The damage to the foundations [of our republic] might have been much slower and not beyond simple repair if it had not happened that in 1932 a band of intellectual revolutionaries, hiding behind the conservative planks of the Democratic party, seized control of government.
After that it was the voice of government saying to the people that had been too much freedom. That was their trouble. Freedom was for the strong. The few had used it to exploit the many. Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, boom and bust, depression and unemployment, economic security, want in the midst of plenty, property rights above human rights, taking it always out of the hide of labor in bad times—all of that was what came of rugged individualism, of free prices, free markets, free enterprise and freedom of contract. Let that be the price of freedom, and who would not say it was too dear?
So instead of this willful private freedom, trust the government to administer freedom, for all the people alike, especially the weak. To begin with, the government would redistribute the national wealth in an equitable manner. Then its planners soul plan production and distribution in perfect balance, and thus no more boom and bust; the government then would see to it that everybody had always enough money to buy a decent living, and beyond that it would provide for the widows and orphans, the sick and disabled, the indigent and the old.
To perform these miracles it would require more freedom for itself—that is, freedom to intervene in the lives of people for their own good, freedom from old Constitutional restraints that belonged to our horse-and-buggy days, and freedom to do as it would with the public purse. And if is should be said that this increase in governments own sphere of freedom meant curtailment of the individual’s freedom, it came to this—that the individual was asked to surrender only the freedom to starve and what he received in return was freedom from want. Was that not a good bargain?
What the people did in fact surrender was control of government.
They did not intend to do that. For a long time they did not realize they had done it, and when at last it came to they they were already deeply infected with a virus that devours the copy book virtues, creates habits of dependence and destroys the valiant love of self-responsibility.
The crisis was moral.
Source: Garet Garrett. The People’s Pottage, 1953, p. 10-11. Later republished (1993) as Burden of Empire: America’s Road from Self-Rule to Servitude. Garet Garret was born in 1878 in Pana, Illinois. An accomplished journalist and financial expert by his thirties, he was a member of the editorial board of the New York Times, executive editor of the New York Tribune, and chief editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post.