have foregone writing about Garet Garrett in this space partly
because Justin Raimondo has written so often and eloquently about
him in his columns. Nonetheless, Garrett was such an interesting
and articulate – if, in the end, forlorn and hopeless – critic
of the system of US global meddling that it seems a pity not to
say something about him in this column. Garrett called the new
system, whose rise he witnessed a half century, ago by its right
name, too – Empire. At the same time, he was a sharp critic of
the servile system of domestic life, which had also grown up under
the New Deal. In Garrett's view, the two trends were inwardly
linked as expressions of rampant statism in their respective spheres.
OF GARRETT'S LIFE
was born Edward Peter Garrett in Iowa. He became a
printer's apprentice and then moved into reporting,
working at a number of papers in the Midwest.
moved to Washington, DC, where he covered our first
truly imperial administration and adopted the pen-name
Garet Garrett. He married in 1900 and went to New
York, working as a financial journalist for important
papers. He reported from Germany for the New York
Times for part of 1915. On his return, he became
financial editor of the New York Tribune.1
began writing a series of novels – The Blue Wound,
The Driver, The Wild Wheel – all of which reflected
his belief in the moral soundness of the American
way of life and competitive capitalism. He also developed
his odd style, which might be called "gnomic,"
among other things. His one departure from a "pure"
free-market defense of capitalism was his espousal
of protective tariffs. He was an American nationalist,
who embraced America's synthesis of classical liberalism
and republicanism. As the New Deal administration
of Franklin Roosevelt seemed more and more to threaten
those values fundamentally, Garrett became an important
spokesman of the emerging Old Right opposition movement.
At the Saturday Evening Post, he found an ideal
outlet for his talents as a political commentator
participation in World War II changed American forever.
In the short run, Garrett – like other pre-war "isolationists"
– suffered lost income and influence in the general
purge of noninterventionist writers which followed
Pearl Harbor. The dogs of war were in charge now and
the Old Right publicists, acting the part of Albert
Jay Nock's "saving remnant," had to write
in memory and for the record, in the hope that some
later generation might come to appreciate their critique.
Their contemporaries were hopelessly misled.
World War shaded into permanent warlike mobilization-in-peace
– the Cold War – Garrett wrote his most penetrating
attacks on statism and empire.
fullest expression of Garrett's views on matters of
the kind on which we dwell on this website can be
found in The
People's Pottage, consisting of three essays,
"The Revolution Was" (1945), "Ex America"
(1951), and "Rise of Empire" (1952), published
together by Caxton in 1953. The John Birch Society
took up the cause and kept the little book in print
for many years after.2
Revolution Was" undertook to assess the New Deal.
Garrett's essay opens on an ominous note: "There
are those who think they are holding the pass against
a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they
are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution
is behind them. It went by in the Night of the Depression,
singing songs to freedom." Further: "the
ultimate power of initiative did pass from the hands
of private enterprise to government." The obvious
political conclusion was this: "You do not defend
what is already lost."3
would make an interesting "text" for our
Compassionate Conservatives, who wish to "conserve"
all those things which make up the Negation of American
Life. Garrett, by contrast, takes up the posture of
a radical conservatism, something which the
good social democrats and tame conservatives like
Peter Viereck spent the fifties and early sixties
telling us just isn't done, old chaps.
Depression was the new rulers' great opportunity and
they exploited it to the hilt. Intent on building
up a new system of "administrative absolutism,"
the New Dealers held political power in part by demagogic
propaganda – Garrett actually mentions "hatred,"
which, as all good sheep now know, only exists on
the political Right. Further, they attached to their
cause the industrial workers and the farmers by claiming
to solve their problems for them. They sold the people
on the virtues of disguised inflation and public debt
and greatly strengthened executive, that is, bureaucratic
authority over American life. Thus Garrett: "in
Burckhardt's devastating phrase, [the next step] would
be 'the domestication of individuality' – by any means
that would make the individual more dependent upon
this late date, I think we can say they've done very
well for themselves. And what a wonderful heritage
for our GOP protectors to "conserve"!
details how the New Deal accomplished its ends: Roosevelt's
illegal "banking holiday," repudiation of
what was left of the gold standard, and the abortive
fascistic National Recovery Administration, whose
goals were carried out by roundabout means once the
Supreme Court came to understand who was in charge.
"Ex America" continues the discussion of
how Americans were domesticated by inflation, welfare,
1952, it was clear that "We have crossed the
boundary that lies between republic and empire."
As with the Roman Republic, there was no exact point
at which the metamorphosis could have been spotted.
But the results were clear. As in the Roman case,
the new imperial rulers were careful to keep up the
appearances of republican legitimacy. FDR, like Augustus,
was merely the "first man" among equals.
Garrett termed this imposture: "Revolution within
had a fight on his hands trying to maneuver the country
into an unwanted war. Only Pearl Harbor delivered
him from his plight. But "nine years later a
much weaker President" put the nation into war
in Korea on his own motion. Defenders of the Great
Office now said that the power of Congress was obsolete
because an emergency could arise more quickly than
Congress could act. Garrett replies: "The reasoning
is puerile. The Korean War, which made the precedent,
did not begin that way; secondly, Congress was in
session at the time, so that the delay could not have
been more than a few hours, provided the Congress
had been willing to declare war…."6
PATTERN OF EMPIRE
saw six major characteristics as defining the imperial
syndrome. The first was executive supremacy within
the state. The second was that "Domestic policy
becomes subordinate to foreign policy."7
Anyone who grew up in the fifties and sixties will
remember how all proposals, most of them bad, could
be dressed up as necessary to win the Cold War.
"Ascendancy of the military mind, to such
a point that the civilian mind is intimidated."
He quotes a surprising source in support of this proposition,
General Douglas MacArthur: "Talk of imminent
threat to our national security through the application
of external force is pure nonsense…. Indeed it is
part of the general pattern of misguided policy that
our country is now geared to an arms economy which
was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war
hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda
"A system of satellite nations."9
I think we can agree that this hits the mark. Indeed,
as the whole world – from London to Vladivostok –
weighs NATO membership, it seems that we have even
more. Not to mention our latest acquisition, Kosovo,
soon to be united, no doubt, with our satellite Greater
"A complex of fear and vaunting."10
This is Garrett at his most subtle. He had seen the
Imperial Overlords vacillate between giddy fits of
grandeur and sharp attacks of fear, as if they believed
their own propaganda. They were very good at inducing
these feelings in the people. For further research
into the complex of fear and vaunting, I suggest a
program of occasional reading of the New Republic
and the Weekly Standard, where the syndrome
is on regular display.
and last: The empire becomes "A prisoner of
This is the worst feature of all, and all the Compassionate
Conservatism in the world won't help us here, short
of repudiating empire and all its works. Someone tell
ole George, will ya?
NOD AT CURRENT EVENTS
have hardly done justice to Garet Garrett. But I must
move on. Speaking of George, a friend suggests spelling
his middle name "Dublla," since he's so
keen on the Spanish-speaking vote. Or should that
be "Dubilla"? Gotta get that "ll"
in there some way.
how about this for a campaign song? (Air: Ballad of