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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5934/a-century-of-war/

A Century of War

November 24, 2006 by

It is sad to contemplate the loss of liberty, writes John Denson, caused to Americans by the “victorious” wars we have fought when you look back and see that almost all of them were unnecessary to defend Americans or their freedom, and were largely economically instigated. In so many instances, the president provoked the other side into firing the first shot so it was made to appear that the war was started by America’s alleged enemy. Not only did Polk, Lincoln, McKinley, and Wilson do this, but also later, Roosevelt would do it with Pearl Harbor and Johnson would do it at the Gulf of Tonkin for the Vietnam War. FULL ARTICLE


RogerM November 25, 2006 at 8:50 am

Excellent history! I can’t wait to read the book. I have a few small quibbles with where the author places the blame for collectivism and empire. I think the most egregious period of empire building was before the Civil War. The Louisianna purchase expanded the US on Native American territory and took no consideration of the rights of natives. We “bought” the title from France when the land wasn’t France’s to sell. Then Andrew Jackson forced the removal of the five largest Native American nations east of the Mississippi in the greatest theft of land in US history. Texans stole land from Mexico and joined the US, then we engineered the war with Mexico so we could steal all of the western states from that country. I don’t think Lincoln added that much to the US imperialism of that century.

As for the abandonment of liberalism in the 20th century, here’s an alternate explanation: Until the late 19th century, Americans had believed that they couldn’t control human nature and the primary role of government was to keep the bad effects of man’s evil side in check. This way of thinking came from traditional Christianity, what today is called fundamentalism, especially the doctrine of original sin, which teaches that human nature contains a flaw that gives human a natural tendency toward evil.

But Germans had abandoned fundamentalism for what came to be called “liberal” Christianity, but was officially the German school of “higher criticism.” The German school taught that nothing in the Bible, not even the narative about Jesus, was true and so man was free from its moral constraints. They especially attacked the doctrine of original sin and promoted the idea that humans are born good, and will remain so if we remove all oppression, which causes good people to go bad. They believed in the perfectability of man and society if only the proper institutions could be created to remove oppression and guide the good child.

They changed the role of government from that of constraint on evil impulses to that of the perfection of human nature and building a utopia. I’m sure war contributed to the advancement of collectivism, but the change in religion had paved the way and made the centralization of power through war much more acceptable to the people.

Jacob Steelman November 25, 2006 at 4:57 pm

This is an outstanding description of the rise of the warfare-welfare state and the destruction of freedom and individualism in the United States. There is no greater urgency for mankind then restoration of individual freedom and the free market and the dismantling of the State through (1) the conversion of state owned enterprises to private companies, (2) establishment of private money, (3) abolition of national and international central banking, (4) abolition of oppressive taxation, (5) repeal of all laws and regulations which create government sponsored commercial and labour cartels and (6) the repeal of all laws and regulations which limit and restrict consumer choice.

Allen Weingarten November 25, 2006 at 4:59 pm

On 11/16/06, I wrote in response to “Why Intellectuals Still Support Socialism” by Peter G. Klein “The approach of this article is to attribute the beliefs of intellectuals to conditions and material interests. Although people are influenced by these factors, to view them as the primary causes is to take a materialistic (rather than an ideological) interpretation. Thus the author shares the materialist interpretation of the very socialists and interventionists who he finds unreasonable.”

I mention this because it fits the explanation given by John Denson for “why America became influenced by leftist thoughts” which he attributes to Abraham Lincoln and our Civil War. Thus, Denson views the decisions of individuals and the circumstances of war as explanatory for what intellectuals believe, rather than the beliefs as explanatory for the decisions and actions. So again “the author shares the materialist interpretation of the very socialists and interventionists who he finds unreasonable.”

Now would Klein and Denson say that the explanation for their materialist belief (whether right or wrong) was determined by decisions of others, conditions, or interests? If anything, they would say that they are free thinkers, and hold to their beliefs because they make sense. Yet they would not say so in the first place, because they are probably unaware that they have absorbed the very ideology that they condemn.

Ayn Rand has said that one cannot defeat an adversary by accepting his premises. I submit that our intellectuals who support the free market do not know that they embody the materialist premises of their adversaries.

Brett Celinski November 25, 2006 at 7:29 pm

In terms of religion, I wonder if Denson describes the New England Puritan streak that ran/runs through many of the ideas of American progressive politicians, versus the traditional thinking of Southern Christians, as well as the contrast between those two groups and the German liberals, as well as traditional European Catholics, a fourth variable, whom I think, along with the Southern Christians, were more friendly to liberty than the first and the third.

Then, of course, is the variable of Judaic thinking and more recently Muslim thinking.

D. Saul Weiner November 26, 2006 at 10:08 am


I am not so sure there is such a sharp distinction between the materialistic view and the ideological one, as you are suggesting.

In the case of economics, when an aspiring economist sees a giant like Mises barely able to work in the field of economics while holding tenaciously to his free market views, don’t you think that this would influence the views of up-and-coming economists? Or possibly dissuade someone with a similar perspective from pursuing that avenue? It is only the rare individual such as Rothbard who would be so stubborn and shoot himself in the foot, career-wise.

In the case of intellectuals in general post-Lincoln, don’t you think that Lincoln’s killing and persecution of those who advocated states’ rights and limited government would have an impact on their thinking? Not to mention the dominance of the Republican party (which embodied his ideals) for many years to come? Or the land-grant universities that came into existence as education was becoming more public than private?

Allen Weingarten November 27, 2006 at 7:47 am

Thank you Saul for addressing the question of whether conditions are causal to beliefs, or the reverse. Somehow, most economists prefer to disregard this central issue, rather than notice it.

You respond that there may not be “a sharp distinction between the materialistic view and the ideological one” and support this by citing cases where conditions, such as benefits and threats “influence the views of up-and-coming economists”. Allow me to repeat once again that “Although people are influenced by these factors, to view them as the primary causes is to take a materialistic (rather than an ideological) interpretation.”

In other words, it was stated at the outset that the ideological interpretation includes the secondary effect of conditions influencing beliefs, so pointing this out does not in the slightest counter the theory. Let us note that it is the materialists (as in the past two articles I referred to) who did not include in their analyses the effect of ideas upon conditions. So if your view is to emphasize the role of both factors, it should have been pointed out to the writers, and not to me.

It should be evident that a cause can have an effect that influences the cause. If a scientist has a theory which leads to a practice, that practice could influence his theory. Similarly, if materialists believe in intervention, that intervention will buttress his support, as much as becoming addicted leads to greater addiction. Perhaps the most pertinent example is where the belief that ‘government should be responsible for education’ has resulted in a system of indoctrination, which convinces most that government is beneficent, and should be given greater responsibility for education.

What intellectuals can do is develop and promulgate theories, whereas they can have little direct influence upon conditions. To focus instead on the conditions is to undermine the very understanding that is needed for dealing with human issues.

RogerM November 27, 2006 at 9:12 am

It seems that many writers have a dual attitude toward cause and effect. For the masses, they take a materialist stance and assume that people form their philosophies in response to events. In other words, people can’t think for themselves and choose how to repsond, but merely react in an unthinking way to events.

But they take a different position with great economists like Mises and others who demonstrate a mysterious power to swim against the current, advocate unpopular ideas and do not give in to events.

gene.berman November 27, 2006 at 2:29 pm

Mr. Steelman:

I am in agreement with your several points but believe that one of these (which I will term “restoration of money”) is nearly prerequisite to realization of the others.

I do not insist that other improvement cannot begin or even take place in the absence of such restoration–only that corruption and vulnerability due to that source influence the behavior of both people and governments in the others. The problem presented is about as knotty and impenetrable as can be imagined, amounting to the necessity that people (and government) change their behavior, i.e., behave correctly, WITHOUT EVER UNDERSTANDING WHY THEIR CURRENT BEHAVIOR LEADS INEXORABLY TOWARD CATASTROPHE and also without understanding why some other particular behavior is correct.

Government, in general, has not been a usurper of the money; it is simply the inheritor of duties thrust on it by popular acclamation nearly since the emergence of money-use in prehistory; but it always and everywhere has “recognized a good thing when it saw it” and will never (in my view) cooperate in a reliquishment of that privelege and accompanying power. Nevertheless, I believe it do-able, though, indeed, a “long shot.”

I’ve promised for just about a year to make my novel views known to those who’d send me (gene.berman@verizon.net) their e-mail addresses. If you’d like, get on my list. The one thing I’ll guarantee is that you’ve never heard anything remotely like it, starting with the mistake that both Mises and Rothbard made (even while they knew it was a mistake!) regarding sound money.

Paul Marks November 27, 2006 at 4:19 pm

A word of warning about the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It is a mistake to idealize it (I am not saying that you are doing so, but some people do). It was the most bureaucratic state in Europe (especially the Austrian part)with some two million non military government employees and regulations that were (for the time) incredibly extensive. It was more statist than even Imperial Germany or Russia. Imperial Germany (Bismark and those who came after him) may have invented the Welfare State – but Austria took it up very fast, and Vienna was the most statist city in Europe.

Oddly enough for all the hatred of President Wilson and his socialist advisers (E.M. House and the rest – although Wilson himself had said lots of nice things about socialism when he was an academic)it was the major power that most closely matched their economic ideas (although, of course, as E.M. House [Wilson's "Other Self"] suggested going in his “Philip Dru: Administrator”). On the political side, sure it had an Emperor rather than a President – but both parts of the Empire had Parliaments and the Austrian one was rather democratic.

As for the famous Austro-Hungarian tolerance, certainly it was better than what came after (just as Imperial Germany was better than Nazi Germany AND was better than the chaotic and wildly highly taxed and regulated Weimar Republic), and the Emperor himself was tolerant (indeed almost all of the Hapsburgs were tolerant people), but Vienna was run by elected antisemitic bigots (although they were not as bad as the Russian bigots – such as the Black Hundreds) and the Hungarian part of the Empire was basically a state of cold war between the Hungarians and everyone else (over matters of nonHungarian language schools and so on).

Of course none of the above should be taken to suggest that America should have entered the First World War. It was a great mistake to do so – and I write that as someone who is British, does NOT wish that his country had lost the First World War and accepts that without American intervention it would have done so.

The bad consequences of British defeat in the First World War would not have been as bad as the consequences of the intervention.

For example, the Germans used the Marxists (Lenin and his gang) to help defeat Russia – but Imperial Germany, in victory, would not have allowed the Marxists to remain in power (thus saving tens of millions of lives in Russia and tens of millions of lives in other nations – all murdered by the Maxists in the 20th century).

Also a Germany that had won the First World War would not have turned to the National Socialists – it would have remained a both an Empire and a collection of monarchies (Kingdom of Bavaria and so on).

Britain and France would (without American help) have had to make a compromise peace in 1918 (with Russia knocked out of the war), this might have been bad for them (especially France – which would have had to give up hope of regaining Alsace-Lorraine), but I do not believe that Britain would have fallen into chaos. After all Britain did not gain anything worth having from Germany via the First World War – and overseas it was Russia (not Germany) that was the real threat to the British Empire. The shock of defeat (which is what a compromise peace would have been wrongly presented as) might have led to bad political developments in Brtain – but not chaos and revolution. The worst thing that would have happened would have been a comming to power of the Labour party with a majority in the House of Commons (something that happened in 1945 anyway). And it is even POSSIBLE (although unlikely) that as the Welfarist Liberals (such as David Lloyd-George) had led Britain in the First World War the defeat might have led to reaction AGAINST statism.

It is possible that France would have fallen into chaos and revolution (it is not cynical to say “it often does”), but the horror of France in chaos (bad though it would have been) would not have been as bad as the horror of Germany in chaos.

This is for the simple reason that Germany was a much larger country. Germany in chaos (and then taken over by the Nazis) was simply more of a threat to the world than France could ever be.

John Abbe November 28, 2006 at 4:20 am

War and welfare (aka blood and circuses) seem rather older than the 20th century, although i do generally resonate with your point that nations became more statist through the last 100 years. To me, what this suggests is that “proper and effective limitation” may be impossible if it is only self-imposed by elites – they can simply change their minds later.

What would keep any centers of collective power from growing cancerously? Greatly increased empowerment of individuals, small &/or local groups, and networks. So i find hope in self-help work which genuinely liberates people, and in the growing interest in group and social network dynamics. Much of this is non-technological, and then of course there is the Internet: it’s existence as an enabling tool, and the fact of the way that it has developed – a fairly free marketplace of ideas made functional (“rough consensus and running code”).

By the way, the authenticity of the Lincoln quote is hotly contested. See Swans (about halfway down) and Footnote TV. That second source is clearly opposed to entrenched corporate power; any bias would be in favor of the quote’s authenticity, so i’m inclined to trust his research.

Allen Weingarten November 28, 2006 at 6:35 am

RogerM notes that many writers assume that ordinary people cannot think but merely react, while great economists can “advocate unpopular ideas and do not give in to events.”

I view all people as engaged to some degree in reason, and to some degree in reaction. Perhaps a model is how they shop. Their choice of a product considers its quality & price, their need, a comparison with competing products, as well as unconscious reactions to appearances, commercials, and whims.

If we who believe in the free market seek to sell our product, we might do best by developing a sound product and advertising its advantages, rather than by lamenting that people cannot be reached because they are governed by their reactions.

RogerM November 28, 2006 at 8:55 am

I think you and I are the last two people on the planet who believe that mankind has a free will.

wrl November 28, 2006 at 9:15 am

Might not history, as in the cases of Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, LBJ, et al., who provoked attack in order to justify war, prove that something similar happened with the Bush administration, 9/11, and the so-called War on Terrorism?

Allen Weingarten November 28, 2006 at 9:34 am


Yes, and I have my doubts about you. :)

RogerM November 28, 2006 at 10:09 am

Why do you have doubts about me?

Allen Weingarten November 28, 2006 at 4:30 pm


I was jesting when I wrote that, as could be seen by my ending “:)”

However in a previous exchange you wrote “It’s hard for *me* to believe that people embrace evil” which I view as a prime expression of their free will.

Best wishes,


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