What to Make of Those Democrats?

Assistant Editor Bill Kauffman's description of himself as an "Andrew Jackson Democrat" is quite apt; judging from his December piece on the Democrats, "Desperately Seeking Solutions," he seems to have missed much of the last 160 years.

Don't get me wrong—much of Kauffman's analysis of Democratic factionalism is quite cogent. But his attempt to hew so closely to your party line forced him into inevitable internal contradictions, misinterpretations, and selective reading of sources, including my book The Neoliberals: Creating The New American Politics (which remains curiously uncredited in the piece, despite its obvious usefulness).

Surely Kauffman knows that The New Republic's Herbert Croly not only wrote of "the destructive individualism of Jeffersonianism," but of the need (in historian Charles Forcey's words) to use "Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends." And surely Kauffman recalls that the modern interventionist state, particularly as it relates to economic and social progress, was primarily a political invention of the Republican Roosevelt, a follower of Croly, who recognized (as eventually did Democrat Wilson and the other Roosevelt) that the anti-competitive, anti-individualistic spectre of industrial monopoly simply could not be managed by blind adherence to 19th-century free- market bromides.

Indeed, Kauffman's major error is not understanding that the basis of liberalism as a political creed was not frozen in the 19th century, but by its very nature is an evolving doctrine. As Eric Goldman made clear in his classic history of American liberalism Rendezvous With Destiny, liberalism has always allied itself with institutional reform aimed at promoting progress and the greatest exercise of individual freedom consonant with the freedom of the whole.

Kauffman mistakenly views the neoliberals' adherence to the principles of free trade, contra their Mondaloid brethren, as partial fealty to 19th-century principles, rather than as an example of economic internationalism (distinct from strategic internationalism) bred by their belief in the economically unifying power of new communications technologies.

And Kauffman is also mistakenly selective in criticizing Gary Hart and Paul Tsongas for supporting an oil-import fee, without also indicating that both Hart and Tsongas, indeed most of the congressional neoliberals, were in the forefront of the energy price-decontrol wars during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tsongas and Bill Bradley, for example, were the only two Senate Democrats from the Northeast to oppose re-imposition of oil price controls during the first year of the Reagan administration.

One final point, a big one. I simply cannot understand how a libertarian can support President Reagan's Space Defense Initiative without falsely justifying what would amount to the costliest transfer-of-wealth between government and private sector in our history. There is a growing body of work suggesting that our competitive disadvantage in the commercialization of information-age technologies derives from the military establishment's control of our nation's R&D apparatus. Inasmuch as Star Wars would further concentrate research, development, and application of critical new technologies with a mere handful of bloated and bureaucratically bound military contractors, it could hamper economic progress for decades to come.

Randall Rothenberg
New York, NY

Mr. Kauffman replies: Well, gosh, what can I say? Except that Mr. Rothenberg's neoliberalism seems to be based on a discredited, fairy-tale interpretation of the Progressive Era that has few adherents outside the Arthur Schlesinger school for court historians. Gabriel Kolko exposed the "anti-competitive, anti-individualistic spectre of industrial monopoly" nonsense 20 years ago in The Triumph of Conservatism. The trend in the late 19th century was toward competition and decentralism; the progressives and their big business allies scotched that and created the regulatory state so dear to Herbert Croly's heart. My "party line" reading of American history owes much to courageous leftist and even (gasp!) Marxist historians such as Kolko, William A. Williams, Ronald Radosh, and Christopher Lasch—no libertarians, they.

Briefly: My failure to mention Mr. Rothenberg's fine book isn't so "curious"; I've never read it. Next on my list, I promise. As for "the economically unifying power of new communications technologies," frankly, I have no idea what this means. But I'm probably against it. I support SDI because I'm an isolationist and I believe that defensive weapon systems are a tad less immoral than offensive ones. (By the way, the American Enterprise Institute's Karl Zinsmeister points out that the federal government's share of all US R&D has declined from 64 percent in 1960 to 46 percent in 1984, contra Rothenberg.) I'm glad Bill Bradley and Paul Tsongas opposed oil price controls. And finally, if respect for individual rights is a "19th-century principle," heaven help us all.

Getting to Know You

I find myself in agreement with Tibor Machan's conclusion ("Assault on the Passions," Jan.) that we must reject the "dichotomy between spirit and body and the corresponding denigration of the human passions." However, I strongly disagree with his nescient assumptions that Christianity promotes this dichotomy.

The Bible condemns any sexual activity outside the husband-wife relationship as sinful. But between the husband and wife, the Bible supports and encourages sexual passion. Paul, who mistakenly is said by Mr. Machan to find sex less than completely noble, wrote that a husband has an obligation to have sexual relations with his wife regularly and she with him (I Corinthians 7:3). Paul in this passage condemns that very dichotomy that Mr. Machan condemns. He emphasizes that we are sexual creatures and to deny this and abstain will only lead to trouble.

Unfortunately, many Christians do believe sex is somehow dirty and unclean. But that is not the teaching of the Scriptures. A couple of examples: The Song of Solomon is a beautiful poem of the passionate, sexual love between a husband and wife. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul, and the writer of Hebrews all commend sexual intimacy in marriage.

In summary, Christians believe God created the sexual drives in both men and women. He made the intense pleasure of sex for us to experience and enjoy. But sex is to be experienced only within the marriage relationship.

Rev. Bruce L. Prentice
Lewistown, MT

Defending Sleazeballs

Marvin Olasky picked the wrong villains in his article "Hornswoggled" (Feb.). Samuel Insull and Theodore Vail may have been sleazeballs according to your moral code (the nonaggression principle), but they were simply individuals acting in their own self-interest. They were consummate businessmen, and succeeded admirably. The real villains were the rest of the people in America, who let them get away with it.

In any society, even a libertarian one, there will be those who disagree with the prevailing moral code. Your condemnation reminds me of those who moralize against drugs. In any event, you missed the important history lesson here: there will always be such schemers around, as summarized by the old bromide, "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

Robert L. Walton
Fairport, NY

Swiss Choose Wisely

Mark Skousen's advice (Investments, Feb.) on how to protect our purse if the history of the '20s and '30s repeats itself is sound and maybe timely. But what are we to do to protect what is even more precious than our pocketbook—that being what little is left of our freedom?

Most of the freedom from oppressive government bequeathed us by our forefathers was lost in FDR's combat with the '30s depression. This nation cannot survive another depression as severe as that. If we do have one, the people will rightfully demand a change from the politicians-dominated government that brought it on. Every other representative democracy that has failed has been followed by a dictatorship. Is that what we can expect?

There is a better solution. That solution is direct democracy, the form of government wherein the people keep unto themselves the power to make the laws. Switzerland has had this form of government for 700 years. While nearly all the rest of the earth's nations have muddled through wars and depressions, the racially and religiously differing Swiss have moved right along peacefully, making profits.

If we would protect our freedom from the chaos of a '30s-style depression, we had best amend our constitution to vest the power of legislation in the people, something Madison probably would have done 200 years ago had there been available the communications, transportation, and computers that we have today.

George Bourland
Concord, CA

Who Speaks For the Fetus?

Being a new subscriber, I did not participate in the recent reader survey, but reading the results in your Up Front column (Jan.) disturbed me. Because regarding abortion, you asked the wrong question! Your question was useless because it solicited a response to only the very opposite extreme of abortion on demand; it sidestepped the abortion issue entirely.

Even those of us who oppose all abortions know that in rare cases current medical technology is unable to save the life of the unborn child and to continue bearing the child would kill the mother. Though aborting the pregnancy is unavoidable in such unfortunate circumstances, it is still undesirable (most people would prefer that advances in medical science occur such that the lives of both individuals can be preserved).

Civil rights makes abortion an issue, not rare cases of self-defense. Whose civil rights is what the issue is all about. Asking if your readers would support or oppose banning all abortions doesn't produce any information—it merely confuses the issue. If you want to know your readers' views, ask: "Is the human fetus a living human being with rights separate from those of its mother?" The answer to this question determines how reasonable people must view the abortion issue.

Leland Hosford
Cedar Rapids, IA