LOST AND OTHERWISE
It has been said that "there are
no lost causes because there are no gained causes." Whether
this is true or not will not detain us here. Matthew Arnold called
Oxford University "the home of lost causes," referring
in particular, one assumes, to Oxford's support for the ill-fated
Charles I during the Puritan Revolution. Richard M. Weaver
Tarheel, Professor of English, Southern Agrarian, and a genuine
libertarian conservative thought that all universities should
be the home of lost causes. By this he meant that a broad understanding
of the issues of the past is more genuinely useful to us than the
bland Whig-historical assumption that whatever cause succeeded must
have been right or somehow led to a better world. Obviously, he
was wrong if he thought such an attitude possible in American universities,
where social democratic Whig History reigns, threatened only by
those to its Left.
The phrase the "good old cause" is probably Jacobite in
origin and, while the Jacobites certainly won the folk-song war,
their cause the restoration of the Stuart monarchy
did not fare very well. Below Messrs. Mason and Dixon's line, of
course, we sometimes speak of our own "lost cause." There
are even those who regret the defeat of Harold Godwin at Hastings
in 1066. I reckon myself among them, although here, too, the Whig
historians are quick to frighten us with scarecrows of evil things
likely to have happened if the Normans had not arrived just in time.
Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson, to name two prominent libertarian/republican
theorists, were not impressed with this reasoning and spoke often
of the freedoms enjoyed by the Saxons before the Conquest imposed
the Norman Yoke.
Another lost cause is the Republican nomination of 1952, lost by
Robert Taft, Mr. Republican, to the political novice and Establishment
military hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The suspicion lingered long
on the Right that this was somehow a put-up job and that Eisenhower's
backers had stolen the nomination. In the Goldwater movement of
my long bygone youth, we saw Goldwater's nomination as Taft's revenge.
(All that the mass media saw was the delegates being "rude"
to the leader of the Rockefeller wing of the party in the Cow Palace.)
At that time, few of us understood the gulf between the philosophies
of Taft and Goldwater. Karl Hess wrote a post-election book entitled
In a Cause That Will Triumph (1967), but by the time the cause
triumphed in the form of the Reagan-Bush non-revolution and Republican
expansion of the bloated government they had promised to trim down,
Hess had become an anarchist and, later, a writer for the Libertarian
So all this business of "causes" can be very tricky. Since
I believe that there is a fundamental continuity in the struggle
against intervention, dba the American Empire, from the Anti-Imperialist
League of 1901 through the America First Committee and the movement
against the War in Vietnam down to the present, I think it is far
to soon to count the cause as lost. It is certainly not won, either.
What we have to do with here is, I think, human history considered
as a race between "state power and social power," as Frank
Chodorov seconded by the late Murray Rothbard put
it ("social" referring to actually existing, acting human
beings and not to some reified entity fully known only to accredited
witch-doctors like Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx). In this larger
sense, the cause of social power freedom, free markets, peace,
and the rest may not always "win" but neither should
we pack up and go home.
TAFT AND REPUBLICAN MEMORY
This brings me back to Robert A. Taft,
Senator for Ohio ("for" as well as "from"
check the Constitution). The media wizards of the day declared him
"unelectable" as President, lacking the common touch,
blah, blah, blah, and his loss to Eisenhower seemed proof to them
that they were right. The ideas for which Taft spoke those
of the "isolationist," libertarian, and Republican Old
Right seemed discredited as well. And yet there is much in
Taft's philosophy to steer today's venal, rudderless, and ideologically
mushy Republicans along, if they had even the slightest interest
in their own tradition.
Taft came into the Senate in 1938 and rose to be a major spokesmen
for the Republican Old Right. He was a constant critic of the New
Deal's centralization, bureaucracy, administrative "law,"
and interference with markets. In foreign affairs, he stood squarely
in the American non-interventionist tradition of Washington, Jefferson,
and John Quincy Adams. This led him to condemn Roosevelt's covert
drive to get into the European war and to assert the role of Congress
in making foreign policy. He made light of the New Dealers' claim
that we must go to war to protect our foreign markets, saying, "this
country is almost self-sufficient.... a considerable part of our
foreign trade will continue no matter who wins the war.... The whole
foreign trade argument is a bogey-man...." The New Dealers'
alarm over foreign markets stemmed from their commitment to what
has been called Open Door (or informal) Empire and from their belief
that American capitalism was somehow unsustainable at home without
ever-increasing overseas trade. In 1945, Taft condemned Commerce
Secretary Henry Wallace's program of foreign loans designed to promote
American exports, branding it a new form of "dollar diplomacy."
Taft's views survived World War II and shaped his response to the
emerging Cold War. He tried to cut funding for the Marshall Plan
and voted against the NATO pact in 1949. He asserted that NATO made
war more likely, although he could never have imagined that NATO
would begin a career of aggression after its alleged reason for
existence had disappeared.
President Truman unilaterally and post-constitutionally took us
into war in Korea, Taft condemned him and asserted the rights of
Congress and the people. As for the political and media Establishment's
theme of "bipartisanship" in foreign affairs, Taft called
it "a dangerous fallacy." In debate over the President's
supposedly inherent power to deploy troops overseas, Taft declared,
"If the President has unlimited power to involve us in war,
war is more likely." (I think this has been shown to be true
once or twice since Taft spoke.)
Taft was not perfect, but he towers above most of his Republican
successors. (He waffled far too much with regard to Asian policy.)
His views can be found in the Congressional Record and in
published speeches and articles. They are most accessible in his
little book, A Foreign Policy for Americans (1951). There
Taft underscored his deeply held belief that a nation's foreign
and domestic policies are inextricably entangled and that foreign
policy does not exist in a separate box unconnected with American
This sense of the unity of American policy led Taft to any number
of conclusions which today's Republicans would find odd or irrelevant.
After all, he began his book with the statement that "the ultimate
purpose of our foreign policy must be to protect the liberty of
the people of the United States." What? No "national purpose"?
No concern for all the poor foreigners? No New World Order? No,
just the liberty of the American people, not even their prosperity,
psychological wellbeing, or their karma.
He continued: "Only second to liberty is the maintenance of
peace." Taft was deeply aware of the costs of war in
lives, in economic hardship, and in promoting the growth of an all-powerful
state inimical to republican liberty. He pointed out that permanent
military conscription instituted by the Truman administration
is "the greatest limitation on individual freedom in
peacetime the people have ever had imposed on them." Permanent
mobilization would lead to bureaucratic inroads on American liberty
that might prove irreversible. At the same time, the strain on the
economy would bring about inflation and other distortions.
Behind the world-saving program of the Democratic party and the
"internationalist" Republicans, Taft saw a particular
philosophy of life. As he put it: "There are good many Americans
who talk about an American century in which America will dominate
the world.... The trouble with those who advocate this policy is
that they really do not confine themselves to moral leadership.
They are inspired with the same kind of New Deal planned-control
ideas abroad as recent Administrations have desired to enforce at
home. In their hearts they want to force on these foreign peoples
through the use of American money and even, perhaps, American arms
the policies which moral leadership is able to advance only through
the sound strength of its principles and the force of its persuasion."
(Here Taft gives us here the key to the ideology favored at the
Weekly Standard, the New Republic, and some other
Taft's little book is long out of print. One sees it occasionally
in used book stores. If anyone has a copy to spare, I suggest sending
it to George Dubbya, Dan Quayle, and others who may be needing a
refresher course in what an American foreign policy might look like.
R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since
1973, including The Individualist, Reason,
of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the
and is completing a set of essays on America's wars. He is a part-time
lecturer in History at the college level. You can read his recent
Cold War," on the Ludwig
von Mises Institute Website. His column, "The Old Cause,"
will appear each Tuesday on Antiwar.com
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