Foreign interventionism creates the imperial presidency.
One of the great underrated figures in the history of modern classical liberalism has been Felix Morley. A well known journalist, he edited the Washington Post having previously been on the editorial staff of the Baltimore Sun where he worked with that other great libertarian, H.L. Mencken. Morley eventually became president of Haverford College, a Quaker college that was the alma mater of himself and his brother, literary figure Christopher Morley, and his other brother, Frank a mathematician. In addition to his work as a college president Morley was one of the founders of Human Events.
Morley differed with the other founders of that journal, Frank Hanighen and Henry Regnery. As Morley saw it the other two “moved on to associate with the far Right of the Republican Party” while Morley “remained essentially ‘Libertarian,’ though it is with great reluctance that I yield the old terminology of ‘liberal’ to the socialists.” Morley’s position was that he opposed “centralization of political power” as deadly to the American Republic.
The conservative movement is inherently a backward looking movement, clinging to the past simply because it is the past. The oppose liberalism when it arose, preferring the feudal system of centralize power. When reactionary socialism arose and took control of Russia and China the conservatives again clung to the past though the past they now clung to was happily the liberal past which conservatives of previous days had unsuccessfully tried to stop.
During the days of Morley there was a commonality between the classical liberal and the conservative which did not exist before, or since. Conservatives today are now clinging to the past of the likes of Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt -- they cling to foreign interventionism, empire building, large, invasive government, and, their own special mixture of theocratic beliefs.
Morley understood something that conservatives of his day simply could not grasp. Foreign interventionism abroad requires the centralization of power at home. More particularly it requires the centralization of power in the presidency.
The imperial presidency of George Bush is the logical outgrowth of foreign interventionism. And, I might add, foreign interventionism is the policy of the imperialist Left. It was the “progressives” on the Left who pushed for empire building both in England and in the United States. An uncomfortable truth for today’s Left is that their ideology created the foreign policy that Bush pursues and that policy is directly linked to the imperial presidency he has established.
Morley warned Americans that you can’t “make a federal republic do an imperial job” because “our traditional institutions are specifically designed to prevent centralization of power.” Yet an empire needs centralized decision making. Interventionism around the world needs a president who can respond without the shackles of public debate. A “government subject to public opinion” can not “run an Empire.”
Half a century ago Morley warned: “World leadership requires centralization of power in the the capital of the nation that seeks dominance” and such government must “be completely indifferent to the gusts of public opinion.” Not only must power be centralized in the capital but in the executive branch. “If we are going to remake the world in our image it is most irritating to have some hick Congressman raising questions about the costs involved, yet the theory of our government is that the gentleman from Podunk actually has that right.”
Congressmen from Podunk can’t manage an empire. One reason the congress has abandoned its constitutional duty to declare war is that an interventionist foreign policy must react to emergencies and emergencies are not easily debated in advance. One can’t weigh the alternatives and argue for different solutions. If the house in on fire you grab the hose and spray and worry about what gets wet later. Consider that Constitutional travesty that George Bush foisted on the American people called the Patriot Act. What debate did it have? What consideration was given to the powers it created in violation of the Bill of Rights? Congress rubber stamped it without a single member of that body having actually read the document.
The executive branch of government argues that there is information too sensitive to be made public. You can’t debate whether or not the United States should engage in secret subsidies to various political organizations overseas -- it’s secret! You can’t discuss how agents of the American government are involved in toppling governments, installing new regimes, creating new enemies for his to worry about in the future. It must be done surreptitiously.
Not even Congress can be trusted with the information necessary to engage in remaking the world. And certainly the American people can never be given such information. Debating such things only tips off the “enemy” and with an interventionist foreign policy there are endless enemies.
Foreign interventionism requires not just big government with power centralized in the presidency but it requires evasive, secret government. It requires a president who will lie to the public and the media about what is going on -- for the good of the country.
The Democrats may whine about the Imperial presidency and the dishonesty of the Bush administration. But these are the logical results of decades of bipartisan support for an aggressive policy of interventionism. This is the policy of Wilson and Roosevelt that the Democrats were so enthusiastic about.
The Progressive movement in America championed the “white man’s burden” of ruling over an Empire. The famed progressive Herbert Croly said America needed “the tonic of a serious moral adventure” by which he meant war. He proposed a military building up acknowledging that it “will be used chiefly for positive and for aggressive as opposed to merely defensive purposes.” But such posturing was necessary to make the American people accept the centralized control of life that the Progressive felt lead to utopia. Croly argued that the “promise of American life is to be fulfilled ...by a certain measure of discipline” and “by a larger measure of individual subordination and self-denial.”
The progressives were champions of centralized control and war was the fastest road to centralization that they could conceive of. But power is not naturally democratic, though many on the Left seem unable to understand this, it is inherently autocratic. Accumulating power in Washington many be the wet dream of the socialist but as power is transferred to the central government they are failing to notice that it is accumulating even faster in the presidency.
If the Left wishes to avoid future administrations dominated by the likes of Bush & Cheney it must push to redistribute power in the opposite direction. Both the presidency and the Congress must redistribute power back to the public by surrendering powers they have been exercising for far too long. America must also return to its Constitutional foreign policy which is one of non-interventionism. The ultimate reality is that an Empire needs an Emperor. If one wishes to avoid the later one must reject the former.