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Apr 2, 2004 9:36 am

Another Fool, Another Day

So, if yesterday was April Fool's Day, today is another historic date that people should never forget, lest they be made into fools. It was on this date, the NY Times reminds us, that President Woodrow Wilson declared war against Germany, marking the United States' entrance into World War I.

Before Congress, Wilson stressed:"The world must be made safe for democracy." And even as he promised to act with humanity toward loyal Germans, he emphasized:"If there should be disloyalty it will be dealt with a stern hand and firm repression."

World War I was one of the worst conflagrations in the history of humankind, ushering in an unparalleled era of state repression. Ayn Rand, who drew from the work of historian Arthur A. Ekirch, argued that the war was the by-product of a rise in the"spirit of nationalistic imperialism," which had"influenced the policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson":

Just as Wilson, a"liberal" reformer, led the United States into World War I,"to make the world safe for democracy"—so Franklin D. Roosevelt, another"liberal" reformer, led it into World War II, in the name of the"Four Freedoms." ... World War I led, not to"democracy," but to the creation of three dictatorships: Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany. World War II led, not to"Four Freedoms," but to the surrender of one-third of the world's population into communist slavery.

Rand had the advantage of judging U.S. intervention abroad by relating it to the ripple of events that followed in its wake. And that is crucially important: History is never to be judged in terms of what is happening at this very moment. It must be judged in terms of the consequences—intended and unintended—of the actions that human beings take. We can all revel in the fact that a bloody dictator, such as Saddam Hussein, has been toppled. But we do not know the shape of things to come, and if we act in ways that show no appreciation of the complex factors at work, we will be doomed to similar nightmarish results.

When Wilson declared war, 87 years ago today, he ushered in what Murray Rothbard has called"the critical watershed for the American business system," a system of"war collectivism ... which served as the model, the precedent, and the inspiration for state corporate capitalism for the remainder of the twentieth century." The economy was cartelized, prices were raised, production was restricted, monopolies were granted, labor was tamed, and whole systems (e.g., railroads) were nationalized by the government in league with corporate planners. This served as the fulfillment of the Progressive movement in America, a"triumph of conservatism" as Gabriel Kolko had called it, a triumph of"political capitalism." It is no coincidence that the Wilson administration integrated greater government intervention—including the establishment of a cartelized banking structure in the Federal Reserve and the curtailment of civil liberties—at home, with greater U.S. intervention abroad. Each became organically linked to the other.

The welfare-warfare state has matured over the past century. And so, it is also no coincidence to see the same dynamic at work in the administration of George W. Bush. Why do pro-war bloggers have difficulty grasping this fact? For example, Andrew Sullivan rails against Bush's anti-gay constitutional shenanigans. Feeling betrayed by the Bush administration, which had claimed it would never"use anti-gay sentiment to gain votes," he states:"We were all lied to." Sullivan is upset with Karl Rove for leading the way in this constitutional"brigade," and admits that he has been" culpably naive about this administration on this issue."

On this issue?

This is an administration that has led the same activist brigade into Wilsonian"democratic" nation-building in Iraq—on the basis of either faulty intelligence (in which case it has failed the test of preserving American security) or outright lies about alleged WMDs and alleged ties between the Hussein regime and Al Qaeda.

This is an administration that has forged a hugely expensive Medicare corporatist boondoggle, and countless other government programs.

This is an administration that has created the greatest government budget deficit in history.

This is an administration that has eaten away at civil liberties, all in the name of American PATRIOTism.

As my fellow blogger David Beito has stated, the"president's foreign and domestic policies are not contradictory but entirely consistent with a long Wilsonian tradition in American history." On the occasion of this Wilsonian anniversary, we need to understand the nature of this consistency—as a means to overturn the system of political economy that makes it possible.

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