Saturday, September 2, 2017
A (hopefully) young Facebook poster just made the claim that America (a) has a free market economy and (b) the free market economy has made America militaristic. Both claims are false. American militarism in the laissez-faire period was limited to westward expansion—manifest destiny—and some creation of overseas outposts to protect trade. Hence, Adams recreated the Navy and Marines to fight the French (and Jefferson used them to stop the Barbary Pirates, who impeded American shipping), and Jefferson established an embargo to curtail British attacks on US ships, and specifically British impressment of US sailors. The Mexican War was also fought for westward expansion. It wasn’t until the age of Progressivism, which arguably began in 1890, that the US became overtly imperialistic. McKinley’s invasion of the Philippines and the Spanish-American War coincided with the beginnings of the Progressive era (as did government-mandated racial or Jim Crow laws).
In the Progressive era America adopted a combination of capitalism and socialism sometimes called "the third way"--neither laissez faire capitalism nor socialism. It was invented in 19th century Germany by the German historical school of economics (led by Knies, Wagner, Schmoller, and Sombart) and then advocated here by academics and wealthy Americans who had studied in Germany, notably Richard T. Ely. It subsequently was popularized by Herbert Croly in his book The Promise of American Life. Progressivism advocated (1) strengthening of the state, (2) government intervention in society, and (3) imperialism.
In its practical applications under Roosevelt and Wilson, it included strengthening of government police powers and the creation of the FBI (in 1908, under Roosevelt). During the Progressive era the failed overt Imperialism of McKinley was carried forward as the (Theodore) Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe doctrine and evolved into dollar diplomacy and soft imperialism. Woodrow Wilson started more wars than any other president, mostly in Latin America.
Progressivism involved a socialistic economic policy that imposed government intervention, which I loosely call socialism, on laissez faire. This was coupled with enhanced federal police power, the Red Scare and deportation of dissidents (under Wilson), and the creation of the FBI (under Theodore Roosevelt) and later the CIA (under Franklin Roosevelt and Truman).
These are not contested pieces of information except by people who don't learn history. What is contested is whether the socialistic interventions associated with police power and militarism were in the interest of capitalistic enterprise or were in the interest of the public. New Left and libertarian historians such as Gabriel Kolko, Allan Appleman Williams, and Murray Rothbard have shown that the socialistic interventions favored big business owners, notably Rockefeller, Morgan, Kuhn Loeb, and other Wall Street interests.
The historian Martin J. Sklar, in his book The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890-1916, argues that Roosevelt was socialistic, specifically in his (failed) intentions for the Federal Trade Commission and that his conflict with William Howard Taft was over how to enforce the Sherman Anti-trust Act. Taft favored a less interventionist litigation approach to anti-trust enforcement while Roosevelt, advocate of carrying a big stick, favored direct socialization.
Thus, from the days of Theodore Roosevelt, American socialism has been associated with militarism. Ronald Radosh and Murray Rothbard detail the link between socialization of the economy and war in their book A New History of Leviathan.
The (hopefully) young Facebook poster’s claim that militarism is due to laissez faire capitalism thus lacks both historical and logical foundation. Historically, the growth of state police and military power was advocated by and occurred under the Progressives, opponents of laissez faire. As well, laissez faire capitalism favors limitations on state power, including police and military power. The natural rights doctrine was the foundation of the laissez faire political system, and no socialist country has ever recognized rights to freedom from the state to the degree that laissez faire capitalist countries have. Because laissez faire capitalism advocates limitations on the state, it is illogical to claim that the expansion of the state that militarism and police power require is related to laissez faire capitlism. Only socialists can favor expansive police powers precisely because police powers are associated with state power. Historically, the most extreme applications of state and military power have been in socialist states: National Socialist Germany, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Republic of Cuba, and so on.