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Letters by a modern St. Ferdinand III about cults

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Plenty of cults exist - every cult has its 'religious dogma', its idols, its 'prophets', its 'science', its 'proof' and its intolerant liturgy of demands.  Cults everywhere:  Corona, 'The Science' or Scientism, Islam, the State, the cult of Gender Fascism, Marxism, Darwin and Evolution, Globaloneywarming, Changing Climate, Abortion...

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Churchill on Roosevelt and American Socialism in the 1930s

The dangers of state power.

by Prof. J.D. Lyons

 [Follow up from another article]

The common political heritage shared by America and Great Britain was the basis for Churchill's appeal for aid from the United States in the early years of the Second World War. The initial success of that appeal had much to do with a personal relationship. Churchill worked very hard at strengthening the bonds with the leader of Britain's greatest ally, and the working friendship between Churchill and President Roosevelt has rightly received a great deal of scholarly attention. But have Churchill's criticisms of FDR been lost or ignored in the shadow of their wartime partnership? The two had their disagreements, even over the conduct of the war, and they certainly did not see eye to eye on dealing with the Soviets with regard to post-war arrangements.

Less well-known and almost completely ignored are Churchill's comments on the political, economic, and social policies Roosevelt pursued in the New Deal. Churchill's critique of the New Deal reflects a concern that even regimes built on the principles of freedom can become corrupted and lose their way. Writing in a period in which dictatorships were thriving, he pointed out that the United States was not immune to the political degradation that was affecting much of the rest of the world. He warned America, in a lesson equally apt today, that the moment of social and economic crisis is also the moment of political danger.

In "Roosevelt from Afar,"21 Churchill expresses sympathy with and admiration for Roosevelt's desire to deliver his people from the economic problems that had plagued America since the Great Depression, but the essay has another purpose as well, as he wrote to the editor of Collier's: to warn against the possible ill-effects that New Deal programs might bring about. "I have tried to strike a note of warning while at the same time expressing my sincere sympathy with the great effort the President is making," Churchill writes.

This article was a difficult undertaking. For a statesman to remark on the domestic policies and personalities of another country without exciting resentment or even wrath requires diplomatic skill. We can therefore believe that Churchill was very careful in his writing. We know that he went so far as to leave final judgment to the American editor: "if there are any phrases which you think would cause are quite at liberty to soften or excise them without reference to me."22 Yet despite his caution, "Roosevelt from Afar" does manage to convey serious warnings about America's Depression-era economic and social policies.

Churchill begins by describing the severe economic crisis affecting America and the world, and he expresses admiration for Roosevelt's willingness to take up the challenge:

Although the policies of President Roosevelt are conceived in many respects from a narrow view of American self-interest, the courage, the power and the scale of his effort must enlist the ardent sympathy of every country, and his success could not fail to lift the whole world forward into the sunlight of an easier and more genial age.

Churchill describes Roosevelt's challenges as he arrived at America's highest office at the moment of crisis: "He arrived at the summit of the greatest economic community in the world at the moment of its extreme embarrassment. Everybody had lost faith in everything." The United States was gripped by desperation. It was a moment of both opportunity and danger. Great or terrible things might be done:

"We must never forget that this was the basis from which he started. Supreme power in the Ruler, and a clutching anxiety of scores of millions who demanded and awaited orders."

Roosevelt chose to seize direction of the whole scene, and "[s]ince then there has been no lack of orders," writes Churchill. (That is certainly true, given that Roosevelt issued an extraordinary number of executive orders--more than all of his successors through Bill Clinton combined.)

Using a word that must be shocking to Roosevelt apologists, Churchill notes that the President aspired to a very high degree of control:

"Although the Dictatorship is veiled by constitutional forms, it is none the less effective. Great things have been done, and greater attempted."23

But Churchill is very careful to attribute any of Roosevelt's possible excesses to misguided followers rather than to Roosevelt himself. "[T]he President has need to be on his guard," he writes; "[t]o a foreign eye it seems that forces are gathering under his shield which at a certain stage may thrust him into the background and take the lead themselves. If that misfortune were to occur, we should see the not-unfamiliar spectacle of a leader running after his followers to pull them back."24

These, however, are the forces that Roosevelt deliberately set loose and encouraged. While Churchill describes them as dangers to "President Roosevelt's valiant and heroic experiments," it is clear from the essay, as well as from the history of the New Deal, that these are in fact dangers arising from those very experiments.


The Trade Unionism Threat

The first great danger Churchill addresses is the rise of trade unionism. Once again, he begins by praising Roosevelt for his attempt to reduce unemployment by shortening working hours and thus to spread employment more evenly through the working class:

Thus the Roosevelt adventure claims sympathy and admiration from all of those in England, and in foreign countries, who are convinced that the fixing of a universal measure of value based not upon the rarity or plenty of any single commodity, but conforming to the advancing powers of mankind, is the supreme achievement which at this time lies before the intellect of Man.

But this remark is immediately followed by a warning:

"[V]ery considerable misgivings must necessarily arise when a campaign to attack the monetary problem becomes intermingled with, and hampered by, the elaborate processes of social reform and the struggles of class warfare."25

Great Britain had much experience with trade unionism, as had Churchill himself. As President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill had been involved in shaping government policy toward labor disputes and strikes. The General Strike of 1925-1926, and its political implications in particular, had given Churchill strong negative views on the subject:

[Labor unionism] has introduced a narrowing element into our public life. It has been a keenly-felt impediment to our productive and competitive power. It has become the main foundation of the socialist party, which has ruled the State greatly to its disadvantage, and will assuredly do so again. It reached a climax in a general strike, which if it had been successful would have subverted the Parliamentary constitution of our island.

On the other hand, Churchill was willing to admit that the trade unions in Britain had become a stable force in the industrial development of Britain and were, in any case, much better for society than "communist-agitated and totally unorganized labour discontent."26

Churchill's warning for Roosevelt and America consists in the observation that the development of trade unionism in Britain occurred over a period of some 50 years, allowing time for economic adjustments and the abatement of immediate passions. The New Deal aimed at greatly accelerating this process, which he said posed real dangers:

"But when one sees an attempt made within the space of a few months to lift American trade unionism by great heaves and bounds to the position so slowly built up--and even then with much pain and loss--in Great Britain, we cannot help feeling grave doubts."27

The conflicts involved in such a transformation, he warns, could "result in a general crippling of that enterprise and flexibility upon which not only the wealth, but the happiness of modern communities depends."

Nor was this transformation occurring through a careful balancing of the interests of employers, labor, and society as a whole; rather, it was occurring through accelerated government intervention:

Our trade unions have grown to manhood and power amid an enormous network of counter-checks and consequential corrections; and to raise American trade unionism from its previous condition to industrial sovereignty by a few sweeping decrees may easily confront both the trade unions and the United States with problems which for the time being will be at once paralyzing and insoluble.28

Yet such sweeping decrees are exactly what characterized the New Deal under Roosevelt, as illustrated by the compulsory unionism of the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933) and the National Labor Relations Act (1935).



 The second great danger involved in Roosevelt's experiments is "the disposition to hunt down rich men as if they were noxious beasts." Churchill notes that this is "a very attractive sport" and one common to societies plagued with economic woes. But economic redistribution through penalties on the wealthy does not benefit a society in the long run because it drains the wellsprings of economic development:

The millionaire or multi-millionaire is a highly economic animal. He sucks up with sponge-like efficiency from all quarters. In this process, far from depriving ordinary people of their earnings, he launches enterprise and carries it through, raises values, and he expands that credit without which on a vast scale no fuller economic life can be opened to the millions. To hunt wealth is not to capture commonwealth.

Moreover, the rich man is elusive prey. It will take time and determined effort to finally bring him to bay and wrench his wealth from him. Until then, it will be squirreled away for protection and so will not be spurring enterprise. The chase may be exciting, but the returns are poor, Churchill argues:

But meanwhile great constructions have crumbled to the ground. Confidence is shaken and enterprise chilled, and the unemployed queue up at the soup-kitchens or march out to the public works with ever growing expense to the taxpayer and nothing more appetizing to take home to their families than the leg or the wing of what was once a millionaire.... It is indispensable to the wealth of nations and to the wage and life standards of labour, that capital and credit should be honoured and cherished partners in the economic system.

Churchill notes that there is some justification for the anger of the American people against their great leaders of finance but cautions against indulging anger at the cost of destructive economic policy. Given that some abuses exist, the question becomes how to resolve them:

"The important question is whether American democracy can clear up scandals and punish improprieties without losing its head, and without injuring the vital impulses of economic enterprise and organization."29

Churchill places this American dilemma in a broader context by pointing out that the U.S. is not the first country to deal with the question of whether "it is better to have equality at the price of poverty, or well-being at the price of inequality." Churchill lamented the drift toward socialist policies in his own country in the 1920s (and, as pointed out earlier, again in the 1940s), pointing out that these schemes produced little but economic disaster.30 He did favor government action to ease the pains of the poor in modern industrial society, however. Indeed, his political career is marked by a great concern for social justice, a concern which is echoed in his cautious admiration of FDR.

Ultimately, however, Churchill held that free markets should be allowed to operate without centralized, bureaucratic controls destroying the principle of competition that is the mainspring of economic health.31 The capitalist system can create concentrations of wealth, since free competition results in inequalities of property, but the removal of reward for investment and risk will stultify economic development and ultimately harm society as a whole.

Throughout his discussion of the economic choices America faces, Churchill refers to "the Russian alternative"--the nationalization of production, distribution, credit, and exchange to cure the abuses and inequities of the capitalist system. While this is not a choice Churchill recommends, other countries have made it, and it was an option. "It is, however, irrational," he argues, to take a middle ground between the two systems and "to tear down or cripple the capitalist system without having the fortitude of spirit and ruthlessness of action to create a new communist system."

Furthermore, Churchill believed that the American people would never willingly accept the "dull brutish servitude of Russia," though he also believed that a nation can slide into doctrines it would not accept wholesale with open eyes. Choices can sometimes be clearer to outside observers, and Churchill warns that America should not weight the scales against capitalism:

There it seems to foreign observers, lies the big choice of the United States at the present time. If the capitalist system is to continue, with its rights of private property, with its pillars of rent, interest and profit, and the sanctity of contracts recognized and enforced by the State, then it must be given a fair chance.

This means that government should not make it impossible for private business to thrive by suppressing free-market competition: "There are elements of contrivance, of housekeeping, and of taking risks which are essential to all profitable activity. If these are destroyed the capitalist system fails, and some other system must be substituted."

Given the regulatory activities of the National Recovery Administration, increases in taxes on successful businesses, frequent anti-trust lawsuits, and FDR's anti-business rhetoric, Churchill's words can only be read as a rebuke to the New Deal approach to reining in "the vital impulses of economic enterprise and organization."32



Churchill's critique of the New Deal does not, of course, nullify his admiration for FDR, especially as it developed through what is known as the special relationship in the Second World War. While they had their disagreements, Churchill's gratitude toward Roosevelt was immense. Speaking in the House of Commons a few days after Roosevelt's death, he expressed that gratitude not only for himself, but for Britain and for Europe as a whole: "For us, it remains only to say that in Franklin Roosevelt there died the greatest American friend we have ever known, and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the new world to the old."33


The critique does, however, have importance. Written in the context of worldwide collectivist trends which were destructive of freedom, it reveals his opposition to the philosophy of the New Deal as equally dangerous to political and economic liberty. Churchill thought seriously about not only the unity of spirit between Great Britain and the United States, but the ways in which both countries were subject to the dangers of abandoning the supports of law and liberty in times of crisis. Britain and the United States were bound together in the defense of freedom, and Churchill knew that freedom must be guarded internally as well as externally.


[19] Winston S. Churchill, "This Age of Government by Great Dictators," in Michael Wolff, ed., The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill, Vol. IV, Churchill at Large (Bristol: Library of Imperial History, 1976), p. 394.

[20] Ibid., pp. 394-395.

[21] Written for Collier's in 1934 and included in some editions of Great Contemporaries. See Winston S. Churchill, Great Contemporaries (University of Chicago Press, 1973). Cited hereafter as Great Contemporaries.

[22] Letter of September 13, 1934, in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume 5, Part 2, The Wilderness Years 1929-1935 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), pp. 870-871.

[23] Great Contemporaries, pp. 373-374.

[24] Great Contemporaries, p. 381.

[25] Great Contemporaries, pp. 374-375.

[26] Great Contemporaries, p. 375.

[27] He was to echo this concern in "Roosevelt and the Future of the New Deal," The Daily Mail, April 24, 1935; see Wolff, The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill, Vol. II, p. 372.

[28] Great Contemporaries, p. 376.

[29] Great Contemporaries, pp. 376-379.

[30] "Socialism," February 12, 1929, in Complete Speeches, Vol. V, pp. 4551-4552: "Show me the parts of the country which at the present time are in the deepest depression, show me the industries which are most laggard, and at the same time you will be showing me the parts where these withering doctrines have won their greatest measure of acceptance."

[31] See, for example, Liberalism and the Social Problem (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1973; reprint of 1909 ed.), pp. 82-83.

[32] Great Contemporaries, pp. 379-380.

[33] "President Roosevelt," April 17, 1945, in Complete Speeches, Vol. VII, p. 7141.



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