Power & Market
Inspired by the recent interest in the film Darkest Hour and Netflix's The Crown, our friend C Jay Engel at Austrolibertarian was inspired to share the late great Ralph Raico's thoughts on Winston Churchill.
From his essay Rethinking Churchill:
When, in a very few years, the pundits start to pontificate on the great question: “Who was the Man of the Century?” there is little doubt that they will reach virtually instant consensus. Inevitably, the answer will be: Winston Churchill. Indeed, Professor Harry Jaffa has already informed us that Churchill was not only the Man of the Twentieth Century, but the Man of Many Centuries.
In a way, Churchill as Man of the Century will be appropriate. This has been the century of the State — of the rise and hypertrophic growth of the welfare-warfare state — and Churchill was from first to last a Man of the State, of the welfare state and of the warfare state. War, of course, was his lifelong passion; and, as an admiring historian has written: “Among his other claims to fame, Winston Churchill ranks as one of the founders of the welfare state.” Thus, while Churchill never had a principle he did not in the end betray, this does not mean that there was no slant to his actions, no systematic bias. There was, and that bias was towards lowering the barriers to state power.
Yet, in truth, Churchill never cared a great deal about domestic affairs, even welfarism, except as a means of attaining and keeping office. What he loved was power, and the opportunities power provided to live a life of drama and struggle and endless war.
There is a way of looking at Winston Churchill that is very tempting: that he was a deeply flawed creature, who was summoned at a critical moment to do battle with a uniquely appalling evil, and whose very flaws contributed to a glorious victory — in a way, like Merlin, in C.S. Lewis’s great Christian novel, That Hideous Strength. Such a judgment would, I believe, be superficial. A candid examination of his career, I suggest, yields a different conclusion: that, when all is said and done, Winston Churchill was a Man of Blood and a politico without principle, whose apotheosis serves to corrupt every standard of honesty and morality in politics and history.
The Bill of Rights was finally ratified on December 15, 1791. Most of the new Constitution of 1787 was devoted to raising taxes, centralizing government, and destroying self-rule in the independent states.
The Bill of Rights, however, was a bright spot in an otherwise unhelpful and unnecessary document.
From 2015's article "The Bill of Rights: The Only Good Part of the Constitution":
Patrick Henry and the Anti-Federalists pointed out — correctly — that the US already had proven it had sufficient means to deal with European powers, and that in the bloody history of states, the true threat to freedom lay not in there being too much freedom, as the Federalists claimed, but in the overweening power of centralized states.
Virtually no one believed that a new constitution was necessary to secure what they had earlier called their "English Liberties," including freedom of speech, a right to due process, jury trials, and more. Those freedoms were already assumed to be assured to all non-slaves. Those freedoms had been won in the Revolution. The people didn't need a more powerful Congress to protect them. If their freedoms were threatened, the people could rely on highly-democratic (for the time) state legislatures and a decentralized militia system.
But, in the end, the Federalists won out after they promised to adopt a Bill of Rights to limit the power of Congress. As we know, though, the Bill of Rights began to break down immediately, and it was only a matter of time until the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson's embargo, and other even worse crimes perpetrated on the states and the people.
It was the Constitution of 1787, after all, that strengthened the institution of slavery, set the stage for the fugitive slave acts, and made provision for the criminal prosecution of those who attempted to help set escaped slaves free.
That's what sort of "pro-freedom" document the Constitution was and is.
What the Constitutions Should Have Said
The Bill of Rights would never have been necessary, however, if so much power had not been granted to the central government by the constitution of 1787 in the first place
Indeed, the earlier constitution of 1777 (the so-called Articles of Confederation) had itself been too detailed and powerful.
After all, the whole idea of a national constitution had always been sold on really just two premises: 1) It would assist in national defense and 2) it would facilitate trade among the member states.
In other words, it should never have been anything more than a customs union and a mutual defense agreement.
So, in the service of sound political science, I have composed a new constitution for us:
Article 1. The United States shall meet every two years in Congress assembled to negotiate terms for the maintenance of a union of independent states. There shall be no duties or taxes imposed on trade among the states or the people therein. The states, in Congress assembled shall set the standards for membership in the United States and provide provision for member withdrawal and the conditions for receiving the benefits of mutual defense as a member of the Union.
Nothing more is necessary or prudent. Independent states enter into mutual defense agreements quite frequently, without surrendering their independence, and trade agreements are a quite mundane affair in the history of states.
Any appeal to "patriotism" or lofty ideas of "America" or the fanciful notion that people in Arizona are the countrymen of people in New York has no backing in the day to day realities of living. Never in history was there a group of 320 million people spread across four million square miles who were part of the same community and who shared the same experiences, interests, or even the same economic ties.
In reality, the people of Colorado, for example, have more in common with the people of Saskatchewan — in terms of economic interests, culture, and history — than with the people of Georgia or Delaware of Pennsylvania. People only believe the residents of the US states make up "one people" because they were told as much by their third grade teachers. Actual experience tells us otherwise.
Those who demanded the Bill of Rights had attempted to preserve this idea of government on a human scale: government that reflects the realities of daily life, human relationships, and the necessity of free commerce — rather than the ideological fantasies of nation builders. Even to this day, the idea that the minutiae of life and commerce should be governed by a group of millionaires sitting in luxury 2,000 miles away is repugnant to the the reasonable mind. In preventing this, the Bill of Rights has largely failed, although things most certainly could have been worse.
As a follow-up to Peter Klein’s post, I want to suggest that Rothbard and Friedman’s relationship may have definitively fractured at the famous Austrian economics conference in South Royalton Vermont in June 1974.
In the May 1974 issue of the Libertarian Forum, Rothbard published an article entitled “Uncle Miltie Rides Again,” in which he criticized Mllton Friedman for advocating indexation for the U.S. economy, which was then suffering from a painful combination of recession and high inflation. Indexing both government taxes and business, including labor, contracts, Friedman had argued, would reduce both the government’s incentive to inflate and the iniquities and pain wreaked on the public by inflation. Among other criticisms, Rothbard argued that widespread indexation, to the extent that it actually worked, would neutralize growing public pressure to end inflation. After all, widespread indexation in Brazil, which had inspired Friedman’s indexing scheme, had not made a dent in the extremely high Brazilian inflation rate in the long run.
In his critique, Rothbard labeled Friedman a “crank,” which he defined as a “man who habitually comes up with a single technocratic gimmick to solve deep and complex economic problems.” These gimmicks are usually designed to extricate the State from serious problems created by its previous interventions into the free market. In addition to inflation indexing, Rothbard listed the withholding tax, school vouchers, and the negative income tax as “crank gimmicks” devised by Friedman ”to save the State’s bacon.”
Back to the South Royalton conference. Curiously, Friedman, whose summer home was nearby, was invited to the conference by the organizers at the last minute to give a few informal remarks at the opening dinner. Friedman showed up in the late afternoon and was immediately surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of graduate students, including me, Richard Ebeling, and Don Lavoie. While we jockeyed feverishly for position to address questions to him, his primary concern was to angrily discourse on the fact that Rothbard had called him a “crank.” Far from dismissing Rothbard as an economist whose opinion was of little weight, Friedman’s reaction revealed that Rothbard’s critique cut deeply and that he took it quite seriously.
In a recent social media discussion someone raised the issue of Murray Rothbard's relationship with Milton Friedman. I reported that Rothbard had a good relationship with Friedman and other academic libertarians in the 1950s and early 1960s, with Friedman even recommending Rothbard for a post at Chicago. Thanks to the Mises Insittute's archivist Barbara Pickard I have the details handy. In early 1956 Friedman discussed with Richard Cornuelle, then running the Volker Fund, the possibility of getting Rothbard to Chicago for a postdoctoral fellowship. Friedman wrote that he and his colleagues "would be delighted to have Rothbard apply for one of these" and that "I am sure he will be considered very favorably" though he could not guarantee acceptance. Ultimately, Rothbard decided not to apply, presumably because of his strong preference to remain in New York. It's interesting to wonder how the academic libertarian movement might have developed if Rothbard had gone to Chicago.
More generally, Rothbard and Friedman reportedly had a cordial relationship until the early 1960s. According to Rothbard: "There was another group coming up in the sixties, students of Robert LeFevre’s Freedom School and later Rampart College. At one meeting, Friedman and Tullock were brought in for a week. I had planned to have them lecture on occupational licensing and on ocean privatization, respectively. Unfortunately, they spoke on these subjects for thirty minutes and then rode their hobby horses, monetary theory and public choice, the rest of the time. Friedman immediately clashed with the Rothbardians. He had read my America’s Great Depression and was furious that he was suddenly meeting all these Rothbardians. He didn’t know such things existed."
By 1971 Rothbard's view of Friedman became highly critical, as described in his essay "Milton Friedman Unraveled," in which he described Friedman as "the Establishment's Court Libertarian."