Book Review

Book Review

The Political Plague in America, by George P. Loweke. (Boston, Mass.: Forum Publishing Co., 1964), 551 pp., $5.00. Reviewed by Howard E. Kessler.

This is a strange work. It is perhaps one of the best bad anti-socialist books to come along in years… and make no mistake about it, this is a very badly written book, indeed.(8 ¶ 1)

For 551 pages Dr. Loweke rambles on in a writing style somewhat reminiscent of early Elbert Hubbard. In its disconnected, ill-organized, aphoristic, pontifical paragraphs, it bears some resemblance to that cracker barrel philosopher's Notebook. The book builds to no climax, and I found it easy to lay down. From first page to last, the author simply flays socialism mercilessly, and one page, if turned to at random, reads much like any other.(8 ¶ 2)

The book's contents may be likened to tons of bricks laid end to end, each one strong and good, but accomplishing no purpose save to be used as brickbats, and as brickbats the author hurls them by the thousands at the citadels of socialism, a veritable hailstorm of missiles, many of which find their mark.(8 ¶ 3)

In The Political Plague in America there is none of the searing passion of an Ayn Rand; none of the beautifully stylized English of an Albert Jay Nock; none of the pungent wit of a Frank Chodorov; none of the concise lucidity of a Frederic Bastiat; none of the sparkling clarity of logic of a Robert LeFevre; none of the apt and telling analogies of a Leonard Read: yet in many respects Dr. Loweke's writing may be compared with all of the above individualist authors.(8 ¶ 4)

Perhaps in his philosophical viewpoint Dr. Loweke may best be aligned with Herbert Spencer, and it is strange that among the hundreds of quotations used by the author, not one is attributed to the great apostle of social Darwinism, nor is there a single reference made to him in the entire book. Could it be that the professor has never studied Spencer, whose nineteenth century teachings he so faithfully reflects?(8 ¶ 5)

The Political Plague in America is stream-of-consciousness writing, a prolonged bull session monologue dealing with the follies of government. We cannot escape the feeling that Dr. Loweke simply bundled up sheaves of random notes, the fruit of years of thoughtful reading, and sent them along to the printer. Unfortunately, the printer made no sensible dividers as to subject, so the whole thing runs together like one great bathtubful of gelatine.(8 ¶ 6)

We were led to a reading of this book by an editorial written by Robert LeFevre for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, which strongly recommended it as a handbook for anti-politicians which simply catalogues the folly of confiding power into the hands of men and reveals with stunning candor the devastating result. LeFevre went on to point out, Specifically, The Political Plague in America is evidence. It is not an argument, a plea, an endorsement. It is a listing of grievances, running for 550 pages, put together in readable and exciting style.(8 ¶ 7)

Up to the last four words of this assessment we are in perfect agreement with LeFevre, but we cannot say we found the book either readable or exciting, and we would further take issue with his prediction that Dr. Loweke's book is going to make a sound considerably louder than a thud. For we'll predict that a thud is the nearest approximation to the sound this book will make on the market, where, after all, every book must depend for its success.(8 ¶ 8)

Yet, the book is well worth reading! If you can bear the scrambled syntax, the atrocious proofreading that left typographical errors glaring on every page, the jagged edges of Dr. Loweke's English that made this reader wince a thousand times, the abominable construction that skips back and forth without leading anywhere, the countless repetitions of the same point; if you can surmount all these faults (which few readers not dedicated to the study of individualist thought will do) then you will find a perusal of The Political Plague in America very rewarding.(8 ¶ 9)

For one thing, there are all too few works now in print advocating social Darwinism, with modern illustrations proving its efficacy. We should be grateful to Dr. Loweke for publishing this collection of examples of egregious government meddling. The good doctor has read widely, and he uses his quotes judiciously from a hundred sources, so that the pertinent quotations in the book are of themselves a sufficient reason for reading it.(8 ¶ 10)

Simply extracting the aphorisms of the author and listing them for future use should provide fruitful occupation for many a leisure hour. The book is filled with thousands of pithy, dogmatic statements such as an individualist would throw into the conversation around a hot stove in the village store of a winter's day. Most of them lack proof in the text itself, but that is no bar to their use. For examples, here are just a scattering few among myriads:(8 ¶ 11)

Nothing fails more than success.(8 ¶ 12)

All wars are due to the failure of the adversaries to recognize the right of freedom of others.(8 ¶ 13)

Unlimited wealth for all who have the ambition to create it is the key to a rich civilization.(8 ¶ 14)

Humanity is made up of two kind of people, those slaves at heart and those free men at heart.(8 ¶ 15)

The colossus of government grows through the process of continually passing more laws restricting the action of the people under the guise of preserving freedom.(8 ¶ 16)

All man's troubles and hardship could be peaceably avoided if government would stay out of the people's business and allow them to run their own affairs and suffer the consequences of their own mistakes.(8 ¶ 17)

Well dispersed throughout the book, in addition to the hundreds of apt quotations, are many fascinating items of an informative nature. Along with the horrible examples of the bureaucratic socialism the author loathes are about as many that illustrate the glories of pre-Rooseveltian America.(8 ¶ 18)

Thus, using the Keating-Owen Act of 1916, which prohibited child labor, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 as examples of government meddling with capitalistic free enterprise, Dr. Loweke eulogizes child labor as the instiller of self-reliance, that most precious and increasingly rare attribute of the individualist.(8 ¶ 19)

Giving children employment is the best training for them. Most of our deliquency is due to able-bodied youth having nothing to do…. Countless successful men devoted their early lives to studying, even if they had no opportunity to attend school…. Today these children are called dropouts and are the responsibility of society, so bad is the direction of youth today, although every successful person knows that one's mark in life is the result of one's own efforts.(8 ¶ 20)

The author goes on to plump for the private school, although he does not inveigh against compulsory government schooling, except on the basis of the results it fails to achieve. Using a table listing the number of prize winners at the 1961 and 1962 Metropolitan Detroit Science Fairs, he shows that private school students won more awards, although public school pupils outnumber them, four to one. While not objecting to government schooling, the author advocates stricter discipline in school.(8 ¶ 21)

One of the cardinal errors in the schooling of our children is allowing them independence of action before drilling them in the virtues of self-restraint and individual responsibility, upon which the very success of our freedom system depends…. Freedom does not mean a lack of restraint, it means more voluntary restraint, but the blessings of voluntarism are not apparent to youth, and until there is sufficient background education, restrictive guidance is essential.(8 ¶ 22)

Offsetting much of the value of this work are Dr. Loweke's stylistic faults, but these are inevitable, perhaps, in a work by a non-professional writer who fails to employ a capable ghost or editor. George P. Loweke's background, admirable as it is, did not fit him for the job of constructing a well-written book. The bearer of four academic degrees, two from the University of Michigan, a Master's degree in Engineering from the Chrysler Institute, and a Doctor's degree in Celestial Mechanics from the University of Berlin, Dr. Loweke is at present Professor of Engineering Mechanics at Wayne State University in Detroit. He is credited with teaching the first space flight course in the United States, and has done much work in connection with America's space program. None of this background, it may be noted, has a direct relationship to The Political Plague in America, so the book undoubtedly is the result of an avocational interest in conservative-libertarian philosophy.(8 ¶ 23)

Dr. Loweke has read, to judge from his quotations, such conservative stalwarts as John C. Calhoun, Dan Smoot, John T. Flynn, Barry Goldwater, Herbert Hoover, J. Edgar Hoover, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Clarence Manion, Edward V. Rickenbacker, John H. Rousselot, and Henry J. Taylor. He also quotes approvingly from the works of many true liberals (or libertarians), of whom these are a representative few: Frederic Bastiat, F. A. Harper, Henry Hazlitt, Thomas Jefferson, Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand, and Alexis de Tocqueville.(8 ¶ 24)

On balance, we'd say Dr. Loweke is a bit more of a conservative than a libertarian. For instance, there is his oft-asserted belief, which he shares with most conservatives, that if only the country's leaders would interpret the Constitution as it was intended, all our problems would be solved.(8 ¶ 25)

The wording of the Constitution was intended to provide a representative government.(8 ¶ 26)

General welfare originally was intended to mean that no group was to be benefitted at the expense of another group as far as government was concerned.(8 ¶ 27)

Up to the present generation self-restraint in the use of executive power was practiced to a degree that more or less preserved the intent of the Constitution.(8 ¶ 28)

No amendment such as a misappropriated income tax amendment can provide for discrimination without destroying the intent of the Constitution.(8 ¶ 29)

It was never intended that the general public have anything to say in exercising the central government.(8 ¶ 30)

These sentiments are repeated many times by Dr. Loweke, in his attempt to prove that there is nothing wrong with the American Constitution that correct interpretation will not cure. He never recognizes that document for what it is, authorization for virtually unlimited government.(8 ¶ 31)

His fallacious logic in this regard, i.e., that there can be such a thing as a good government, leads the professor to accept the concurrent fallacy, that limited government is good.(8 ¶ 32)

The assumption of unauthorized powers is what blemishes and destroys sooner or later the good intentions of all governments.(8 ¶ 33)

One thing is clear, that the freedom government of the United States is being destroyed by weak leaders.(8 ¶ 34)

The problem was to find men who could be trusted and place the government in their hands.(8 ¶ 35)

Basically Hamilton believed that the nation should be governed by the highest society of men having a good education and in privileged economic circumstances. Where these circumstances are brought about by the accomplishments of the individual, no doubt Hamilton's views possess merit.(8 ¶ 36)

One gets a pretty clear picture of Dr. Loweke's ideal state as one in which certain individuals, the doers, as distinct from the do-gooders, would have the right to govern the populace, so long as they didn't interfere too much with free choice and the freedoms of the market place. And right here is where you get into the sticky area of who is to qualify as rulers over others, and how much they should be qualified to rule. The true libertarian rejects the idea that anyone has the right to govern his actions, except himself.(8 ¶ 37)

But Dr. Loweke gives short shrift to no government theories. The freedom system, with a minimum of laws which allows people to be themselves, is the best. Punishment under law is necessary for those who seek to deny justice and freedom to others. Sufficient law must be enforced to avoid a return to the lawlessness of the wild west, where each bully was a law unto himself. Th strongest man with the fastest draw ruled the town. Such a condition cannot be allowed to prevail. For tihs reason anarchy or no government to enforce justice will not work. (There are some libertarians to whom the wild west would be a paradise today!)(8 ¶ 38)

In the field of economics, too, one might dispute Dr. Loweke's contention that wealth is increased only by work, or that natural resources plus human energy equals wealth. Nowhere does he mention tools or know-how as integral parts of his equation. We would submit that primitive man worked long hours converting natural resources into usable form, but he suffered from the lack of tools to perform the jobs. Actually, tools are the one item which man may increase and improve greatly, to better his condition upon earth.(8 ¶ 39)

When all these criticisms are gotten out of the way, there remains a good deal of food for thought in Dr. Loweke's book. With most of his ideas an individualist would agree, and there is even some merit in repeating them endlessly. For this is the books plan, if it could be said to have one. The author states his thesis, giving examples, then he restates it, with new examples, and so on, ad infinitum.(8 ¶ 40)

The thesis is stated in the only passage that refers to the actual wording of the title, on page 373: Those who want a return to the Constitution are branded as old fogies. In the eyes of our politburo centered in Washington, the Constitution is a subversive instrument to their pernicious aims, since, if followed, it would demote them to their just roles as servants instead of bosses of the people. These men are anti-American and should be thus stigmatized. Their lust for power and control, the political plague, if you please, is the insurmountable obstacle in the path of a healthy American economy.(8 ¶ 41)

Over and over again, with the author, we trace the story of America's political plague, from the days of the founding fathers, very often quoted in this book; to Andrew Jackson, founder of the political spoils system; through Abraham Lincoln, characterized as a believer in social Darwinism before the term was invented; to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the author's especial bête noire; and down to the recent administrations that have carried on the socialization of America.(8 ¶ 42)

Dr. Loweke actually divides America's history into three distinct periods:(8 ¶ 43)

The first was the formative period which ended around 1816 with the administration of Madison, the last President to sign either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution…(8 ¶ 44)

The second period began with the expansion of industry in the early half of the nineteenth century. It was this period that marked the rise of this country in national stature until it surpassed every power in the world…(8 ¶ 45)

This second period lasted over one hundred years and the control necessary to check the abuse of capital gradually did come about. Trusts can be broken, but the bureaucrats cannot be. In place of the trusts a bureaucracy now arose. This is the third stage, and it is marked by a form of power politics alien to the name of freedom. Now the politicians have their own monopoly.(8 ¶ 46)

It will be noted in reading this book that Dr. Loweke professes a great fondness for the 1920s and for Calvin Coolidge. Repeatedly, he refers to the roaring twenties in laudatory fashion. It is a period which he terms the greatest in American history. It is doubtful if his rosy-hued picture of that decade could be substantiated, but he writes: The era of the 1920s is the kind we need now, but we lack this kind of people. There was no delinquency to speak of, no relief problems, no farm problems, no aid necessary to numerous dependent children, no government social security, no old-age problems. Every family took care of themselves. Taxes were reduced. … There were no enforced pay deductions, no fringe benefits … and so on. The golden age of Dr. Loweke, however, succored more government intervention than many preceding decades, and it may be that simply by contrast with the deluge that followed in the thirties, it appears so grand a time as he believes.(8 ¶ 47)

In his hatred of the welfare state, and his love of money as the root of all good things, Dr. Loweke reminds one of Ayn Rand. For example:(8 ¶ 48)

For a richer world free men must be indoctrinated for greater personal wealth and the use of more material things on an ever increasing scale to create greater demands and ever expanding employment. This is the wrong time, if there ever was a wrong time in the history of the world, to promulgate the theory that there are other things in life besides material blessings. Given the material things, man will find the immaterial.(8 ¶ 49)

Without money individuals are powerless.(8 ¶ 50)

The more rich men we have in the country the better off the nation is, and the easier it is for others to make money and support themselves.(8 ¶ 51)

Money is the prime mover of men and states alike. This leaves out of account that psychic reward referred to be Oscar W. Cooley in his recent book, Paying Men Not To Work, and psychic reward is a more powerful incitement to work than Dr. Loweke apparently realizes. (We doubt if the good doctor will receive much monetary reward for writing The Political Plague in America, but he may well derive great psychic satisfaction nonetheless.)(8 ¶ 52)

Perhaps the most obvious, and aggravating, theme running throughout this work is the author's paean of praise for the good old days, before F.D.R. and his sepulchral insistence that we are now doomed to extinction. There is little of the spirit of optimism to be found in The Political Plague in America.(8 ¶ 53)

It was the survival of the fittest aspects of Herbert Spencer's philosophy, reflected again and again in Dr. Loweke's prose, that eventually destroyed the popularity of social Darwinism. To the masses, who are none too fit at best, this seemed too cruel a fate to be faced, and they expressed their preference in this century, as in many past centuries, for bread and circuses. Thus, such sentiments as the following, from The Political Plague in America, will find no wide acceptance today.(8 ¶ 54)

A folk which enjoys freedom from want is headed for extinction.(8 ¶ 55)

Welfare in a nation is a psychological disease…. There probably isn't a single person on relief who has the spirit, I don't want anything for nothing.(8 ¶ 56)

The worst trial that can result from capitalism is a depression, and this is a natural purging blessing. It is as harassing as surgery, and as valuable to the human race.(8 ¶ 57)

The final paragraph of this pessimistic book, when it reaches the end of its rambling road, summarizes as well as any Dr. Loweke's treatment of his subject, and his gift for the infelicitous phrase:(8 ¶ 58)

The decline of nations throughout the history of the world has resulted from different causes, but in the United States it will be attributable to death from its own hand, by a generation, the richest in world history, inebriated with visions of security, promised by false leaders, at a loss to the blessings and enrichment of life inspired by liberty.(8 ¶ 59)

Unfortunately, The Political Plague in America cannot be considered a seminal work in the field of individualist literature, to be classed with Isabel Paterson's God of the Machine; Rose Wilder Lane's Discovery of Freedom, or the book that is its paraphrase, the more widely circulated Mainspring, by Henry Grady Weaver, or Robert LeFevre's This Bread is Mine.(8 ¶ 60)

It should be read, however, as an unusual and rewarding experience.(8 ¶ 61)

—Howard E. Kessler