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Manufacturing Consent, Then and Now

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09/25/2014

[When it comes to drumming up support for foreign wars in the US, little has fundamentally changed over the past century. Justin Raimondo on "Progressivism and the rise of the welfare-warfare state":]

Ticking at the heart of American society all through the 1920s was the mechanism of false prosperity, which was blowing great quantities of air into a bubble of gigantic proportions. The Federal Reserve system set up before the war made financing the war possible – but at what price? The price was setting up a financial oligarchy with near absolute power over the economy – and also setting up the country for the Great Crash of 1929.
The rise of the totalitarian ideologies as challengers to Western liberalism was made possible, first of all, by the Great War, and by the Crash, which was also caused by the very system that had made the prosecution of the war possible. National Socialism and militant Marxism were "blowback" from World War I just as the jihadists of today are blowback from the cold war era. And these two great enemies of liberty, abhorred by today’s liberals, were at first greeted with something approaching admiration by the progressives of the time. The subsuming of private interests to the collective good under the Italian system drew admiring glances from our liberal professors: Herbert Croly, first editor of The New Republic and champion of Teddy Roosevelt’s "New Nationalism," touted Italian corporatism as the wave of the future and ended his days as the Duce’s chief apologist outside of Rome. No matter what else they disagreed about, ideologues of both the right and the left agreed on one thing: capitalism was doomed and some form of state-controlled economy was destined to succeed it. The only question was: would it be communism, or fascism?
The same factors that led to our fatal intervention in the first world war were brought to bear in order to have us enter the second. The messianic world-saving doctrines originating in the realm of theology had by this time thoroughly penetrated the secular mainstream and had become the default ideology of the political class and the intellectuals. The Kingdom of God on earth – without God, but with various substitute gods – and every ideological grouplet had their favored gods. The advocates of Technocracy, a group founded naturally enough by an American engineer, wanted to put the technocrats – scientists, and other "experts" – in charge of things. The Communists, the followers of Huey Long, the advocates of the so-called Townsend Plan, which called for a guaranteed annual income and ice cream for everyone, the various small fascist groups with their colored shirts and crude appeals to ethnic and religious prejudice – everyone had a Grand Plan that would defeat the Depression and lift the world out of the abyss into which it seemed to be falling deeper by the day.
Once again, the intellectuals were in the forefront of the war hysteria, the first to call for blood and the last to volunteer. While public opinion in general was opposed to US intervention right up until the bombing of Pearl Harbar, as usual our intellectuals were in the vanguard of the War Party – and, yes, The New Republic was back in action. As were the same financial interests whose fate was now even more closely aligned with British interests. To our Yankee Anglophile elite, snatching England’s chestnuts out of the fire amounted to a sacred duty.
British intelligence played a very active role in the United States during the run-up to Pearl Harbor, planting pro-interventionist articles in the media and actively seeking to undermine the large and vocal America First Committee and allied individuals who were organizing to keep America out of the war. A massive British propaganda effort was undertaken, much of it covert, with their agents in the media feeding the American people a steady diet of interventionist agit-prop. They also acted through groups like the Committee to Aid the Allies, the more militant "Fight for Freedom" group, and the elite Century Group, whose wealthy and well-connected members did much of War Party’s fundraising.
And again, there were elite financial interests pushing for intervention abroad in one direction or another. As Murray Rothbard pointed out in his brilliant monograph,Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy:
During the 1930s, the Rockefellers pushed hard for war against Japan, which they saw as competing with them vigorously for oil and rubber resources in Southeast Asia and as endangering the Rockefellers’ cherished dreams of a mass ‘China market’ for petroleum products. On the other hand, the Rockefellers took a noninterventionist position in Europe, where they had close financial ties with German firms such as I.G. Farben and Co., and very few close relations with Britain and France.
The Morgans, in contrast, as usual deeply committed to their financial ties with Britain and France, once again plumped early for war with Germany, while their interest in the Far East had become minimal. Indeed, US ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew, former Morgan partner, was one of the few officials in the Roosevelt administration genuinely interested in peace with Japan.
World War II might therefore be considered, from one point of view, as a coalition war: the Morgans got their war in Europe, the Rockefellers theirs in Asia.
The real turning point in public and elite opinion came when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and the "workers’ fatherland" came under threat. That’s when left-wing opinion in this country – and at the time an important component of the New Deal coalition – turned on a dime and suddenly the cry for intervention was heard from all sorts of former peaceniks who just happened to be friendly to the Soviet Union. Communist Party "peace" fronts were converted into pro-war front groups overnight: the change in the party line was immediate and carried out with impressive discipline.
World War II was liberty’s darkest hour, a time when patriots who warned of what was coming were derided as traitors and silenced, when libertarians were largely forced to go underground and the full dictatorship of thought and deed that is the rule in wartime took complete command, stamping out all public vestiges of dissent.
Government control of economic life, which had begun its assault during the early days of the New Deal, was now complete: with a system of wage and price controls in place, and total command of production, the collectivist juggernaught, fueled by the war, was going full speed ahead. Roosevelt’s wartime dictatorship extended throughout American political life, with an elaborate apparatus of repression set up to deal with the "problem" of dissent. We all know about the massive round up of Japanese-Americans and their imprisonment in camps not to mention the shameful looting of their property. Similar methods were used against Germans and Italians on both coasts, albeit on a smaller scale. Newspapers were banned from the mails, and groups deemed "subversive" of the war effort were dragged into court on phony charges of "sedition."
It was the liberals who were the worst: it was they who demanded the prosecution of the so-called "isolationists," and the Communist party was the loudest in demanding that the leaders of the old America First Committee, since disbanded, be tried for treason. It was only after the war, when the tables were turned on the Communists, that we suddenly began to see an appreciation for civil liberties by some on the American left.

Read the whole thing here.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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