“Between government in the republican meaning, that is, constitutional, representative, limited government, on the one hand, and Empire on the other hand, there is mortal enmity. Either one must forbid the other, or one will destroy the other. That we know. Yet never has the choice been put to a vote of the people.”
Garet Garrett had been an editor of the Saturday Evening Post, a financial writer for the New York Times, a renowned author and journalist of the “roaring Twenties,” an intransigent opponent of the New Deal, and sometime novelist: his career spanned the era of Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, and Truman. In those days his was the voice of mainstream conservatism, albeit of a sort alien to the Newt Gingriches and Charles Krauthammers of this world, and he wrote the above cited words just as the US was embarking on its postwar crusade to save the world from Communism.
He had lived through the previous holy war against the Axis powers, witnessed the demise of the Old America and the rise of the Welfare-Warfare State, and saw – even then – that the country would face ruination if the crusading spirit prevailed over the need for self-preservation. He saw what would happen if we acquired an empire and sought to remake the world in our image. He annoyed his fellow libertarian, the novelist and ideologue Rose Wilder Lane, with his “keening” note of pessimism, which mourned “a world forever lost.” Lane was sure the “world revolution” of freedom was coming, yet in those dark days when the spirit of freedom was seemingly forgotten it looked as if her friend Garrett was right.
Garrett died in 1954, a few years after the publication of his prescient essay: Rose followed him in 1968. Neither got to see the rise of a movement that would take the former’s insights and the latter’s optimism and forge a new path – and a new hope – for lovers of liberty. But I like to think they are still hovering over us, delighted at the success of their intellectual heirs, who today call themselves libertarians. No doubt they are buoyed by the success of presidential candidate Ron Paul, whose thrilling ascent in Iowa and beyond is redeeming Lane’s optimism – and Garrett’s hope – that the choice between empire and our old republic will – finally – be put to a vote of the people.