What About Interventionism After the War?
Just a short addendum to Chris Sciabarra's observations about this being the 87th anniversary of our entering WWI. While I am no friend of interventionism, much of the mercantilism and cartelization he mentions, certainly the railroads, much predates the War, going back to before the Civil War. Even Wilson's move on centralized banking was completed before the War as shown in detail in a great essay by Murray Rothbard. But is the War, therefore, a"Watershed," or simply another ratcheting up in a longer trend?
If you bring in that great historian, Ayn Rand, rather than simply citing Arthur Ekirch, then it is perhaps worth mentioning she had a vested interest as an emigré from Russia, if not a bias or prejudice, in what transpired later.
We need to learn from History, and we seem to have learned little from our interventions. Certainly, a case can be made that had we not done so on the side of the Allies, a different kind of peace might have eventuated in Western Europe.
But what about Russia and events after the War? Once we were in, and with the events of the Revolution unfolding in Russia, it became increasingly clear that the great objective of Wilson's 14 points and of his League was to offer a challenge to the Bolshevik Revolution, and to all of those other revolutionary situations across the holdings of the Old Empires, and including Mexico, China and even Japan.
In the face of this effort against Russia, Lenin's adoption of the NEP might have led to greater cooperation and not have eventuated in a Stalin. Even with that, isolation of Russia meant a deal with Germany on their part as early as 1925. Lacking any cooperation with Russia on the West's part, the Nazis and Japan had a relatively free hand to move forward.
My great disappointment with Thomas Fleming's new book on Wilson, The Illusion of Victory is that he so totally ignored William Borah, and so misunderstands the whole issue as both Wilson and Borah understood it by 1919.
H.C. Lodge and T.R. until he died, argued for the same kind of unilateralism today pursued by George Bush. Wilson was ready to share power with the Old Empires, and, despite his rhetoric, go along with much of the imperial status quo much as the US has done for most of the past century even as we gradually displaced it with an American Imperium.
Only Borah, mentioned only twice and peripherally at that by Fleming, understood that America must stand, as Willliam Appleman Williams later put it, for an"Open Door," for social revolution in the Third World, and including Russia. Borah had a great confidence that most would not opt for socialism, or one of its variants. None of our subsequent leaders have had such confidence, and have always resorted to interventionist force to maintain"stability," that is no change.
It is for that reason that Borah was venerated in Third World, from China to Latin America, and his speeches carried over the radio in Spanish. Name me one other American leader in the last century respected in that fashion!
Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 4/2/2004
I agree with the substance of much of what William has to say here. Of course there has been a long-term trend toward increasing interventionism that goes back to the Civil War. In fact, it predates even the Civil War (I remember reading a book many years ago, by Jonathan R. T. Hughes that was called THE GOVERNMENTAL HABIT: ECONOMIC CONTROLS FROM COLONIAL TIMES TO THE PRESENT.) There has been intervention on virtually every level of government since the inception of the United States of America. What has happened, however, historically speaking, is that war tends to ratchet-up the quantity and quality of the intervention, and even the movement toward war tends to create the same dynamic. It is not a coincidence that many wars have been preceded by cartelized banking structures or the establishment of national banks as a means of funding war.
One comment on Rand: Yes, she was not an eminent historian. But she was also not ignorant of history. Her major at the University of Leningrad was, in fact, history, and much of her historical commentary parallels that which one finds in the work of New Left revisionists like Kolko and Weinstein. On these points, see my AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, especially Part Three.
Finally, I think the time is ripe for a major article on Borah, William! Your insights are needed!