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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Real Republicans are Antiwar

Lew Rockwell has a great article on Robert Taft, yesterday's "Mr. Republican", and Ron Paul, today's "Mr. Republican", at http://blog.mises.org/archives/007562.asp. Cross-posted at http://www.lewrockwell.com/rockwell/rp-mr-republican.html.

Readers might be interested in the following excerpt from Issue 28 of Chris Leithner's "The Leithner Letter" from 26 April 2002 (http://www.leithner.com.au/newsletter/issue28.htm#taft):

Robert A. Taft was Senator for Ohio (“for” as well as “from”–check the U.S. Constitution) from 1939 until his death in 1953. Sen. Taft was the second generation of one of the American Midwest’s most prominent political families. He was the son of William Howard Taft (27th President, 1909-1913; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, 1921-1930), the father of Robert Taft Jr. (U.S. Senator, 1971-1976) and the grandfather of Bob Taft (Governor of Ohio since 1999). Known during the 1940s as “Mr Republican”, by 1952 he was the man whom the Old Right, which harboured grave suspicions about General Eisenhower’s proposed foreign policies, supported for the presidency.

As an unabashed classical liberal in the American mould, Sen. Taft was a spirited critic of the New Deal’s centralisation, socialisation and supposition that élite bureaucrats in Washington know better than average producers and consumers in the real world. In foreign affairs, he stood squarely in the non-interventionist tradition of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. Perhaps more than any politician of his day, he set out the moral basis of non-interventionism in matters foreign as well as domestic. Despite the rapidly waxing clout of the executive, he also reminded Americans about the critical role assigned by the Constitution to Congress in the conduct of America’s external relations.

Fused to Sen. Taft’s reverence of American institutions and free-market capitalist ideals was his innate anti-militarism and profound hatred of war. He therefore condemned FDR’s drive, overt and covert, to secure America’s participation in what became known as the Second World War, and opposed Lend-Lease aid to Britain. He evinced great scepticism towards Bretton Woods financial arrangements and the nascent United Nations Organisation, and at the end of hostilities he criticised the use of export-enhancement loans to foreigners. He greatly feared that the U.S. might follow the British example and embark upon a quest for Empire.

After the war, Sen. Taft sought to reduce the scope and cost to American taxpayers of the Marshall Plan; in 1949, asserting that it made another war more likely, he voted against the creation of NATO; and shortly thereafter (whilst later conceding a tendency to equivocate) he generally opposed American military intervention in Korea and America’s Cold War policies more generally. In debate about President Truman’s authority to deploy troops overseas, Taft declared “if the President has unlimited power to involve us in war, war is more likely.”

Sen. Taft and the Old Right he led were vanquished during the early 1950s. Not until the 1970s, when some Americans became disillusioned by the results of Wilsonian foreign policy, particularly but not exclusively in Vietnam, did Taftian principles begin to receive serious re-evaluation and belated appreciation (see Ronald Radosh, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0671219014, 1975; and Justin Raimondo, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, Center for Libertarian Studies, ISBN 1883959004, 1993).

Sen. Taft’s book, A Foreign Policy for Americans (Doubleday, 1951), described and justified his conviction that foreign and domestic policies must not only be inextricably linked; they must also be constitutional and therefore limited in scope. The imperative that policy be logically coherent, e.g., that limited government at home implies non-interventionism abroad, led Taft and his supporters to conclusions that many Americans would today find odd, unsettling and perhaps even (to use the terms favoured by the present Republican leadership) “thoughtless”, “ill-timed,” “divisive” and “disgusting.”

His book begins “the ultimate purpose of our foreign policy must be to protect the liberty of the people of the United States.” It expressly rejected “national purpose,” development of impoverished and liberation of oppressed foreigners, a New World Order and other inspirations of Wilsonian foreign adventurism as bases for America’s relations with other lands. Sen. Taft continued: “only second to liberty is the maintenance of peace.” He was deeply aware of the costs of war. His experiences in Europe after the Great War demonstrated forcefully that that conflict wasted countless lives, produced untold economic suffering and, in Germany and Russia, unleashed Leviathan states inimical to individual liberty.

After the attack on Pearl Harbour and America’s entry into the War, Republicans faced pressures similar to those faced today by Democrats. There were admonitions that the administration not be criticised and declarations that politics stop at the water’s edge. Undaunted, Sen. Taft delivered a speech to the Executive Club of Chicago that argued that particularly in wartime it was the duty of legislators to hold the executive accountable for its deeds and misdeeds. He did not remain silent five and a half months after the attack (the time taken by Sen. Daschle to mention in passing that Democrats would begin “to ask the tough questions” about President Bush’s war strategy). He did not hold his tongue for five weeks after the commencement of hostilities (the grace period allowed by Sen. DeLay before lambasting President Clinton’s war in Kosovo).

Sen. Taft delivered his speech on 19 December 1941–less than a fortnight after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Wreckage and bodies still lay in the water, and American servicemen were already headed towards theatres of war. Yet at that time, unlike today, partisan debate raged. Towards what end was the war directed? How would private industry convert to its demands? What was the best way to expand conscription? Taft spoke about each of these topics and systematically opposed President Roosevelt’s plans (“I see no use in sending boys of nineteen or twenty to war.”)

Sen. Taft’s speech tied the war to domestic politics and demanded that Congress investigate recent events (“Perhaps the fault at Hawaii was not entirely on the admirals and generals.”) Invoking the views of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Francis Biddle (FDR’s attorney general), according to Taft “the duties imposed by the Constitution on Senators and Congressmen certainly require that they exercise their own judgment on questions relating to the war.” Indeed, “as a matter of general principle, I believe there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government ... too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think that it will give some comfort to the enemy to know that there is such criticism. If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned, because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy, and will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur.”

Observing events from a distance of half a world and more than sixty years, it is more than interesting that Sen. Taft’s speech was not a cause célèbre; indeed, it generated little comment of any description. The New York Times did not cover it; The Washington Post only briefly mentioned it at the end of a larger story mostly about Secretary of State Cordell Hull; and The Chicago Tribune, at that time the standard bearer of the Old Right, gave it favourable but not detailed scrutiny. Significantly, however, in the U.S. in 1941 a prominent Senator’s right to speak critically on a matter of national importance was not questioned.

It is difficult to imagine that an American politician could today deliver a similar speech–including a full Congressional investigation of the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September–without generating vituperation and accusations of treason. The First Amendment notwithstanding, nothing but staunch support appears to be acceptable; and major media outlets have seemingly accepted the principle that criticism is tantamount to collaboration. The contrast with Sen. Taft’s time is thus stark.

America’s historical record tells us much about the appropriate parameters of loyal opposition in a free society during wartime. Obviously, no historical analogy is exact, some things apparent now were not so then and other things acceptable then are apparently not so now. And that is the point. It is disconcerting that, in the first and probably only country founded upon an enlightened scepticism about and fear of government, more and more activist government within the U.S. during and since the New Deal has, just as Sen. Taft and his Old Right colleagues (such as Congressman Howard H. Buffett of Nebraska) feared, generated a commensurate amount of interventionist foreign policy.

It is even more disconcerting that the invidious consequences of this interventionism, for both American taxpayers and foreign civilians, registers only dimly or not at all within the Beltway. And it is dispiriting that prominent Americans have either forgotten or disavowed the noble non-interventionist principles of their country’s Founders. As a people who have long and rightly served as a moral beacon to others around the world, Americans might reflect that there was a time not too long ago when a doughty few of their leading lights–enthusiastically pro-capitalist, staunchly anti-Communist and conservative Midwesterners to their bootstraps–thought and acted diametrically differently about their Constitution, foreign relations, war and dissent.


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