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creeping socialism

Back when this man was President of the USA the term “creeping socialism” was known (and, one suspects, understood) by most Americans who were capable of waking up in the morning. Ike didn’t invent the term — that honor goes to F.A. Hayek in his what was then recent book, The Road to Serfdom; but Ike used it, knowing in his gut that most ordinary people would make it theirs. Ike was the quintessential middle-class President of the 20th century (until Reagan, that is), and his instincts both reflected and guided ours. Did you know that when Proctor & Gamble introduced “Mr. Clean” in 1958 (which became the most wildly popular cleaning agent ever, within six months!) the company chose as its cartoon representative and logo a perfect combination of Dwight Eisenhower and Yul Brynner?

Proctor & Gamble, it seems, knew more than the intelleckshualls who made fun of Ike’s contrived malapropisms and golfing habit. Ike befuddled most of us with his Farewell Address (“we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”), the greatest since the original one. He did a great service to the country by warning us over and over again, not just in saying farewell, of the insidious nature of the collectivist beast.Like most Americans he spoke the language of “progress” rather uncritically, but he knew that progress is not automatic if government, intentionally or not, little by little chews up and digests the culture.

On the other hand, Ike almost single-handedly ended the debate over the most creepy of all creeping socialist enterprises, the New Deal. Bob Taft, whom Ike had thrashed in 1952, went to his grave insisting that “you can’t deal the New Deal.” It’s like a slime that never stops moving. Eisenhower purged the purging of New Deal programs from the Republican Party agenda, and even added a few of his own. The National Highway Act of 1956, for example, was one of the greatest collectivist measures ever laid upon the states and local communities; but can anyone, in the need for speed, remember what the country looks like? And who cares? How would we get to work?

This, in a strange and ineluctable way, brings us back to the airport outrages of TSA. One of the delights, to me, of Brittany Baldwin’s pristine rage over her treatment by TSA “professionals” is that it occurred to her apparently as a force of Natural Law. She is not old enough to remember any other airport way. She cannot have ever driven to an airport, parked for free, and boarded an airplane after kissing her family goodbye — at the departure gate! She also cannot possibly remember not having to wear seat belts, or a thousand other things that the creeping collectivist monster has swallowed in a remarkably short span of history.

In fact, one of the nastier things that creeping socialism has exploited since about 1950 is the culture of the Short Attention Span (SAP). This is not the place to go into the insidious effects of television advertising, or Soap Operas specializing in seventeen-second confrontations, or fast food joints wounding an already stricken family life. But whatever the many causes of our national SAP, it is absolutely necessary to the destruction of freedom. Liberty requires cultivation, just as making fine tools or growing good food requires cultivation. What Robert Frost called “too much pigging together” negates not only liberty, but every other kind of ordered human enterprise. Yet a-pigging we go, and as SAPs we don’t seem to mind, or usually even to notice.

 The more we pig, the easier it is to forget some fairly important things:

•   Abortion was rare and il-legal

•   Divorce and automobile accidents were somebody’s fault

•   Almost nobody had ever heard a Mass except in Latin

•   No politician would dare to question the 2nd Amendment

•   The American Medical Association was dead set against national health insurance

I could list several thousand items like this. And the sad thing is that we have become SAPs in such a short period of time! When I was Brittany Baldwin’s age I would have thought a post like this would qualify as futuristic nonsense on the order of Flash Gordon. The good news is that there are young people around who still get excited about liberty. Nice thing about Natural Law: It doesn’t go away. Bad thing is, we are becoming easier to turn into SAPs, and if you noticed the complete flop of the holiday protest against TSA methods, it may be later than we think.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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2 replies to this post
  1. John, we needed that! When I was age three in the mid-1950s, my great-grandparents hauled me out of bed and into parties to repeat (to rounds of applause) the campaign slogan 'I Like Ike.' I often wonder what they would make of modern American life. To be sure they would be appalled, but perhaps most upsetting to them would be how the state, and its accomplices such as banks, have eroded family and individual self-reliance.

    A scant few generations later and old people take out of the system more than they ever put in (Medicare, Social Security, etc.) and think nothing of it – my great-grandparents grew frail and moved into the rented home of their daughter and son-in-law, my grand-parents. Nobody in that household ever bought a car on credit, whereas numbers of my modern cousins appear to be in debt up to their gills or at least living rather Lucullan lives that those frugal, old, Detroit German-Americans would have found shocking.

    Call it creeping, incremental or Fabian socialism, it works its wicked ways. As Doc Rice taught us at Hillsdale, quoting Alexander Pope,

    “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As to be hated needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

    And what American family has not?

    Stephen Masty

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