When the Founding Fathers wrote and then defended the case for
passage of the Constitution in 1787-1788, they did so with a
strong belief in the natural rights of man, rights that Thomas
Jefferson had so eloquently expressed in the Declaration of
Independence in 1776. But their idealism was tempered with
stark realism, based on historical knowledge and personal
experience, about both human nature and the nature of

The separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers
was considered essential if the human inclination toward
political abuse of power was to be prevented. "No political
truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is stamped
with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty,"
stated James Madison in The Federalist Papers, "than that
. . . [t]he accumulation of all power, legislative, executive
and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or
many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may
justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Division of power and responsibilities, therefore, was seen as
an essential--though neither a perfect nor guaranteed--tool to
assure that the freedom and property of individuals would not
become political plunder to be devoured by either majorities
or minorities.

Issues concerning war and peace and individual liberty were of
deep concern to the Founding Fathers for the same reason. When
the matter came up at the convention as to which branch of
government would have the authority to "make war,"
disagreement arose. Pierce Butler of South Carolina wanted
that power to reside in the President who, he said, "will have
all the requisite qualities." James Madison and Elbridge Gerry
of Massachusetts were for "leaving to the Executive the power
to repel sudden attacks" but proposed changing the wording to
"declare" rather than "make war," and then only with the
approval of both Houses of Congress. Oliver Ellsworth of
Connecticut agreed, saying that "It should be more easy to get
out of war than into it." And George Mason of Virginia also
was "against giving the power of war to the Executive, because
[he was] not safely to be trusted with it." Mason "was for
clogging rather than facilitating war."

Thus, in the final, ratified Constitution, the Congress, in
Article I, Section 8, was given the sole authority, "To
Declare War," while the President, in Article II, Section 2,
was made "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the
United States, and the Militia of the several States, when
called into the actual service of the United States." Civilian
authority over the military was established, with
Constitutionally divided power over its application in war:
Congress declared war, and the President oversaw its

The Founding Fathers possessed no misconceptions about the
potentially aggressive nature of governments toward their
neighbors. John Jay, in The Federalist Papers, insightfully
enumerated the various motives, rationales and passions that
had led nations down the road to war through the ages.

But neither did they have any illusions that Americans could
be any less susceptible to similar motives and passions. The
Constitution, through a division of powers, was meant to put
procedural hurdles and delays in the way before the passions
of the moment could result in declarations of war and the
initiation of hostilities against other nations.

Yet, in spite of these Constitutional restraints, the United
States has participated in four foreign wars in the 20th
century--two World Wars, the Korean "police action" and the
Vietnam conflict--and in three of these, the United States was
neither directly attacked nor threatened by a foreign enemy.
Why, then, did we intervene?

The answer lies in the ideology of the welfare state. First in
the years preceding World War I, and then again in the 1930s,
American intellectuals and politicians undertook grand
experiments in social engineering. The Progressive Era of
Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and the New Deal days
of Franklin D. Roosevelt, were the crucial decades for the
implementation of the politics of government intervention and
economic regulation. It was the duty and responsibility of the
state to manage, oversee and control the social and economic
affairs of the citizenry.

The social engineers believed that people left alone to manage
their own affairs invariably went astray, with the result
being poverty, economic exploitation and social decay.
Enlightened leadership, under wise government, would provide
the population with the economic prosperity and social harmony
that the governmental policy-makers knew, in their hearts,
that they had the knowledge and expertise to provide.  The
good wanted state power so they could benefit their fellow

And what was good for Americans at home, surely would be no
less beneficial for the masses of people across the oceans.
Was not Europe a caldron of political intrigue and corruption?
Were not the people of Asia, Africa and Latin America
suffering in squalor and ignorance, the victims of tribal
despots and imperialist exploitors--easy prey to that even
greater threat of communist propaganda and revolution?

America's first crusade was in 1917, when Woodrow Wilson,
insisting that the United States had the moral duty to take
the lead and "make the world safe for democracy," had asked
for, and got, a declaration of war from Congress. Americans,
however, were repulsed in the years following World War I,
when instead of democracy, they saw that all that came out of
our participation in that noble crusade had been communism in
Russia, fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany and imperialist
spoils for the victorious European allies.

But World War II seemed to offer the opportunity for a second
chance. The American "arsenal of democracy" would free the
world of Hitler and Imperial Japan and then pursue an
international course of permanent foreign intervention to
create "a better world." What the world got was the Cold War,
with the Soviet Union gaining an Eastern European empire, and
with China being lost behind what became known as the
communist "Bamboo Curtain."

America's rewards were global commitments that required
hundreds of thousands of American soldiers permanently
stationed in Europe; two bloody wars in Asia that cost the
lives of over a hundred thousand Americans; a huge defense
budget that siphoned off hundreds of billions of dollars from
the private sector for four decades; and even more tens of
billions of dollars in military and foreign aid to any
government, in any part of the world, no matter how corrupt,
just as long as it declared itself "anti-communist." And as
one of the founders of Human Events, Felix Morley, pointed out
in his book, Freedom and Federalism, in the heyday of
Keynesian economics in the 1950s and 1960s, defense spending
became a tool for "priming the pump" and guaranteeing "full
employment" through government expenditures.

But communism is now dying under the weight of its own
political corruption and economic failures. And the European
and Asian countries that benefited from decades of being on
the American defense and foreign aid dole have decided they
want to grow up and manage their own affairs.

But rather than be delighted that the Cold War Welfare State
can finally be ended, American political and foreign policy
makers are petrified. The global social engineers in
Washington are suddenly faced with a world that doesn't want
to be under the tutelage of American paternalism and
dominance. They are busy scrambling for some way to "keep
America in Europe," maintain Washington's political control
and influence over international affairs and guarantee that
America will remain "in harm's way," potentially drawn into
numerous controversies and conflicts around the world.

If it is undesirable for the United States government to
intervene in the economic and social affairs of its citizenry
--as the advocate of individual freedom steadfastly believes
--then it is equally undesirable for the United States
government to intervene in the internal affairs of other
nations, or the conflicts that sometimes arise among nations.

The first duty of the American government is to protect the
life, liberty and property of the citizens of the United
States from foreign aggressors. Once a government sets itself
the task of trying to rectify the errors and choices of its
own citizens, it soon begins sliding down a slippery slope in
which the end result is state supervision and regulation of
all of its citizens' activities, and all in the name of a
higher "social good."

Just as our neighbors often do things of which we do not
approve, or which we do not consider good or wise, so do other
nations. But to follow the path of attempting to set the world
straight can lead to nothing but perpetual intervention and
war in the name of world peace and global welfare. And these
have been precisely the results of America's global crusade to
save the world since 1945.

The end of communism, and the economic growth of Europe and
Asia, give us a new opportunity to foreswear the global
welfare state, free ourselves from foreign political and
military entanglements, and follow George Washington's wise
advice of free commercial relationships with all, but foreign
alliances and intrigues with none.

Professor Ebeling is the Ludwig von Mises Professor of
Economics at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan, and also
serves as vice-president of academic affairs of The Future of
Freedom Foundation, P.O. Box 9752, Denver, CO 80209.

From the November 1990 issue of FREEDOM DAILY,
Copyright (c) 1990, The Future of Freedom Foundation,
PO Box 9752, Denver, Colorado 80209, 303-777-3588.
Permission granted to reprint; please give appropriate credit
and send one copy of reprinted material to the Foundation.