World War I shattered the nineteenth century global system that had brought an unparalleled expansion in trade and economic development. Globalization lurched into a dramatic reverse. George Kennan’s remark that World War I dramatically narrowed the options available to statesmen applied no less to merchants, financiers, and consumers. What became known as the “special relationship” between the Great Britain and the United States guided three efforts at refashioning a stable global economic order. The first attempt following World War I failed by the late 1920s, but Anglo-American cooperation after 1945 laid a foundation for prosperity across the free world. More…
In 1948, when confronted with a cache of damning documents in his handwriting and typescript collected a decade before by his then-comrade Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss, a lawyer, State Department official, and a Soviet spy code-named ALES, responded in the following fashion: “I immediately directed that the papers be turned over to the Department of Justice, as it was evident that they were copies and summaries of State Department documents which warranted inquiry.”
Contrast this with Chambers’ response when the documents’ authenticity was challenged. His government benefactor, Rep. Richard Nixon (R-Cal.), submitted the microfilmed portions of the cache to a photographic expert to determine their date. Chambers’ claim that they were from the time, in the 1930s, when he and Hiss worked for Soviet military intelligence, was rejected by said expert, who determined that the kind of film used was a new product. In other words this particular evidence, at least, had to have been faked. When a worried Nixon threw that at Chambers, his response was that “God must be against me.” (It turned to be a temporary setback, for the expert had been wrong that such film wasn’t being manufactured in the 1930s.)
As the American people go to the polls in an election which, both parties tell us, will decide the country’s future by determining which of them will have a majority in the Senate, Ronald Reagan’s October 27, 1964 speech “A Time For Choosing,” the golden anniversary of which came last week, leads us to ask what choices the Republicans and Democrats are giving us in 2014, and what difference the success of either makes.
Rick Perlstein’s reputation rests upon his award-winning first book from 2001, Before the Storm, about the crushing defeat of conservative icon Barry Goldwater in his 1964 run against President Johnson, and the conservative movement born in that defeat.
A frank left-winger who got his start at the Nation, Lingua Franca, and Mother Jones, Perlstein nevertheless was, Orwell-like, harder on his own side than on his opponent’s. Although taking swipes at Goldwater for denouncing federal intrusions into the business world when his family’s fortune was gained with government help, Perlstein depicted the Republican as much more admirable overall than President Johnson. (As an example, Goldwater ran a clean campaign whereas LBJ brought out the heavy lumber, authorizing CIA agent Howard Hunt to violate the Agency’s domestic charter and bug Goldwater’s campaign headquarters.) Perlstein saw it all and was so fair-minded, with a slight bias toward the Right, that it was hard to detect any agenda in that book.
The same cannot be said of his latest, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.
British commentator Theodore Dalrymple asked recently on Law and Liberty: “Was Margaret Thatcher’s legacy one of free markets, of laissez faire?” He professed himself “not so sure.”
The former British prime minister, argued Dalrymple, did little to roll back the frontiers of the State during her 11-and-a-half years in office:
Mrs. Thatcher was loved and hated not so much because she changed things, but because she said she wanted to. . . . My impression is that her effect, where it was long-lasting, was predominantly negative.
I have long admired Mr. Dalrymple’s punchy, prescient and always entertaining articles, frequently to be found in the pages of The Spectator, but I beg to differ with his assessment of Thatcher’s legacy.
In her first formal appearance as head of the United States Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen obliquely suggested the Fed might not raise its mighty “federal funds” rate to tighten the economy until months after its Quantitative Easing bond purchasing ended completely, coyly portending cheap money indefinitely. The market shuddered but soon calmed at the soothing voice of its controller.
The Constitution that emerged from the Philadelphia Convention on September 17, 1787 meant nothing. But after a period of mature reflection and calm consideration, the American people, through their state ratifying conventions, deliberately chose to preserve that Constitution from the ash heap of history and establish, for themselves and their posterity, a republican form of government, meaning one that was ultimately responsible to the people in accord with their highest judgment and reason. In an effort to encourage ratification among the people, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 1 that it was “reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct…
In politics, our myths are more important than our history. The stories that tell us who we are as a nation are the most powerful political tools in times of economic, military or cultural stress. Good or useful myths marshal populist anxieties, giving to people who are fearful of dispossession or political dislocation a story that simultaneously affirms their central role in this nation and explains the causes of their present turmoil. In 2008 the nation needed a useable myth that could tap into American populism and turn this potent political force into a conserving power. Obama’s myth has not created a sustainable narrative of America, but it might have weakened the very capacity of the nation to believe in and live as part of a better story of ourselves.
In response to: Constitutional Moments
If something can’t go on forever, Herb Stein instructed us, it won’t. The relief that bad arrangements will not get eternally worse yields once more to alarm, however, when we contemplate how they will stop going on forever. With ample warning before we face mortal peril, and sufficient reservoirs of probity, good will, and intelligence to meet the challenges? Or, as Hemingway wrote, gradually and then suddenly? If it’s the latter, and a gathering storm breaks fiercely, we’ll have bracing opportunities to find out what we’re made of, and may not like what we learn. “We are broke,” Michael Greve states.…
I admire all of Michael Greve’s essay and agree with much of it. Like him, I worry about the long-term solvency of the United States. Like him, I doubt the capacity of partisan politics as currently structured to address that problem. And like him, I am a dyed-in-the wool Madisonian institutionalist who views changes of…
19th November 1620, The Pilgrim Fathers arriving on the Mayflower and landing in New England. Painting by Charles Lucy.
The next Liberty Law Talk podcast is a conversation with historian Richard Gamble of Hillsdale College on his challenging new book, In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth. Gamble provides a definitive intellectual history of this metaphor, now etched, albeit in symbolic new form, in America's national self-definition by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Gamble observes that before the imperatives of the Cold War and the need for powerfully stated arguments for American political purpose, the metaphor "City on a Hill" existed in the Gospel of Matthew's Sermon on…