The American Story
He was a defender of free enterprise who adored the magnificence of the American genius for progress.
He was a champion of business who believed in profiting the old fashioned way.
He was a libertarian who deplored the rise of big government.
He was a constitutionalist who was aghast at how presidents and congresses shredded the document in times of economic crisis and war.
He was the last of the great old-time liberals who opposed FDR's welfare-warfare state.
Above all else, he was a brilliant student of the American experience who could tell a story like no one else of his generation.
Garet Garrett's last book was his own retelling of American history, with a special focus on the technologies and people behind them that transformed life for average people, along with a relentless and truth-telling story about the rise of the state.
These had been a theme of all of his work, from his novels of the 1920s to his case against the New Deal in the 1930s. His final work tells the story of the American people as its never been told, from an early experiment in freedom, and the fight against the powers in Washington that sought to suppress that freedom, all the way through the beginnings of a preventable Cold War.
The images that the author presses on the mind in The American Story--a complete biography of a country--are vivid and telling, the product of a lifetime of study and the wisdom of age.
The Wall Street Journal called this book "probably the most brilliant long historical essay on America that has ever been written."
A book this great should have been read by all high school students in this country, but instead it died an early death. The political culture of the time found it inadmissible with too many unthinkable thoughts. Garrett struck the budding conservative movement as too erudite and too principled to fit in with the organizing plan of new times. He was left to write for the ages.
Thus does the Mises Institute release this masterpiece more than 50 years after it quickly came and went. It is the sort of book that changes the way we think about our own history, and to celebrate the wisdom of a great American essayist and novelist.
He begins in Colonial times to illustrate the culture that shaped the country: "If the Americans were going to grapple this continent to themselves, do it with their bare hands, and do it before a land-hungry world could see too much, they would have to be in a hurry.
"Yet after they had performed this incredible feat, after they had bound their continent together with bands of steel and it was entirely safe, still their feud with time went on. When they were fifty million, then one hundred million, and already the richest people in the world, still their minds were obsessed with time saving inventions of method, device and machine, as if they knew how much more there was to do and were fearful that they could not get it done in time."
On the American industrial genius: This is what made American industry supreme in all the later phenomena of mass production. Other people had machines that were just as good, and had them first, other people knew the methods too, and were welcome to come and look, but they worked in another dimension of time. Here the machine was not to save labor; it was to save time.
On how the United States was triumphant over British manufacturing: Thus it was that at the onset of a Scythian struggle for economic supremacy American industry began with all young and new machines and a ruthless way of killing them as fast as they became obsolete-and this against the older machines of Europe and against the reluctance of the European industrialist to destroy capital which until then had been very profitable. The old mare was still what she used to be; the trouble was that better mares were getting born. Moreover, American industry had no complacency of laurels, no traditions, no habits. It was rash and experimental; it could embrace a new method with amazing ease, and no one to say, "But we have always done it this way."
On agricultural technology: Now the wooden plow, the hoe, the scythe and cradle were gone; and that was only the beginning. Came the harvester-a machine that cut the grain like the reaper but at the same time gathered it up in sheaves and tied a string around the sheave with its own steel fingers. "Behind the harvester lay the sheaves, in rows as neat as dominoes, needing only to be picked up. And• then the threshing machine: first a stationary one to which the sheaves were brought from the field by wagons, the grain passing back to be sacked and the straw piling up in mountains; and then one that by its own power moved over the standing wheat, reaping it into its maw with one stroke, threshing it by internal commotion, spilling the straw back to the ground as it passed, sending the winnowed grain through a pipe to a tank tender.
On industrial transformation: One generation of Americans, with their fierce jealousy for freedom of enterprise and their philosophy of laissez faire, had created here the most powerful industrial nation on earth. It was not what they possessed in land and treasure and knowledge; other people had as much of these or more. It was what they did with what they had; and they were bound to go on until they should have in their hands, of their own making, half the industrial power of the whole world and no rational idea of what to do with it.
On World War I: In World War I the Americans exerted their strength to make the world safe for democracy. That was an unattainable object because, first, democracy was something nobody could define, and, secondly, half the world did not want it. However you define it, the life of democracy in the world was much less safe afterward than before.
The Great Depression: During the Great Depression the imperious tradition of limited government was sacrificed, and the ground principles of free, competitive enterprise were compromised beyond redemption.
Gold confiscation: The government took it and buried it at Fort Knox. That was confiscation, and bad enough; but there was one more trick. The government said: "When the Federal Reserve Banks took possession of this gold it was worth only $26.67 an ounce. Now it is: worth $35 an ounce. The difference is profit and it belongs to the United States Treasury." It was not profit; it was bookkeeping. Nevertheless, the Treasury set it up in its books as profit, converted it into paper dollars, and spent the money. It was a sum of nearly $2 billion. To reduce the gold dollar to a piece of irredeemable piece of paper took fourteen months. In the process the President got physical possession of the public purse.
On the AAA: It was already the middle of Spring; too late to stop planting and breeding. The alternative was to destroy growing crops. The AAA paid farmers to plow down as much as one-fourth of their cotton, wheat, corn and tobacco and to slaughter millions of little pigs before they could grow into pork-provided they would sign up to take orders from the government next year.
On the NRA's Blue Eagle: "Its significance was that of the brass serpent held aloft by Moses. If you looked upon it and believed you were saved from the fiery serpents sent by God to scourge a willful people. The fiery serpents in this case were little bands of NRA workers, with NRA pencils and paper in their hands, going to and fro in the streets and through public places, aggressively demanding that people stop in their tracks and sign a pledge to boycott any place of business that did not display the Blue Eagle. That was Johnson at his worst and best.
On Pearl Harbor: An attack was expected. It was the wished-for solution. That the Japanese would cross the Pacific to commit their first overt act at Pearl Harbor was unexpected. And the loss of a mighty fleet and more than three thousand lives in one hour was perhaps much more than the war party would have been willing to pay for a declaration of war by Congress.
On World War II: In World War II they exerted their strength again to put down aggression in the world and to confer upon mankind the four freedoms, especially freedom from want and freedom from fear. What was the result? They put down one aggressor and raised up a worse one, the old spectre of famine returned and fear became the controlling emotion of the whole world, even the fear that civilization might perish.
On Yalta: And still the story of Yalta cannot be understood without reference again to the strange infatuation of the Roosevelt regime for Russia. It was as if Mr. Roosevelt had taken it upon himself personally to overcome the Russian Dictator's distrust of the Western World and convert him to the cause of freedom. To do this he thought it necessary to placate Stalin, to give him, or seem to give him, everything he wanted, thereby to engage him in bonds of gratitude and win his collaboration.
On Korea: It was an absurd war. American power became imprisoned in it. The Americans could not afford to lose it; neither could they afford to win it. If they lost it, or abandoned it, they would lose face forever in Asia. On the other hand, to win it they might have had to conquer China, which was an appalling task to contemplate, besides at the same time alienating their United Nations allies, most of whom, and especially Great Britain and India, were for confining the war to Korea and coming to terms ultimately with Communist China.
Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, 1955