May 30, 2015


Allies Against Empire : Robert La Follette and Albert Jay Nock opposed war from left and right. (RICHARD DRAKE • May 27, 2015, American Conservative)

In the anti-interventionist campaign, La Follette acquired an ally in the antiwar journalist Albert Jay Nock. Their sporadic and always strained cooperation furnishes a highly suggestive precedent for similar alliances in American politics today. Nock had supported Wilson in 1916 for keeping the United States out of war. By July of the following year, however, with America in the fighting, he would write to Atlantic editor Ellery Sedgwick that a war for trade routes had been dressed up by Wilson to look like a noble exercise in moral uplift.

Nock's antiwar views appealed to Nation editor Oswald Garrison Villard, who gave him a job writing editorials in the fall of 1917. Nock's libertarian views complicated his relationship with the magazine, however. He liked Villard but scoffed at the Nation's progressive liberalism, explaining in 1919 after leaving the magazine, "one can't waste energy on that." The next year he founded The Freeman, which H.L. Mencken would praise as one of the glories of American letters, especially for Nock's brilliant editorials.

In addition to La Follette's liberal politics, which he found tediously jejune, the Wisconsin senator's eventual enthusiasm for Wilson's war disappointed Nock. After his initial opposition, La Follette had reasoned that as a United States senator he had a moral obligation to support a democratically declared war. Then, upon listening to Wilson's idealistic Fourteen Points address on January 8, 1918, La Follette allowed that the war could be justified as the crusade for democracy that the president had said it was. 

Only after reading the Versailles Treaty and John Maynard Keynes's denunciation of the Paris conference in The Economic Consequences of the Peace did La Follette conclude that Wilson had deceived the American people. No less important to La Follette's postwar thinking about the conflict was Nock's Myth of a Guilty Nation, a volume based on articles he had written for The Freeman. Excerpts from this book appeared in the April 1922 issue of La Follette's Magazine, a periodical--today known as The Progressive--that the senator had founded in 1909.

In his editor's introduction, La Follette praised Nock for exposing the Wilson administration's collusion with the purveyors of British propaganda. Germany, Nock claimed, was the country least responsible for causing the war. British imperialism had been a much greater factor in the international turmoil immediately preceding the calamity that brought death to more than 16 million Europeans.

Nock's comparison of the prewar military budgets of the combatant powers turned inside out American suppositions about the war. That America's peace-loving brother democracy, Britain, consistently had outspent the allegedly warmongering Germany seemed to Nock like an important detail, one that might shed light on the question of which imperialist country actually bestrode the globe like a military colossus.

Nock described the Versailles settlement essentially as a capitulation to British imperialism. The peace conference had ended with the British gaining all of the objectives outlined in the secret treaties negotiated among the Allies during the war. Upon taking power in Russia, the Bolsheviks had revealed the contents of these agreements. The Allies had a keen interest in the Middle East territories of the Ottoman Empire, above all for the oil there. To Nock it seemed obvious that the war had been fought for the reasons disclosed by the secret treaties--for the acquisition or preservation of markets, territories, and resources. It was a war of big business for bigger business.

We had no business in WWI and the only thing that could have justified our participation was forcing decolonization on Britain and France.
Posted by at May 30, 2015 8:41 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus