DiLorenzo and Raico on William Graham Sumner

Writing yesterday in LRC, Thomas DiLorenzo notes:

The “essence of militarism,” [William Graham] Sumner observed, is to despise constitutions, to sneer at parliaments, and to look with contempt at civilians. All the neocon talking heads, from Limbaugh to Hannity and Levin and others, adopted the slogan, “9/11 changed everything” every time someone like Judge Andrew Napolitano would argue that the government was acting in contempt of the Constitution with its warrantless wiretaps, internet and cellphone spying, the PATRIOT Act, etc. All American presidents have simply ignored Congress, for the most part, in instigating wars; and of course all politicians at all times (with one or two exceptions) look with absolute contempt at the average citizen.

Sumner wrote of how the war party of his day was making the “the times have changed” argument for war. This was reminiscent of Lincoln’s similar argument that “we must think anew and act anew,” by which he also meant “to hell with the Constitution.”

Militarism destroys capitalist prosperity, Sumner also warned. He observed that all during the late nineteenth century most Europeans were busy working, investing, starting businesses, and improving their standards of living peacefully under a growing capitalist system with little attention being paid to militarism. Such behavior is absolute poison to the state, however, which considers it to be a mortal enemy. So when European war parties began to militarize, Sumner wrote of how government military spending was crowding out private sector growth so much that European capitalism was being “arrested, diverted, and crippled.” This is always the effect of the growth of militarism in particular and of government in general, and in Sumner’s time America was about to embark on the very same economically-destructive path as the Europeans had so foolishly done.

Sumner also observed that the triumph of the imperial state has a great defeat for localism, small government, and the middle class. Ralph Raico, in his essay, “William Graham Sumner and the Conquest of the United States by Spain,” notes:

As foreign affairs became more important, power would shift from communities and states to the federal government, and, within that, from Congress to the president. An ever-busy foreign policy could only be carried out by the president, often without the knowledge of the people. Thus, the American system, based on local government, states’ rights, and Congress as the voice of the people on the national level, would more and more give way to a bloated bureaucracy headed by an imperial presidency.

Raico’s piece is also available in audio format.

 

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