Empire vs. Liberty and the liberal socialist divorce.
The Imperial President is building an American empire. While today’s empire building is Bushian what does that mean? After all Bush is merely pushing the foreign policy of FDR to its logical conclusion. And FDR was just another version of Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and McKinley.
Author Chalmers Johnson’s new book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic says that the Defense Department’s own records now show the US has 737 military bases which are located in other nations. He says the US has 32,327 barracks, hangers, hospital and buildings owned by the military overseas and another 16,527 that are leased: a total of close to 50,000 buildings in foreign nations.
And he says the list in incomplete. He says the official statistics fail “to mention any garrisons in Kosovo (or Serbia, of which Kosovo is still officially a province) -- even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel built in 1999...” Nor does this include US military bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Usbekistan “even though the U.S. military has established colossal base structures in the Persian Gulf and Central Asian areas since 9/11.” And he finds it does not include 20 sites in Turkey used jointly by the US and Turkey but officially owned by Turkey.
In the end Chalmers concludes: “If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas but no one --- possible not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure.”
Imperialism and war making have always been the enemy of constitutional government. War is, and always has been, the health of the state. War making and limited government don’t go hand in hand. And the Republicans under Bush loved war more than they loved liberty.
They can no longer argue that they are defenders of “civil society” since society is that sphere of human interaction which is voluntary and outside the coercive sphere of the state. When state power is expanded it is civil society that must surrender territory.
This was understood by prominent members of the “Old Right” like Felix Morley, one of the founders of Human Events, the conservative journal. Morley wrote his classic book The Power in the People where he warned: “the strength by a victorious State through war is in large part taken not from the enemy but from its own people. All the private elements in Society——the family, the church, the press, the school, the corporation, the union, and other co-operatives——are subject to special discipline by the State in wartime. ...And it is scarcely necessary to emphasise that once an emergency control has been established by the State, all sorts of arguments for making permanent are forthcoming.”
But Morley was not really a conservative. He said that it was only “with great reluctance that I yield the old terminology of ‘liberal’ to the socialists. I was, and continue to be, strongly opposed to centralization of political power, thinking that this process will eventually destroy our federal republic, if it has not already done so.”
The late 1890s saw the US embrace imperialism in a big way. America engineered a fake crisis in the Kingdom of Hawaii to take over there, eventually making it a US state. It intervened in the Philippines and took over there. It found excuses to march into Cuba. It was most certainly engaging in conscious empire building then.
Now before the Left gets too excited, and down on the Right, these imperialistic ventures were mostly pushed by the American Left. And the Anti-Imperialist League which opposed the move was made up of many businessmen. One of the strongest critics of US imperialism at the time was William Graham Sumner, a man the Left loves to hate -- in fact they hate him so much Left-wing academics simply make up false claims about him.
Economist and Edward Atkinson was a businessman and advocate of laissez-faire but he helped lead the Anti-Imperialist League along with numerous other limited government liberals. And the socialists were keenly aware that many prominent businessmen were opposed to empire building. Historian Richard Hofstadter observed that the Imperialist Socialist Left accused business “of a characteristic indifference to the interests of humanity.”
And many of the most fervent advocates of empire building, both in the United States and England, were prominent socialists. The Left justified imperialism as merely another government program to help poor people.
The Socialist Left argued that small government liberals didn’t care about the downtrodden but this was false. Take Moorfield Storey as an example. Here is one of the founders, and president, of the Anti-Imperialist League and a staunch advocate of laissez faire capitalism. He opposed socialist/fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan. He supported free trade, the gold standard and peace. He was also the first president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was lead counsel before the Supreme Court in a case which overturned a law that forcibly segregated blacks in Louisville.
Also serving with Storey in the NAACP was Oswald Garrison Villard, a laissez faire liberal and fellow “anti-imperialist” and the founder of The Nation, and friend of Felix Morley.
But the socialist Left was fervent in their advocacy for imperialism. Hofstadter says that with “few exceptions” the socialist Progressives “supported the imperialist policies of the era or quietly acquiesced to them. The majority of them voted for increased naval expenditures leaving to conservatives the task of leading the opposition to big-navy measures.”
Morley saw how the period from the Spanish-American War to World War I was one where power was centralized in America and the nation embraced imperialism. The newly passed income tax amendment, pushed by the Left, “provided the means whereby the central government could finance colonial operations, or any other undertaking deemed desirable for the general welfare.”
He noted that the direct election of Senators was pushed through “to break down the recalcitrance of the undemocratic Upper House, which in its old unregenerate condition had rejected acquisition of Santo Domingo in Grant’s Administration and almost repudiated the annexation of other Spanish colonies after the war of 1898.”
It wasn’t only in America that liberalism divided along these lines. The classical liberals embraced small government and non-interventionism while the socialists wanted state control and imperialism. The Liberal Party in England split between the “Radicals” and new socialist imperialists. The leading British socialists of the day, the Fabians, were supporters of imperialism. Beatrice Webb, famed Fabian leader, attacked the Radicals as “laisser faire and anti-imperialist”. The Fabians released the book Fabianism and Empire edited by George Bernard Shaw, England’s most well known socialist at the time.
Shaw and the Webbs argued that a “great nation” must rule its empire “in the interests of civilization as a whole. Tory imperialist Leopold Amery worked closely with the Webbs and wrote of them that there is “nothing so very unnatural... in a combination of Imperialism in external affairs with municipal socialism or semi-socialism at home.”
To further promote imperialism the Webbs formed a group they called the Coefficients whose express purpose was discussing ways to further empire building. One member, who resigned in opposition to the imperialism, was Bertrand Russell who wrote: “...in 1902, I became a member of a small dining club called the Coefficients, got up by Sidney Webb for the purpose of considering political questions from a more or less Imperialist point of view.” It was hardly a coincidence that many Left liberals argued that imperialism and socialism went hand in hand. Each was a system by which the benevolent elite would rule for the sake of the masses. Each amassed state power and feed the other. This was the very point that John T. Flynn was making in his work As We Go Marching -- the warfare state and the welfare state are the children of the same mother.
War and imperialism was one of the major causes of the end of the old liberal/left alliance. The liberalism of men like John Cobden, Richard Bright and Frederic Bastiat was one that was pro-peace and pro-free trade. The socialists said they wanted to achieve the same goals as liberals but that state power was the best means by which this could be achieved. And while they enthusiastically embraced the use of power they soon forgot the goals.
Their journey is not hard to understand. If state power is acceptable to achieve liberal ends then global state power, or empire building, is equally desirable. This, out of necessity, will require war and conquest. And war is the health of the state and leads to authoritarianism and dictatorship. So many Fabians and socialist rushed to embrace one dictatorship or another. Some like Shaw managed to embrace, at one time or another, not only Soviet authoritarianism but Hitler, Mussolini, and the fantasies of Oswald Mosely and British Union of Fascists, as well.
Meanwhile many of the old liberals were men like HL Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Felix Morley, John T. Flynn, Oswald Garrison Villard, and Frances Neilson. They remained committed to small government liberalism and their opponents were the socialist imperialists. These men were later given the inaccurate label “Old Right” but they were never conservatives.
Liberalism, properly understood is anti-imperialist, antiwar and it is inherently anti-state. It wishes to limit state power not expand it. And if the antiwar Left today is serious about ending imperialism and war then they need to reconsider their domestic policies as well. Much of what passes as the Left today is merely conservatism in drag.
Photos: US solider, Moorefield Storey, George Bernard Shaw