Michael Barone is as smart a journalist–and as astute a political analyst, and as scholarly an historian–as any that we have on right.
So if he devotes one of his columns to praising a new book, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century-Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, by co-authors James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus, well, we should all pay attention.
Barone begins his review by explaining the book’s title–where that “3.0” came from. In the authors’ telling, America 1.0 was agricultural America, prior to the Civil War. Then came America 2.0–that was post-Civil War industrial America. And yet, according to the authors, America 2.0 is now falling part, and it’s time for something new. As Barone summarizes their argument,
With economic change [America 2.0] started sputtering. “2.0 corporations, unions and governments,” the authors write, “have been rendered unworkable.” Big corporations flailed, and government got bloated. Responses included deregulation in the 1970s, lower tax rates in the ’80s, welfare reform in the ’90s. But that wasn’t enough. President Obama has made the trajectory worse, the authors say.
And so now, amidst the “global collapse of the 2.0 model,” it’s time, we are told, to move on to America 3.0. In fact, as Barone sums up the Bennett-Lotus argument, we see that America 3.0 projects a huge transformation–not only the radical devolution of the federal government, but also the possible dissolution of the United States of America:
Therefore we should abolish the federal income tax and devolve government except for defense, civil rights and free internal trade to states and localities. Most ambitiously, they would allow states to split into parts or to form compacts with other states, so likeminded citizens can have congenial policies.
Wow. In other words, as the federal government withers away, the states will be free to reform themselves so that citizens of the various states and substates can develop their own policies. One can only marvel: This isn’t federalism; this is the second coming of the Articles of Confederation. You know, the weak and inadequate document that the Founders agreed needed to be replaced by the Constitution.
The authors might declare this to be America 3.0, but, in reality, it’s not only the Articles of Confederation, but it’s also that subsequent updating of the John C. Calhoun vision of America, coming back to life 163 years after his death.
Calhoun, of course, was okay with being in the United States–so long as the USA didn’t cramp, in any way, the rights of the white population of his beloved South Carolina. That was “states’ rights,” and in Calhoun’s day, it was mostly a code for allowing the South to keep slaves.
Indeed, as Hamilton noted here on July 1, Calhoun was too radical even for President Andrew Jackson, our seventh president from 1829-1837. Jackson himself was a Southerner, but was always a national patriot first, insisting on the supremacy of the federal union.
Calhoun died in 1850, full of states’ rights fire to the end. Indeed, barely more than a decade later, his followers were firing on Fort Sumter, seceding from the Union and provoking the Civil War.
Two years after that, in 1863, the fight between Confederates and Unionists climaxed at Gettysburg–the sesquicentennial of which was abundantly and vividly covered here at Breitbart News, complete with a re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge, the high-tide of the Confederacy.
We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
“A new birth of freedom.” Most immediately, of course, that meant that slavery was ended. Yet the idea of a new birth continued to resonate: The Northern victory in the Civil War meant the expansion and modernization of the country, as the US grew from 34 states at the outbreak of the war to a total of 50 states today.
Nearly a century later, in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt further articulated what he called “The Four Freedoms.” Those four freedoms, visually immortalized by the great Norman Rockwell, are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Which one of those freedoms are we supposed not to be in favor of today?
We might further note that our GI’s went to war in Europe and the Pacific on the basis of those four freedoms–on the understanding that there was a social contract binding us altogether on the home front. Do we really think that our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines would have fought their best if they had thought that their kinfolk back home were going to go hungry? One of the great strengths of the US in World War Two was domestic unity–we were all in the same fight–workers, owners, farmers, everyone. The poster for the Seventh War Loan Drive, for instance, shows the iconic flag-raising at Iwo Jima, and underneath, the words, “Now All Together.” But our leaders back then knew that the slogan had to be more just words–it had to be backed up deeds.
As Lincoln had said in his second inaugural, the task ahead was to “to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” Indeed, to this day, those words are emblazoned on the Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters building in Washington. And when the whole country is in the fight, as was the case during World War Two, then Uncle Sam needed to keep watch on the whole country. Nobody was sitting around doing nothing during war–everybody was working.
Today, we should all be horrified at the costly deformation of the welfare state since the 60s “War on Poverty” and yet we still can be supportive of the basic idea of a safety net. That safety net, of course, needs to be centered around the goal of work, not permanent pauperism. In other words, we can create–more precisely, re-create, since we had it during World War Two–a work-oriented middle ground between Social Darwinist nothingness and the culture-of-poverty foolishness that we have today.
In the South in particular, federal intervention meant not only full citizenship for blacks, but also full citizenship for poor whites: Southern states were still imposing poll taxes into the 1960s. Is it the American Way to charge people a tax for voting? A tax that often could not be afforded by folks of either race? Calhoun thought the poll tax was just fine–because to him, the South Carolina Way took precedence over the American Way.
Yet after all the sacrifice of the Civil War–and all the gains to America that came from ending Southern-style slavery, rural feudalism, and institutionalized racism–one might think that Calhounianism as a governing philosophy had been vanquished.
Evidently not. Today, here come Bennett and Lotus, eager to eradicate federal power–in truth, to abolish the modern nation-state–all in the name of states’ rights. Political philosophers can argue over the merits of these ideas. But for political practitioners, it’s a no-brainer. The hardcore states’ rights-ers–those who truly yearn for the good old days of John C.–always lose national elections. A big majority in this country does not want to turn the clock back to Calhoun times.
Let’s pause here. Hamilton is not any kind of supporter of Barack Obama. He voted against him twice, supports Republicans for state and federal office, and generally disdains contemporary liberalism, welfarism, and green-ism.
Yet at the same time, we must all beware an over-interpretation of current events. Yes, Obama is a bad president. But just because an incompetent Alinskyite has been occupying the White House since 2009, that does not mean that every political advance of the last two centuries has been a mistake. And those who try to harness legitimate anti-Obama passion to seek a rollback of Uncle Sam to, say, 1860 are not doing the conservative movement, or the Republican Party, any favors.
The right can and should unite to win in 2016, beginning the process of peeling back counter-productive and destructive Obama policies. But Republicans won’t have a chance to win if they run a platform that in any way resembles the Bennett-Lotus platform.
The closest recent parallel to this sort of proposed radical devolution of the government, and of the nation itself, was the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign of 1964. Goldwater–honest and honorable ideologue that he was–had voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and generally aligned himself with the Calhoun crowd, the folks who were defending enforced segregation. As a result, he carried the five states of the Deep South and his home state of Arizona–and that was it. He won a mere six states out of 50 and less than 39 percent of the national vote.
Yet now, in 2013, we see that Calhoun-Goldwater ideas are making a comeback in many conservative books and columns, if not, of course, in the minds of the voters.
Indeed, it’s aways noticeable when someone takes an old set of ideas and puts a new name on them and tries to peddle that set as a new thing. We might ask: How many “How To” books, for business and for life, are simply recycled versions of a “How To” book from a year or two before? Well, in the case of America 3.0, we’re seeing a rehash not only of Calhoun’s thinking, but also of the wish-list of virtually every libertarian writer since.
So if you’re a libertarian, and if you think that all the governing institutions of the late 19th and 20th centuries–from civil rights laws, to Social Security and Medicare, to anti-trust enforcement–were a mistake, then you’ll probably enjoy America 3.0, even if, gloss aside, the arguments will seem achingly familiar.
Of course, if you are a capital “L” Libertarian, you’ll have to deal with the fact that no Libertarian presidential candidate has won more than 1.06 percent of the national vote–and that was back in 1980.
By contrast, if you are a small “L” libertarian, allied with the Republican Party–say, a supporter of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) of Kentucky–you’ll enjoy more company among your fellow citizens. Yet you’ll also have to accept that you are part of a big coalition, and the leaders of that coalition have no intention to campaign on, say, abolishing middle-class entitlements.
Okay, so those are some political arguments against America 3.0. Maybe the Bennett-Lotus agenda has no chance, at least not at any time soon. But isn’t it possible to argue that the authors still have good points? Isn’t it possible to argue that in theory, at least, their ideas would be beneficial?
Once again, anything’s possible in the realm of talk and ideology. But let’s look at the Bennett-Lotus platform once again, as Barone describes it. The authors declare that they are in favor of retaining national defense as a federal priority, but their goals, as Barone describes them, are problematic: “America’s main task is to police ‘the world’s maritime and aviation commons.'”
Does this sound like American leadership? Does this sound like a strong US role in the world? What if the states, newly empowered with their neo-Calhounian autonomy, didn’t want to go along with any bold or ambitious national policy? Indeed, what if there were no national policy? What if we were indeed back to the days of the Articles of Confederation? When America had no means of providing for its own defense, let alone shaping the world?
We can further ask: Does the Bennett-Lotus vision sound like the vision of thinkers who have fully absorbed the lessons of World War Two? Of the Cold War? Of Ronald Reagan’s concept of “Peace Through Strength”?
We can’t know the future, of course, but we can learn from the past.
So let’s look back, for instance, at World War Two. The most compelling question to ask is this: What would have happened if the South had won the Civil War and the divided ex-states of the United States had been eventually forced to confront the Nazi menace?
In the Spring of 1940, as both France and Britain were losing to Hitler’s forces, US Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall told President Roosevelt, “If five German divisions landed anywhere on the coast, they could go anywhere they wished.” Yes, the isolationists had put the US in a deep hole in the 1930s, and so we were at grave peril in the beginning of World War Two. And not just from the Germans–it was the Japanese, of course, who bombed Pearl Harbor.
Fortunately, America was able to respond to both threats, and thus save our homeland. As recorded by historian Arthur Herman in his 2012 book, Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War Two, the US produced an epic onslaught of war materiel in just four years:
86,000 tanks, 2.5 million trucks and a a half million jeeps, 286,000 warplanes, 8,800 naval vessels, 5,600 merchant ships, 434 million tons of steel, 2.6 million machine guns, and 41 billion rounds of ammunition–not to mention the greatest superbomber of the war, the B-29, and the atomic bomb.
Could a Calhounian America have achieved all this? Could Confederates have mobilized industry to build all these weapons? No–because they didn’t have much industry.
The Southern economy was based on low-value-added agricultural slave labor and sharecroppers–that’s why it was so poor, and that’s why the Confederates couldn’t keep up with Union. One of the Yankee wonder weapons of the Civil War was the Parrott Gun, a new kind of cannon manufactured at West Point, in upstate New York. One contemporary account of its impact, written from the front in 1863, declared,
In my opinion, there is not a single element of this war of more importance in regard to effect than the artillery, and particularly this kind of gun. When you hear of shells falling in Charleston, with destructive effect, at the distance of five miles…you are startled, and begin to realize that a new element has appeared on the stage.
That was the Civil War. In World War Two, as well, it took the full and enriching infrastructure of industrial society–from railroads to schools to modern finance–to design and build the victorious war machine. That’s how we got the B-29, and the A-bomb.
The US fought alongside 25 countries in World War Two, and yet America accounted for two-thirds of Allied war production. That enormous investment, we might note, was actually a huge savings–because we traded off more wartime technology for fewer casualties.
Total US fatalities in WW 2 numbered a little more than 400,000, which amounted to only .7 percent of total Allied deaths. In other words, while we were blessed with amazing resources of brave troops who were willing to sacrifice their lives for our freedom, the bulk of our fighting was done with high-tech weaponry, on the land, on the sea, and in the air. And that’s how we won the war, decisively, while at the same time, on the homefront, we were actually increasing our national population, as well as our industrial base.
Moreover, beyond the fascist powers of the 40s, we had further to deal with the communist powers of the mid 20th-century. Stalin and Mao would have been just as happy to bury us as Hitler and Tojo.
Alexander Hamilton had the vision to see these kinds of threats coming. He died in 1804, but he knew that the US would always be at risk from foreign enemies–and so we must always prepare.
In fact, as we observed in the first installment of this series for Breitbart News, Alexander Hamilton’s biggest single motivation for industrializing the US was the basic defense of the new republic. As argued all though his 1791 Report on Manufactures, America had nearly lost the Revolution because it could not produce enough arms.
So we can fairly assert: According to the Calhounian-libertarian precepts of America 3.0, the states of Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Florida, and California will go their separate ways. So now, in the wake of that Balkanized, fractionated America, will the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, and North Koreans respect our separated desire to be left alone? Will they similarly devolve their militaries? And downsize, too, their cyber-hacking units?
The answer can be summed up in three words: Of course not.
America has to be ready, always, and if that means we need to maintain a serious-minded focus on our defense needs, well, yes–that’s exactly what it means.
To be sure, that’s a heavy burden for all of us. But as we look back at the last 237 years of American history, we also need to look ahead and see that the next 237 years are likely to be just as challenging. Yes, it’s our res publica, our republic. But only if we can keep it.
Not every American, we know, is willing to take up this challenge. Some Americans, on the right as well as the left, prefer to go on ideological idylls in which the US can hide from the world.
Some Americans wish to live in a romanticized world where enemies will never come after us if we promise never to come after them. Such Americans might as well believe, too, in air castles and unicorns.
So those of us who are willing to bear the burden of geopolitical reality–those who are willing to give up thoughts of air castles and unicorns in favor of hard-learned historical lessons–must find moral support and inspiration where we can. We might even draw some inspiration from the poet A. E. Housman, who knew that life would always be tough. As he wrote,
The thoughts of others
were light and fleeting
of lovers’ meeting
or luck or fame
Mine were of trouble
and mine were steady
so I was ready
When trouble came.
That’s the point: Just as trouble always comes to an individual, so it always comes to a country. The only question is whether or not we as a nation are ready. And readiness, we have learned, means much more than showing up to volunteer after the enemy has attacked.
Yes, we need brave men and women on the ramparts of freedom. But as we have learned in all our wars, we also need a broad economic, technological, and industrial base to provide the winning support for our brave military fighters.
Such support takes conscious effort. We can’t afford, therefore, to scrimp on military R&D. We can’t afford to short-shrift long-range planning. And we certainly can’t afford to outsource our factories for national security.
We need the arsenal of democracy right here, within our own borders.
So how do we do that? We’ll take that up in Part 2.
Next: Experiments in statecraft that we can afford–and those that we can’t.