How bad is the U.S. government?

By Roy Childs
How bad is the U.S. government?

The following article was originally published in the May 1971 issue of The Abolitionist, written by R.A. Childs, Jr.

One of the many questions which separate “left-wing libertarians” from “right-wing” libertarians” is that of just how bad the U.S. Government is. The fault lies partly on both sides. Among left-libertarians, practically no one has taken the time to detail just exactly what they mean, what is being spoken of, and what evidence they have for it. Among right-libertarians, practically no one knows any history beyond the few tomes recommended by the Foundation for Economic Education, YAF, the John Birch Society, and so forth. And no left-libertarian has taken the time to detail his case either.

In one short article, it is impossible to do all the detailing and arguing which will have to be done in order to resolve the debate. But what I want to do here is to point out just what the debate is over, and to suggest to both sides how to resolve it.

Right-libertarians basically, are patriotic in temperament. They maintain that despite all of its faults, the United States is “the freeist country in the world,” that ours is stll the best government; they react with abhorrence and screams of rage when a left-libertarian suggests that the U.S. Government is the most evil government on the face of the earth. This the left-libertarian unfortunately does often, without evidence or explanation, and without trying to calmly present his arguments.

First, let me make a differentiation: the government, or the State as I shall call it, is not the same as the country of the United States, nor the same as all the people who live under it, what they do, their homes, property, jobs, values or whatever. Right-libertarians are usually talking about the “virtues” of these latter, while left-libertarians are really talking about the State.

So let us focus for a minute on the State, and on its domestic activities. Is or is not the U.S. the freeist country in the world? Well, to this question, right-libertarians answer a stout, “yes!” Alright, by what standard? And how many other countries are being compared? This the right-libertarians never take up in depth, and this is one reason why I object to them; they are often shallow and repeat the stories and myths about the United States without having “checked their premises” as the Randians put it. Let us divide up domestic violence into two aspects: scope and intensity. Scope is a word for how many people the actions of the U.S. Government affects domestically. Intensity is the extent to which the state exercises violence or the threat of it in regulating actions and confiscating property. Now with respect to scope the U.S. Government, domestically, must surely fall behind both the U.S.S.R. and China, and thus is not the worst government in that respect. But with regards to intensity, it is another story. The main reason for the problem is that there is really not much of a way to measure the extent of violence and intimidation of the U.S. Government. Certainly it is more subtle than the U.S.S.R., East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Spain, and so forth. While the U.S.S.R. is more blatant about attempting to regulate the opinions of those in the artistic fields, for example, the U.S. must surely be said to do the same thing by means of licenses, subsidies, and the like. But let us at this point grant the contention of the right-libertarians, that the U.S. is at least marginally better than a few other countries, whether communistic or fascistic in the realm of domestic policy.

What about foreign policy? Since this is really what the left-libertarian is getting at, this is what should be focused on when we are considering the issue of how bad the U.S. Government is. When, for example, Colin Caxton attacks the left-libertarians in such publications as LIEF AND LIBERTY, for making such allegedly absurd claims as that the U.S. Government is the most tyrannical in the world, note that he only focuses on domestic policy, on the level of taxes and State regulation of property, etc. But foreign policy is certainly as much a concern as domestic policy – unless we are unwilling to grant that the libertarian ethic and social philosophy apply universally, and that foreigners, as well as Americans, have the right not to be aggressed against, and having been aggressed against, have the unalienable right to defend themselves.

The whole point of the left-libertarians is that in both scope and intensity, the actions of the U.S. Government is foreign countries exceeds in violence those of any other government. How is such a claim substantiated? Predominately by a massive reading in history. Conclusions which result include: The fact since the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Government has been pursuing a policy of foreign expansionism, which is the logical and easily understood extension of the earlier policy of “manifest destiny” under which the U.S. Government extended its boundaries from just a few hundred miles west of the east coast of the United States, to the Pacific Ocean. The reasons for this policy are many, but they include as a predominant feature the fact that the influential American businessmen accepted the idea that without such expansion, the U.S. was doomed to suffer from ever-increasing depressions and industrial crises. After the Civil War, in the midst of the government during and after the War, businessmen sought a way to use the government to stabilize the economy and guarantee them ever-expanding markets for their increased production. Domestically, they turned to government regulation of the economy on their behalf, under the anti-trust laws and others, such as the creation of the Federal Reserve System.

In foreign policy, big businessmen turned to using the U.S. military and its diplomatic channels to insure ever-expanding markets for their goods. Thsi resulted in the Spanish-American war, in confrontations with Japan and China, and the like. It led, ultimately, to the American entry into World War I and II, and it is an important motive in the initiation of the Cold War.

The contention of the left-libertarian is that the U.S. Government is almost solely responsible for initiating and maintaining the Cold War, and for oppressing revolutionary movement all over the earth. For substantiation fo this thesis, I recommend the following: The Free World Collussus, by David Horowitz (2nd edition, paper), The Cold War and Its Origins, by D.F. Fleming (2 vol.). The Roots of American Foreign Policy by Gabriel Kolko (paper), The Politics of War by Gabriel Kolko, The HIdden History of the Korean War by I.F. Stone, and The Futile Crusade by Sidney Lens. These all cover different aspects of the history and nature of U.S. foreign policy since the turn of the century, concentrating on the Cold War since 1945.

These books maintain that the revolutionary movements which have been sweeping the world since the turn of the century are not communist inspired, but are a continuation of the earlier libertarian revolutionary movements of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. These movements had as their aim the abolition of feudalism, and the old order of caste and privilege. It is this contention right-wing libertarians must face up to and refute, that is, if they want to maintain that this is the best government in the world.

These authors imply that the reason why communists have become the predominant ideologists backing these revolutions (completely consistent with libertarianism, of course) is because the older classical liberals, adopting a soft-shelled pragmatism, evolutionism, utilitarianism, gave up their position as the leaders of the great capitalist revolutions for the sake of cozying up to the American and British establishments. With these leaders gone (a few exceptions were William Lloyd Garrison, the anarchist natural-rights libertarian and the leader of the abolitionist movement, and Edward Atkinson of the Anti-Imperialist League, a laissez-faire businessman at the turn of the century), those still seeing the need for revolutions in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia, not being particularly good theoreticians, took what they could find. What they found was Marxism – at least in part. Their actions have still been a continuation of earlier libertarian revolutions and movements.

What about U.S. imperialism? A lot o right-libertarians make the mistake of thinking that imperialism is and must always be of the colonial variety, but this is not so. Imperialism today consists of an interrelationship between the U.S. Government, some major U.S. corporations of the statist-liberal bent, and foreign governments or ruling classes (such as that in South Vietnam), which result in the ruling classes in power, in exchange for economic-political-interventionist concessions. To do this, a major factor of U.S. Government and its liberal hacks have been the architects of the Cold War, and major corporations have also had a very large role in this. And it is from these that we get the myths of the cold war, as Murray Rothbard has called them: That these revolutionary movements which must always be “put down“, are somehow “communist inspired“.

It is furthermore the contention of the left-libertarians that war has been the fountainhead of much of american domestic statism since the inception of the American state, and that it is through the vehicle of involvement in the internal affairs of foreign countries that the U.S. has promoted and maintained statism on a grand level across the world, thus affecting far more people than any other state.

Granting this, they maintain, as I do that it is time for the right-libertarians to reexamine the course and nature of American history and American statism. And, having done this, that it is the responsibility of libertarians to once again pick up the banner of true radicalism, of the anti-draft, anti-militarist, anti-imperialist, and anti-feudal movements of the last few centuries which have only lately come under the domination of the socialist left.

It has been my purpose here to clarify the issue, and to show what each side should be talking about, and why. What we need from both the left and the right now is intensive and broad-based scholarship, focusing on the real culprits in the rise of American statism, and the inner workings of the American system. And there is no better place to begin than with the Cold War. Without such scholarship, neither left nor right can prove their case, or win the other over.

20 responses to “How bad is the U.S. government?

  1. What I admire about the US is that they never used to have a rigid class structure like in the UK and you can still say things that would get you arrested over here. Seems that the US is becoming more like Europe now.

    The downside is their industrial military complex.

  2. America banned beer. Always remember that. The supposed Land Of The Free banned beer.

  3. Libertarians did NOT claim that the United States was “the freeist country in the world” even in 1971 – as it obviously was not. Not in taxation or government spending as a percentage of output, and not in regulations. To give asn example – Australia was more free than the United States in 1971. So was Switzerland (and one could go on and on).

    As for “left libertarians” the term “left libertarian” is not even defined in this article – so it is hard to know what is supposed to mean.

    However, libertarians should not cite, with approval, books written by SOCIALISTS (which this article does). I would have thought was so bleeding obvious that it did not need to be said – but clearly it does need to be said, so I have just done so.

    As for war…..

    There is nothing wrong with the world that Marxism is going to fix – not in Korea, not in IndoChina (and not anywhere else).

    And there is nothing good about world conquest by the German National Socialists either.

    Nor in allowing the Slave Empire (the “Slave Holding States of North America”) to expand into the West (the killing in “bleeding Kansas” started long before Lincoln was elected).

    Those who claim that Communist, Nazi, or Slave Empire expansion should not be resisted may call themselves “left libertarians”, but I think “arseholes” would be a more accurate discription.

  4. Oh. by the way, the claim that “big business” was behind American wars (or even colonies) is bullshit.

    T,.Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman (and so on) were not exactly fans of “big business”.

    Why not just do the full Marxist tapdance and say that the state is the “Executive Committee of the Capitalists”.

    Or the Nazi tapdance and say that American policy in the 19th and 20th century was controiled by “Jewish bankers”.

  5. This is preposterous. Ron Paul is the archetype of a ‘right-wing libertarian’ as an old white social conservative (personally) man who has plenty to say against US foreign policy and WoD, WoRawMilk, etc. I don’t think he has ever called the US the freest nation on earth.

  6. This is an interesting discussion, and I’m enjoying the comments (even “Beer!”) . As a Yank, I’d like to put in my own two cents.

    Liberty, it seems to me, comes down to being a moral issue. I have to admit it, but Americans have become unbelievably childish and overemotional. We must be unctuously buttered up, or frightened out of our wits, to be motivated to do anything politically. We don’t think through the moral implications of what our government does (which is to say, by extension, what we do).

    We’re not the free country we used to be. Though we never were as free as some Right-Wingers claim we used to be. The primary reason for this is that our people keep letting government have more and more control. If the politicians flatter or frighten us enough, we let them have whatever they want.

    This is not a “Left-Right” issue. It is a matter of national character. I fear that we are losing ours.

  7. It is true that the sense of independence is going – and going fast. The United States is not the nation of John Adams any more, or of Calvin Coolidge. Calvin Coolidge would be polite in his response (at least I think he would), but I think the air would turn nasty with the words of John Adams (he was not childish – but he certainly was “emotional” in the sense of furious ANGER).

    Today about one in four American children are on Food Stamps.

    In 1960 Food Stamps did not exist.

    Today about half of Americans get their health care by Federal government ORDERS – either Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP or hospital ERs (ordered to be open to all – by the 1980s Act).

    In 1960 – only Federal government employees got their medical bills paid by the Federal government (and the States were not much different).

    As recently as the time of Ike – the United States (whilst certainly NOT libertarian – not even close) was not an “entitlement society”, the United States now is an “entittlement society”.

    Which is unfortunate – as etitlement societies do not work (they must, eventually, go de facto bankrupt and collapse).

    Already about half the American population are either employed by the government (Federal, State and local) or are on benefits (including old age pension – remember THERE ARE NO INVESTMENTS THE “TRUST FUND” IS A MYTH).

    To be blunt – the United States is doomed (but then so are the rest of us).

    Ian – you keep promising me beer, and I never get any………

    Warren Harding would have bought me a beer – and we would have laughed at Prohibtion together, as he cut governnent spending by 25%.

  8. By the way – Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge were two of the very few 20th century American Presidents that actually did like business (including big business). Neither was known for grand overseas adventures – you can not make money out of them you see……

  9. Julie near Chicago

    A reminder: Like Social Security, Medicare was NOT a popular idea when it was instituted. The people then were against welfare in general, and Medicare in particular. But we had them shoved down our throats just the same. Now we’re used to them, time has dulled the outrage for most who were around then, and people have come to depend on it partly, maybe mostly, because the money they could have had to pay for their own medical expenses has gone to the feds instead. (Same thing with Social Security.) Nowadays many younger people (“younger”: under 60!) have a hard time conceiving of a world where the norm is that people pay their own way insofar as at all possible, that to be “on the dole” is at the least embarrassing–but it wasn’t always like that.

    I think the common statement that “we LET the government do such-and-such” isn’t quite right.l What’s happened is that Congress and other legislatures, led and cheer-led by collectivists and the Progressives of each era, and buttressed by the Supreme Court, have done what they’ve done without much regard for the input from “We the People.”

    If we couldn’t stop Obamacare–where was our actual power to stop the earlier infringements?

    As for “not thinking things through morally”–Lori, don’t you know that it’s Rational to be Ignorant about political issues and politicians? */sarc*

    What you wrote makes me surer than ever that that whole Rational Ignorance theory, besides being “an intellectual mess,” is one of the most despicable doctrines I’ve heard of lately.

    It’s just about 180 degrees from Enlightened Self-Interest, that we were taught was the ideal on which our country was founded. Enlightened Self-Interest teaches us to consider the long-term, broad consequences of our aims and actions, not merely what seems personally most advantageous for some relatively short period of time–and that requires considering the morality of what we do. And Enlightened Self-Interest rests also on the principle that what is OK for me to do to you, is OK for you to do to me. If I don’t want to lose my right not to be messed with, I can’t go messing with others.

    I think Enlightened Self-Interest also taught that in the long run, a “virtuous” person was more likely to be happy–or at least more deserving of happiness. (A “virtuous” person would have tried to be both just and charitable, at the least.)

    You never hear this term anymore. A few people still talk about “rational self-interest,” but I think that’s not quite the same thing.

    On the other hand, humans have always been vulnerable to scams, including political scams, because we are susceptible to fear and flattery. The problem is worse when, as in the present case, the people learn that up is down and evil is good, and that it’s OK to snatch from others, whether for themselves or others whom they perceive as “needing help”; and that it’s rational to remain ignorant anyway.

    . . .

    What Paul said. –And Childs (who instructed Miss Rand in a famous letter many years ago) includes, of all things, David Horowitz’s The Free World Colossus as support for his ideas about U.S. Imperialism? Amazing! Although it’s hard to believe, it sounds as if he has no idea that Mr. Horowitz repudiated his position on that nearly 30 years ago and has been howling about it and working against “America is the Greatest Satan Ever in the History of the World” ever since.

  10. Julie near Chicago

    –Oh, I see. I missed that the article is from 1971 — before Mr. Horowitz had fallen out of Romance with the varieties of Leftism.

    And while the V-N war was still going on, to the consternation of lefties and of Blame-America-Firsters everywhere.

    Well…what can I say. It was written over 40 years ago. Hopefully, now that he’s more than 40 years older, Mr. Childs is also somewhat wiser.

  11. Yes, Julie, I know exactly how rational some people in the U.S. think ignorance is. A “progressive” friend of mine freaks out every time he sees the “Gary Johnson 2012” sticker in my window. (I keep it there. I’m not taking it down. Nyah!)

    When I ask him why he has such a vampire-at-the-approach-of-garlic reaction to Gov. Johnson, he won’t (can’t) tell me. He doesn’t want to admit that the cool kids in the cafeteria have told him he’s not allowed to like libertarians. He’d rather sit at their table than make sense.

  12. Julie near Chicago

    LOL!! I know people who react like that to, um, you know–the Thing in the WH. The Sith.

    I wonder what happens if you throw water on it. *evil expression*

  13. Yes – it is odd (to say the least) that a libertarian would cite David H. from his socialist years. David Horowitz did many bad things (for example asking a friend to help the Black Panthers with their accounts – they murdered her), but he has repented (bitterly repented) of his actions.

    I think it tells us all we need to know about “left libertarians” that they like the socialist David Horowitz – the David Horowitz BEFORE he repented, when he was still doing terrible things.

    Meidicare – Arizonia was the last State to hold out against it. But a Governor beloved of the media (i..e a liar) introduced a “fundementally different” sort of Medicare, it was (of course) not really different at all. So Arizonia was dragged down to.

    Gary Johnson.

    Why would a “liberal” hate Governor Johnson? He is not an evil space monster “social conservative” (like errrr ME). He is pro abortion and gay marriage and so on – and anti big military. There is no reason why a liberal would be hostile to Governor Johnson, unless………….

    Unless “liberal” really means SOCIALIST (which since the 1920s in the United States IT HAS DONE). What they really hate about Governor Johnson is that he resisted their tax, spend, and regulate FABIAN (socialism by the installment plan) agenda.

    The “Libertarian left” should love Gary Johnson (I say again – not a trace of “social conservatism” in Mr Johnson), if they are libertarians at all………

  14. Paul, this artilcle was written and published in 1971.

  15. Ian – in my first comment I say “1971”.

    If the “Libertarian Left” (what ever that term is supposed to mean) now oppose Communism (whether in Vietnam – or on the streets of Britain and the United States) they should say so.,

    David Horowitz has repented – but they have NOT.

    Right now (over on the Ludwig Von Mises site – which, of course, is not the work of the good man who was born in 1881 and died in 1973) I am engaged in an exchange with an American who defends Rothbard for saying that the United States was engaged in a “war of extermination” against the civilians of Vietnam, AND defends Rothbard for saying (in 1966) that the Cold War was an evil Western plot for America and Britain to “establish hegemony in Eastern Europe” AND defends Rothbard for pretending that the World War II was the fault of the West (not Hitler and the Nazis),

    Now I am NOT saying that Rothbard did not repent of vile 1960s statements – perhaps he did.

    But it is clear that there are people NOW (NOT just in 1971) who have not changed – who are as vile now as they were then.

    If they say otherwise (if they apologise for articles such as this 1971 article) then I will believe them.

    I am certainly not saying that someone can not repent of a past position – I just want them to SAY SO.

  16. Of course if someone is dead they can not apologise for an article (no matter how vile it is). In that case it is very cruel to republish the article.

  17. Julie near Chicago

    Well, “If someone repents they should say so [if possible].” Indeed so.

    I agree: If “Without Prejudice” knows (or suspects) that Mr. Child’s views changed markedly from what’s in the article, then he should have said so. In that case I do see value in republishing it, so as to compare his original position with his final one. This is a matter of enabling scholarship in the history of ideas, and also it would make his later writing more credible, since it would show how much his views changed with maturity.

    You did pique my curiosity enough for me to see if Roy Childs is still alive. You probably know the answer: No, he died in 1992.

    I see that he was at Cato; Tom Palmer spoke highly of him, for whatever that’s worth (but I did love what Mr.Palmer said one time about Rothbard, vis-a-vis the abandonment of Saigon). And he was a director of Laissez-Faire Books.

    I suppose if one were curious enough one could read some of his online stuff. Well, as I said above…. And if not 40 years older and maybe wiser, even 20 years can make a difference.

  18. Yes Julie. Roy Childs never got to read such works as “The Myth of the Robber Barons” (the refutation of the idea that most of the famous rich people in the United States in the late 19th century made their money via government help and private crimes).

    Roy Childs did live to see the Rothbardian claims about IndoChina (that the enemy were not really Communists – but were interested in gaining freedom, against the desire of the United States to wage a war of “extermination” against the people, in order to maintain “American Imperial Rule) proved to be total nonsense (just as the Rothbardian line on the Nazis was total nonsense – according to Rothbard Neville Chamberlain was some sort of warmonger who was TOO TOUGH [not to weak] on the Nazis) was total nonsense.

    Whether Roy Childs (or Rothbard himself) ever went into print with corrections – I just do not know.

    How can one go to Korean Americans and tell them that the Korean war was an evil American thing (not Communist aggression)?

    How can one go to Eastern Europeans and tell them that the Cold War was an evil Western plot to “establish Britiish and American hegemony over Eastern Europe”?

    How can one go to the children of the Boat People and tell them that the problem in Vietnam was the United States, not the Communists?

    How can one just ignore the Iranian “Hasterner” threat – and just pretend that if was not for the evil West everything would be sunshine and lollypops?

    Murray Rothbard was a libertarian (he really was). And he was a great economist and historian of economic thought.

    But Rothbard reminds me of the British politician Oliver Letwin – he was the sort of man who would let a robber into his house at 0500 in the morning and then say….

    “But he did not tell me he was a robber – he said he was here to fix the …… well I am not sure exactly what he said”.

    A man can be great intellectual – and still just stupid (bone stupid).

    Cicero pointed this out a long time ago “nothing is so absurd, that it has not been supported by a great philosopher”, indeed really hard core dumb things are often only supported by intellectuals (students – and people who never grow up).

    A lot of people say that the mistake Rothbard made was that he “took things to an extreme” – I do NOT agree with that view.

    I think the mistake was not “taking the principle too far”, but rather MISUNDERSTANDING the princple itself.

    To put things at a basic level – if a Rothbardian sees one person being attacked by another their reaction seems to be “if I do nothing that is nonintervention – and nonintervention = the nonaggression principle”.

    It does not. If one person attacks another and one does nothing – that is the DEFEAT (not the victory) or the nonaggression principle.

    What was done (or rather not done) in the case of he Czechs in 1938 was NOT the victory of the nonaggression principle.

    And was doine by the West in Korea (in response to the Communist invasion) was NOT a violation of the nonaggression principle (it was the defence of it).

    Rothbard is not just wrong – he is radically wrong (he is not taking the principle “too far”, he has misunderstood the principle and has twisted it around 180 degrees).

    It reminds me of Martin Luther and, even more, John Calvin response to the Roman Catholic Church.

    The Roman Catholic Church was historically badly influenced by Augustine – on the use of force in relation to religion (Augustine taught that it was acceptable to use force in matters of religion) and (famously) on predestination (the doctrine that we do NOT have a choice over whether we follow God or not – it was all decided at the start of the universe).

    Catholic theologians twisted themselves into knots trying to reconcile the teaching of Augustine with reason and morality.

    Like Rothbard (with whether it is acceptable to respond with miltary force when one has not been directly attacked oneself), Martin Luther and John Calvin seek a simple principle to cut confusing knots of reasoning.

    But they jump the wrong way – they end up MORE pro Augustine than the Catholics were, especially John Calvin and predestination.

    Their problem (at least so I believe) is not that they take a good principle “too far”, but that the principle they were using (the teaching of Augustine) was wrong.

    Still I have walked off into theology – naughty Paul.

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