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1943 wisdom shows how things don’t change

  • Sarasota
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We all know the saying: “Some things never change.” 

That maxim comes to mind in the reading of “The God of the Machine” by Isabel Paterson, a nationally known newspaper columnist and libertarian intellectual in the 1940s. 

Isabel Paterson

Her “God of the Machine” masterpiece, written in 1943, became regarded in that era — and remains so today — as one of the most brilliant explanations of the Constitution, capitalism, individual liberty and the destructiveness of government.

Ayn Rand, a friend and contemporary of Paterson, wrote in a letter that Paterson’s book “could literally save the world.”

But alas, good luck trying to find Paterson’s book in any American classroom. If read by enough people, it certainly could help save the United States today. Everything she wrote then is still relevant now.

In particular, her words are worth remembering as you become inundated with the mailings and rhetoric of candidates for public office. Today’s politicians and government haven’t changed. A few samples:

  • Politicians: “Generally speaking, up to the Civil War, any man seeking political honors expected to do so at some financial loss to himself; he lived by his private means. It is only when this condition prevails that men of intelligence, integrity and good taste — the productive character — will be inclined to enter public life. 

“If he is obliged to forego in his private earnings more than he receives in the remuneration of office … he is at least certain that he did not seek office as a parasite.

“Professional politicians … are not aware of any objective in political life except parasitism.”

  • Political power: “Political power has a ratchet action; it works only one way, to augment itself. A transfer occurs by which the power cannot be retracted, once it is bestowed. 

“In the lowest illustration, a candidate for office may promise the voters that he will reduce taxes or the number of offices or the powers of office. But once he is elected, he can use the taxes, the officeholders or the powers to ensure reelection; therefore the motive of the promise is no longer operative.

“By cutting down expenditure or the number of officeholders or graft, he will certainly create enemies, so the reverse motive, impelling him to evade his promise, is doubled.”

  • How we’re slaves to the federal government: “John Jay was chief justice, the first to hold the position, and as one of the authors of ‘The Federalist,’ surely acquainted with the nature of the Constitution, he gave a verdict sustaining the right of a citizen to sue the government. 

“By the American theory, Jay said, the government is the agent of the citizen, having only delegated authority; and it is absurd to hold that a person may not sue his agent.

“Subsequently, Jay was reversed … Since then, the citizen has been at the mercy of the government in the United States as if he were the subject of a king; he cannot even plead for redress of wrong done him by the government without -permission.”

  • The 16th Amendment, instituting the federal personal income tax: “Probably the majority of people … thought of it in simple terms of taxing the rich, perhaps with a vague infantile further expectation that the proceeds would be ‘given to the poor.’ 

“But money obtained from the rich in any form except wages is never given to the poor. It it is taken by an ordinary hold-up man, it goes to the hold-up man. If it is taken by a philanthropic organization, it goes to the organization. If it is taken by the government, it goes to the politicians.

“Neither does increased taxation of the rich lower the rate of taxation on the poor; it is bound to cause an increase in all taxation, reaching down inchmeal until it expropriates a portion, not merely of the last dollar of a poor man, but of the first dollar he can earn. The tax will have to be paid before he can even touch his earnings.”

  • Government-liberty ratio: “The cost and display of government is always in inverse ratio to the liberty and prosperity of the citizens.”



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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