Robert Nisbet on the Shock the Founding Fathers would feel if they could see the current size of the Military Establishment and the National Government (1988)

Robert A. Nisbet

Found in The Present Age

In 1988 Nisbet gave a series of lectures to celebrate the bicentennial of the American Constitution. He reflected on what the Framers would be most struck by in America today and concluded that they would be incredulous at the staggering size of the military establishment and the Leviathan-like size of the national government:

What would the Framers (of the U.S. Constitution) be most struck by in America today? … Three aspects of the present age in America would surely draw their immediate, concerned, and perhaps incredulous attention. First, the prominence of war in American life since 1914, amounting to a virtual Seventy-Five Years War, and with this the staggering size of the American military establishment since World War II. … Second, the Leviathan-like presence of the national government in the affairs of states, towns, and cities, and in the lives, cradle to grave, of individuals.

It is interesting to compare Nisbet’s thoughts with the very similar ones expressed by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises on how war, inflation, and revolution in the 20th century have so greatly expanded the powers of the state to the detriment of individual liberty.