Chickens of the Interventionist Liberals - Henry Elmer Barnes

Liberalism: From Neutrality and Tolerance to Interventionism and Totalitarianism

During the last months there has been a tremendous roar and an anguished outcry from wounded and scathed liberals against what they regard as the alarmingly reactionary and intolerant trends of the times. The liberal magazines have been loaded with articles protesting against the invasions of academic freedom, the mounting wave of what is denounced as witch hunting, the alleged violations of civil liberties, and the growth of political, economic and social reaction.

In this discussion of the liberal attitude today, it is necessary at the outset to describe and analyze briefly the vast change in the ideas of those who now constitute the overwhelming majority of self-designated liberals, as compared with the attitudes and policies of the traditional American liberals down to the mid-1930's.

The Old Liberals, well represented by such men as Amos Pinchot, Frederic C. Howe, Herbert Croly, Charles Austin Beard, Randolph Bourne, Edward A. Ross, George W. Norris, John T. Flynn, Garet Garrett, Oswald Garrison Villard, Edwin M. Borchard, Robert M. LaFollette, Clarence Darrow, Burton K. Wheeler, Samuel B. Pettingill, John Haynes Holmes, and Lincoln Steffens, supported freedom of speech and expression for their opponents as well as their friends, neutrality and friendly cooperation in world affairs, disarmament, world peace, and wise social legislation, based on careful study of the needs and resources of the time.

This brand of liberalism and liberals has all but disappeared. The writer of this brochure is one of the few survivors. The strictures set forth here are not directed against the true traditional American liberalism, which was, perhaps, the chief glory of American culture. They are pointed toward the bogus and renegade liberals who were willing to betray liberalism in order to hold power and led us into world-meddling and devastating warfare so that they might retain their grip on power.

Those who now parade as our "liberals" are quite a different breed of animal from the liberals of the 1920's, although many of them once espoused the earlier liberal ideas. They shifted from neutrality and peace to interventionism and war mongering in the late 1930's and created the war hysteria and mythology which followed. The intolerance which these produced has never abated, although it later backfired and thus brought on the trends which now alarm and discomfort the interventionists. The latter have been fairly dubbed "totalitarian liberals" because of their unquenchable zest for power, their intolerance of any deviation from their dogmas, and their efforts to suppress dissent, whether oral or written. To the extent of their ability, they have sought to set up an "iron curtain" of conformity to their doctrines in this country. Though its members inveigh heartily against the tactics of the extreme Right and the extreme Left, the totalitarian liberal Center—the "Vital Center" of Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.—has been chiefly responsible, directly and indirectly, for launching intolerance in our generation and for perfecting the techniques employed.

In this shifting of liberals from neutrality and peace to world-meddling and interventionism, it would seem that, the more they were inclined to favor neutrality and peace in the 1920's and early 1930's, the more they overcompensated for this by their ferocity or frenzy after 1936. This can be illustrated by the cases of some of the more prominent intellectual leaders of the "flip-flop" group.

The eminent playwright, Robert E. Sherwood, brought out in 1936 one of the most striking of pacifist dramas. Idiot's Delight, exposing the main forces leading to modern wars. But, within a few years, we find him, with what some regarded as almost idiotic delight, giving ardent personal support to the mendacious machinations of President Roosevelt which were to lead the country into war. Sherwood has even boasted of his role in wording the "Again and again and again" speech which Roosevelt delivered in Boston in October, 1940, one of the most notable examples of the public lie in modern history.

Walter Millis not only debunked the Spanish-American War, but in his Road to War (1935) produced the most readable critique of Wilsonian diplomacy and our entry into the first World War. It was a powerful and effective book. As late as 1937, in his Viewed without Alarm, he regarded the Nazi policies with something more than complacency. He contended that it might well be a blessing to "the rest of the world" if the Nazis could unite Central Europe and create a "going economic and social system" out of it—"however unpleasant for the lesser nations which it swallows." But, when Hitler proceeded to do just this and it led to war, Millis was among the first to demand American intervention to check him. He cooperated enthusiastically with our "Ministry of Truth" during the war, produced the first extended effort to whitewash Roosevelt's ro1e in the Pearl Harbor attack, This Is Pearl! (1947), and has served as the leading "hatchet man" of the New York Herald-Tribune in attacking such revisionist books as that paper has noticed.

Samuel Eliot Morison was one of the most urbane members of the Harvard community in the 1920's, was known for his devotion to commendable and peaceful civic causes, and was much in demand as a counsellor to student groups with pacifist inclinations. But, by the late 1930's, he had become converted into a zealous interventionist who found his friend, President Roosevelt, rather too cautious in moving toward war. As our leading court historian, he started writing the official naval history of the war during the conflict, and has carefully protected our diplomatic record from any suspicion of serious guilt. He was rewarded by being advanced to the rank of Admiral. In reviews and addresses, he vigorously attacked Charles Austin Beard for his attempt to give us a truthful account of Rooseveltian diplomacy, and has issued laudates for war in words that resemble the sentiments of a Marine drill sergeant at Parris Island more than the benign suavity for which Morison was noted in the 1920's. He has become a sort of intellectual John the Baptist preparing the youth of the land for permanent war service.

Paul H. Douglas was one of the outstanding American pacifists of the 1920's and early 1930's. He even joined the Society of Friends because of his passionate devotion to peace, the virtues of which he lost no opportunity to proclaim. But, by 1937, he had become a vehement interventionist, completely intolerant of the pacifism he had earlier espoused. He enlisted and served with distinction in the war, ran for the United States Senate on his war record, and was elected. He became a leader in the extreme interventionist group in the Senate and, at the height of his popularity and influence, was regarded by some as the most likely candidate for our American "Big Brother."

In the 1920's, Edward Mead Earle was a brilliant young Columbia professor with strong pacifist and revisionist inclinations. He was noted as a critic of modern imperialism and wrote a splendid book on the Bagdad Railway (1923). After a long and lamentable illness, he returned to the academic fold at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, where he devoted himself with great fervor and assiduity to military history and to the support of interventionist diplomacy. Among academicians, he probably ranks second only to Admiral Morison in his enthusiasm for the military way of life, and he has been appropriately decorated for his services to both the "Ministry of Peace" and the "Ministry of Truth."

Reinhold Niebuhr, during the 1920's and early 1930's was surely among the half-dozen leading ministerial pacifists and critics of war, and gave unsparingly of his energy and devotion to the cause of peace. But he succumbed to interventionist fervor in the late 1930's and it is probably fair to say that no other prominent American clergyman or theologian made so vigorous an effort to portray our entry into the second World War as a holy crusade. He has continued as perhaps the leading American clerical protagonist of vigorous interventionism and globaloney.

This list could be continued at length. Names of men like Archibald MacLeish immediately come to mind, and Lewis Mumford and Elmer Davis are dealt with later on. But the instances given above will suffice to illustrate the trend of behavior in which we are interested for the moment.

These interventionist and totalitarian liberals while having adhered mainly to the Democratic Party since New Deal Days, although augmented by Republican interventionist liberals like Henry Cabot Lodge and other eastern seaboard proponents of globaloney, are also organized in such groups as the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the Liberal Party, and the like, and their leaders gravitate around Freedom House, appropriately established in honor of Wendell Willkie. We may concede them some admirable ideas and aspirations and a few noble intentions. Nevertheless, when it comes to the matter of toleration of dissent from their destructive dogmas, they are not qualified to criticize Senator McCarthy's Committee or the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Their ferocity toward opponents of their views is unlimited. The fact that Harry D. Gideonse was the president of Freedom House for some time underlines this fact. George Orwell would have gloated cynically over the Freedom House label, in the light of the patterns of thought and behavior which its devotees have adopted.

The "flip-flop boys" were not, of course, limited to the liberals. There were a number of Socialists who deserted the proletarian cause of peace to which they were committed by tradition and ideology and joined the war-mongers. But, although their shift was more ludicrous, they were relatively unimportant in any practical sense, as compared with the liberals. The latter controlled the government of the United States, while the Socialists remained in a hopeless minority. Notable instances of Socialists who shifted their position were Upton Sinclair, Sidney Hook, Louis Hacker, Alfred Baker Lewis, and the majority of those Socialists who now operate the New Leader and bellow for action against Russia perhaps even more loudly than members of the Union League Club. They left Norman Thomas in the lurch in his valiant effort to put the Socialist party on record against interventionism.

Upton Sinclair was once probably the most world-famous American Socialist critic of world-meddling militarism and imperialism. But he followed the Roosevelt group in fervently espousing interventionism. He wrote an almost interminable series of novels lauding this policy. His hero, "Lanny Budd," is little more than a "Charley McCarthy" of Rooseveltian and post-Rooseveltian interventionism in its most maudlin form. The large sale of these novels indicates that they have been very profitable. In this manner, a one-time violent critic of the profits made from the war spirit has gained opulence by exploiting this very spirit.

Sidney Hook has been much in the public eye and prints of late, a good example being his article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine of December 14, 1952, on "The Job of the Teacher in Days of Crisis." He appears greatly disturbed about the "snooping" into teachers' affairs lately, being particularly upset about the forces which, in their stumbling way, thought they were saving "the little red schoolhouse" from "the little Red school teacher." Hook has continued his hazardous act on the ideological and semantic tightrope, while seeking to munch his cake and have it, too, in his recent book. Heresy, Yes—Conspiracy, No (1953).

Even more interesting has been the case of Louis Hacker, with which I am personally very familiar, since I played the leading role in rescuing Dr. Hacker from social work and starting him on the road to great eminence in the historical gild and academic heriarchy. Dr. Hacker, in the early 1930's, was a sincere pacifist. At the end of his Short History of the New Deal (1934), he sadly, ominously, and with amazing accuracy, predicted that the New Deal would fail in its domestic program and, to maintain tenure, would turn to an imperialistic war. He retained his pacifism unimpaired certainly as late as the spring of 1939. At that time, I had a visit with him in his office at Hamilton Hall in Columbia College. He was greatly agitated over the growing bellicosity of Heywood Broun, Hendrik Van Loon, and other former fellow pacifists. He earnestly assured me that we must preserve peace at any price.

Between then and 1941 something happened, for Dr. Hacker had by then become a passionate partisan of interventionism. My informants at Columbia tell me that Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager took him to the mountain top at Morningside Heights and showed him all the historical kingdoms of this world. Whether this be true or not, he surely inherited many of these kingdoms and that very rapidly. When I saw him in 1939 he was a lowly lecturer in economics and told me that his tenure was extremely precarious. But he soon rose to the rank of professor, was appointed Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University, and is now the Director of General Studies at Columbia. His "flip-flop" paid off handsomely.

While exposing those Socialists who deserted the cause of neutrality and peace, we should be equally emphatic in paying tribute to two outstanding Socialists who refused to abandon their ideals, whatever the pressure exerted on them, namely, Norman Thomas and Scott Nearing.

It is important to examine the reasons for the drastic and ominous transformation in liberalism, roughly between 1920 and 1940, coming to a head after 1936. There were a number of potent influences that stimulated the change, but the item which transcends all others has been the growing power-madness of the liberals since 1933.

The older liberals, for the most part, aside from the few members of the old Progressive Movement, rejected any temptation to assume extensive political power. They preferred to remain on the sidelines as observers and critics rather than public operators.

The New Deal put an end to all this after 1933. The Brain Trust and many of the most important administrative posts were filled with ardent liberals. They soon got a taste of power. Like the lion or tiger who has acquired a liking for human flesh, once the liberals tasted almost unlimited political power for a few years, they could not bring themselves to contemplate any relinquishing of this power, no matter what the extent of the ideological betrayals, reversals, and alternations, or the intellectual and moral plasticity which might be required to retain power. Had it not been for this new power compulsion, the liberals would never have resorted to a vastly bloody and expensive war to hold power after the New Deal began going on the skids in late 1937. The liberals became prepared to change positions, policies, attitudes and programs, as the current political strategy demanded, but never to relinquish power, if any technique, however ruthless and dishonest, might enable them to retain their power.

The New Deal liberals were deeply affected by the power-grabbing methods adopted by Soviet Russia, Fascism, and Nazism, however much they may have hated certain incidental policies of the latter. They also tended to attach much importance to plebiscite-like elections, much after the fashion of the totalitarian regimes in Europe. This trend, which goes far toward explaining the totalitarian traits of our latter-day liberals, was ultimately rationalized for them in an ideological manual. The Managerial Revolution (1941) of James Burnham. The American liberals were to be the new managerial elite whose function it was to administer the world in the days to come. This development is well discussed by George Orwell in his essay, "Second Thoughts on James Burnham," in his Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays(1952).

In his Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), Orwell described more precisely this new liberal managerial elite:

"Bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians . . . whose origins lay in the salaried middle class and the upper grades of the working class . . . As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages, they were less avaricious, less tempted by luxury, hungrier for pure power, and, above all, more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition."

These are the totalitarian liberals—Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s "Vital Center"—who took over power after 1933. It was interesting that, in its issue of February 19, 1950, the New York Times published a survey of the "government types" then in power which amply confirmed Orwell's characterization. They still permeate the federal government despite the formal party change in January, 1953.

By 1938, when it began to look as though the New Deal would fade out if liberal political strategy continued to be based on domestic policy, the totalitarian liberals had become so power-crazed that they did not hesitate speedily to repudiate their most cherished principles and ideals, as of 1933-1937, namely, freedom of speech and press for all, especially their opponents, neutrality, disarmament and peace, and to adopt with alacrity and ferocity an intolerant armament and war policy which they hoped would enable them to retain public power. Their playing up of the evils of Fascism and Nazism, the glories of the Popular Front, the promises of the "Freedoms" (whether Four or more), the necessity of collective security, and the like were only rationalizations of their frenzied determination to hold power. Lying us into war was permissible on the assumption that the end justifies the means. Even a Pearl Harbor could be planned to save the day. Later on, Professor Thomas A. Bailey, a leading interventionist diplomatic historian, was to come along and approvingly rationalize all this in his The Man in the Street (1948).

The desire to retain power and tenure was also the dominant motive which led us into the Cold War and the Korean War. Some twelve days before he launched the Truman Doctrine and unleashed the Cold War, President Truman had rebuked former Governor George H. Earle of Pennsylvania for his alleged dangerous exaggeration of the Communist menace to the United States. But, at this moment, Truman's political prospects were in the cellar, so far as they could be judged by public opinion polls. Some desperate move was required at once to save Truman from political oblivion and the Democratic party from probable defeat in 1948. As Holmes Alexander has made clear, it was the bitter Republican attack on the Democrat handling of the Far Eastern situation after the war which was primarily responsible for leading Mr. Truman to intervene in Korea.

Next to lust for power and prolonged tenure of office, the main influence in transforming the liberals from the most enthusiastic supporters of neutrality, disarmament and peace into the leaders of the armament and war program, was their capitulation to the myth of collective security. This mischievous and lethal doctrine first appeared in the 'League to Enforce Peace', born during the first World War, chiefly of Republican parentage. It was continued in the principles of the League of Nations and given more definite implementation in the Geneva Protocol of 1924, the Locarno system of 1925, and the Kellogg Pact of 1928. In the 1930's Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet representative at Geneva, cleverly sold the idea that collective security meant only collective action against the totalitarian menace from the Right. Litvinov's intriguing formula was that "peace is indivisible." This was the main impulse to the liberal excitement over the Spanish Civil War, and it diverted all attention from any possible threat of the totalitarianism of the Left.

The most influential interventionist liberal in the United States and the man who did more than any other American to convert American liberals to support of collective security was James Thomson Shotwell of Columbia University, who was able to use the vast resources of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was ably seconded by men like Quincy Wright of the University of Chicago. Collective security is a noble conception and may be of great practical value when the world is ready for it, a century or so from the present day—about the time when the human race is prepared to accept and operate a compulsory system of world government. At the present time, it is the most dangerous of all the menacing policies which make for globaloney and war. The greatest international lawyer of our time, John Bassett Moore, correctly pointed out that it inevitably transforms every border conflict into a world war. His leading disciple, Edwin M. Borchard, made the equally cogent observation that the application of the principle of collective security today can only mean "perpetual war for perpetual peace," the situation in which we now find ourselves.

Another associated dangerous illusion cherished by the interventionist liberals is the fantastic "We or They" conception, introduced into liberal mythology chiefly by Hamilton Fish Armstrong, a leader in the strongly interventionist Council on Foreign Relations. He set forth the idea in his book We or They (1937). The essence of the notion is that it is impossible for two powerful conflicting ideological and political systems to coexist peacefully in our world. Hence, one has to obliterate the other in order to be safe and bring the blessings of peace to mankind. This blood-curdling fiction was, thus, closely related to the collective-security fantasy. Armstrong was originly motivated chiefly by fear of Fascism, especially of the Nazi variety. But, once the Fuehrer and II Duce had been disposed of, the interventionists were able to drag out from under the bed an even more terrifying "They" in the form of Josef Stalin and the Communist threat.

The "We or They" psychosis was an especially curious one for American liberals to espouse. It was not only a complete repudiation of our traditional policy of neutrality but also a challenge to the whole historical background of American libertarian philosophy. Our liberals had always bitterly condemned Edmund Burke, the Duke of Brunswick, Metternich, and Alexander I and his Holy Alliance for maintaining this "We or They" doctrine and contending that a stable political society could not coexist with governments like those of the United States, France, and Latin American countries which had been established through revolutionary violence. Our independence and early national stability were actually founded upon the complete repudiation of the "We or They" nonsense and upon the unhesitating acceptance of the conception of the coexistence of conflicting political and economic systems. This ideal and policy were embodied in the Monroe Doctrine and served as the basis of official American foreign policy down to April, 1917.

While the craze for political power and support of collective security and the "We or They" piffle were the most potent factors in transforming the liberals following 1933, most of them were also motivated by overcompensated hatred of certain totalitarians, especially the Nazis.

The relative strength of these influences varied with individuals and groups. With persons like Harry Hopkins and Leon Henderson, it was mainly the desire for power. In the case of Lewis Mumford, Hendrik Van Loon, Heywood Broun, and others, and special pressure groups, it was chiefly hatred of totalitarian brutality. With others, such as Harold L. Ickes, Henry A. Wallace, and Paul H. Douglas, these factors of power-madness and hatred were about equally balanced. To their honor, certain of the New Dealers, like Raymond Moley and Rexford G. Tugwell, rejected the bid for continued power if it meant the betrayal of neutrality and liberal principles, and resort to an imperialist war.

Lord Acton once observed that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This axiom was well illustrated by conditions following Pearl Harbor when President Roosevelt and his liberal colleagues enjoyed absolute power. The totalitarian traits which such power breeds grew apace in the liberal war regime, and the corruption attained unprecedented proportions under the Truman administration.

The capacity for doublethinking, as Orwell calls it, among the totalitarian liberals, which their intellectual plasticity over the last fifteen years has begotten, was well illustrated by their ability at one and the same time to support the foreign policy of Secretary Acheson and to approve the criticism by radicals of the main result of this policy—the spirit of intolerance resulting from the psychological trends which the Cold War and the Korean War have produced.

Even more amazing, as revealing their limitless talent for double-thinking, has been the enthusiasm with which the interventionist liberals hailed and supported President Truman's efforts in behalf of civil rights for minorities and his appointment of a Committee on Civil Rights, while in the same breath they cheered and promoted his cold war policy which set in motion the most extensive drive against civil liberties since the enactment of the Alien and Sedition Laws at the close of the eighteenth century. Perhaps the outstanding example of the double-thinking manifested in simultaneously supporting globaloney with great ferocity and valiantly attacking invasions of civil liberties is presented by the case of Bernard De Voto, the ideological editor of Harpers Magazine.

As a result of the power psychosis and the war that this produced, it has come about that those who dominate what is still called the liberal group in America bear much less resemblance to the liberals of the 1920's than they do to the totalitarians of Europe. Interventionism has suppressed the freedom of speech and press in the United States as Communism, Fascism and Nazism did in Europe.

It would, of course, be unfair to accuse the turncoat interventionist liberals of being entirely responsible for the adoption of an armament program, the entry of the United States into the Second World War, and all the calamitous results which followed this policy and action. We were also pushed into armament and war by the pressure of the strongly Anglophile international banking group and "better people" along the Atlantic seaboard, most of whom then hated Roosevelt and the New Deal. They were backed up by the powerful papers serving these groups, such as the Boston Herald, the New York Sun and Herald Tribune, the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Star and Post, the Atlanta Constitution, and the like.

Also important in urging intervention and war were powerful pressure groups that had strong emotional reasons for hating the Fascists and Nazis [i.e. Jews]. They were served by the most influential American newspaper, the New York Times, which also cherished the esteem of the "better people" and the seaboard Anglophiles. But the interventionist liberals possessed the dominant political power after 1937 and, without their initiative and support, our government would never have deliberately adopted a policy which prodded the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor.