his four terms as Republican Congressman from Nebraska’s
second district, 1943-1949 and 1951-1953, Buffett
emerged as a trenchant critic of the domestic statism
and foreign interventionism of Roosevelt’s New Deal
and Truman’s Fair Deal. A committed "isolationist,"
he served as Midwestern campaign director for Senator
Robert Taft’s ill-fated run for the Republican presidential
nomination in 1952. At the end of his second congressional
term, Buffett returned to Nebraska and worked in banking.
Even in that occupation he was a bit out of step,
as a consistent advocate of gold-based sound money.
consistent defense of classical liberal, free-market,
republican, and anti-interventionist positions makes
him an interesting, if little remembered, forerunner
of today’s libertarianism and anti-Establishment conservatism.
He was, as Murray Rothbard later pointed out, the
most hard-core of the dwindling handful of Old Right
politicians in the early Cold War period. Buffett
contributed occasionally to such journals as Human
Events, The Freeman, and later, New
1954, Buffett became interested in the work of a right-wing
journalist called "Aubrey Herbert." In February
1956, Murray Rothbard wrote Buffett that he (Rothbard)
was in fact Aubrey Herbert. They had met the previous
summer at Ludwig von Mises’s seminar in Austrian economics.
Buffett and Rothbard corresponded for years, became
friends, and commiserated with one another over the
drift toward war, imperialism, and centralization,
which was aided and abetted by the current leadership
of the American right wing.
CONSCRIPTION, AND CONTROLS
Buffett’s speeches in the House reflect his continuing
and systematic grasp of the issue of liberty vs. statism
and the key role which war and empire play in undermining
the former and promoting the latter. Thus, on March
22, 1944, he protested Secretary of the Interior Ickes’s
plans to spend $165,000,000 on an Arabian oil pipeline.
He characterized the proposal as "this gigantic
long-distance venture into imperialism." Such
an asset would have to be defended by enlarged military
forces, which might be based on conscription. Said
would terminate the inspiring period of America’s
history as a great nation not resorting to intercontinental
imperialism. This venture would end the influence
exercised by the United States as a government not
participating in the exploitation of small lands and
countries…. It may be that the American people would
rather forego the use of a questionable amount of
gasoline at some time in the remote future than follow
a foreign policy practically guaranteed to send many
of their sons, if not their daughters [!], to die
in faraway places in defense of the trade of Standard
Oil or the international dreams of our one-world planners."
was primed to question the emergent Cold War at a
time when the hot war, World War II, had just ended,
and many of the wartime controls he hated were still
in force. Thus, on March 11, 1946 he complained of
"the use a second time of American national network
facilities by Mr. Churchill for warmongering purposes."
Was Churchill’s newfound concern about communism just
"a buildup for a British loan"? On March
28, he commented prophetically that "We see no
advantage in dodging the facts [that] if this tension
with Russia keeps up, the military will probably succeed
in imposing permanent conscription, will become the
dominant factor in making and directing our foreign
policy…. and will insist on the projection of American
military power – of course, only as a measure of ‘security’
– into every part of the earth."
DOCTRINE AND GLOBAL MISSION
with his stubborn opposition to conscription, controls,
and militarism, Buffett declined to sign on for Harry
Truman’s Cold War crusade. Discussing the Greek-Turkish
Aid Bill – effectively the first legislative battle
of the Cold War – on March 18, 1947, he censured the
Roosevelt-Truman record on foreign policy, which had
itself led to the expansion of communist influence.
He wondered if the Administration was "qualified,
because of an almost overnight reformation, to be
given a blank check for a crusade against communism."
predicted that: "In the pattern developed through
the war years [World War II] of deficit spending,
this administration combination would dress up every
spending scheme as vital in their anti-Communist program.
Attempts at economy would again be smeared as reactionary
efforts to save dollars at the cost of the lives of
American boys. Patriots who try to bring about economy
would be branded as Stalin lovers. The misery of the
people, from continued militarism and inflation, would
soon become unbearable. As their anguished protests
became vocal, the shackles of regimentation and coercion,
so lately thrown off, could be refastened in the name
of stopping communism at home."
harmful consequences would be permanent conscription.
Even worse, the policy would be counterproductive:
"instead of restraining communism abroad, it
will shore up ruling politicians everywhere and actually
promote the spread of communism." Thus, "every
ruler, be he tyrant or parliamentary politician, will
claim the threat of communism is most dangerous in
his land," leading to an endless series of interventions
and handouts. It would be a great disaster "if
this Congress votes to allow the Administration to
take us into an American attempt to determine the
pattern of human life everywhere."
surprisingly, Buffett spoke out against conscription
bills in June of 1948. During his last term in Congress,
the Korean War was rapidly undercutting what remained
of right-wing anti-interventionism. He was not impressed
with the manner of US entry: "Truman entered
that war by his own act," that is, entirely without
constitutional authority. According to Murray Rothbard,
Buffett always believed that if the secret Congressional
testimony of Admiral Hillenkoeter were ever declassified,
it would reveal that South Korea had begun the shooting
war in Korea.1
warnings, however prescient, went largely unheeded.
In the years after his retirement from Congress, his
disillusionment with the new school right-wing interventionists
and with US foreign policy became total. But he never
changed his fundamental outlook. In 1962, he wrote
of the evils of conscription and the policies which
demanded it: "In its abolition of freedom, peacetime
conscription overshadows all other collectivism and
regimentation. When the American government conscripts
a boy to go 10,000 miles to the jungles of Asia without
a declaration of war by Congress…. what freedom is
safe at home? Surely, the profits of U.S. Steel or
your private property are not more sacred than a young
man’s right to life."2
Buffett ties together the whole bundle. Imperial foreign
policy is costly, reduces liberty, and risks war and
militarism, which in turn reduce liberty while increasing
costs. With syllogistic precision, Buffett zeroed
in on the logical consequences of empire and the eternal
conflict between power and liberty.
TO REASON WITH AN IMPERIAL SEASON
National Review magazine, Buffett really did
stand athwart the path of "history" yelling
Stop! In this respect, the only Member of Congress
who bears comparison with Buffett is Ron Paul, Republican
of Texas. The latter is principled and sound on precisely
those issues with which concerned Buffett.
fame does not always descend on those who might be
thought to deserve it. Type "Buffett" into
a search engine, and you will come up with the Congressman’s
son, the zillionaire, fractional-reserve banker Warren
Buffett, who obviously has rejected his father’s views
on money. Or you might come up with a younger Howard
Buffett, who is an ecology-friendly photographer,
among other things.
you will come up with Jimmy Buffett, singer and novelist.
This Buffett’s critics have dismissed his music as
a combination of middle-aged self-pity and Caribbean
escapism. Certainly, it is hard to imagine Congressman
Howard Buffett taking up a life of Gulf Coast hedonism.
Still, as presently famous Buffetts go, I much prefer
Soon: A Short History of War-Mongering at the
National Review (to Which Is Added A Note on
That Journal’s Britannic Predecessor).
N. Rothbard, "Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal,"
Ramparts, VI, 4 (June 15, 1968), p. 49.
Buffett, "An Opportunity for the Republican
Party," New Individualist Review, II,
2 (Summer 1962), p. 12. For Buffett’s speeches,
as quoted above, consult the Congressional Record.