to Know Scholar Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
by Naji Filali
Harvard Political Review
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.: Left-Liberal
Catholics: Yay for the Atomic Bombings!
E. Woods, Jr. 94 is a Harvard alumnus who contributes
to modern libertarian thought: a rare combination. He received his
bachelors degree in history, and then moved on to Columbia,
where he earned his masters, M.Phil., and Ph.D. Today, Dr.
Woods is a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and continues
to add to his credentials, both as a traveling scholar-orator and
as a New York Times bestselling author of eleven books, dissecting
a broad range of topics spanning states rights, Church history,
and the causes of the economic meltdown. Dr. Woods keeps company
with liberty-minded luminaries such as Ron Paul (who wrote the foreword
to Woodss book Meltdown) and Judge Andrew Napolitano, and
the Harvard Political Review is delighted that he has taken time
out of his busy schedule to sit down with us.
Political Review: To start this off, here is a rather simple
question: how was it to attend Harvard University as a libertarian
intellectual and when did your views take shape? You concentrated
in history, so did you ever get into disagreements with professors
who offered a different interpretation of events?
I entered Harvard as a middle-of-the-road Republican, the very
thing that drives me most berserk today. I began to move in a libertarian
direction with the passage of time. The intellectual climate of
Cambridge could be stifling, and indeed it began pushing me even
farther in the other direction. By the time I completed the Ludwig
von Mises Institutes summer Mises University program (which
introduced students to the Austrian School of economics, which has
enjoyed quite a renaissance since its economists predicted the Panic
of 2008) in 1993, I was a full-fledged libertarian, which with the
exception of a few phases and deviations here and there, is what
I have remained to this day.
I learned a
lot from my professors at Harvard, and did not consider myself as
an aggrieved party unjustly put upon by left-wing radicals. To be
sure, a few people on the faculty simply had to be avoided; they
disgraced the institution by more or less openly using the classroom
as a propaganda machine. I found out about them and avoided them.
At the same
time, though, I did have to learn an enormous amount on my own.
You are not going to read Murray N. Rothbards book Americas
Great Depression at Harvard, for instance, even though in
a just world you would. But the Harvard library system was a great
place for someone to be an autodidact.
debate over the national debt has been quite vociferous of late
in Congress, and does not seem to have any end in sight, even with
the most recent compromise, if you will. However, members of the
Cato and Ludwig von Mises Institute, along with many in the Tea
Party, demand deeper budget cuts that a good portion in Congress
have yet to acknowledge; a glance at the failing of Rep. Paul Ryans
(R-Wis.) modest plan is all the proof one needs. This raises the
question: what are the ramifications of Congresss relative
intransigence for our future as a nation?
I dont see it as a question of intransigence because I dont
think the general public wants serious cuts. Even the vast majority
of self-identified Tea Party voters want entitlements off the table.
As for the rest of federal spending, The Economist did a
poll of Americans in late 2010 in which respondents were asked which
in a list of spending categories they would cut. The only one that
a majority of Americans would cut was foreign aid, which amounts
to a fraction of one percent of the federal budget. In no other
area did even 30 percent of Americans say they wanted cuts. That
means default. What else could it mean?
are not defying public opinion. They are reflecting it. With the
unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare in excess of
twice the GDP of the entire world, this has to end badly. And how
is the federal government going to fund trillion-plus annual deficits
as far as the eye can see? Because thats what were going
to have. Even if the phony $4 trillion spending cut weve heard
about were to be implemented, thats spread out over ten years,
which means $400 billion a year. Thats not even one third
of the current deficit. And the cuts wont be evenly spread
out over ten years. They will be back-loaded. Since no Congress
can bind a future Congress on spending, they are meaningless. Whenever
you hear the words over ten years in a budget debate,
substitute the word sucker.
a senior fellow at the Mises Institute, you have your fingers on
the pulse of current policy debates. Which policy debate has interested
you the most and what is your proposed solution to it?
At the Mises Institute we are not keen on the term (or the concept)
public policy. According to Lew Rockwell, the Institutes
founder, Among the greatest failures of the free-market intellectual
movement has been to allow its ideas to be categorized as a public
policy option. The formulation implies a concession that it
is up to the state its managers and kept intellectuals
to decide how, when, and where freedom is to be permitted. It further
implies that the purpose of freedom, private ownership, and market
incentives is the superior management of society, that is, to allow
the current regime to operate more efficiently.
In other words,
the very notion of public policy assumes that peoples
lives and property are to be disposed of by the political class
in pursuit of the goals of that class. This we reject on moral (and
I think of
myself not as solving societys problems one at a time via
well-formed public policy but as doing what I can to
pursue justice. And yet, as luck would have it, justice does indeed
wind up solving problems far better than busybodies or central planners
ever could. Thats the implicit lesson of Rollback, my latest
book. In this connection I also recommend Jeff Tuckers engaging
new book, Its
a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes.
have argued ardently for states rights in your book Nullification,
and the uphill battle between Virginias Attorney-General and
the Federal government will certainly be crucial to the states
rights movement. Yet, we have always been taught that the Supremacy
Clause of the United States Constitution readily dismisses any individual
states nullification attempt. Why do you feel that the states
rights argument is sound, given the counter-argument?
particular argument is in fact quite weak, so I dont find
it threatening to my view. Its the kind of argument a law
professor would make, and I dont mean that as a compliment.
was not unaware of, and did not deny, the Supremacy Clause. His
point was that only the Constitution and laws which shall be
made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land.
Citing the Supremacy Clause merely begs the question. A nullifying
state maintains that a given law is not in pursuance thereof
and therefore that the Supremacy Clause does not apply in the first
are expecting us to believe that the states would have ratified
a Constitution with a Supremacy Clause that said, in effect, This
Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made
in pursuance thereof, plus any old laws we may choose to pass, whether
constitutional or not, shall be the supreme law of the land.
I think there
are stronger arguments against nullification than the misplaced
one from the Supremacy Clause. But I have replied
to those as well.
state nullification in front of progressives is, unfortunately,
like waving a crucifix before Dracula. Despite its horrific persecutions
of minorities, its totalitarian revolutions, and even its genocides,
they demand we believe the centralized modern state is a wonderful,
progressive force. Whoever questions it is a crank.
But why is
it obvious that centralization is a progressives friend? The
New Left had its doubts about that. And would it really be a tragedy
for the Patriot Act to be defied? How about the grotesque injustices
that go on every day in prosecuting the federal governments
war on drugs? What if the states could have nullified the incarceration
of the Japanese in America during World War II?
The New Left
historian William Appleman Williams once said that the closest we
ever came to having truly humane communities in this country was
under the Articles of Confederation. Kirkpatrick Sale, who famously
Scale, insists that issues of size also apply to political
units. This strain of progressivism is all but extinct. It has been
replaced by left-nationalists who make excuses for Barack Obama
no matter how many times he betrays their alleged principles. A
single city hands down infallible decrees for 310 million people,
and we are to believe this is the most humane form of political
arrangement. The old progressive slogan question authority
is long, long gone. Practically no conventional belief is ever seriously
questioned by progressives.
2012 race is beginning to heat up, and unlike 2008, libertarians
have two Liberty-minded candidates: Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.
Do you foresee this choice as dividing libertarians and inimical
to the liberty movement or as an encouraging harbinger
of things to come?
hasnt been a big issue so far. I myself support Ron Paul,
but I respect Gary Johnson for the courageous positions he has taken.
Your writings have at times reflected your religious convictions
as a Roman Catholic. How does your faith impact your understanding
of government, and do you think it adds to or detracts from your
dont think it requires much beyond the simple exercise of
reason to perceive the gross injustices and immorality that permeate
indeed define the regime in Washington. To be sure,
the Catholic intellectual tradition includes a commitment to subsidiarity,
which teaches that tasks ought not to be delegated to distant authorities
unless more local institutions are absolutely incapable of carrying
them out, as well as the just war tradition, by which the federal
governments foreign interventions may be held up to informed
moral scrutiny. But as I say, we are dealing with thievery and killing
on so grand a scale that it would take a concerted effort not to
I wrote about
some of these questions in my 2005 book The
Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy.
Thanks again, Dr. Woods, for being so availing of your time with
with permission from the Harvard
E. Woods, Jr. [send him
his website], a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises
Institute, is the author of eleven books, most recently Rollback:
Repealing Big Government Before the Coming Fiscal Collapse and
How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, as well
as the New York Times bestsellers Meltdown:
A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy
Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse and
Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. He is
also the editor of five other books, including the just-released
on the Road to Serfdom.
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