International Commentary (36 )

The Revolutions Were

Gary North (, October 23, 2018

Remnant Review

Yesterday, I published a reprint of a section from Garret Garett’s 1953 book, The People’s Pottage. In it, he extended his comments from 1938 in an essay, “The Revolution Was.” He argued that the New Deal had been a successful revolution imposed from the top, and it had become successful in setting the terms of political discourse in both political parties.

We keep hearing about a looming political revolution. We have had political revolutions in the past. The most recent one was in 1933. It was a big one. It reshaped the thinking of a vast majority of American voters. They did not change their minds. Their children did not change their minds. Their grandchildren have not changed their minds. This is why I do not take seriously any talk about an imminent political revolution. But I take very seriously talk about a political revolution during and after the great default of the federal government on Social Security, Medicare, and the Pentagon.


My first full-time job was with the Foundation for Economic Education. It had been founded in 1946 by Leonard E. Reed. It was the first Libertarian think tank.

In her biography of Read, Mary Sennholz gives this account of the political conditions of 1933.

The business community generally welcomed the President’s initiative and enthusiastically endorsed his spending programs. Businessmen were eager to restrict competition and production so that they could raise prices and boost income. They were eager to preserve the Hawley-Smoot tariff which had practically eliminated foreign competition. Both measures, protective tariffs and managed markets, would permit them to “adjust supply to demand” and hopefully bring about general industrial revival. But business enthusiasm for the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and other New Deal legislation was dampened soon when the demands of organized labor received a friendlier reception than those of business. The proposal for production restrictions and minimum prices was turned into a proposal for a shorter work week and minimum wages. While NRA boosted business costs significantly, it did not raise business income.

Businessmen and their trade associations from the National Association of Manufacturers to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce eagerly cooperated with the industrial committees negotiating the codes. And Leonard Read, the vocal Chamber spokesman of the Western Division, was faithfully defending the official Chamber position. He was always aware, however, that what he knew was very little in comparison to what he was ignorant of. Instead of boasting about his knowledge of economic matters he confessed his ignorance and was embarrassed about that which he did not understand. When he heard of the vocal criticism of NRA by the Executive Vice President of Southern California Edison Co., W.C. Mullendore, Leonard set out to investigate. Their meeting in Mr. Mullendore’s office in Los Angeles, in the fall of 1933, was to be a turning point in Leonard’s life.

At the meeting Leonard at first expounded the advantages of NIRA to business while William Mullendore listened attentively. But then Bill spoke for an hour, analyzing and refuting, and patiently explaining individual liberty and the private property order. According to Leonard, it was the best explanation he had ever heard.

At the time, Read was the head of the West Coast division of the Chamber. He later was offered $100,000 a year to become the executive vice president of the International Chamber. That was in 1946, when $100,000 was a great deal of money. He turned it down. Instead, he stayed with FEE.

Read once told me about his meeting with Mullendore. He said that he had gone into the meeting ready to change Mullendore’s opinion. In one hour, he said, Mullendore changed his opinion and also changed his life. But it took 13 years for that change to make itself manifest in the founding of FEE.

Read had little interest in politics. He did not think anything significant could be changed for the better by way of politics. He wanted to change people’s minds, in much the same way that Mullendore had changed his mind.

You can see why he favored the 1937 essay by Albert J. Nock, “Isaiah’s Job.”


With this as background, let me quote from an article by somebody named Jonathan on a site that is quite popular, but which I had not heard of until last week, SOTT (Signs of the Times). I have not yet figured out what its political slant is. But it is clearly not establishment. The essay begins apocalyptically. As you read these words, superimpose them retroactively on the weeks before the election of 1860. Would you say that these same words apply?

We’re getting close to the end now. Can you feel it? I do. It’s in the news, on the streets, and in your face every day. You can’t tune it out anymore, even if you wanted to.

Where once there was civil debate in the court of public opinion, we now have censorship, monopoly, screaming, insults, demonization, and, finally, the use of force to silence the opposition. There is no turning back now. The political extremes are going to war, and you will be dragged into it even if you consider yourself apolitical.

There are great pivot points in history, and we’ve arrived at one. The United States, ruptured by a thousand grievance groups, torn by shadowy agencies drunk on a gross excess of power, robbed blind by oligarchs and their treasonous henchmen and decimated by frivolous wars of choice, has finally come to a point where the end begins in earnest. The center isn’t holding… indeed, finding a center is no longer even conceivable. We are the schizophrenic nation, bound by no societal norms, constrained by no religion, with no shared sense of history, myth, language, art, philosophy, music, or culture, rushing toward an uncertain future fueled by nothing more than easy money, hubris, and sheer momentum.

There comes a time when hard choices must be made…when it is no longer possible to remain aloof or amused, because the barbarians have arrived at the gate. Indeed, they are here now, and they often look a whole lot like deracinated, conflicted, yet bellicose fellow Americans, certain of only one thing, and that is that they possess “rights”, even though they could scarcely form an intelligible sentence explaining exactly what those rights secure or how they came into being. But that isn’t necessary, from their point of view, you see. All they need is a “voice” and membership in an approved victim class to enrich themselves at someone else’s expense. If you are thinking to yourself right now that this does not describe you, then guess what? The joke’s on you, and you are going to be expected to pay the bill…that “someone else” is you.

Abraham Lincoln was elected in November. South Carolina seceded in December. Before Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, secession had already taken place. Over the next four years, over 700,000 Americans died in battle.

Apocalyptic rhetoric in November 1860 was appropriate.

But let’s not stop with 1860. Let’s go back to 1775. Was such rhetoric valid then? I don’t think it was valid, but it certainly was prophetic about what was about to take place. It was rhetoric like this, incarnated in the words of the Declaration of Independence, that led to a revolution that established the United States of America. This rhetoric had been escalating for a decade. The great master of this rhetoric was a lawyer from Virginia, Patrick Henry. Yet when it was all over, and the Constitution was being ratified in 1787, Henry warned against it. He saw the Constitution as an illegitimate extension of consolidated power to the federal government. His words fell on deaf ears. James Madison and members of a closed Convention had successfully created an unconstitutionally illegal ratification process to bypass state legislatures, and the nationalists won every statewide contest. They called themselves federalists, but they were in fact nationalists.

I don’t see any big change coming. The reason for this is that I think the revolutions have already been: 1775, 1865, and 1933. Each time, there has been a centralization of political power. Each time, it has gained the widespread acceptance of the broad mass of American voters. Each time it has been ratified again and again in subsequent elections. There has been a consolidation of power that began as a direct result of the original revolution in 1775. Revolutions are centralizing events. You cannot have a revolution in which power is not centralized. That insight comes from Frederick Engels, the co-founder of Marxism. He wrote this in an essay, “On Authority,” in 1872: “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.”

Let us return to Jonathan’s essay.

The “Defense” Department, “Homeland” Security, big pharma, big oil, big education, civil rights groups, blacks, Indians, Jews, the Deep State, government workers, labor unions, Neocons, Populists, fundamentalist Christians, atheists, pro life and pro death advocates, environmentalists, lawyers, homosexuals, women, Millenials, Baby Boomers, blue collar/white collar, illegal aliens…the list goes on and on, but the point is that the conflicting agendas of these disparate groups have been irreconcilable for some time. The difference today is that we are de facto at war with each other, and whether it is a war of words or of actual combat doesn’t matter at the moment. What matters is that we no longer communicate, and when that happens it is easy to demonize the other side. Violence is never far behind ignorance.

There have always been disparate agendas offered by disparate groups. There is nothing new about this. These agendas cannot be reconciled, so politicians and educators take bits and pieces of these agendas and create hybrids that true believers on both sides cannot accept.

There has been an escalation of rhetoric since the election of Trump. Trump is rhetorically opposed to the existing power structure. But he has not challenged it as president. His appointments are fairly conventional. Brett Kavanaugh was the least conservative of the various names on the list of Supreme Court nominees. He picked a George W. Bush apparatchik.

I am not saying that rhetoric is irrelevant. It is relevant. Groups solidify behind and against representatives who speak out in a particular way. But if we’re talking about actual political change, there has not been any. The revolution was. The progressive agenda was imposed by Franklin Roosevelt over 80 years ago. There is no opposition to it. Reagan gave obeisance to it. Newt Gingrich did, too.

Don’t tell me about political revolutions without telling me about radically new federal budgets. I want to see a change in spending. I can tell you what a person really believes if you let me look at his checkbook stubs. He can talk a good line, but his checkbook stubs will tell me if he puts his money where his mouth is. Here is the national checkbook stubs:

The percentages barely budge year-to-year. These are non-budging budgets. These are bipartisan budgets. They go through Congress. These budgets are not rammed down the gullets of the people.

There is hardly any wiggle room for a new President of the United States. Bernie Sanders would face the same constraints that Donald Trump faces. Donald Trump faces the same constraints that Hillary Clinton would have faced. It doesn’t matter what the official agenda is or was of Bernie Sanders. What matters is the federal budget. The rest of it is political posturing. It is rhetoric without substance.

You don’t create a revolution based on rhetoric without substance. You create on the basis of rhetoric with substance. If rhetoric is not accompanied by political power to change the budget, then it is simply posturing. It may be a preparation for future revolution. It is not going to create one immediately.

If there is a serious recession prior to the election of 2020, then the Democrats will come into power. They will consolidate power. And then what will they do? They will do exactly what Trump does. They will run trillion-dollar deficits. They will not defund Social Security, Medicare, and the Defense Department. They will create new boondoggles, but these boondoggles will be a small percentage of the $4.5 trillion federal budget.

The progressives deeply resent Donald Trump. He is a deal-doer who got rich in the Keynesian economy. He defeated Hillary Clinton, a deal-doer who got rich off the Clinton Foundation and $250,000 speeches to outfits like Goldman Sachs. She really was crooked. Everybody who voted for her knew she was crooked. Everybody who voted for Bill Clinton knew he was a serial adulterer. They didn’t care. They reelected him despite all this. If he had been eligible to run in 2000, he would have run, and he would have been reelected. He was wildly popular when he went out of office.

Nothing fundamental has changed in American politics since 1933. It is the Progressives’ agenda. The elite has gained the political support of the masses. Roosevelt consolidated this before the end of his first term. Alf Landon carried only Vermont and Maine in 1936. We should not forget this.

Today, Vermont is represented by Bernie Sanders.

The revolution was.


The public will learn to its dismay that the Democrats can’t fix the economy if they take over in 2021. Then what? They may be reelected in 2024. It doesn’t matter. They will not fix the economy by more monetary inflation and more government boondoggles. The massive deficits of Social Security and Medicare are going to overwhelm the system. These programs are politically untouchable. There’s nothing the Democrats can do about that. They can go through the motions of setting additional means tests for rich people, but that will not change the deficits. Rhetoric will not balance the budget.

Trump is not even trying to use rhetoric to balance the budget. He doesn’t talk about it. No Republicans talk about it. For that matter, no Democrats talk about it. And this is only the on-budget deficit, let alone the off-budget deficits of Social Security and Medicare.

I don’t care much about rhetoric. I do care about budgets. Let me know when the federal budget goes into surplus. Tell me about the political grassroots movement that created a political constituency that led to a Congress that voted to run a surplus every year in the federal budget. I want to see three in a row. Then we can talk about revolutions.

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