I'm not sure whether to be excited to find a book that articulates so well what's wrong with America today, or discouraged because the book was written in 1978 and The Vast Machine has had 28 more years to forge the economic chains that bind us to dictatorship. As usual, perhaps irrationally, I choose to be excited.
Former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon wrote this best-seller a year into the Carter administration, a year after voters rejected the Gerald Ford administration in which Simon played a key role, and some of it can be taken with a grain of salt for that reason. But the book (which I admittedly encountered in an 82-page paperback condensation produced by Reader's Digest in 1979) is packed with terrific libertarian observations - not surprisingly since it apparently was ghost-written by libertarian writer Edith Efron. And the amazing thing is the extent to which the book could have been written yesterday.
"... the reason for discussing economic issues is not to inspire a national passion for bookkeeping, but to inspire a national awareness of the connection between economic and political freedom. The connection is real and unbreakable. To lose one is to lose the other. In America we are losing both in the wake of the expanding state."
"... freedom is difficult to understand because it isn't a presence
but an absence
- an absence of governmental restraint" on the individual.
"The overriding principle (that needs) to be revived in American political life is that which sets individual liberty as the highest political value ... By the same token, there must be a conscious philosophical prejudice against any intervention by the state into our lives, for by definition such intervention abridges liberty."
"The essence of dictatorship, if one understands that concept in principle, means that the state is using its police powers not to protect individual liberty, but to violate it."
Simon and Efron do a nice, concise job of presenting something that becomes increasingly clear as one dips into history - that Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped set the United States on the downward spiral.
"Political freedom means only one thing: freedom from the state. FDR, however, invented a new kind of 'freedom': a government guarantee of economic security and prosperity ... By this single ideological switch, FDR caused a flat reversal of the relationship between the individual and the state in America. The state ceased to be viewed as man's most dangerous enemy, to be shackled forever by constitutional chains. It was henceforth proclaimed to be the precise opposite;
it became man's tenderhearted protector and provider. Statism and collectivism were brought into this country by the back door - and, ironically, were heralded thereafter as the saving of free enterprise."
I found myself thinking how much Abraham Lincoln and FDR are celebrated among our greatest presidents, even though Lincoln presided over the evisceration of the concept that America is a federation of independent states and Roosevelt set in motion a 70-year erosion of liberty that is increasing in speed year by year. I suspect it has something to do with how history is written by the victors - and at this stage in our nation's history, those who oppose states' rights and individual rights clearly have the upper hand. When the original concept of America is restored, Lincoln and FDR likely will be redefined as among our nation's greatest villains.
I don't know if the unabridged version of Simon's book is as compelling, but I'd heartily recommend you hunt this puppy down and devour it as I did this evening - oops, I guess I mean to say "last night." Simon, who died in 2000, and Efron, who died a year later, were clearly voices who need to be heeded forever.
Labels: book report