Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Quotable FDR

Jul 1, 2006 5:34 pm

The Quotable FDR

"We have got to be tough with Germany and I mean the German people not just the Nazis. We either have to castrate the German people or you have to treat them in such a manner so they can't go on reproducing." Roosevelt to Henry Morganthau Jr., August 19, 1944. Henry Morganthau III, Mostly Morganthau - A Family History (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1991), 365.

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Craig J. Bolton - 7/3/2006

In general I have long been sensitive to the individualist concern you have raised, but I suppose that my sensitivity has decreased more than a bit post 9/11, after watching many [most?] Americans act in a manner that indicates that they are political idiots and/or enthusiastic totalitarians. At some point people are responsible for the sort of society they live in while they continue to live in it. Not everyone may be a U.S. Senators or have the wealth of Bill Gates, but if they don't, at least, individually, openly and vocally condemn tyranny as tyranny or go elsewhere in disgust, then.... they probably deserve what they get.

Robert Higgs - 7/2/2006

Yes, of course, SOME members of society outside the formal governing apparatus bear SOME responsibility for what the government leaders do--they contribute to establishing the incentives and constraints the government faces. But when you begin to make statements about "the Germans" or "the Americans," you have entered the land of bad social science and indefensible morality. It is one thing to recognize that no government, not even a totalitarian dictatorship, can act without any societal constraints whatever. To indulge in causal or moral collectivism, however, is something else, which does nothing to clarify matters and much to encourage false conclusions about who bears responsibility for what.

All the worst political instincts are brought out by such collectivist rhetoric, which is why government leaders talk this way incessantly. It's a way of dismissing any dissidents who exist, indeed of declaring their dissent ipso facto illegitimate or, in the extreme, even traitorous. Thus, if you oppose George W. Bush's actions, you are "un-American."

As a shorthand form of expression, talking about "the Germans," "the Americans," and so forth may be well-nigh unavoidable, but we load causal or moral weight onto this kind of rhetoric at our peril.

Craig J. Bolton - 7/2/2006

You know, it seems to me that this view, implying that the "subjects" have no responsibility for what their leaders do and are no more than victims of those rulers, is just plain wrong.

Americans had Teddy Roosevelt and his successors principally because they either wanted them or were unwilling to put the effort into dislodging them. Same with the Germans and the Kaiser and Hitler.

America is in serious trouble today not because it has bad leaders but because most Americans have bad political and economic ideas and goals, ideas and goals that are reflected by their leaders.

Americans are suffering and will be suffering much more for their bad ideas and goals. They SHOULD suffer, because they are either corrupt or incredibly lazy, and, consequently, have, directly or implicitly, decided to throw a 300 year history of liberty into the trash.

Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences.

Sudha Shenoy - 7/1/2006

1. It _was_ wartime, so comments, esp. 'private' comments, tended to be 'over the top'.

2. Having said that: the Germans suffered massively during both world wars. They surely paid amply for having the 'wrong' sets of rulers. War benefits _only_ the governing groups involved. Their _subjects_ suffer, to a larger or greater extent.

Craig J. Bolton - 7/1/2006

I suppose we should be horrified by that quotation. However....

As I recall, the overwhelmingly popular leader of the German people declared war on the U.S., not the other way around, and he had well proved by his other repeated acts what he would do to Americans if Germany was victorious. Nor was there exactly widespread resistence to this leader and his party among the German populace. In fact, as I recall, the only two recorded incidents of opposition by the German people [as opposed to the General Staff] during his rule were the Rose Street demonstrations [where the gentile spouses of Jews successfully managed to keep their spouses from being sent to the concentration camps] and the White Rose "conspiracy" by some teenage college students.

This was also the second time around, the Kaiser not being a particularly peaceable sort of guy or one who was widely resisted by Germans.

So I have to wonder whether the quotation was not somewhat justified. If you have a people who have a tendency to repeatedly try to conquer their neighbors and who aren't exactly good imperialists when they are successful... [sort of like an ill tempered pit bull] Well then, maybe you need to have them neutered.

Of course, the same can, and probably should, be said of the U.S. in recent decades. It is apparent that neither culture is very good at managing military might for proper purposes.