Chickens of the Interventionist Liberals - Henry Elmer Barnes

Interventionism Destroys the Welfare State

The totalitarian liberals of our time mourn the disappearance of the welfare state, whether of the New Deal or the Fair Deal, and lament the fact that the money which once went into public works is now being spent for armament and war. This lament was eloquently and forcefully expressed by Mrs. Agnes E. Meyer in an address before a Conference of the American Public Welfare Association in Washington on September 24, 1953. She held that: "The swing of reaction is so great that all liberal ideals are actually on the defensive today." The most cogent comment on this is that it was the interventionist liberals who brought on the war system. They often reply that this was necessary in order to prevent the defeat of the Democrats and the New Deal in 1940.

This is, however, an evasive and shallow justification, in the light of liberal ideology and dialectic. Following the latter closely, the course of events should have been, in the event of a Republican victory in 1940: (1) reactionary and deflationary economic policies producing a worse depression than that which followed 1929; (2) the discrediting of the Republicans, the restoration of the Democrats with a greater majority than ever before, and the reinstitution of the welfare state on a scale surpassing anything envisaged by Mr. Roosevelt, while saving the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war. Hence, if the totalitarian-liberal dialectic were sound, the liberals would today be basking in a welfare-state paradise or utopia.

It is not argued here that events would actually have followed this pattern of development or that it would have been a blessing if they had. We are merely pointing out that, if the liberals had possessed both faith in their doctrines and statesman-like patience, they would have preferred peace to war as the means of realizing their ideals. But their mortal fear of losing power, even temporarily, overrode both their ideals and their ideology.

The totalitarian liberals now frequently assert that our conservative politicians have carried us "back to Coolidge." The fact is that the backwash of interventionism and war has carried us back to Benjamin Harrison, if not to William Henry Harrison. While there is some social legislation of the 1930's, like the Wagner Act and the Social Security Act, which carries so much political dynamite that it cannot safely be tampered with, if these laws were not on the statute books today, they could not be brought out of a Congressional Committee, to say nothing of being enacted into laws.

Despite the nostalgia about the New Deal and all the boastful talk by the totalitarian liberals lauding the "welfare state" under President Truman, there has not been one outstanding piece of reform legislation put on the federal statute books since Munich, in the autumn of 1938. The liberals, in the early 1930's, stressed the fact that a people cannot have both guns and butter, and were determined that we should have butter. Hence, they could be expected to know that a garrison state cannot be a welfare state or one likely to promote libertarianism. A garrison state has no place for reform measures unless these make a direct contribution to inducing the "proles" to become and remain more receptive to the continuation of a permanent cold-war regime. But their lust for prolonged tenure impelled the interventionist liberals to brush aside their elementary knowledge and most profound convictions of an earlier day.

The totalitarian liberals have not even been honest enough to face up to what their interventionism has done to the earlier liberal economic doctrines and practices. In his book, The Big Change (1952), Frederick Lewis Allen has contended that interventionism and war have brought great economic blessings to this country, one among them being his allegation that we have been enabled thereby to by-pass socialism and live in a utopia of super-efficient managerial liberalism. A similar attitude has been taken by David E. Lilienthal, long the Director of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the main New Deal economic enterprise, in his eulogy of business trends since 1939, Big Business: A New Era (1953). The fact is that we have not bypassed anything except the now defunct liberalism which Mr. Allen heartily espoused before 1936. We have only passed into military managerialism or military state capitalism, a system which Mr. Allen would have been one of the first to attack with great ferocity in the early 1930's. In his important book on The Government's Role in Economic Life (1953), George Steiner emphasizes the fact that the most powerful group which has been pushing the United States into "socialism" is the military crowd and their economic beneficiaries.

The renegade liberals were especially devious and dishonest in not fighting out the New Deal on its domestic merits rather than advocating war to preserve their tenure, with the result that the older liberalism was lost in the shuffle. They did not show the courage of their special and deepest convictions. Prior to 1937, the liberals had been the shock troops—the advance guard—of Revisionism, neutrality, disarmament, and the like. Led by then militant anti-militarists like Maury Maverick, they had pushed through the sensational Nye investigation of munitions-makers, and put the statesmanlike neutrality legislation on our statute books. They had proclaimed war to be the greatest of all evils. After 1937, they came to regard the possible loss of tenure and power as an even greater evil than a costly, bloody, and needless war.