I've now read aother segment of Murray Rothbard's masterpiece "The Progressive Era" and it continues to enthral. In a previous ZGBlog I related how it shows that during the 1880 - 1920 period government didn't break up monopolistic trusts or cartels, as claimed by such Newspeak titles as the "Anti Trust Act", but rather shored them up, because large firms found themselves unable to sustain them. It's something the free market is unable to do. Government and big businesses were not, then as now, adversarial but very much in cahoots. Such is how socialism progresses, how government grows.
Rothbard also traces in some detail how it grew, during that period, in society generally; how it came to intervene in labor relations and with social welfare programs, and how that Era laid the foundations of the present "Nanny" or Welfare State. What I found breathtaking was the prominent role played in that process by women.
So breathtaking, that I nearly proposed a generalization: that there is one thing worse than men in politics, namely women in politics. One need only glance at Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren, Janet Reno and Loretta Lynch to see a pattern, and abroad there are Angela Merkel, Beatrice Ask (the Swedish "Justice" Minister who deprived Julian Assange of liberty) and Theresa May (the UK Prime Minister who continues that deprivation on the absurd grounds that he missed a court date.) But there are exceptions, and degrees of evil; and Margaret Thatcher broke the mold by repairing a good deal of the wreckage socialism had caused in Britain.
Back, though, to the Progressive Era. Rothbard traces the roots of the rapid growth of government in those years, to the second quarter of the 19th Century and to Protestants in the US North. That is a source that I had not previously understood.
His case, well supported as usual, is that those believers were mostly "Post Millennial Pietists" or PMPs. They were not liturgical (eg Lutherans and Episcopalians) and they thought the Millennium, said to be a period of several hundred years when Christ will reign and peace will prevail, had already started; ie that the present time was "post" or after its beginning, and that the Second Coming will take place after it ends, not when it starts. I hope I have that right, and that you'll pardon the theological excursion.
So PMPs thought they were already living in the promised period of peace. Around 1830 in the United States, that was not incredible; a new society had been formed, full of hope and unlike any before it; no big wars were in progress, the prosperity generated by relatively free enterprise was growing fast. So those Christians began then to see their main purpose in life was to enhance this improved society by implementing more of the social aspects of the Christian Gospel. They began to regard government as the instrument of God for good, and lady Protestants especially had the time to devote themselves to such good works - particularly, affluent ones. As Rothbard puts it:
...if your activism as a Christian evangelist had virtually nothing to do with Christian creed or liturgy or even personal reform, but was focused exclusively in using the force of government to shape up everyone, stamp out sin, and usher in a perfect society, if government is really God’s major instrument of salvation, then the role of Christianity in one’s practical activity began to fade into the background. Christianity became taken for granted, a background buzz; one’s practical activity was designed to use the government to stamp out liquor, poverty, or whatever is defined as sin, and to impose one’s own values and principles on the society.
These ladies' most prominent target was the Demon Rum. Husbands had been known to drink away on Friday evenings the bulk of their wages, leaving wives unable to keep house or feed children; so alcohol had to be outlawed. They were clever, playing the political game very well; they blasted every candidate for office who would not "sign the pledge", so during half a century the composition of Congress, regardless of Party, moved towards the "Dry"s. The 18th Amendment resulted, and produced a huge wave of organized crime for a hundred years.
By the 1860s it would have been hard to maintain the PMP view that Americans were enjoying a long period of peace, but at the same time "higher criticism" was taking a heavy toll on the traditional doctrines of Christianity, which are well summarized in the Nicene Creed; so we can agree that one way or the other, religious emphasis continued to move from matters of theology, personal faith and salvation, to the urge to improve society with a "social gospel."
By the middle of the Progressive Era, women were leading the movement; Rothbard lists name after name of ladies active in directing trade unions, campaigns for shorter working hours and higher wages, for laws to "protect" children from "exploitation", etc etc ad naus.; the whole panoply of Leftist causes including, occasionally, explicit Marxism. From those names and backgrounds then came what was for me the most surprising part of this segment of the book; those ladies were for the most part rich and lesbian.
First, they were predominantly daughters of wealthy businessmen. So their fathers and grandfathers had made fortunes thanks to the relatively laissez-faire environment and often to their Protestant work ethic, and the daughters repaid them by undermining both. The astonishing thing is that what they were not; the "Progressive" movement was not bottom-up, a revolt by the oppressed poor desperate for better conditions, but from top-down; well-to-do and frequently female self-styled intellectuals who thought they knew what was good for hoi polloi.
Second comes the bewildering news that very many of these women were lesbian. Less than 4% of US females fall into that category, yet here in 1900 a substantial portion of "Progressive" leaders, perhaps even a majority, have that orientation. How come? And does it matter? Rothbard offers a partial explanation by quoting one free-market Democrat, Senator James Reed:
“It is now proposed to turn the control of the mothers of the land over to a few single ladies holding government jobs in Washington. ... We would better reverse the proposal and provide for a committee of mothers to take charge of the old maids and teach them how to acquire a husband and have babies of their own.”
So, perhaps, these women became the Nation's Nannies to compensate for their own lack of children.
A latecomer to the cabal of heiresses working to re-shape society and boost the rôle of government was Eleanor Roosevelt, a niece of Teddy, whose sister Barnie raised her following her parents' deaths. In 1899 Barnie sent her to a finishing school in London run by Marie Souvestre, who was French and reputedly - you guessed it - lesbian. Why, I wonder, would any guardian place a young lady under such known influence, when there were many other good finishing schools across the Pond?
That's quite a puzzle, but one clue is offered by Rothbard: Souvestre's school (Allenswood) counted among its alumni the offspring of some of the most prominent political families on the Continent, including the Chamberlains.
Nevile, you'll recall, was the Chamberlain whom Eleanor's future husband Franklin tricked into declaring World War Two, so vastly altering the course of history. It's possible that the two families were more closely acquainted than I knew, due to their common interest in Allenswood. I just wonder whether FDR's pressure on him in March 1939 to guarantee the integrity of Poland was applied not just through Ambassador Kennedy, but also by a quiet back-channel word from Eleanor.
In the coming zero government society, there will be no political women. There will be no political men, either; for there will be no politics, since there will be no levers of power for any of them to grab.