Originally published: 1999
292 pages
Chapter 11


Richard Pipes

Without property in all its forms there wouldn't be much need of law. As John Locke observes in The Second Treatise on Civil Government,

               The great chief end, therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths,
               and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of
               their property.

     The existence of property leads to enormous social and legal complexity; the ability to possess property was established in pre-history-first by might, later by religious precept, and finally through civil authority. Of the Ten Commandments, two deal directly with ownership-"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house" and "Thou shalt not steal." Neither would be proclaimed if there was no private right to some "thing" that should not be coveted or stolen. With the aid of philosophers, lawyers, politicians, academics, economists of every stripe, and, of course, clerics, humanity has tried to get its imagination around the concept of property for millennia. Most attempts failed because individuals sought to define and circumscribe property in order to make it fit into civil society. Many did not see the truth: to be viable a civil society must conform to the reality of property. The contrast between these antithetical approaches became palpable with the advent of the Enlightenment (c. 1750) and the implosion of property rights during the French Revolution of 1789.
     Property is the basis of virtually all human interaction. Up to this juncture we have focused on
human individuality and freedom, and


how those two aspects of life are defined by means of formal social organization-mostly connoted as government and law. We have also investigated the relationship between our economic interests and efforts and government's ever-present (mostly political) "need" to regulate such. But essential to fully understanding all of these relationships is a concomitant cognition of where private property fits into public discourse. And to understand property's place it is essential to comprehend what property is and how it came to be, and then how property and politics became inextricably intertwined.
     Richard Pipes explores these steps in Property and Freedom. In the space of a few hundred pages he cogently and compellingly explicates the seminal relationship between people, their possessions, their government, and society as it developed over millennia. At the same time he philosophically and chronologically addresses the maturing of human associations and goals that are the core subject matter of First Principles. Property and Freedom is simply one of the most valuable tools available to aid in comprehending how modern society developed and how it functions.
     In prehistory, when man was attempting to order his relationships with his neighbors (in the era when might was giving way to right), the main issue revolved about who owned what, who had a right to what, etc. As law developed, the power of the state grew as well-both to enforce the law and to order society. But at this early point the object of social organization was to settle the
relations between men. Over time as has been and will be seen the state took on a life of its own and it began to claim a right to the property of the citizenry in order to "improve" the lives of all over whom it ruled. In the modern era the questions of a person's right to his property are not largely questions to be resolved between citizens but between the citizen and the state. In other words, while questions of property rights among men have become mostly settled, the right to property and the right of disposition or use of an individual's property are contests between people and their governors. Issues of taxation and regulation of citizen property are now the main battleground of modern politics. As Lao Tsu (a countryman and near contemporary of Confucius) observed about government (c. 500 BC): "The more restrictions and limitations there are [by government], the more impoverished men will be."
     In order to understand both the evolution (some would say devolution) of property rights and the growth of statist views of government's purpose, which views denigrate and devalue individual
rights, it is


productive to start at the beginning and follow the course of property and its social meaning and effect as it developed over the centuries.
     Early in his book Pipes introduces his readers to Jean Bodin, Hugo Grotius, and James Harrington, three relatively obscure philosophers not often acknowledged in twenty-first-century political and intellectual discussions. Nevertheless, their contributions were crucial to the development of modern property and political hypotheses. Their theories evolved out of historical truths that when applied rationally helped successfully mold ordered social relationships. Because what these men described worked, their designs were restated in successive generations. The self-evident value and utility of these arrangements became accepted doctrine.
     Most of the authors of modern political practice drew from their predecessors as they developed their own theories. The Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Christian philosophers (like practicing democrats, republicans, and parliamentarians throughout modern history) did not bring forth a complete and comprehensive system of government. Each built on what had been tried before by modifying, expanding, or discarding the works and thoughts of previous generations. For example, one cannot read Cicero without thinking of Socrates or understand Thomas Jefferson without considering Thomas Hobbes. This is the beauty of the history of governance-what we have today works as well as it does because it has been tested from so many angles for so many centuries. John Locke did not create out of thin air the concept of natural law or property rights, or the ordered relationship that was necessary between the sovereign and his subjects. He was well versed in the lessons of history before he ever put the first pen stroke on foolscap.
     The concepts forged by Harrington, Grotius, and Bodin at the beginning of the Enlightenment (when early thoughts regarding representative, democratic government were forming) were very, very new. Pipes gave these philosophers talking parts in his book to acknowledge governance as an evolving process guided by seemingly small but sometimes hugely consequential ideas. It is a truism that theories, no matter how well conceived in the mind, are of little value until tested in the real world. The hypotheses of these three men were necessarily subjected to the human condition and the law of unintended consequences once they entered the marketplace. At that point we began to have an idea of how effective they would be as tools of governance.


     Beginning in prehistory and continuing for more than ten thousand years, people grappled with the idea of property-well before formal religion and organized states began to exert their influence
on a person's relationship to his possessions. Most of that history is unrecorded but the evolution resulted early in unquestioned personal control of labor's products. Pipes observes that as civilization developed, initially by means of tribal formations, later in larger agglomerations of people, the story of property involved the increasing dominion over the people's resources by monarchs, oligarchs, dictators, and totalitarian rulers. Along with the rise to power of these sovereigns (who possessed widely varying levels of autonomy, authority, and control) there developed two antithetical circumstances with which these rulers had to deal: first, they had to raise "money" (in the form of diverse resources) to fight wars and protect their own possessions and position; second, they had to contend with the natural law principle that people are always reluctant to surrender the fruits of their labor to whichever strongman comes along.
     These contrary factors compelled the leaders of myriad cultures to cooperate-negotiate really-slowly and ever grudgingly, with whatever tribal leaders or feudal aristocracy existed in order to gain the riches they needed to remain in power. Once the crack was opened so that the nobility's control over its own property was recognized as a right (not simply a fact) their leverage grew-because rulers needed economic support to achieve their ends. Ultimately, of course, the monarchies shrank and then folded. The nobility (and centuries later, the people) began governing themselves-through this right to property. The story of this transition by way of systematic fits and starts over the last two thousand years is as much the story of property as it is of the right of self-governance and individual freedom. Property and Freedom, like The Roots of American Order (Chapter 4), is fundamental to understanding how we got from history's anarchy to a workable, if imperfect, conception of civil society.
     Jean Bodin, the first of Pipes's relatively unknown philosophers, lived in the mid-1500s. He established the idea that an absolute sovereign, though not limited by the actions of his/her subjects, is constrained by natural law. This concept gave both rights and power to the people in relation to their property because such was theirs through a mechanism not grounded in their relationship to the monarch. These possessions were their natural right.
     In the early 1600s Hugo Grotius brought forth an even more profound change when he classified
personal property as alienable or


inalienable. The former encompassed "things which can belong to one person as well as another:" i.e., tangible possessions. Far more importantly, however, Grotius postulated that inalienable property includes all "those things which belong so essentially to one person that they cannot belong to another, such as a person's life, body, freedom, or honor." Thus was born the idea that's one's essence cannot be removed from one's physical being, that that essence, that dignity, is the property of each individual.
     Finally Pipes comes to James Harrington, a mid-seventeenth-century scholar who was the "first political theorist to view political power as a by-product of economics, or, more specifically, of the distribution of property between the state and the populace." Manifest in Harrington's observations is the need to discuss taxation and the apportioning of power to determine issues of social control. These relationships are tersely summarized by Harrington's axiom: "he who controls the country's wealth controls its politics. . . ." Later, of course, as the sanctity of the individual and the concept of Grotius's inalienable rights became established and codified in the English and U.S. Constitutions, Harrington's equation underwent modification as people recognized that governance isn't just about
property. However, his innovative premise, namely, that property and its control are the foundation of politics, is the important point to consider today.
     Around the middle of the seventeenth century, Grotius's concept of personal rights, something "owned" in an intangible sense, began to significantly complicate the already contentious subject of property. As Pipes observes,

               [T]he term "property" underwent a metamorphosis, revolutionary in
               its implications, by being broadened to mean not only material objects
               but everything which the individual had a natural right to claim as his
               own . . . his life and freedom.

This conceptual triad of the person, the state, and the physical contents of each human being's life has been uneasy and unstable for much of the time since Grotius.
     When we think about property we think first of the obvious-what might be in our pockets or under our feet. But our most important possessions are our life, our liberty, and our prerogative to do with each as we wish. The idea that we have a property right in our own lives was truly an
epiphany, especially after thousands of years of subjugation


in the form of institutionalized slavery and law without rights found in virtually every society. Henceforth, the insistence that a person's life belonged to him, that neither one's life nor the liberty to act freely (subject to not interfering with others) could be arbitrarily taken away by the state, changed relationships between rulers and the ruled. As Pipes comments, history arrived at the point where there were two sovereigns in the land: the monarch and the individual. The clash between the two is the modern history of the development of freedom and property-the essential elements of an ordered civil society.
     Grotius's idea that human beings should be masters of their persons was an outgrowth of the concept of natural law, a law that Pipes defines as "rational, unchanging, unchangeable." Natural law, in other words, is above mankind and its machinations and cannot be altered by temporal governors. Pipes further notes that considerations regarding natural law as applied to physical property gave rise to two opposing opinions around the middle of the eighteenth century: proposition one: the unequal distribution of property resulting from human differences in ability, personality, and situation causes human oppression and strife; proposition two: property is the root of progress because its individual possession is the source of the alleviation of human suffering. The acquisition and personal control of property, founded in a quest for security and satisfaction, allows for a cascade of benefits to all, albeit in differing proportions. This enables property, because of, not in spite of its unequal distribution, to be a universal good.
     Which judgment is correct? The answer is both. Or, as any good attorney would respond, "it depends."
     Pipes comments that as these two propositions were forming there arose in France a philosophical movement toward "rectifying" life's earthly inequities-in other words, wholesale acceptance of proposition one. This impulse resulted in an obvious conflict between a person's freedom to control his life and property and the state's right to control the citizenry and its possessions-for the benefit of "all." French intellectuals of the mid-eighteenth century, known as the philosophes, advocated the abolition of private property through the equal distribution of all
possessions. However, this effort to change human affairs by changing the basis of political, economic, and interpersonal relations utterly missed the point-and caused enormous devastation in its wake.
     Inequality does not reside in property or its distribution, for property itself is neutral; it is only
human activity that creates inequities that can


be perceived as negative or positive. If one person accumulates more property than another, a perceived inequality can come to the fore. The accusation of oppression even arises. The allegation may persist until one investigates how inequality is defined, how the accumulation was achieved, and to what use the accumulation will be put, or what effect it will cause. It isn't the essence of property that causes this effect, but the essence of human nature, and human inequality, that is at work. The accumulation of property, or capital, is what allows the economic multiplier effect to occur. That effect usually results in two quite positive consequences-employment for an increasing number of people and a proliferation of products and services, and a rising living standard for all involved. If the incentive that allows progress is removed, if equal ownership of property is the goal, if success is taxed heavily, then progress of any kind is more difficult-and life is as well.
     One example encompasses the core of proposition two: Consider the proportionally greater risks taken, effort expended, or genius applied by those who obtain more than others-because people want what is created by those few. Different levels of reward appear more "fair" when viewed from the perspective of how much went into the accumulation, and how much the citizenry as a whole benefited, rather than how much an individual ultimately gathers. In essence, the accumulation itself is often the result of unequal effort or talent and is not necessarily an "unfair" result (unless it is contended that the very differences between individuals are "unfair," even if natural-a calamitous suggestion, at best). How we reward the inventiveness, imagination, and risk-taking of those who improve the lives all (whether through airplanes, art or arithmetic) is not black and white.
     There are numerous reasons for beneficial unequal results. When viewed in the larger context that encompasses all of society these factors offer a useful and workable clarification of how property is distributed in a modern setting. These ideas, which explore both human potential and social "designs" versus individual rights are investigated in several other chapters in this symposium (Capitalism and Freedom [Chapter 25], Wealth and Poverty [Chapter 27] are but two). Fully understanding these ideas is essential to gaining a comprehension of the larger picture presented by the existence of property and its sometimes allegedly unequal or unfair distribution.
     When taken to its furthest point, the actual foundation of inequality is the person, and his or her
ability to earn, produce, create, etc. The


intellectual war, fostered by the misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the causes and often beneficial effects of unequal results, continues today as it has for centuries. This battle draws its energy mostly from the emotional reaction to physical differences in people's lives. Pipes's investigation of the permutations of this conflict and of the historical perspectives on the two views of the "problem" of property is comprehensive and more than marginally useful in today's political environment.
     Pipes proceeds from his discussion of essential concepts (gleaned from both obscure and well-known authors who wrote before and during the Middle Ages) to address examples of how various political and economic theories of property have complemented or undermined one another in an evolutionary development that still continues. He then comments on the substantive contributions of famous theorists such as Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes. Although Pipes clearly wants his readers to understand the breadth of the subject, the period of time, and the number of places out of which he drew his conclusions, he also expects readers to realize that political theorizing is never complete. He makes clear that his observations on the understandings of others are essentially only a way-station.
     Pipes ultimately arrives at a consideration of the problems and opportunities of property theory in the modern era. Whether overt and wholesale (as in socialism) or covert and piecemeal (as in state welfarism) he concludes that equality attained through governmental redistribution of property is theoretically achievable, but obviously impractical and contrary to human nature. Communist schemes (an extreme example of anti-property movements, many of which are yet alive and well in the developing world) seek to eradicate personality in the belief that human beings, through sheer will and the guidance of their re-educators, can be made to dissociate themselves from their individuality.
     What one gains in this fashion is (theoretically) equality of physical possessions; what one loses is the individual's essence and humanity, for when the psychological dimension of ownership is denied people change and their relationships to property and to one another also change on a fundamental level. Of course, none of this discussion even begins to address what happens to property itself-the destruction of its value-when the incentive to create it or possess it is abolished. Ultimately, the effects of modern redistributionist schemes (whether in the form of the welfare state
or overt socialism, etc.) are the same-


frustration, eventual anger, and then dissociation. The redistributionists, as will be seen at several points in this book, want to redistribute wealth that, using their philosophy and schemes, cannot be created.
     Pipes gives example after example of how much life is altered when property rights are denied. On the individual level, one crucial illustration is that the concept of privacy emanates from property. Privacy entails being able to withdraw to one's own space. But with no right to property no one can own anything or exclude anyone from any private space. Thus, in order to have privacy there must be private property.
     Pipes observes that the modern state is an organization that theoretically defends the property and the rights of its citizens in return for the revenues it collects (taxes). The transition from the absolute monarch of prehistory to one constrained by the aristocracy to one eventually subordinate to citizens followed a logical course. In England, for example, the state became organized around the sovereign. As noted earlier, the king needed resources to maintain the monarchy and to wage war and he had to give up some control in order to gain consent to taxation of those who supported him. He ultimately had to abandon any claim to absolute power because the people began to value their possessions as much as they valued the protection of the king. Thus they began to resist his call for fiscal support.
     More to the point, as the citizenry created property they understood that they could use their resources to protect themselves without the king; ultimately they found they could protect themselves from the king as well; the extreme means of protection from the king, of course, was revolution. It was the people's growing wealth and the king's increasing dependence on it that compelled the crown to grant his subjects rights and freedoms in order to get their agreement on imposts. This is the story of how private wealth came to restrain public authority. Resolute royal power faced the people's absolute property right in what they had created; the king blinked and property won. However, as gratifying as that relationship sounds and irrespective of how many centuries it endured the story does not end there.
     Pipes explains that as the twenty-first century dawned the power of property had receded. Property itself could no longer claim easy precedence over government. Pipes refers here not to the
reduction of power of the very wealthy, but of the ordinary citizen-who should be secure in his smaller venue. This was as remarkable a story as the one of how property itself became owned rather than just possessed. Pipes quotes a fellow student of property rights:


               Private property once may have been conceived as a barrier to
               government power, but today that barrier is easily overcome . . . .
               Under the present law the institution of private property places
               scant limitation upon the size and direction of government activities
               characteristic of the modern welfare state.

                                                                    (Richard A. Epstein, Takings, 1985)

This convolution occurred partially because there was so much private property created by capitalistic enterprise that liberal politicians saw it as an unlimited resource for doing "good." The harm their efforts caused-by encouraging a culture of dependency and hastening the erosion of personal responsibility, accountability, and incentive through the ever-increasing goods and services government could offer-for "free"-was either ignored or denied. In the last ninety pages of Property and Freedom Pipes discusses the progressive wearing away of property rights over the course of the last fifty years, especially in the United States.
     In his dialogue, Pipes sees us confounded, even flummoxed, by the encroachments on our freedom evidenced in the growing obligations placed on the body politic. These constraints require taxpayers to work longer each year to support the welfare state-a palpable restraint on the citizen's resources, time, and right to the products of his own labor. The liberal establishment unflinchingly denies the necessity and utility of property to the social construct and the protection of such as a prime premise of governance. It has instead demoted property to a vehicle to be used to achieve equalitarian goals. Pipes sees organic harm done to society by the intentional degradation of property. This devaluation occurs when property is turned into something to which everyone is equally entitled in some substantial measure, no matter the circumstances. The liberals insist on the truth of their proposition in spite of more than a millennium of evidence to the contrary. By means of their inversion of the fundamental concept of property a public culture of "entitlements" has been substituted for an obligation of reciprocal duty.
     One asks how the derogation of property rights (therefore personal rights and our personal freedom) has been so easily achieved. The simple answer is found in political manipulation of the public by both the ignorant and the feckless. Pretentious accusation by the "anointed" (those who claim to know better than we do how our lives should be


run) was the tool of choice. The public was informed of how it had failed in its "duties" to the less fortunate, while the duties of the less fortunate were ignored or found not to exist at all. These denunciations were implemented by those whose motives and agenda ran the gamut from guilt to greed. Their misunderstanding or misrepresentation of basic economics and their absence of fealty to human dignity were clear, and in the larger picture simply sad. But, no matter their means, when combined with the public's gullibility or indolence, these demagogues cowed an unsuspecting and complacent citizenry into a line of thinking that could only be changed by massive evidence of failure.
     Such was the case with welfare reform in the U.S. during the 1990s. Forty years and five trillion dollars after its massive implementation the welfare impulse was found not only to have not helped those toward whom it was aimed, but to have made matters much worse. Thus, policy was
revised; welfare became "workfare" and limits were placed on how long the able-bodied could remain within the system. Making the welfare impulse rational, such as was achieved in that instance, was hard won. The effort required fidelity to purpose and facts in the face of deceptive, even false, opposition accusations of the citizenry's unworthy self-interest in their own lives; sometimes there were even charges of economic, social, racial, or cultural discrimination.
     Pipes's quotation from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis best captures how damage is wrought by sometimes well-intentioned but naive politicians and their self-serving demagogue compatriots:

               Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty
               when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom
               are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers.
               The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachments by
               men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

                                                                     (Olmstead v. United States [1927])

In mid-twentieth-century America, as Pipes points out, men of supposed good will but "without understanding" did more to destroy freedom and property in the name of benevolence than had many totalitarian revolutionaries. When their policies failed the excuse of this cadre of ideologues was that they meant well, or that not enough had been done, that even more was needed. As Pipes notes, at least when a totalitarian ruler is dethroned his regime and rules go with him. Not so


in a society of laws-once the laws are enshrined in the ledger book, no matter that those who enacted them are defeated electorally, the laws themselves present the utmost difficulty in their repeal.
     The ultimate insult to the body politic, of course, is that those politicians who follow in the steps of the original malefactors often believe repeal is not feasible for social (meaning political) reasons. Thus they simply tweak the system in a futile attempt to make it work and create an even greater cascade of unintended, and untenable, consequences. The public is further misled because it believes these new politicians, in not deconstructing the false state, apparently support the overall the system and believe it to be viable-even worthy. It is not. At that point one has to consider Barry Goldwater's campaign pledge in 1964, "My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them," (Chapter 18) regarding the kind of peaceful but intentional revolution that is needed to effect true change.
     Pipes reviews the history of how and why the American governing impulse changed so dramatically during and subsequent to the Great Depression of the 1930s. He explains that the expectations of government did not simply evolve they actually morphed as the scope of governmental activity grew. By mid-century, concomitant with an ever-diminishing social role for individual responsibility, the Democrats had bought into the concept of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. The underlying philosophy of this system was that government was obligated to care for all who allegedly were not being cared for. However, there were two political fallacies in these programs: First, there was no proof that people could not care for themselves-there was only limited evidence that some had not. Second, not only was nothing asked from those helped at public expense, it was insisted that nothing was due. It was claimed that society had done this to its own members thus society would pay the bill. This was the dawn of political correctness-the
crafting of a social view that people were not responsible for anything that happened to them; it was someone else's fault, or it was society's fault. All of these conversations went well beyond accepting the need for a social safety net; the arguments were much larger than that and much more political.
     Prior to the enactment of the Great Society programs there had been a window of opportunity to recognize the difference between a "handout" and a "hand up." This window slowly closed, primarily for political reasons, during and after the Great Depression and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's years in the White House. The concepts of personal


discipline and responsibility that are the foundations of self-actualization began a metamorphosis in the 1930s as Roosevelt grappled with the severe economic effects of the Depression. By the time of President Johnson's election in 1964 the notions of public obligation were woven into grand designs. The definitions of both responsibility and discipline were inverted and used as political weapons against those who espoused the traditional American value of self-reliance. It had become the public's responsibility to aid the individual; it was through civic discipline that those who failed to care for themselves would be cared for. This politically expedient (thus electorally successful) approach to social welfarism found its voice in Johnson's new, even more majestic Democrat agenda.
     This philosophy was the culmination of three decades of political effort that had not reduced the effects of bad economic policy, which earlier had extended the consequences of the Depression far beyond what was necessary. This extension of economic malaise through the 1930s had profoundly negative effects on the U.S. economy and psyche for the following seventy years-and the last of the damage is yet unseen.
     Along with many others, Pipes observes that the Depression itself could have been ended sooner with appropriate government action; i.e., decreased taxes, free trade, and reduced government spending. These measures would have encouraged the economy by means of basic free-market incentives to expand to re-employ the millions who were out of work. Instead, the times were made worse by exactly the opposite: higher taxes (the lowest bracket income tax rate more than quintupled between 1931 and 1941); the Hawley-Smoot tariff imposts (which caused retaliatory, deadly tariffs to be implemented around the world); and massive government expenditures (primarily by the Public Works Administration which built thousands of public buildings, dams, bridges that consumed roughly one-half of the Roosevelt Administration's mid-30s budget and caused it to balloon from $4.6 billion in 1932 to $8.2 billion in 1936 [including a $4.4 billion deficit in that year alone]) that had little, if any, economic multiplier effect. By the mid-1930s when their measures did not end the Depression those in power assumed government simply had not done enough and they proposed even more intervention. The truth of the matter was that government had already "done" too much and to do more would further increase market distortions and undermine any progress toward regaining economic equilibrium.


     There was an additional, wholly unintended and more devastating consequence of the actions of President Roosevelt and his Brain Trust (as his closest advisors were known). When the free-market economies of the West came close to collapsing-and in the view of the leftists had collapsed-the contention was made that the theories and predictions of Karl Marx had been validated. Marx said that capitalism was rotten from within and that its vices-greed and dominance-would cause it to fail as power accumulated at the top of the economic pyramid and oppression grew at the bottom. Ultimately Marx contended that social and political revolution would become the only logical consequence. As economic matters worsened during the 30s and more and more inappropriate responses were crafted by the politicians an almost inevitable
conclusion was reached and proselytized as capitalism faltered-that socialism and communism were the answers to human needs.
     Obviously economically and socially the West not only recovered-through the unfortunate mechanism of the Second World War that put everyone back to work-its economies flourished in unprecedented fashion when the war was over. But politically the stage was set for a five decade Cold War that came close to eliminating civilization. In the U.S. and other Western countries the economic myopia that prolonged the Depression invited government centralization after the war (the theory being that the governors needed ever more control to fix what they'd already broken) and began to substitute the welfare state to counter (philosophically, politically, and economically) the free lunch that was being offered by the communists and socialists in European states. That there was no free lunch, that such was not economically possible over the long term could not be disproved by the example of the strident communist governments during this era because the communists had closed their books and their borders to ensure hegemony over both information and emigration. The philosophical recovery of not only free-market capitalism but freedom itself was much longer in coming because the supposed results socialistic enterprise was to achieve took fifty years to finally fail. But the foundation for the battle lay in the policies invented in an earlier era: the more government had meddled in the 30s the more inept it and the capitalistic system appeared; and the more succor and apparent validity that was given to the false claims of the socialists. It was this economically ignorant meddling the prevented the system from righting itself.
     Thus what was so devastating for the West as a whole was the long-term political effect rather
than just the economic failures of Roosevelt's


policies. Socialism and communism could claim their half century in the sun because the contention that their counterpart-capitalism-was fatally flawed appeared to have merit. It appeared to have merit because bright, thinking, well-intentioned people thought they knew what they were doing in the 1930s. And what they were doing was reducing freedom and attempting to control a mechanism-the free market-that suffers no master in its infinite convolutions. In its thrashing about to find political answers to economic problems the Roosevelt administration's nascent welfare state began the downward bureaucratic/welfare spiral that is now the main battleground as twenty-first-century governing and economic verities are yet again tested and measured by false premises. To be fair, many of those in Congress and the White House during the decades that followed Roosevelt's term in office were more than complicitous (again, mostly for political purposes) and just as ignorant in constructing and enlarging the modern welfare state, so it is necessary to look at the whole picture in this arena before judging the actions of those in power in the 1930s and 40s.2
     It is unfortunately easy to see how the Roosevelt era's responses were constructed out of whole political cloth. By the early 1940s when economic recovery was as far from achievement as it had been ten years earlier Roosevelt was trying ever harder to solve what his administration had made worse. "Freedom from want," a new and even more extreme gesture was the phrase that launched his 1941 State of the Union address. It was a sentiment that ominously found its footing in the continuing widespread poverty of the Depression. Initially, politically, it had seemed a not unreasonable claim (considering the climate that had already been created). That is, as Pipes notes, until the public realized that the only way to achieve this freedom was at

Although scholars have treated President Roosevelt harshly as a student of economics, it would be unfair to leave only this impression of Roosevelt in the reader’s mind.  Roosevelt is also considered the finest commander-in-chief the nation has had during wartime.  His strategic decisions, from his use of U.S. troops in North Africa at the beginning of World War II in order to divide Hitler’s resources in Europe without expending human capital in unconscionable numbers, to his resolute support of the immense efforts to create an atomic bomb at the end, decisions that often went against his own military’s best judgments, are seen today as both necessary and masterful.  The political and policy mayhem that was extant during the years Roosevelt was president—the economy was in shambles, communism’s allure was on the rise, Hitler in Germany and Tojo in Japan threatened to overrun the free world—forced him to juggle so many conflicting options that it was foreordained that both his detractors and his chorus would have many opportunities for judgment and conclusion.  It is up to the reader to assess Roosevelt , but only after understanding all of the circumstances of his presidency—the complete range of which is not offered within this text.


the expense of those who had not relinquished their sense of self-discipline and responsibility, those who had not embraced "the notion of entitlement in the absence of contribution or sacrifice." Those who were termed by William Graham Sumner, the nineteenth-century polymath and philosopher, "the forgotten men" of political discourse. "The forgotten man…He works, he votes, generally he prays, but his chief business in life is to pay."
     So that there is no misunderstanding about this situation Pipes clearly demonstrates it was not "the people" who demanded freedom from want; this was a political fabrication. During the Depression the citizens of the U.S. were always willing to work. They felt no sense of society's obligation to support them; they understood it was their responsibility to support themselves. That was not only our history, but our culture. They just wanted jobs. Despite this truth the political atmosphere at that time became such that citizens were told that the consequences of not being able to work would be remedied by the government. Thus was born the political (not social) culture of dependency. What could have eventuated was a return to a free-enterprise economy but as Pipes points out that was not politically profitable and perhaps not even economically comprehended.
     As Pipes argues, the politically voiced assertion of a "right" to freedom from want was a supposed "right" to life's necessities at public expense. It was a "right" to something that was not one's own. A skeptical public accepted the political reality and the Rooseveltian handout because for many the times still seemed desperate. But the public was not convinced of the truth of the concept. Nevertheless, the camel had his nose under the tent. As elections came and went the right to "freedom from want" metastasized into calls by the politically astute (that is, those who sought power for its own sake) for redistribution of goods and services. This unearned redistribution (the range of which grew as new politicians were elected and felt the continual expansion of what government did was the purpose for which they were sent to Washington) was to be done at public expense, of course. Those doing the "giving"-the taxpayers-were berated as unsympathetic, or greedy, or bigots, or worse if they found these programs unwarranted; those on the receiving end became inured to the "failures of society" and the redress of those failures in the form of freedom from want and both groups voted accordingly. As might be expected, the implementation of the welfare state preempted any thought of what could be done with a hand up rather than a handout.


     In Pipes's view the carnage is yet unfinished and will get worse if the lessons of the Kirks and Hayeks and Meyers and Mises and Friedmans are not heeded. The only solution is for the citizenry to take control of the electoral process in toto to insert rationality back into fiscal opportunities. Changes along these lines were begun in the 1990s but between political backsliding and the neoconservative electoral expediency in evidence since the turn of the twenty-first century steps toward progress have been less than hoped for. What Pipes explicates is that if we do not take
action in our own defense and in the defense of our children, we will get the government we deserve.
     A final note on these issues: Pipes does not imply criticism of a social safety net as he reviews the sequence of events America experienced during and since the Depression. He only offers reproach of state welfare that goes beyond need and lands directly in politics. He proposes that governmental involvement applied rationally (not emotionally or politically) would be workable if its provisions were tied to concomitant obligations. These obligations include the responsibility to take care of oneself to the extent possible, to better oneself as opportunity arises, to offer work for what one receives if one is able, and to not rely on state-sponsored beneficence beyond basic need. But, as Pipes observes, the liberals' care-for-all approach has operated to extinguish awareness of both obligations and opportunities with regard to those being helped. This was the result of a false political assumption: that every person who lived in poverty was there not through any action of his own and was utterly unable to help himself. In other words, the condition of poverty was completely a societal failure. This is the essence of political correctness.
     Pipes's contention is clear: the liberals in America have lost sight of square one. They cannot see and even go so far as to refuse to acknowledge how our economic system and society actually function. Unfortunately liberals have used poverty as a political lever. But in so doing they have conveniently ignored the fact that poverty and relative poverty are as often stage-of-life related phenomena as much as they are social consequences. The young, in particular, are often less well off because of their inexperience and less developed comprehensions but they move upward through the economic scale as they work and age; the lowest economic class does not contain a static population. Of course, there are many factors at work in such investigations, the details of which are beyond the scope of Pipes's observations and conclusions. Additional resources can be
consulted regarding these


issues, and the validity of some politically motivated economic and social assertions can be analyzed. For an investigation of poverty see Thomas Sowell's brief review of this issue in Fewer (Chapter 43), and Economics of the Free Society (Chapter 23).
     (With reference to economic misrepresentations and misunderstandings, especially as regards the manipulation of economic statistics, one should read Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. This book is not part of First Principles but it exposes the methodological and statistical [and thus philosophical] exploitation of economics. It also explores politically motivated economic theory for those untrained in this field.)
As Frederic Bastiat notes in 1850 in The Law (Chapter 7),

               See if the law takes from some person what belongs to them, and gives
               it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits
               one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself
               cannot do without committing a crime.

This perversion of law is exactly what is seen in the utopian mirage created sequentially by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and mid-twentieth-century Congressional Democrats. All of these players seem to have had little appreciation of rational economic foundations, the sanctity of private property, or individual dignity-primarily because these concepts were not politically useful. Pipes completes his explication of these modern conditions by discussing the corruption of governmental purpose:

               The notion that every need creates a "right" has acquired a quasi-
               religious status in modern America, inhibiting rational discussion.

Need one say more? Probably not. Need one do more? Without question.


About the Author
Richard Pipes, Baird Professor of History (now Emeritus) at Harvard University for more than forty years, was born in Silesia in 1923. He lived in Warsaw, Poland at the beginning of World War II and watched the city bombed mercilessly as the Germans invaded. He and his family escaped to America via Italy where he excelled in the world of academia after serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps and earning educational credentials. He is the author of numerous books and essays, including The Russian Revolution, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime, and Property and Freedom. In 1981-82, he served President Reagan on the National Security Council--where policy decisions were anything but unanimous or insignificant--as adviser on Soviet and East European Affairs. In 1992 he was an expert witness in the Russian Constitutional Court's trial against the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union. Pipes was a key anti-Soviet crusader in the 1970s and 1980s, and from 1968-73 he served as Director of Harvard's Russian Research Center. He is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and sits on the editorial boards of Strategic Review, Orbis, International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, Continuity, Journal of Strategic Studies, East European Jewish Affairs, and Nuova Storia Contemporanea. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Chesham, New Hampshire.

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