Front Page Titles (by Subject) Part X: When War Comes - Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov
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Part X: When War Comes - Frank Chodorov, Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov 
Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov, Compiled, Edited, and with an Introduction by Charles H. Hamilton (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1980).
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When War Comes
This short article appeared on the front page of the August 1950 issue of analysis.
The Korean affair is not The War. That was evident from the beginning. Just as every fistfight can end up in murder, so this bloodletting in the Orient has possibilities; but the weight of economics, as well as military considerations, is against Korea as the locale for man's next spasm of total madness.
When The War comes we will know about it, unmistakingly, by the peremptory suspension of all traditional and constitutional restraints on political power. That will be the true signal. The war powers still on our statute books will be dusted off and put into operation again and the administration will ask for, and be promptly granted, whatever else it deems necessary for a free hand.
In a word, when The War comes the individual will cease to exist as an individual. His body, his property, and his mind will be merged into the mass battering ram. The regime of totalitarianism that our recent history has been pointing to will have arrived.
It will be asserted that to carry on an effective war with the USSR we must match her methods. Our military, like hers, must be possessed of every drop of energy in the nation; any small concession to freedom will be weakening. Her law will be our law, which means that the will of the supreme command will be the only law.
This transformation of our political setup into an absolutism will be accomplished with little warning and practically no social opposition. For, unlike the war with Hitler, we will be in this one knee-deep from the very first shot, even before a formal declaration of war is perfunctorily passed by Congress.
The very first step will be the seizure of private property. The right of property will not be abolished in theory, but it will be enunciated as a principle that the government may without question lay its hands on anything that can be put to the war effort. Every factory will fall into its appointed place in the war machine; ownership will consist in obeying orders. Every worker will be a soldier. Tb facilitate the latter transition, union leaders will be drafted into the bureaucracy and their organizations put on the shelf.
The traditional economic forms of wages and profits will be retained, but the fiscal machinery will be used to rid monetary returns of material meaning. Taxes will liquidate purchasing power.
The fiction of borrowing will be maintained, but the “lenders” will accept the bonds under duress. Since every issue automatically depreciates the value of all preceding issues, the increasing worthlessness of these bonds will be reflected in a lowering of the value of money. Thus, through taxation and depreciation the danger of diverting production from war purposes to consumption will be avoided.
There can be no question that the economy will be put on a military footing, just as there can be no question that every man and woman able to contribute in any way to the fighting will be pressed into service. There will be no private life. Total war must be total in every respect.
The liquidation of social power will be facilitated by mass fear of the consequences of military defeat; in the face of common danger the herd instinct is to follow bold leadership, blindly. This psychological support of its program will be furthered by the high command through its control of information. The censorship of thought is a military necessity.
It follows that writers and publications endeavoring to keep alive prewar values must be rendered inarticulate, for the duration at any rate. The frightened public will enter no demurrer.
All wars come to an end, at least temporarily. But the authority acquired by the state hangs on; political power never abdicates. Note how the “emergency” taxes of World War II have hardened into permanent fiscal policy. While a few of the more irritating war agencies were dropped, others were enlarged, under various pretexts, and the sum total is more intervention and more interveners than we suffered before 1939.
If The War lasts long enough, long enough to become a habit of mind, the totalitarianism will have lost its initial disfavor. The will to freedom can be broken by adjustment to subservience. Besides, the economic conditions resulting from The War will be difficult enough to make continuation of control a compelling plausibility. In their general bewilderment the people will ask for direction, and direction means control.
There will be reason enough for the bureaucracy to insist on continuance of a politically managed economy. The debasement of the currency and the burdens of taxation could well turn the people to direct barter; barter is not taxable, and the state's recourse, for its own security, is to control and tax production at its source. Under the circumstances, the factories and the farms will not be returned outright to the former owners, except under conditions that will prompt the latter to offer their properties at bargain rates. The government can print bonds.
Will not the former labor leaders, now well ensconced in the bureaucracy, favor the nationalization of industry? What interest will they have in restoring the traditional labor-versus-capital controversy?
The workers will not find the riskless life, with subsistence assured, hard to take. A fetal sense of security will have submerged the will for maturity; there will be little demand for the free marketplace.
The aristocracy of the country will be the bureaucracy. They will be a class apart. Because of their prerogatives, to say nothing of their comparative opulence, they will have attracted to themselves the sharpest wits and the most skillful technicians, and it will be to the interest of the group to encourage a reputation for near divine capacities. This vested interest in rulership, spawned during The War, will flourish in the general enervation resulting from its consequences.
In short, the net profit of The War will be a political setup differing from that of Russia in name only. The very effort to oppose that form of absolutism will require our adopting it and, despite the best intentions, the resulting economic and social conditions will tend to perpetuate it.
There will be a resurrection, for the spirit of freedom never dies. But its coming will take time and much travail.
Warfare Versus Welfare
This article appeared in Human Events (January 10, 1951).
The welfare state is headed for the mothballs. What with the concentration on the business of war, the tradition (built up during the past twenty years) that the function of the state is to provide for us will be set aside. Whether or when it will be taken out again and put to use depends on the turn of events. At this writing, the welfare state can be written off.
Welfarism presupposes a condition of relative peace. Estimates of what can be taken out of the general economy for handouts, or for the administration of handouts, are based on what can be produced for consumption. Since, however, war has first call on the productive capacity of the country, and can demand all above mere subsistence, these estimates are thrown out of kilter by it.
This is not to say that the welfare state will be deliberately scuttled; it will simply fall into disuse. The laws, offices, desks, clerks, and officials set up for the dispensing of old-age pensions, educational subsidies, unemployment insurance, and the rest will remain in being; and even though new machinery for the control and regulation of the economy will be set up during the emergency, the existing plant will not be dismantled. Operations will slow down for lack of appropriations.
Certainly, no new enterprise in welfarism will be undertaken. You will hear no more about socialized medicine, what with the doctors being drafted into the army, and the crusade against racial discrimination in employment will be forgotten in the manpower shortage.
It has already been suggested (by the New York State authorities) that the high school period be cut from four to three years, so as to facilitate earlier conscription; the corollary effect of diverting taxes from education to war purposes is obvious, even if not intended. This must be taken as a hint of things to come. The administration will surely drop its program for the subvention of elementary schools. From now on what is spent on education will be with an eye to its contribution to war; physics will be a desirable subject of study, philosophy will not.
The entrenched bureaucracy will certainly try to maintain unemployment insurance at its present level, but the need for labor will offset the bureaucrats' demands. Some use will be found for the productive power of those drawing old-age pensions. The national emergency will make a shambles of the handout business.
The recent withdrawal of price support for eggs will be followed by the dropping of subsidies for other farm products. The war-created shortages will boost prices to the point where “parity” becomes ridiculous. Moreover, the need for agricultural products will make necessary the dropping of that part of the program that calls for paying fanners for not producing. Every acre in the country will be put to work.
In short, the claims of welfarism on the tax dollar will lose all importance, Warfare comes first.
Speculation on the future of the welfare state is weighted by the conditions brought on by the international situation. It is possible that the all-out war with the Soviets can be put off for some time; the communists may not want it just yet. But, nothing is more certain than that we shall be for a long time on a war footing, that our economy shall be geared to military preparations for years to come. During that time, or during the war, a new way of thinking and a new social order will replace the tradition of the welfare state.
The idea of the welfare state is rooted in the all too common desire for manna from heaven. It is because of this strong demand for something for nothing that the do-gooders and the planners are able to do business. But, however strong is this demand, it is overshadowed by the will to live. If the conditions of war threaten existence, the urgency for safety will drown out the urgency for “security.”
In a small way, we have had an indication of mis instinctive emphasis on existence. In the past year the newspapers have recorded a rise of land values in sparsely settled and even in desert and mountainous areas, indicating a strong decentralist tendency. This development is explained on several grounds: as a hedge against inflation by investors, as making provision for subsistence when jobs become scarce, as an escape from the dangers of the atom bomb. The last reason will gain in importance as war becomes more imminent; we can expect this trek to the hinterland to gain in volume.
A basic economic principle is at work. When industrial and commercial wages fetch less in satisfactions than what can be extracted from the soil, the latter becomes more attractive than the office and the factory. One must live. The back-to-the-land movement today is basically economic. Well, then, as taxes combine with shortages to reduce purchasing power, factory workers turn to their garden patches to supplement income, while others go in for farming as an occupation.
If the war is long drawn out, if the bombing of our cities becomes more than a threat, the search for a haven of safety and a certainty of subsistence may well become the national habit. The transplanting of women, children, and the aged will be undertaken as a war measure, but the economics of it will accelerate the dispersal of the population. Keeping in mind the lowering of our economy by a war of attrition, the disruption of our productive machinery, and a ruinous inflation, we may be on our way to a new tradition: self-sustenance and self-reliance. Out of the war can come a habit of living that will have no place for the welfare state.
It is true that England, despite the bombing of her industrial centers, took up where she left off with welfarism. But, could England have done it if she had not had help from the outside? Without this help she could not have attempted a return to antebellum fancies; she would have had to go to work. Who would help us?
During war, of course, the omnipotent state takes over. The welfare state rests its case on the paterfamilias concept of society; the political establishment undertakes to alleviate disabilities by confiscating and distributing wealth, but in theory it does not deny the right of private property or violate personal prerogatives. The omnipotent state, on the other hand, puts its own purposes above those of the individual, and therefore must deny not only private property but all freedom of action; society becomes a tool, not a concern, of the state. When national existence is at stake, the latter idea gains in ascendancy; society abdicates in favor of the state as a matter of necessity.
History indicates that the powers acquired by the state during a national emergency are not usually relinquished when it is over. Absolutism is the product of war. Thus, if we go by the evidence of history, it may be that our welfare state will be transformed by the war into a continuing omnipotent state.
On the other hand — again assuming that the war, or mobilization lasts long enough to establish new ways of life and new traditions — it is entirely possible that economic decentralism will be followed by political decentralism. The dispersal of the population on a large scale will automatically make for a weakening of the central authority, partly because a self-sustaining citizenry resents interference, partly because the large centers will lose their dominant position. The city has always been the backbone of the strong state, the country has always been the opposition. Consequently, if the war draws large chunks of our population to the land, an American state after the pattern of Orwell's 1984 may be averted.
The sinews of the state are taxes, and taxes are limited by the productive capacity of the people. The productive capacity of the people is, in turn, in proportion to the capital structure at hand; the more and better tools at the disposal of the worker, the greater his output. So, if the war absorbs and destroys a considerable part of our capital structure, our productive capacity will be diminished and the revenues of the state will dwindle accordingly. A war of attrition, therefore, is a threat to the state itself. And if, during such a war, we acquire the habit of self-sustenance, it is a certainty that the state will have hard going to reestablish its position. An agricultural economy yields little in the way of taxes.
If this is so, it may be argued, then Russia is in no position to carry on a war of attrition. Her economy has been on a war footing since the communists took over in 1918, and her capital structure must be only what slave labor can yield under the lash. That is true. She probably has squeezed out of her slaves a striking force of considerable strength; having spent it, she would be hard pressed. There is reason to believe that a continuing threat of war, with sporadic demonstrations by her satellites, would suit her purposes better than an all-out struggle. Meanwhile, a continuing threat of war will have the same effect on our economy as a war of attrition.
For the time being—and that is the point of this argument— the welfare state is out. In the immediate future the direction of the American state will be toward the acquisition of power for war purposes, not eleemosynary purposes. The tendency will be more and more toward totalitarianism. That is unavoidable.
The ultimate is difficult to foretell. Will totalitarianism settle down on us as a continuing way of life? The pessimists are of that opinion. On the other hand, we cannot underestimate the power of tradition. Maybe the American tradition of individualism will rise up and smite totalitarianism hip and thigh. All the totalitarianism of the past finally succumbed to the will for freedom.
A War to Communize