The Authoritarians

Their assault on individual liberty, the Constitution and free enterprise.

Jonathan W. Emord is one of the United States’ leading constitutional and administrative law attorneys. He has defeated the FDA eight times in federal court, more times than any other attorney in America. He is a guest lecturer at Georgetown University Law and Medical Schools, and the author of several books. He is the guest host with Robert Scott Bell of the "Sacred Fire of Liberty Hour" on The Robert Scott Bell Show. His latest Book, The Authoritarians: Their Assault on Individual Liberty, the Constitution, and Free Enterprise from the 19th Century to the Present, is a deep dive into the wells of history, law, economics, and government. It is a magisterial and monumental book that traces the historical roots of America’s accelerating race towards authoritarianism. Every American who cares about freedom and about how to reverse these trends, that will irrevocably undermine our freedom, should read this book. I interviewed Mr. Emord recently.

Jason Hill: Jonathan, thanks for speaking with me. Your book is monumental in the breadth and scope of its historical detail. To begin with, you paint a dismal picture of the Biden administration in leading us down a seemingly inevitable road toward socialism. You simultaneously point to illiberal and authoritarian groups such as Black Lives Matter, ANTIFA, and sundry white supremacist groups that are aiding and abetting the move away from individual rights to an egregious form of collectivism. I know you give a rich historical account of how we got to this moment, but let me ask you this: just how dangerous are the Biden administration and these authoritarian movements?

Jonathan Emord: To win the presidency, Biden sold his soul to the socialists. Biden is a Democrat Party weather vane. He is buffeted about by liberal winds, shifting this way and that to remain true to the direction of party activists. He has no core beliefs, no principles. No one of principle who loved liberty and the Constitution could have ever embraced socialism as Biden has. A combination of ignorance and no principle leads Biden to bring about legislative changes through executive fiat in violation of the separation of powers. Without any attempt to obtain public or congressional support for changing the law, Biden has rewritten the law unilaterally, to abandon President Trump’s America First agenda, to terminate President Trump’s successful border policies, to open the Southern border to unlimited immigration yet disallow refugee status to Cubans fleeing communist persecution, and to end opposition to Putin's Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Europe while shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline and fossil fuel leases on federal lands and waters. He is hollowing out the Republic and replacing it with an entirely authoritarian regime.  

No one should think Biden’s lack of spatial and temporal awareness evidence of his harmlessness. He invites destruction of our nation from within and without, stoking Marxist rioting and revolution at home and communist adventurism abroad. He sends the unmistakable and redundant message that those who are destroying the cities, destroying education, destroying the military, and threatening our vital interests will not face resistance but, rather, appeasement or encouragement. He neither condemns the Marxist rebellion nor quells it—worse, he supports it by advancing a socialist policy agenda.

Hill: Not many people know about the collapse of classical liberalism in the United States and its relationship to 18th century German philosophy, especially the philosophy of George Wilhem Hegel. Explain this to our readers. Many people think that the decline of America and the West began with 1960s post-modernism. You see this as occurring earlier?

Emord: Classical liberalism first came under assault in the antebellum South. Stung by abolitionist criticism, Southerners nevertheless would not give up on slavery due to its social and economic allures. Until abolitionists proved their hypocrisy, slavery’s apologists honored the American Revolution, revered the Declaration, and had pride in Thomas Jefferson, himself a Southerner, a Virginian. But abolitionist attacks forced Southerners to grapple with the conflict between slavery and the self-evident truths in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. To keep people in bondage, they had to condemn the Declaration, but they needed a replacement for it. In 1821, the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel introduced the world to collectivism, defining the worth of the individual not based on his or her own merit but on his or her contribution to a “collective good,” a good Hegelians believed best established by highly-educated experts given license to command the state and compel public allegiance to their dictates. 

To the delight of slavery’s apologists, Hegel defended slavery as inevitable and helpful in the evolution of “superior races.” Hegel was a racist (as was his student Karl Marx), believing Europeans superior and Africans inferior. Hegel defended slavery as inevitable and beneficial because he argued through it superior Europeans could advance faster than without it. He did not think slavery inhumane; to the contrary, he argued it enabled an inferior race to associate with a superior one, helping advance the former. Slavery’s apologists cleaved to Hegel’s doctrine and defended slavery as a socialist ideal (cradle to grave care for an inferior race), and vastly superior to northern capitalism. Southern academic George Fitzhugh described domestic slavery as “the oldest, best, and most common form of socialism” and as “the beau ideal of communism.” Although the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, Hegelian socialism remained popular with Southern and even Northern academics in the 1860’s and beyond. Progressives between the 1860s and 1930s used Hegelian doctrine to justify the creation of another authoritarian model, the extra-constitutional administrative state. 

In the 1870s and 1880s, academics in law, economics, philosophy, and history from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan flocked to Berlin, Halle, and Heidelberg, Germany to study in the Hegelian schools of historicism and political economy. They were taught to reject Locke, reject individual rights theory, reject the Declaration of Independence, reject the Constitution, and reject classical liberalism in favor of Hegelian collectivism and the administrative state. They returned to America and rooted out classical liberal education. Soon not only academia but state governments and, eventually, the federal government embraced the administrative state and shifted toward socialism.

I do not subscribe to the view that the infection of socialism is a terminal illness. To the contrary, I view it as a disease we will eradicate, and I remain optimistic that individual liberty will ultimately triumph over socialism because individual liberty is the only condition consistent with the very nature of humanity. Invariably, socialism is a bankrupt ideology. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. Socialism (slavery to the state) is inherently destructive, while capitalism (liberty in a free market) is inherently constructive.

Hill: Where in America were the pro-capitalists, pro-American intellectual voices in our universities? Why did the Progressives predominate in de-legitimizing American law and in anthropomorphizing the state?

Emord: A confluence of events and new ideologies created an allure that proved irresistible for many academics between 1860 through the 1930s. First, the rapid rise in industrialization and the change in social composition due to immigration caused what Teddy Roosevelt called a “fierce discontent.” An agrarian lifestyle gave way to city living and mass manufacture. A burgeoning middle class and new rise in immigrant entrepreneurs upset both the landed gentry and their political influence. Uncomfortable, fearful that those of different religions, ethnicities, and races would come to predominate, Progressives variously concluded that the Constitution’s limits on power were antiquated, that centralized power and efficiency were all important, and that experts needed to define the common good and then compel people by force of law to serve that common good. A prime example of this kind of authoritarian thinking is eugenics. The notion that “unfit” people (i.e., those who committed crimes, bore children out of wedlock, were physically disabled, were mentally challenged, or came from disfavored races and ethnicities) ought to be eliminated gave rise during the Progressive Era to state agencies dedicated to eugenics and to endorsements of eugenics by academics in virtually every field. Not only was there no sound scientific evidence that anything deemed “unfit” was hereditable, but there was almost no concern mentioned, not even by the Supreme Court of the United States (see Buck v. Bell), for the rights of those forcibly sterilized. Over 60,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized between 1907 and 1981.

Second, the notion that education begets a class of experts better suited than the individual to determine what is in the individual’s best interest is an elitism naturally attractive to academics. Having expended their adult lives endeavoring to be accepted as expert, they would likely find no greater prospect for power than through acceptance of the Hegelian notion that all government ought to be under their control to maximize the “common good.”

Hill: From the beginning of our republic to the New Deal, including the eugenics movements, the movements to keep blacks outside the domain of the ethical, various progressive movements to destroy individual rights that involved violating the rights of blacks--you've painted a picture of America that seemed very much like a white supremacist country since its inception? Am I wrong in my assumption? If I am not, then when did we cease being a white supremacist nation?

Emord: I believe the opposite is true. The Preamble is the origin of the United States. It is the nation’s lodestone. It defines self-evident truths that were often honored, always aspirational, and sometimes violated, but armed those denied rights with the foundational authority necessary to ensure over time rights protection. This wisdom did not escape Martin Luther King, Jr.  He did not condemn America for racial discrimination. He appealed to the nation to honor its fundamental charters, the Declaration and the Constitution. He said: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Until adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, slavery was a bane for both whites and blacks. BLM and the 1619 Project selectively rewrite history to present a false, propagandistic view that condemns America as systemically racist.  They state the origin of our country is not the Preamble in 1776 but the arrival of about 20 black slaves to the Jamestown Colony in 1619. What you are not told is that four months before the 20 blacks arrived in Jamestown, 100 white slaves arrived. What you are not told is that the arrival of 20 blacks was a one-off event because for years thereafter whites both young and old were delivered to Jamestown as slaves.

What you are not told is that by 1830, some 3000 manumitted blacks became slave owners themselves, some owning dozens of slaves. What you are not told is that the Founding Fathers condemned the Crown for bringing slavery to the colonies, considered slavery an execrable trade, and wished to extinguish it through a political solution that would have freed all slaves at once. What you are not told is that Jefferson who wrote the words: “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” also wrote at the very same time a 168-word paragraph in the Declaration that made clear he understood rights to be universal bequests from God to humankind (not limited to white males). That provision was deleted from the Declaration, as Jefferson explains in his autobiography, “in compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves...” because the support of both was essential to waging the war for independence with Great Britain.

Rather than condemn America for “systemic racism,” a collectivist concept that is but a Trojan horse for socialism, we ought to celebrate America for establishing an ideal so noble, so consistent with human nature, so just, and so empowering that it could not be denied despite jealous grasps by those who advocate for a single race or a single gender. The self-evident truths of the Preamble transcend all.

Hill: Identify the most dangerous President in the history of the United States and say why you think so. You alluded to this in your book.

Emord: Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the most dangerous president in American history. He did more to transform government into a socialist state than any prior president and succeeded in intimidating the Supreme Court through his infamous court-packing plan into sending into exile (those are Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg’s words) the power limiting doctrines that previously cabined the government and protected individual rights and sovereignty. 

Hill: How do we undo a cult of Progressivism that has undermined judicial review, engendered socialism, and outlawed individualism? How do we make our way back to liberty and Prosperity? Do you think America's decline is irreversible?

Emord: Socialism will inevitably fail, as it has everywhere on earth. The challenge we face is to end the socialist siege before it destroys the Constitution and robs us of our freedoms and prosperity. The fundamental reality is that humans yearn to be free. We are born with free agency, and no regime, like the Biden Administration, can take away liberty and replace it with socialism without engendering significant human misery. From the founding to the present, we have known considerable liberty, more than any other people on earth. When people come to realize, as surely they must, that the promised socialist state will rob them of their liberty, their property, and their freedom to choose, they will be reminded of just how precious their freedoms are. Will they reject the lies of socialism and demand restoration of the self-evident truths of the Preamble? I believe they will. To paraphrase Lincoln’s words from his first Inaugural Address of March 4, 1861, “the mystic chords of memory... all over this broad land, will yet swell... when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Hill: Thank You. Your book, the richest in historical detail I’ve read in a while, is surely worth a second reading. This has been a wonderful exploration and learning experience for me.

Jason D. Hill is professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago, and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His areas of specialization include ethics, social and political philosophy, American foreign policy and American politics. He is the author of several books, including “We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People” (Bombardier Books/Post Hill Press). Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.

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