LESSONS LEARNED #2 “The international community prefers liberals over conservatives because it’s easier to fool a naïve idealist than a wise realist.” -Old Pithy
EVERY GENERATION HAS had naïve idealists. Even the founding generation. Thomas Jefferson was an intellectual. Kind of quiet and shy, he found solace in his books. He knew more than most of the Founding Fathers. But he was an idealist. He saw the world more as how it should be than how it was.
Jefferson would become the leader of the opposition party…while serving as Washington’s Secretary of State. The main split was between Jefferson and the Secretary of the Treasurer, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was smart like Jefferson but wasn’t quiet or shy. And, unlike Jefferson, he understood commerce and capital markets.
They had two different views of America. Hamilton saw a rich manufacturing base while Jefferson saw farmers. Jefferson thought Hamilton’s views were too British and called him a monarchist. He didn’t trust him or his financial schemes and opposed them at every opportunity.
Hamilton admired the British Empire. He wanted an American Empire, using the British as the model. Jefferson hated all things British. He also owed a fortune to British creditors, another reason to hate both Great Britain and things financial.
When trouble brewed between the British and the French, Hamilton wanted to side with the British. Jefferson with the French. Washington wanted to stay neutral. And did. But when that neutrality clearly favored the British, Jefferson was furious.
America’s interests, though, clearly aligned with Great Britain. America’s trade had always been with Great Britain. As a British colony, she was there to provide raw materials to the mother country. During the Revolutionary War, there was limited trade with France, but she didn’t throw open her markets to American goods. Then there was the British Fleet. It ruled the seas. An infant nation just couldn’t take on the British Empire and restore her economy.
Jefferson was a great philosopher. But he wasn’t a great executive. Idealists rarely are. He was both governor of Virginia and president of the United States. He put neither of these accomplishments on his tomb stone. Even he knew. He was a thinker of great thoughts. He wasn’t a doer of great things. The British leaning neutrality provided peace and prosperity while much of Europe was embroiled in the Napoleonic wars. He was wrong on this one.
IN GERMANY THERE was National Socialism. In the Soviet Union there was communism. In Italy there was fascism. And in the United States there was the New Deal. They all shifted control of business to the government. They all rejected capitalism. They all favored state planning. They all favored putting the collective good above individual self-interest. And they all had charismatic leaders.
These charismatic leaders, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Roosevelt (FDR), were elitists. They shared a condescending contempt for those who clung onto the old, unenlightened ways. It was an era of progressive state power. And through their will and charisma they were building a new world order.
War would make fascism and National Socialism enemies of the United States. But FDR still had ‘Uncle Joe’. He had a hot and cold love affair with Stalin. It was hot until 1939. It turned cold when Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non aggression pact and invaded, conquered and partitioned Poland. It turned hot again when Hitler turned on Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union.
Roosevelt refused to hear criticisms of Stalin. He knew Stalin. He could work with him. He could charm him. Just who was charming who, though, was a matter of debate. Soviet spies where everywhere in Roosevelt’s administration. And, when they met to discuss post war policy, against advice, Roosevelt foolishly lodged at the Soviet embassy which was bugged (he wanted to show Stalin that he trusted him). The Soviets listened in on all private discussions of the American delegation. Stalin played him like a piano.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Roosevelt gave away Eastern Europe and condemned them to the misery that was life behind the Iron Curtain. And that was just the start of the Cold War. Communism, as an ideology, would be responsible for more deaths than any other despot or empire the world has ever known. And Stalin was the architect of most of that. If not personally, his style of harsh communism known as Stalinism. And FDR, in his naïve idealism, was there in the beginning to help him on his way.
Tags: Alexander Hamilton, British Empire, British Fleet, Cold War, collective good, Eastern Europe, fascism, FDR, Founding Fathers, George Washington, Hitler, Iron Curtain, Mussolini, National Socialism, New Deal, Revolutionary War, Roosevelt, Soviet spies, Soviet Union, Stalinism, state planning, Thomas Jefferson