where FDR fits in.  The New Deal was in place before December 7, 1941.

    But Jonah Goldberg makes a very good case in that vein for WWI and Wilson in “Liberal Fascism.”

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2008/0205/p09s01-coop.html

    Heh heh.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      TVD. fascism refers to government ownership of industry and not just ideologies we dislike, right?Report

      • I dunno, Christopher.  I read about half of it awhile back.  There was an affection for Mussolini among the left.  Much more I don’t recall.Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          Is this the progressive, pro-eugenics, Ivy League left we’re talking about?Report

          • The pro-eugenics left existed, but when I make fun of my Canadian life partner (since the 90’s!) of being pro-eugenics, she has no idea what I’m talking about.

            So I change the topic to Mulroney and about how her country hasn’t had a decent PM since he was in office.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

              Eugenics still exists.  There’s no nice or PC way to say this, but we abort our imperfects now.

              JP Morgan, a rich bastard everybody hated and for good reason, was drug up before the Senate for whatever.  A flak for the Ringling-Barnum circus stuck a midget in his lap as a PR stunt.

              Lya Graf didn’t like the world spotlight, retired back to Germany.  She was decreed a “useless person” by the Nazi state, arrested in 1937, sent to Auschwitz in 1941.  The rest is obvious.

              In the 21st century, we tend to make sure that such persons are never born in the first place.  This is progress.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                We’re aborting the midgets are we?Report

              • TVD, you should expand on this for a post.Report

              • Yeah, my crack wasn’t entirely fair. You’re exaggerating your point, but I know where you’re going with this- there are certain birth defects and developmental disorders that are effectively dying out because of abortion. None of us would say that people with down’s syndrome, for instance, “don’t deserve to live”, but there you have it. The ethical questions are obvious, but not articulated very often. I agree you should write a post.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Thank you, gentlemen.  I really have nothing to add, though.  It’s all there.Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Good lord, can you imagine the troll traffic that would create?Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                This is actually far, far less true than you would think.  Our “imperfects” (a phrase I am not so comfortable us using) are actually among us is surprising numbers.  However, we have created a system where they remain, for the most part, out of sight and out of mind.

                Do some people abort fetuses because they test positive for conditions such as downs syndrome?  I’m sure this is the case.  But just because we’re really good at ignoring the vast majority that come to term and are living in our society does not mean we have actually done away with them.  We just like to pretend that we have.Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to RTod says:

                In fact, I might note that in the US people with developmental disabilities make up an estimated 2% of the population; globally the number is 1.4%.  This suggests that while TVD’s ethical point is still quite valid and should be discussed, I have to take issue with his statement that “we make sure such persons are never born in the first place.”Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to RTod says:

                Some of the statistical difference in developmental disabilities in the US vs the rest of the world has to do with diagnoses. Question, is ADHD a disability?Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to RTod says:

                I was going mainly by Wikipedia, which reports:

                A 2002 literature review of elective abortion rates found that 91–93% of pregnancies in the United Kingdom and Europe with a diagnosis of Down syndrome were terminated. Data from the National Down Syndrome Cytogenetic Register in the United Kingdom indicates that from 1989 to 2006 the proportion of women choosing to terminate a pregnancy following prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome has remained constant at around 92%.

                In the United States a number of studies have examined the abortion rate of fetuses with Down syndrome. Three studies estimated the termination rates at 95%, 98%, and 87% respectively.

                They link to the studies there.Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Wow!  I stand corrected.  That is a very, very high number.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

                CCarr, Rufus, et al.: I did move the abortion/eugenics comment down to the LoOG sub-blog Dutch Courage, and all are invited to discuss.  Thx for your interest.

                My apology to Mr. Isquith for somewhat hijacking his thread here, although I suppose the Woodrow Wilson part is somewhat germane.

                 Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                While taking a shower, I was thinking about this kind of thing and culture came up over and over. Pardon my digression.

                In the US, we know that abortion is, ideally, safe/legal/rare and a tool to be used to help terminate unwanted pregnancies (and as a “don’t talk about it” eugenic tool). The euphemism we tend to use is “choice”.

                When abortion is exported to countries that don’t have the same feminist foundation as the US, we find that instead of merely not wanting stuff like babies with trisomy-21, many other cultures don’t want “a girl” and abortion is used to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

                Which, as awful things go, is right up there.Report

      • fascism refers to government ownership of industry and not just ideologies we dislike, right?

        Well, who knows where this response will wind up, but I’ve found a surprising number of people on the Internet believe that fascism is an economic system, which it’s really not. The fascist states were corporatist, given that they had chosen “private” industries that worked very closely with the state to direct their economies, but not all corporatist nations went fascist. It’s also not quite the same thing as government ownership of industry, although I think Hayek’s really important point was that the outcomes are essentially the same. Now, the idea that corporatism gives rise to totalitarianism is useful, to a lesser extent, but one does get tired of people trying to remove the ideological content of fascism and explain it away as the natural result of things like corporatism or mass media or whatnot. The fascist countries didn’t just stumble into fascism- they chose it from a menu. And not just because they were insufficiently capitalist.Report

    • I struggle to think of what there is about Wilson that modern liberals can embrace, much less find themselves reflected in. If he has a modern successor, it’s 2002-2006 GWB.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Elias Isquith says:

        I can’t really agree with this. Wilson was far too multilateral to be like George “‘W’ for ‘We’ve got Poland'” Bush.Report

        • Hence the “if” — although the 14 points at times sounds a lot like Bush’s famous 2002 west point speech and in general that era of his foreign policy.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          I sort of disagree here. Wilson was “multilateral” only in so far as he liked having backing from his friends. Wilson’s overall policy once the League of Nations became a conceptual reality during the Versailles negotiation was more of a “folks with us than against us” attitude. I know people try to play down his willingness to squash the racial equality clause in the covenant, but he was pretty clear about who he considered the multi in the multilateral.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Elias Isquith says:

        The 14 points (divorced from his racial rhetoric, which arguably can’t be done from the 14th point given the refusal of the racial equality declaration) is pretty pleasing, even if only like 6 of the points have any modern applicability.

        I would think the messianic view of democratization that’s similar between Wilson and GWB, but that the US has never really had another Wilson since the original. (And that’s a good thing)Report

  4. Avatar b-psycho says:

    Centralization is what centralization does. Even if you buy into the idea of it working for your purposes and then cutting the cord once someone with other motives can access it, dismantling it once you’ve laid the foundation is kinda difficult.

    If liberalism is to learn anything, I’d hope it’d be to question concentration of control regardless of who is at the helm. Sure, it’d go more towards anti-authority leftism than liberalism as currently known, but…well duh.

    +4…Report

  5. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I’m in vague Steve the Hyena’s argument, but I’m going to expand a little bit on what I think is the general tendency for conflicts and great wars to essentially put an end to liberalization movements.

    From the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Meiji Restoration/Boshin War era, the Civil War and post-Reconstruction, the post-WW1, post-WW2 era, the predominant strain of politics in all victorious states in these eras is a general retrenchment and conservative nationalist movements that try to solidify new (or old) privilege structures. Usually the end result of these wars and mobilizations has been a substantial backlash by conservative, elite elements of the political classes will come together and create stability. In many cases these counter-movements STRONGLY arrest attempts at progressive/liberal politics in that last moment.

    Moreover, in many circumstances the wars that take place during the ascendency of liberal movements are generally conflicts between liberalizing forces (and yes, I will go out on a limb and call William Pitt the Younger liberal, in the Whiggish sense) and an illiberal alternative to the current world order. Both movements capitalize on a moment of instability to proffer their solutions, one typically an evolutionary response and the other a revolutionary one. The challenge of liberalism in these cases is to create circumstances under which the evolutionary change is more palatable than the revolutionary change. In many cases this involved armed conflict and the use of liberal progress to rally the resources of the state into waging conflict.

    Narrowing to the US perspective, which is the argument in question, I’m not sure if Obama actually represents any sort of solidification of radical warfare or “big ass” conflicts. Look, it’s fine to disagree with planks of his platform like drone-strikes, but for one thing, he’s finished the draw-down in Iraq (despite pressure not to), he’s refused to actually commit ground-troops to Libya, and he seems to be laying the groundwork for a measured withdrawal from Afghanistan after letting the generals “give it a shot” at stabilizing the place. We also have reports that the CIA has put the Af-Pak border drone program under ice since about three weeks ago in order to defuse tensions with Pakistan. This is not exactly the stance of someone who is going to escalate and create more systemic conflict.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      I’d like to +1 the latter half of the fine Mr. Akimoto’s comment especially. Obama’s behavior hasn’t been exactly a model or even example of war spreading agression. If one considers it in light of Obama’s general MO; hypercautiousness (bordering on outright cowardice or miserlyness with his political capital), leading from behind and letting others float the trial baloons we end up with something that sounds a lot more like the domestic Obama we know; a slow agonizingly slow cautious careful creeping towards the exits on the wars coupled with a huge amount of ass covering. I’d submit that he’s moving away from wars in general (civil liberties I suspect is more of a wash, the CYA ratchet dynamic for public servants/officials is brutal in this area) but in such a slow gradual manner that you’d have to take marks to see him move.Report

  6. Thanks for pointing me in the direction of this brilliant post.  Stoller puts a finger on the grand narrative of Paul that I’ve been grasping for with my “Paul as anarchist” frame.  Stoller’s post and your elaboration are pretty comprehensive, but let me see if my perspective has anything to add.

    First, I’d reiterate the importance of Paul’s Southernness.  If you think of the American polity as consisting of two main sects divided by the Mason-Dixon line, it’s very clear that the Northern faction is the one with the power.  The North was developed first, by people from the wealthier parts of the British Isles — i.e., southern England.  The American South was developed by people who were subjugated in the Old World — i.e., the Scots and Irish — by the English people who settled the North.  As the English of the time were the dominant imperial power, the Southern anti-elite, anti-war revisionism popular in Paul’s circles can be situated very comfortably within anti-imperialist thought.  Southern populism is best viewed as a kind of indigenous resistance to imperialistic power: it’s like Hugo Chavez’s ideology for the people who were repressed by the English imperialists even before they crossed the Atlantic.

    (I’ll add more in a bit, but I wanted to get this comment out before the thread got super-long.)Report

    • (And of course, I see this placement of Paul’s populism within the anti-imperialist movement functions as a defeater argument against the idea that Paul is fundamentally a reactionary.)Report

    • Robert,

      The South’s own feudal history  (a racial imperialism) and its historic and current status as the most militaristic segment of the country would seem to undermine your argument.  I’d view southern populism not so much as anti-imperial as pro-nativist.  The two do overlap, but they’re not synonymous and they tend to build on very different motivations.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James Hanley says:

        +1 on this one. I mean one can argue a lot of things about the Ante-Bellum South, but “anti-imperial” is only true insofar as they were anti-Union, they were very happy to expand their reach into the western states and try to move their political agenda onward.Report

        • Avatar Katherine in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          The South was also very big on overseas empire in the pre-Civil War years, launching filibusters (private invasions, not long legislative digressions) against multiple Central American nations and pushing the federal government hard for an invasion and annexation of Cuba.  Prior to that, they were strongly behind the Mexican-American War.  Obviously, all these things had the common intent of expanding the slaveholding area of the United States.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Yes I think it’s fairer to say the Ante-Bellum South was against empires they weren’t in charge of.  That’s why they seceded when a Republican was elected.  It demonstrated the 3/5 rule was no longer enough to guarantee them control of the Federal Government.Report

    • Avatar Katherine in reply to Robert Greer says:

      The American South was developed by people who were subjugated in the Old World — i.e., the Scots and Irish — by the English people who settled the North.

      I would argue that the American South was primarily developed by Africans.Report

  7. It’s true that for a certain generation of people–one that is too old to be well-represented here–the Democrats were seen as the party of war.  I first ran into this with one of my undergrad political science profs (now in his 70s), and it struck me–a child of the Carter/Reagan era–as bizarrely wrong.  Upon gaining a better view of history, it’s not clearly wrong at all (we can also throw in Korea, “started” by Truman and “ended” (to the extent it’s ever ended) by Eisenhower), although the Republicans have definitely played a great game of catchup since the Nixon presidency (yes, he got us out of Vietnam, but only after radically expanding the war, and every Republican president since has had his own personal war or two).

    Whether there’s actually a causal connection between Democratic administrations and war, or whether it’s really much more random, is hard to say.  I think it’s probably just more normal for presidents to go to war, and the earlier difference was caused by Republican isolationism–that is, Democratic presidents were “normal” presidents, and the Republicans were aberrations.  Once Republican isolationism went the way of the bimetalists, Republican presidents also became, sadly, “normal.”

    Of course that’s all just a seat-of-the-pants hypothesis.

     Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James Hanley says:

      Well…

      Quasi-War with France – Federalist (Adams)
      Barbary Wars – Democratic-Republicans (Jefferson)
      1812 – Democratic-Republicans (Madison)
      Mexican-American War – Democratic (Polk)
      Civil War – Republican (Lincoln)
      Spanish-American War – Republican (McKinley)
      Philippines War – Republican (McKinley)
      WW1 – Democratic (Wilson)
      WW2 – Democratic (FDR)
      Korea – Democratic (Truman)
      Vietnam – Democratic (Kennedy/LBJ)

      There’s a bunch of other conflicts not mentioned like the Caribbean occupations or the border war between Pancho Villa and the US, but in general there doesn’t seem to be a huge overlap or pattern. There’s also all the tiny interventions Reagan and Bush I got the US involved in…Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        My point more being there’s really not much of a pattern to these interventions. So I guess your hypothesis is right in that presidents will use force when they think they can. I do disagree that there’s actually an “isolationist” element to American foreign policy. But that’s a different discussion.Report

        • I do disagree that there’s actually an “isolationist” element to American foreign policy

          Was, past tense, and not so much to foreign policy per se, but to the Republican party.  T’aint no more, that’s for sure.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James Hanley says:

            Well my argument was more…

            I don’t think there WAS an isolationist element to actual policymakers even if there were know-nothings and fringe candidates who called for it in the early 20th century. I mean the Republican presidents of the early 1900s were pretty muscular in their use of force.Report

      • Avatar Katherine in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        I would argue for a difference between “discretionary wars/ wars of choice” and “wars of defence” when gauging which presidents and parties have been the most interventionist or warlike.  The Civil War and America’s involvement in the Second World War both began with attacks on the United States.  (Okay, I’m biased by liking both Lincoln and FDR.  FDR at least was certainly looking for an excuse to bring America into World War II.)

        That said, since America’s interwar period of supposed isolationism (in which it still took the time for military interventions in several Central American and Caribbean nations), the only US presidents who haven’t engaged in wars, either proxy or direct, are Eisenhower and Carter (and Eisenhower used the CIA to overthrow democracies in Guatemala and Iran, while Carter supported the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan, so neither of them were perfectly peaceful, though I give Carter credit for being the most peace-inclined, humble, and non-interventionist of modern US presidents).Report

        • Katherine,  I agree that  a more careful analysis would include those distinctions.  However I would argue that the Civil War was a war of choice.  Lincoln could have said, “so long, motherfishers.”   Of course I am unusual in thinking that ought to have done so.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

            I’m curious about this. The tensions first rose to the point of violence in the mid-late 1850s in the Territories over whether they would be free or not. A decision regarding them – one way or the other – had to be made, and even compromise wasn’t sufficient for either party. So in what sense do you think Lincoln could have walked away from engaging in a full-on war when compromise appeared to be impossible?Report

            • Stillwater,

              He could have let the southern states go and fought only over the territories.

              Even there he could have no doubt worked out a compromise wherein the South got the more southwestern territory and the North got the more northern territory.  Compromise was only impossible when the two sides were operating within the same political system; separate the systems and compromise was possible (which isn’t to say it would necessarily have been easy).

              The wisdom of any of these choices can be argued, of course.  (My position is based on a) my antipathy for the amount of international power the U.S. has as a consequence of its size, and b) my antipathy for the South’s political influence on the U.S.)  But that these were possible options I think isn’t really disputable.  But Lincoln was a nationalist, a man who believed that a good nation was a mighty one ( a view I despise), so they were not options in his playbook.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        I’m glad someone mentioned Vietnam. My first thought when reading the post was of JFK and LBJ sinking the US balls deep into Vietnam and those peaceniks Nixon and Ford pulling the US out.Report

  8. The racial imperialism of the South was rarely perpetrated by Southerners descended from the indigenous populations of the British Isles.  There were virtually no Scots-Irish plantation owners, for instance, and the “English” indentured servants who spawned the bulk of the poor in the American South were undoubtedly of disproportionately Celtic British origin.   The plantation owners were not indistinguishable from the Southern white population at large, but were instead a landed aristocracy that had its roots in wealthy populations in the Old World.  Your counterargument that the South was feudal misses the mark, because the Southern populists I’ve identified had interests opposed to the aristocratic landowners.  (Yes, the slaveowners successfully cultivated racial resentment among poor whites, but that’s actually kind of the point of my analysis.)

    The militarism of the South is a very recent phenomenon, and can be easily be explained as cultivated by Northern elites to create an army of cannon fodder for its favored foreign wars.Report

    • (That is, if one takes the view that foreign military adventurism after WWII was mostly to maintain American Empire in the service of economic interests.)Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Robert Greer says:

      …a very recent phenomenon?

      There’s a very good reason the Confederacy had a good number of capable general officers, not to mention mid-level officers and that had to do with the fact that there was a tradition of military service in the region dating back to at least the Mexican-American War.

      There’s also a long list of private military schools that span the old southern states from Virginia to the Carolinas that have been around for ages.Report

  9. I would place the South’s penchant for military service at that time into the Manifest Destiny thing, which was more about combating other imperialist powers for land that was recently vacated by the mass death of the Native Americans.  (Yes, there were still genocidal aspects to battles against the Natives, but by the time of western expansion of the South the Native populations were already almost completely exterminated by disease.)

    Perhaps the South has been cannon fodder for longer than I was aware, but that still doesn’t change the fact that foreign wars were fought for the benefit of mostly-Northern economic elites.Report

    • Avatar Katherine in reply to Robert Greer says:

       (Yes, there were still genocidal aspects to battles against the Natives, but by the time of western expansion of the South the Native populations were already almost completely exterminated by disease.)

      Well, and by (genocidal-in-intent) deportation, e.g. The Trail of Tears.  All five of the major Native tribes of what was at the time the “frontier” south were moved out to Oklahoma by force and with massive death rates.Report

      • Yeah, but then, if America hadn’t done this then Spanish Mexico gladly would have.  I’m not saying this as justification for genocide; I just don’t think America deserves special calumny for taking advantage of the population vacuum created by the Columbian calamity.   I’m more concerned with America’s current exceptionalist global empire, which really only kicked off after WWII, and for which the South hasn’t had a particular appetite.   The anticommunist conflicts of Korea and Vietnam were all about keeping the East safe for (predominately Northern) business interests, and the Iraq War was ginned up by neocons from Connecticut, New York, and Illinois.   I just don’t see this grassroots push for war coming from stereotypical white Southerner voters.Report

        • Of course, Robert.  But it does mean they weren’t anti-imperial or non-militaristic, as was suggested.Report

          • It was an incomplete anti-imperialism, to be sure. But all anti-imperialisms are incomplete: the Native Americans who bravely fought colonial expansion surely practiced privilege against the less successful tribes, but that didn’t make them an anti-imperialist force. I think it’s stupid for the Left to categorically label Southern white culture as reactionary when there’s such strong potential for integrating it into more global, racially-egalitarian anti-imperialist movement. If Ron Paul’s candidacy represents the leading edge of this integration, it would perhaps be reactionary to combat it.Report

  10. Avatar david says:

    Perhaps US liberalism at the Presidential level coincides with wars because of the Only Nixon Could Go To China phenomenon – they all needed credentials to rebuff accusations of being “too liberal”, and the power which presidents have to do so in the 20th century is to wage wars.

    What wars did Carter start anyway? Or perhaps he didn’t start enough and that lost him re-election.Report

  11. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Others here have said the needful, especially Elias.

    I’d like to point out the fate of Liberalism and the trajectory of the trade union seem inextricable.   In the USA, the trade unions rose in the face of hideous violence.   Elsewhere this was not always so.  The USA’s history of trade unionism, especially among the coal miners and steel workers, would give rise to an anti-union ethos which still lingers on.

    Today’s enemies of the trade union have won the battle.   Governments, especially state governments, have made closed unions largely illegal with the Right to Work laws.   The old Liberal-ish laws which govern workers’ rights go unenforced.   I do not particularly like the closed union but it arose in response to a system which sent in the Pinkertons and Federal troops to shoot those workers.   If the unions resorted to violence, they did not start that violence.

    Curiously, the two countries where unions thrive were largely established by the USA, West Germany and Japan.   MacArthur brought the trade union concept to Japan, where the Japanese workers happily jumped into bed with management and that economy rose in the world.   Germany doesn’t allow closed shops but it obliges corporations over a particular size to put workers’ representatives on the boards of directors.

    Nowhere does the government act in defense of wage earners or their right to participate on the boards of directors of the short-sighted corporations, all too willing to jack up the stock price on the backs of the workers.    Those who now scream and moan about deficits should know those deficits would be quickly erased if the government didn’t treat the workers like the enemy.   Deficits rise when the economy falls and fall when the economy rises.   You may not have it any other way.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Blaise, my grandfather was a Wobblie for a time. There was a LOT more to it than “unionization”. He was from the Western Federation of Miners leg and trust me, the violence went both ways. I’m not even going to say either side was right, although it is easy to say both sides were wrong. You’ll find that the German and Japanese unions did not have the socialist, anarchist and radical elements to them that the US unions did. These guys weren’t just looking for a better job, they were looking to create their own Soviet. Given what the world had just witnessed at the other Soviet, more than a few were more than a bit terrified should that come to pass here. It likely could have but we didn’t have the onerous aristocracy to rally against, just the onerous capitalists, many of whom (provably) started from just as dire straits as those conspiring against them. And that’s why it failed. At least here, there was the /hope/ if not the certitude that one could climb the ladder of success, a hope that was abysmally absent in the Old World.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to wardsmith says:

        The miners didn’t start in with the violence.   I know enough about the history of the trade union movement to say that’s true.   Bicameral Poxation is no defense for what went down in that struggle.   End of story.   Don’t try that line of reasoning on me, we both know better if your grandfather was a Wobbly.    They weren’t looking for a better job, they were only looking for their jobs to be better and safer with shorter hours and let’s not forget the problem of child labor down those mines. John Spargo:

        As I stood in that breaker I thought of the reply of the small boy to Robert Owen. Visiting an English coal mine one day, Owen asked a twelve-year-old lad if he knew God. The boy stared vacantly at his questioner: “God?” he said, “God? No, I don’t. He must work in some other mine.” It was hard to realize amid the danger and din and blackness of that Pennsylvania breaker that such a thing as belief in a great All-good God existed.
        Y’know, I’ve heard all this hatin’ on trade unions and summoning up the Ghost of Lenin before, in Central America when the Guatemalan Civil War was going on.    I’ve said before when anyone said “Reform” all the dictators heard was “Communism”.    The ladder of success is rigged in favor of those whose parents are already up that ladder:  education is the trap door through which the children of the poor are fated to fall.   The very goddamned idea, that the certitude of that ladder of success was any more present here than in the Old World fills me with a dark hilarity.   The trade union and the progressives brought the reforms today’s Conservatives would dare to oppose in the open.   Instead, their tactic is the same as those Central American dictators, to break the trade unions and they’d murder the dissidents if they could get away with it here as they do down there.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to BlaiseP says:

          John D. Rockefeller – a name synonymous with wealth and prestige was the son of a con man and worked as an assistant bookkeeper. His 3 steps to wealth were: 1) Go to work early. 2) Stay late 3) Find oil.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

      “In the USA, the trade unions rose in the face of hideous violence.   Elsewhere this was not always so.”

      I’m not sure if you are saying there was more labor protest violence (or if you prefer, counter-protestor violence) in the US when compared to Europe, or less.   It would require an asterisk either way , as Europe had several more bloody revolutions, epic wars, and the proximity to Communism (both the geographic and political sense)Report

  12. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    I’d thought this post might head in a different direction, perhaps moving forward from the more challenging, if pessimistic or at least skeptical, remarks from a few days ago.

    The phrase “the odious Wilson” is what stood out for me.  It’s polemics, Glenn Beck/Jonah Goldberg/George Will polemics as a matter of fact, not a considered historical judgment. There’s also a school of leftwing anti-Wilsonism, of course, just as there was left-progressive and far left opposition to many elements of Wilson’s program in his own day, but origins on the broadly defined left are in themselves no guarantee of better results.

    The un- or half-informed attack on Wilson is typical of the problem with RonPaulism and especially with the self-styled “anti-imperialist” attraction to Paul.  In the absence of a well thought-out critique and alternative, inserting the word “imperialist” into your discourse and attaching some quasi-pacifistic moralizing to it reduces to a mere pose.  A similar process often occurs on the “domestic” or “economic” side of the argument.

    Wilson possessed a comprehensive, and historically and practically grounded theory of the state and of the use of state power. It equipped him to operate effectively – not perfectly or anywhere close to it, that’s never in the cards, but consequentially – within a system whose flaws and limitations he had written and reflected on in great detail over the course of decades. Few of his detractors, then and perhaps especially now, can say the same in either regard.  This weakness helps explain their attraction to a phenomenon like the Paul candidacy, and it also helps explain their difficulties responding coherently to the presidency of Barack Obama.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      I will gladly make a case against Wilson, but one very big part of that case is that Wilson was a segregationist.Report

    • I don’t follow how Wilson’s undeniable intellect somehow detracts from him being, by our standards — and many of his own day — a rather contemptible human being.

      His messianism, authoritarianism, racism, chauvinism, narcissism, and overall mean-spiritedness were manifest in many of his most consequential and influential policies…I mean, there’s been a ton of really smart stuff brought up in this thread thus far so I’m hesitant to side-track with a comparatively secondary argument about Wilson, but I’m just not sure that antipathy towards him is so easily reduced to being a sign of political obtuseness or naivety.Report

      • Antipathy toward Wilson or anyone else isn’t the issue.  Comprehending what Wilson represents historically, apart from what amounts to gossip or historical fallacy (application of “our standards” to Wilson and his era), is what might matter.

        I think the the state in world history is the issue.  Paulian libertaritanism is not unique among fringe ideologies in wanting to wish away the world – not just the American “empire,” but the political itself both globally and nationally.

        As we discussed on another thread, Paul embraces an 18th Century utopian view of peace-through-trade.  It also happens to connect to an 18th Century philosophy of the individual and property, and to a certain idea of Americanism that, as it happens, Wilson specifically criticized and strenuously opposed.

        A pre-critical anti-imperialism might  somewhat similarly neglect to consider what a process of global devolution of power and disconnection from existing political-economic commitments would entail.  It mainly expresses the anxiety of (neo-)empire – here as justifiable but impotent moral discomfort with drone warfare, or legalistic attacks on the Libya operation, and so on – but it has no viable alternative solution for the problems that empire and the imperial presidency rose up to address.  Projected into the past and on to Wilson, the president whom history called upon to usher America onto the world stage as lead actor, it expresses the same anxiety.

        As for the rest of what Wilson and Wilsonian progressivism represented in its time and still represent today, that’s a long, though to my mind potentially quite useful, discussion. In important ways, Wilson is the anti-Paul, and it can be very difficult to criticize Paul without in one way or another ending up on Wilson’s side (if not more so)- even if Wilson was in other ways fully a typical creature of his times – on racial issues and on most other matters – as one would expect of any two-term president of the US of A.

         Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          See, my problem with Wilson is that he didn’t go FAR ENOUGH in advocating for collective security on a racial equality basis, and telling the British and Australians to go fuck themselves when they opposed the racial equality clause. Fundamentally, Wilson’s overall international system was based on two unsustainable ideas: 1. that the American reactionary wing (from which I think the anti-UN activists in the post-WW2 era and the isolationism of Ron Paul also share in) would stay quiet for long enough to get the League of Nations into effect, and 2. That the western preponderance of influence and League mandates would actually be good for the world.

          I would argue that along with the Kanto earthquake, Wilson’s inability to see the short-sightedness of rejecting racial equality helped turn Japan’s nascent imperialism into something far darker and far more confrontational with the West.Report

          • Wilson was actually a bit of a reactionary on racial issues, even for his time. I think an unfair implication happening here is that my disdain for Wilson is one side of a coin, and enthusiasm for Paul is the other. My issues with him are not his globalism or his idealism, per se, but primarily the haphazard and ineffectual way in which he set about bringing both into fuller manifestations. (So I’m basically with NA.) Another way of putting this is that if we look at Wilson simply for the ideas he represented, there’s a lot to admire; but the man himself was so deeply flawed that he often damaged those ideas through his needlessly shoddy implementation. And this is all without getting to his domestic policy during the war w/r/t dissenters and the like which I can’t accept either seeing as superfluous or less than contemptible.Report

            • It’s true that WIlson was a disappointment to many in his own day on  race – a subject which his biographer John Milton Cooper acknowledges as a grave obstacle for any would-be Wilson defenders.  Cooper assessed him as “essentially resembl[ing] the great majority of white northerners of this time in ignoring racial problems and wishing they would go away.”  It was the time of Plessy v Ferguson, and the Wilson Administration’s segregation policies continued those of the prior administration and were expanded under his successor – Warren “Racial Amalgamation There Cannot Be” Harding.

              Wilson’s record regarding war dissenters has been subject to grossly misleading and exaggerated depictions, including in Goldberg’s book mentioned somewhere above and, as one might expect, in Beck’s TV rants. Much of what truth there is to the criticism of Wilson regarding civil liberties, or more accurately of his administration since Wilson was overseas or incapacitated during most of the crucial period, also represents historical fallacy.  War fever was overwhelming in those years, and customary attitudes toward police power and civil liberties generally much diffeent:  The Espionage Act pased by acclamation (unanimity in other words), the later Sedition Act by an overwhelming majority.

              On treatment of dissenters as well as actual conduct of the American military intervention in Europe, Wilson represented the middle ground in many respects, and from a peculiarly “progressive” perspective regarding U.S. war aims and the American post-war negotiating position.  More generally, accusing Wilson of “needlessly shoddy implementarion” requires you, among other things, to discount the raft of historic legislation passed during his first term, and to hold him accountable for the political success of foreign and domestic opponents whom he quite literally nearly killed himself while fighting.

              As you can perhaps guess, this isn’t my first go-round on this subject.  Rather than pimp my blog to the comment thread, I’ll invite you to e-mail me if you want to explore the background issues further, and I’ll provide you with some links and leads.   I don’t know that the details are really essential, unless polemical anti-Wilsonism works to obscure the point that Kolohe was also getting at below, Wilson as a “pivot point” in American history.  We are almost all Wilsonians today, though not necessarily “good Wilsonians,” and that to me represents a judgment of history that goes well beyond, and is probably much more important, than anything anyone happens to feel about T Woodrow the man, or the incidental pluses and minuses of his policy-making.Report

              • Wilson was more than a northerner with a blind spot to racial issues; he was a southerner (born in Virginia), whose parents had moved south from Ohio in the 1850s and identified with the Confederacy, and who praised the film Birth of the Nation (original title, The Clansmen).  He was a virulent racist, as were most southerners of his time.

                But my primary beef with him, despite my virulent disdain for racists, is that he was the architect and primary theoretical advocate of the modern executive-centered government that has been so harmful to the U.S.Report

              • “He was a virulent racist, as were most southerners white people of his time even today.”

                FTFY.  This “Southerners are racists” meme really needs to die.  I used to believe it too, but now that I’ve moved to the North (from the West) it’s hard to conclude that the North isn’t just chauvinistic about its own form of racism.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Robert Greer says:

                I agree. Someone on this (or some other) thread said that Chicago is like aparthied south africa. I grew up in Chicago. It’s one of the most racist, segregated places I’ve ever been.Report

              • That apartheid comment was me, haha.  Glad to see I’m not the only one dumbfounded by Northern racism.Report

              • Yeah, there’s something to that, and it’s important to note that the Brown case was about segregation in Kansas.  But segregation as a legal matter was far more prevalent in the South, lynching was far more prevalent in the South (even though my own home state of Indiana had a nasty history of it, too), and moderate whites who supported civil rights legislation were far scarcer in the south than the north.  There’s also the unavoidable historical fact that there was a mass migration of blacks from the South to the North, because by god they could get actual paying jobs there and just possibly a fair jury trial if it came to that.

                So, as to retiring that meme, I think not.  Rather, the meme that needs to die is the revisionist southern meme, based on a handful of anecdotes, that the North was every bit as bad as the South.

                 Report

              • The North and South were (and are) bad in different ways.  I wonder how many more lynchings there would have been in the North if there were as much occasion for interaction between the races as there was in the South.  And I wonder if de jure segregation would have been more prevalent in the North if the culture there hadn’t imposed such a thorough de facto segregation.   And I wonder if the (mostly upper-class) Northern whites who supported civil rights legislation would have done so if it were at all likely that they would have been forced to allow blacks into their law firms, medical practices, executive offices, or posh neighborhoods.  Let’s not forget how school busing went in “liberal” Boston.Report

              • Also, racial quotas in employment were never enforced in the professions.  In fact, when individual states tried to do it by proxy, the Supreme Court ruled their actions unconstitutional.  It wasn’t until 2003 — after thirty-eight years of improved race relations in the North and the South — that these schemes were even permitted.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to James Hanley says:

                 Let’s not forget how school busing went in “liberal” Boston.

                So Liberals are hypocrites? Color me surprised. Doesn’t stop them from screaming “racist” at every conservative they see. Guess it takes one to know one.

                Even though I’m no card-carrying conservative, it does bother me to be painted with that brush continuously by liberals given that my wife isn’t even white and most of our friends aren’t either. It is good smear strategy, because virtually any argument in defense merely makes one look worse for the effort. Liberals even call blacks racist, showing the depths to which they’ll stoop.Report

              • Oh, and as to the claim that “most white people even today” are virulent racists, I think you might have an argument if you had also struck out the word “virulent.”Report

              • I don’t know.  I don’t make much of a distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission.  Even if few people have the energy for naked racial warfare, most white people are still pretty content with a system that has regrettably similar effects.Report

              • Yes, send me an e-mail, if you would, with some resources to check out. This has been very interesting and I’ve mainly read modern Wilson revisionism and thus could use some exposure to the arguments of his defenders. One thing I’ll always give him props for is the Brandeis appointment. Oh and just FWIW, “shoddy implementation” was meant to refer to his struggles as WWI neared its end, not his domestic pursuits. But, yes, if you’ve the time an e-mail would be much appreciated.Report

  13. Avatar Kolohe says:

    An excellent post and an excellent comment thread.  One should keep in mind though that the American

    • conservative and liberal intellectual traditions
    • conservative and liberal political traditions, and
    • actual politics of the Jefferson-Jackson-FDR-LBJ Democratic continuum and the Federalist-Whig-Republican continuum

    are three distinct things from each other, and each are built upon the shifting sands of time – increasingly, of course, as one goes down the list.  In some of the conversation above, the terms of reference have been conflated across these three spectra.  (And going further into winners & losers and good guys & bad guys would require two additional axes)

    For instance, the liberal intellectual anti-war tradition goes back to Not-Blogger Thoreau, (who also kicked off some of the political tradition by going to jail in support of his position), which then made a circuitous path to the post LBJ liberal anti-war political tradition, with a detour in Eugene Debs.   But in any case, did not of originate in the Vietnam era.

    Plus, going back to Woodrow Wilson again, who it seems nobody likes anymore – at the very least, nobody wants to accept as their own –  he is nonetheless the pivot point in American history in all three items above.   Moreso than even Lincoln and FDR in a sense,  as the changes were more subtle and profound.  (Though clearly, the former two created more wholesale change in the way American government and society was structured).  Just by the creation of the Fed, Wilson turned heel on over a century of liberal political and intellectual tradition, and Democratic politics, by embracing central banking.Report

  14. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    There are so many begged questions herein, why not simply aggregate them into a Begged Questionnaire?   This country’s wars are only the latest manifestation of the policies which get us into them: we don’t start these wars. They come a-begging to our doorstep.   Case in point, the odious Maliki of Iraq, a terrorist of no small caliber who hornswoggled a series of administrations into believing Iraq was a terrible enemy.

    The nuclear weapon served as the lawn mower of history, ensuring the dandelions would only flower below the height of the blades.   This country does have enemies, real ones who understand how to bring us to bankruptcy through constantly running that expensive lawn mower.   Since the era of Bakunin and Mao, this process has been well-understood.

    To put it charitably, Yves Smith doesn’t understand the Left.   Less charitably, it’s all shibboleth mongering, blissfully devoid of any supporting facts.  There’s been precious little Left-ism in the USA since the end of the Vietnam War and arguably, those folks weren’t terribly Leftist.   As Steely Dan put it “All those Day-Glo freaks who used to paint their face / they’ve joined the human race / life can be very strange.”    Where is the Left anymore?   Perhaps they’re over on DailyKos, wringing their hands and bickering among themselves.   The Left is powerless in this country.   Since the death of the trade union at the hands of Reagan, it’s been reduced to a puppet used to terrify the rubes.   Boo!   Socialism!

    Insofar as this country wages war these days, it’s all run in the dark.  Nobody really knows what’s going on in these wars, they’re self-justifying and nobody dares pull the plug on them.   Were the USA end them, a host of unemployed veterans would enter the economy.   Bases would close and we can’t have that.   We saw what happened with the last round of base closures:  Democrats and Republicans alike were all squealing like so many outraged hogs.   This warmongering business is bipartisan.

    Woodrow Wilson didn’t want his war, either.   As previously stated, the war came to him.   Wilson tried to mediate in WW1 but when it became apparent the Germans were conniving to start a war in Mexico, he was pushed into it by everyone.   Eventually Wilson, who had run on the platform of “He Kept Us Out of War” had a gutful of what the Germans were doing and entered the war.    The Left has come to terms with the Federal Reserve because it’s common sense.

    Anyone who seriously contemplates the abolishment of the Federal Reserve should buy a few futures contracts of West Texas crude and imagine his paycheck denominated on that basis.    The Left may be a bit idealistic, what few of us remain.   But we aren’t fiscal idiots.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

      As to the last bit about the Fed, question from the Naked Capitalism essay which motivated Elias’ post was this: how can the left answer the Paulian charge that central finance has led to wars which are necessary (or sufficient?, I can’t really tell what Stoller means) for the implementation liberal goals? (Actually, it was an assertion: that the left has no answer.)

      I think the answer – more/less – is what you say above: that wars come to us – at least the “big ass wars” that Stoller identifies as pivotal in shaping the history of liberal progress. But I think his view of things puts the cart before the horse. For Stoller’s thesis to make any sense at all, the following would have to be the case: 1) the left centralizes finance in the Federal government, 2) the left looks for a war to enter for the express purpose of disrupting domestic institutional structures, and 3) the left opportunistically imposes new policies. I think that’s historically wrong, but more importantly, the connection he wants to establish – between central financing and liberalism – can’t merely be one of correlation (since every war requires financing) but of causality.

      That’s where I think his defense of Paul is lacking. Paul’s thesis isn’t that wars and central financing are correlated for extraneous reasons, but rather that central financing in the hands of liberals is causally necessary and sufficient for presumably all the wars the US has engaged in. He’s providing a political analysis here. Liberal war iff central financing. Personally, I don’t see that he’s made the argument.

       

       Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Actually, maybe Stoller’s analysis here is a bit different:

        Liberal policy goals iff liberal war iff central financing. Again, I think this argument hasn’t been made.

         Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

        The Democrats, especially William Jennings Bryan, had advocated for an income tax for the USA.   Bryan would become Wilson’s Secretary of State and resign over Wilson’s shift toward war.   I wouldn’t call the Democrats of that period Leftists, there were Socialists around in the form of Eugene Debs.   If anything, Wilson was just a moderate who made an end run around the Democratic Machine’s candidate.

        The USA had financed its wars with income taxes before.   The Civil War featured an income tax but the Revenue Act of 1862 had a four year window.  But it did set up the precedent for what would become the IRS in time.

        Neither Lincoln nor Wilson were Liberals by any definition.   Both tried to stave off a war they probably understood was inevitable.   Read Lincoln’s First Inaugural, a triumph of wishful thinking.   Wilson, ditto.   A central government will be centrally financed, no matter who’s in charge, Liberal or Conservative or Martian.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to BlaiseP says:

          The British case of income tax imposition during the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic era I think serves as an interesting example as well. In general the centralization seems to happen as more moderate elements of the nation’s polity come together to try to forge ahead against a revolutionary agenda.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            Yeah, exactly.   Consider how the French came to grief, sailing up onto the rocks of financial ruin because their tax collection mechanism didn’t adapt.   They’d been at war with Britain forever, financing our War of Revolution as well.

            Sun Tzu:

             Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

            Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            In general the centralization seems to happen as more moderate elements of the nation’s polity come together to try to forge ahead against a revolutionary agenda.

            Since I’m still a little confused about Stoller’s essay linking liberalism and war … doesn’t what you say here contradict his thesis? I mean, I’m really having a hard time finding the content of his argument, other than the view I expressed above. On the one hand, I think it’s empirically false. But despite that, it seems to me he’s arguing for something far stronger than contingent relations between centralized finance and liberal goals/wars: he’s trying to make a conceptual link. Since he has all the facts wrong – in my view – the conceptual argument is harder to find. Nevertheless, I think that’s what he’s trying to do: demonstrate that liberalism is fundamentally incoherent since its domestic policy goals are inextricably dependent on war and central finance.Report

  15. I just want to say that in general this has been one of my favorite comment threads in my time thus far at the League; and that I think a lot of you have poked holes in Stoller’s model to such a degree that I’m tempted to send this to him and ask for a response. Sincere golf clap, all.Report

  16. I anticipate that the ability to execute large-scale warfare, on a global scale, will begin declining soon; neither party will be the “party of war”.  WWII was made possible by large-scale supplies of diesel and gasoline, and won by the side with essentially unlimited access to supplies of same.  Standard history books make much of the US manufacturing capacity during WWII; too few point out that those ships, tanks, and planes would have been useless without the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma.  Global net oil exports are beginning to decline; my back-of-the-envelope estimate is that 25 years out, the US will have access to only about half the liquid fuels that it uses today.  Absent existential threats, the civilian population will not be willing to surrender a large enough share of those fuels to the military to support the logistics of an operation even as large as Iraq has been.Report

  17. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I’m not so sure it’s correct to include Wilson in the “presided over a military buildup” category.  The big American buildup happened under Theodore Roosevelt, and Wilson just inherited that (indeed, as I said earlier, the American Navy was seen as such a significant power that World War I wouldn’t have happened if Wilson hadn’t been so ardently noninterventionist.)Report

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