in 1991, Russell Kirk gave the this talk to a group of conservatives associated with the Heritage Foundation. Oh, that we had listened to him. Kirk, one of the primary conservative voices of the 20th century, said the Republican party had lost its way by becoming the party of war and big spending. And this was before the second Iraq war and our endless occupation of the Middle East! (Kirk died in 1994 and did not see the second Iraq war). Let me excerpt some key paragraphs from Kirk’s talk:
Now the Republican Party long boasted of its frugality. The Bush Administration, on the contrary, has stolen some of the Democrats’ old clothes while the sons of Jefferson and Jackson were out bathing. But those purloined garments are ragged; and Republicans look odd and unconvincing when clad in them.
Oppressive Taxation. With respect to a sharp increase in the level of taxes, it seems as if the Bush Administration really does not understand the principle of diminishing returns, or know the history of the consequences of excessive taxation. When computing our federal income tax very recently, my wife and I discovered that more than half our gross income is taken in taxation — federal income tax; Social Security taxes; state income taxes; village, township, and county taxes, school property tax; sales taxes. And we are not of the number of Franklin Roosevelt’s “malefactors of great wealth.” We are in the process of educating four young daughters, paying off mortgages, trying to save something for one’s declining years — I, being seventy-two years of age already — and contributing to charitable causes. Yet we are better off than many taxpayers. What straw will break the camel’s back?
A state that annually exacts in taxes half of a citizen’s income is more oppressive, financially, than the despotisms of old. In the ancient monarchies of China, a tax load of more than ten percent would have been thought unjust. Excessive taxation is a major cause of the decline and fall of great states: so writes C. Northcote Parkinson, the author of Parkinson’s Law, in his last book.
The Bush Administration had one handsome prospect for reducing governmental expenditure, reducing the federal deficit, and possibly even making a gesture at reduction of the federal debt: that is, the prospective contraction of the armed forces, what with the dwindling of the Soviet menace. Instead, Mr. Bush has plunged the United States into a war which, so far, has cost about a billion dollars a day. (You will recall that a billion dollars is a thousand million dollars.) Already, more taxation to pay for this struggle in the Levant is being discussed in Washington. So I quote Parkinson once more: “Taxes become heavier in time of war and should diminish, by rights, when the war is over. That is not, however, what happens. Although sometimes lowered when the war ends, taxes seldom regain their pre-war level. That is because the level of expenditure rises to meet the war-time level of taxation.”
Unless the Bush Administration abruptly reverses its fiscal and military course, I suggest, the Republican Party must lose its former good repute for frugality, and become the party of profligate expenditure, “butter and guns.” And public opinion would not long abide that. Nor would America’s world influence and America’s remaining prosperity.
But, time running on, I must turn to affairs diplomatic and military: Republican errors internationally. What are we to say of Mr. Bush’s present endeavor to bring to pass a gentler, kinder New World Order?
Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson were enthusiasts for American domination of the world. Now George Bush appears to be emulating those eminent Democrats. When the Republicans, once upon a time, nominated for the presidency a “One World” candidate, Wendell Willkie, they were sadly trounced. In general, Republicans throughout the twentieth century have been advocates of prudence and restraint in the conduct of foreign affairs.
But Mr. Bush, out of mixed motives, has embarked upon a radical course of intervention in the region of the Persian Gulf. After carpet-bombing the Cradle of Civilization as no country ever had been bombed before, Mr. Bush sent in hundreds of thousands of soldiers to overrun the Iraqi bunkers — that were garrisoned by dead men, asphyxiated.
And for what reason? The Bush Administration found it difficult to answer that question clearly. In the beginning it was implied that the American national interest required low petroleum prices: therefore, if need be, smite and spare not!
I doubt whether much good is going to come out of the slaughter of perhaps a hundred thousand people in Iraq. “For one of the troubles of war,” Butterfield writes, “is that it acquires its own momentum and plants its own ideals on our shoulders, so that we are carried far away from the purposes with which we began — carried indeed sometimes to greater acts of spoilation than the ones which had provoked our original entry into the war. Before the war of 1914 had lasted a year, its own workings had generated such a mood that we had promised Russia Constantinople and had bought the alliance of Italy with offers of booty, some of which had later to be disavowed by President Wilson. And it is a remarkable fact that in wars which purport to be so ethical that the states attached to neutrality are sometimes regarded as guilty of a dereliction of duty, the great powers primarily concerned may have required an iniquitous degree of bribery to bring them into the conflict, or to maintain their fidelity. The whole ideal of moderate peace aims, and the whole policy of making war the servant (instead of the master) of negotiation, is impossible — and the whole technique of the ‘war for righteousness’ has a particularly sinister application — when even in the ostensibly ‘defending’ party there is a latent and concealed aggressiveness of colossal scope, as there certainly was in 1914.”
You may perceive some parallels between Butterfield’s description of the course of the Allies during World War I and the course, so far, of the coalition against Iraq.
True, we did not suffer a long war in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq. But we must expect to suffer during a very long period of widespread hostility toward the United States — even, or perhaps especially, from the people of certain states that America bribed or bullied into combining against Iraq.
Kirk also gave a long excerpt from “1984” and warned of Perpetual War similar to the dystopian future of that novel!
When you consider this speech, does Kirk sound more like John McCain or Ron Paul?
Another thought: Do the Tea Party and/or Liberty Movement Republicans (Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Mike Lee) seem to be echoing Russell Kirk’s philosophy?
If Russell Kirk is one of the founding fathers of modern-day conservatism, shouldn’t the Republican party follow his advice?