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Missing Warren G. Harding

Mises Daily: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 by

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In the aftermath of that ghastly horror called the Great War, Warren Gamaliel Harding ran for president and won. His platform: Return to normalcy. He was the dark-horse candidate, but won 60% of the vote. Among his first actions was to pardon Eugene Debs, the socialist candidate, who had been jailed for opposing the war draft. He reduced taxes, deregulated, and generally calmed down the country after a culture-wrecking, budget-busting war, and assured a time of great prosperity.

Harding resisted intervening at all in the recession of 1921, and it thereby went away rather quickly, as all recessions will tend to do. He signed the peace treaties which formally ended WWI, and sought world naval disarmament at the Washington Naval Conference of 1921–22. The Teapot Dome Affair that wrecked his administration was a big nothing compared to the crimes of presidents past and future.

Of course historians hate him. They say he was a do-nothing president. Harding himself admitted it. He said that he was unqualified to be president. Indeed, no man is qualified to be president. Harding was honest enough to say it outright.

After the Cold War, we needed these kinds of policies. But normalcy is too boring to the organized Right and Left, who want to keep the population in a wild frenzy of fear in order to impose a massive state that will do their ideological bidding. These people all agree that peace and prosperity are the worst things that can happen to a country, because these conditions supposedly make us weak and unprincipled. In fact, normalcy is the precondition for civilization itself.

So let Harding speak to us now again.

There isn't anything the matter with world civilization, except that humanity is viewing it through a vision impaired in a cataclysmal war. Poise has been disturbed, and nerves have been racked, and fever has rendered men irrational; sometimes there have been draughts upon the dangerous cup of barbarity, and men have wandered far from safe paths, but the human procession still marches in the right direction.

America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.

It is one thing to battle successfully against world domination by military autocracy, because the infinite God never intended such a program, but it is quite another thing to revise human nature and suspend the fundamental laws of life and all of life's acquirements…

This republic has its ample tasks. If we put an end to false economics which lure humanity to utter chaos, ours will be the commanding example of world leadership today. If we can prove a representative popular government under which a citizenship seeks what it may do for the government rather than what the government may do for individuals, we shall do more to make democracy safe for the world than all armed conflict ever recorded.

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The world needs to be reminded that all human ills are not curable by legislation, and that quantity of statutory enactment and excess of government offer no substitute for quality of citizenship.

The problems of maintaining civilization are not to be solved by a transfer of responsibility from citizenship to government, and no eminent page in history was ever drafted by the standards of mediocrity. More, no government is worthy of the name which is directed by influence on the one hand, or moved by intimidation on the other…

My best judgment of America's needs is to steady down, to get squarely on our feet, to make sure of the right path. Let's get out of the fevered delirium of war, with the hallucination that all the money in the world is to be made in the madness of war and the wildness of its aftermath. Let us stop to consider that tranquility at home is more precious than peace abroad, and that both our good fortune and our eminence are dependent on the normal forward stride of all the American people.


Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, editor of LewRockwell.com, and author of Speaking of Liberty. See his Mises.org archive. Send him mail. Comment on the blog.

Here is an audio clip of President Harding's speech.