LIBERTARIAN BOOK CLUB: Great Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal, by Prof Ralph Raico, PhD


Tom Woods Liberty Classroom

We are a monthly book club for anyone who wants to learn more about Libertarianism. We will discuss each book’s chapter/section in separate posts, so everyone will be able to read along at their own pace. We typically also focus on books which are available for free so that everyone can participate. Join the Private Facebook Group and follow us on Twitter as we seek to learn more about Libertarianism.

Other books we’ve reviewed can be found here.

​The great historian of classical liberalism strips away the veneer of exalted leaders and beloved wars. Professor Ralph Raico shows them to be wolves in sheep’s clothing and their wars as attacks on human liberty and human rights.

In the backdrop of this blistering and deeply insightful and scholarly history is the whitewashing of “great leaders” like Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, FDR, Truman, Stalin, Trotsky, and other collectivists. They are highly regarded because they were on the “right side” of the rise of the state. But do they deserve adulation? Raico says no: these great leaders were main agents in the decline of civilization in the 20th century, all of them anti-liberals who used their power to celebrate and enhance state power.

The book can be found here Free!

It is striking how history seems to repeat itself continually. Reading through this book, it is very easy to see parallels drawn between the effects of foreign policy (and interventionist leaders) then and what we deal with now as an effect of the War on Terror (and certainly what is coming from that).

I was interested from the intro pp 29-30, the man Raico names as the founder of anarcho- capitalism:
“Unsurprisingly, the most thoroughgoing of the liberal revisionists was the arch-radical Gustave de Molinari, originator of what has come to be known as anarcho-capitalism. In his work on the Great Revolution of 1789, Molinari eviscerated the founding myth of the French Republic. France had been “proceeding gradually and organically towards liberal reform in the later eighteenth century; the revolution put an end to that process, substituting an unprecedented expansion of state power and a generation of war. The self-proclaimed liberal parties of the nineteenth century were, in fact, machines for the exploitation of society by the now victorious predatory middle classes, who profited from tariffs, government contracts, state subsidies for railroads and other industries, state-sponsored banking, and the legion of jobs available in the ever-expanding bureaucracy.”

Chapter 1This chapter Illustrates a lot of hypocrisy. British government saw German violation of Belgium sovereignty as an aggression that could not stand, overlooking their own long history of violating others’ sovereignty. In fact, Raico argues that it was the British example that gave Germany the idea in the first place.

This reminded me of American concern toward Russian alleged tampering in US elections, but no commiserate concern with the CIA’ long history of tampering with the outcome of other countries’ elections including Russia’s.

Chapter 2“In a way, Churchill as Man of the Century will be appropriate. This has been the century of the State —of the rise and hypertrophic growth of the welfare-warfare state — and Churchill was from first to last a Man of the State, of the welfare state and of the warfare state.”

I remember at the start of Trump’s presidency conservatives applauding Trump bring back to the Oval Office a bust of Churchill that Obama had apparently removed. Appropriate perhaps but definitely NOT a good omen.

I will be recommending this chapter in the future with anyone who speaks well of Churchill. Here is another good resource.

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As a classic film buff I appreciated the mention of the book Screening History. I knew pro-British propaganda was prevalent in Hollywood films of the time. I did not fully realize they were completely orchestrated by an agent of the British government operating out of Rockefeller Center.

Great quote by Raico:

“A moral postulate of our time is that in pursuit of the destruction of Hitler, all things were permissible. “Yet why is it selfevident that morality required a “crusade against Hitler in 1939 and 1940, and not against Stalin? At that point, Hitler had slain his thousands, but Stalin had already slain his millions.”

“Churchill’s policy of all-out support of Stalin foreclosed other, potentially more favorable approaches:

“There is no doubt whatsoever that it would have been in the interest of Britain, the United States, and the world to have allowed—and indeed, to have encouraged—the world’s two great dictatorships to fight each other to a frazzle. Such a struggle, with its resultant weakening of both Communism and Nazism, could not but have aided in the establishment of a more stable peace.””

Advice that I think translates well to the ME today.

Raico argues that Churchill’s interest was not in destroying Naziism but in making sure Germany itself would never again become a rival power and therefore he had no interest in helping dissidents within Germany. Churchill’s objective was not to win the war, but to utterly destroy Germany.

Raico also argues that German war crimes documented at Nuremberg pale in comparison to the war crimes committed by Churchill.

Chapter 3Having just spent the last 72 hours debating people about Hiroshima, I am not going to say much about that part of that chapter other than to say I agree with Raico’s assessment that Harry Falseman is the worst war criminal who ever lived.

The chapter title reminds us that polls of historians consistently rank Falseman among the second tier of presidents as a “near great” but Raico convincingly argues on this chapter that he was one of, if not in fact, the worst. So many of the evils and problems we face today stem from 1947:

“Meanwhile, the organs of the national security state were being put into place. The War and Navy Departments and the Army Air Corps were combined into what was named, in Orwellian fashion, the Defense Department. Other legislation established the National Security Council and upgraded intelligence operations into the Central Intelligence Agency . . .

“Truman began the “special relationship” between the United States and Zionism. Franklin Roosevelt, while not blind to Zionist interests, favored an evenhanded approach in the Middle East as between Arabs and Jews. Truman, on the other hand, was an all-out champion of the Zionist cause . . .

In the end, the part of Truman’s legacy with the greatest potential for harm is NATO.”

Chapters 4 and 5I have not much to add other than agreement: Yes, communism and communists are bad. I would just mention that Darrow certainly seemed to disagree at the end of our last book when he talked about private property being divided up among the proletariat.

Chapter Five makes a good point about how the left in Germany and elsewhere condemn Naziism to the exclusion of all other evils, including Soviet Communism and the Allies terror bombing of Germany. Relevant to today when you see politicians and MSM rightly condemning white supremacists in Charlottesville but relative silence regarding Antifa. Raico argues that while historians and the public tend to condemn without justification Germans as a whole for Nazi atrocities, they don’t criticize the Russian or Chinese people for even worse Communist atrocities.

Raico mentions German reunification. I recall in an old interview with Jeffrey Tucker, Hans Herman Hoppe talked about how it ended up being a large-scale wealth redistribution scheme due to the fact that the two countries being reunited were (1) a relatively prosperous capitalist country vs. (2) a dilapidated communist failed state. This resulted in the reunified country as a whole becoming overall more socialist, not only due to the redistribution that immediately took place to “rehabilitate” the East, but also due to the addition of East German citizens who had essentially been conditioned throughout the past half-century to support socialistic policies. Hoppe proposed instead that East and West Germany should have remained separate countries so that East Germany would have been forced to adopt laissez-faire policies in the absence of the West German subsidization of their economy. I think it would be a good idea for our group to read some Hoppe in the near future.

Chapter 6Tsarist Russia was bad, but the Bolshevik Revolution unleashed bureaucratic collectivism far more reactionary and oppressive than what had gone before.

“We have with Trotsky and his comrades in the Great October Revolution the spectacle of a few literary-philosophical intellectuals seizing power in a great country with the aim of overturning the whole economic system — but without the slightest idea how an economic system works.”

Y’all need Mises! Communism = slavery:

“Hadn’t Marx and Engels, in their ten-point program for revolutionary government in The Communist Manifesto, demanded as point eight, “Equal liability for all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture”? Neither Marx nor Engels ever disavowed their claim that those in charge of “the workers’ state” had the right to enslave the workers and peasants whenever the need might arise.”
Chapter 7In this chapter, Raico reviews a book that sounds just awful.

“For how does the rationale for NATO in its past or presently expanding forms meet Washington’s criterion of “extraordinary emergencies”? How can an alliance already lasting half a century count as “temporary”?

How indeed.

Do we presently have “as little political connection” with foreign countries as possible?”

No, we do not.

“ It was back “in 1819, when the American Board of Foreign Missions decided to evangelize the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands. The “donation of tens of millions of dollars to foreign missions “prefigured the governmental aid projects of the mid-twentieth century. “To argue in this fashion is to blot out, for whatever reason, the basic distinction between civil society, based on voluntarism, and the state, based on coercion.”

“McDougall confutes the current shibboleth of the urgent need for the United States to spread “democracy” throughout the world. Other peoples may democratically choose anti-liberal regimes. In any case, what business is it of ours?”


Raico makes a great point about foreign aid I had not fully considered that applies just as well to other countries:

“Our half-century of experience with foreign aid has been almost a total loss.” The method used, government-to-government aid, is intrinsically statist. The blunder continues today, as “we attempt to teach ex-Soviet peoples how to be good capitalists through the medium of government grants administered by government agencies for the benefit of our own and foreign bureaucracies”

You can’t spread capitalism by giving stuff away.

Raico is almost as brutal toward Margaret Thatcher as he was Churchill:

“Why, incidentally, is this lady, who pressed the first Bush to go to war in the Gulf and was the last-ditch friend of Gorbachev and last-ditch foe of German reunification . . .”

Though Raico differs from Hoppe on reunification.

Chapter 8This chapter consists of mini-reviews of a number of books on World War I.

I was a bit confused by Raico’s review of Niall Ferguson’s “Pity of War.” Most of Raico’s book is critical of Anglo-centric bias in twentieth century military historiography, and this chapter ends the same for example when he argues that the real “Belgian atrocities” were what Belgians did in the Congo, NOT what Germans did in Belgium. But in the beginning of the chapter he takes exception to Ferguson’s thesis that it would have been better had Great Britain stayed out of the war. I didn’t really get Raico’s point there.

The book that sounds most interesting to me is “Richard Gamble, The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation.”

Progressive Protestants rejected old line Calvinism and embraced utopian socialism and formed the National Council of Churches. Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson became their idols.

Julia Ward Howe, composer of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” frequently addressed their meetings:

“A favorite line, of course, was “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” The progressive Protestants saw World War I as a continuation of the great crusade for righteousness that was the American Civil War . . On the day that national registration for the draft began, Wilson addressed a reunion of Confederate veterans. He told them that God had preserved the American Union in the Civil War so that the United States might be “an instrument in [His] hands… to see that liberty is made secure for mankind.” Regrettably, here, as before and ever after, the grandsons and great-grandsons of the valiant Confederate soldiers who resisted the North’s invasion of their country took the side of their former mortal enemies. In a kind of Stockholm syndrome, of identifying with the aggressor, they identified with the Union and disproportionately supported and fought and died in its wars. That strange anomaly continues to this day.”

I gather there that he has in mind that some of the most ardent supporters of the Military Industrial Complex are in states that were part of the former Confederacy. (See Lindsey Graham in South Carolina for example, the first state to secede).

Chapter 9

A review of a book on World War I:

“The British, naval blockade of Germany in the First World War belongs to the category of forgotten state atrocities of the twentieth century, of which there have been many.”

Of Winston Churchill, Herbert Hoover wrote, “The Prime Minister was a militarist of the extreme old school who held that the incidental starvation of women and children was justified if it contributed to the earlier ending of the war by victory.”

I can’t tell you how many war mongers tell me similar things today about US war in the Middle East.
I never before heard the argument that the suffering from hunger in their early, formative years caused the enthusiasm of German youth for Nazism later on, but that was interesting.

Chapter 10​


This chapter is a review of John T Flynn’s “The Roosevelt Myth.”

Albert Jay Nock said that FDR’s death was the greatest public improvement since the Bill of Rights.

Flynn argued that Roosevelt established Mussolini style fascism in America and then manufactured a war with Japan to distract from the un sustainability of his economic system. When the Japanese sunk a US gunboat on the Yangtze River Flynn wondered what that gunboat was doing there. Turns out it was convoying Standard Oil tankers.

FDR personally acted to destroy Flynn’s career and used the IRS and the FBI to harass and intimidate him.

More people were unemployed in 1938 than when Roosevelt was elected in ’32.

William F. Buckley had started out as an AnCap under the influence of Frank Chodorov but became a conservative statist because the thought the threat of the Soviet Union and communism necessitated taxation and a national security state. As a result, Buckley personally blackballed Flynn’s career.
One evil aspect of FDR that Raico/Flynn does not get into is the internment of Japanese-Americans.

In another book club I am in, we are currently reading Rothbard’s Betrayal of the American Right, which goes into quite a bit more detail on this if anyone is interested.

Chapter 11In this chapter Raico reviews Justus Doenecke’s book, Storm on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939–1941.

It sounds like a good book. Not having read it I don’t have much to add so I will just make two book recommendations. (Not for our club, just in general.):

Doenecke (and thus Raico) cites Scot Berg’s biography of Charles Lindbergh. I read it a few years ago, and it is mammoth but well worth checking out.

I mentioned before Rothbard’s Betrayal of the American Right, which covers much of the same ground but from firsthand experience.

This Article fits nicely.

Chapter 12

This chapter is a review of T. Hunt Tooley’s “Western Front.” Tooley has been a frequent guest on Tom Wood’s show and if you like this chapter I recommend those episodes.

Tooley writes:

“Most of all Social Darwinism—really, just Darwinism — which taught the eternal conflict among the races and tribes of the human as of other species. The press and popular fiction, especially “boys’ fiction,” glorified the derring-do of war, while avoiding any graphic, off-putting descriptions of what combat actually inflicts on men, much as the U.S. media do”

This reminded me of a poignant docudrama (below) that I saw several years ago and highly recommend.

I have had discussions like this with some alt-right who insist tribalism and conflict are inherent to human nature but I am not sure it is not more learned behavior.

Raico cites Christopher Hedges “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.” I read this book several years ago. As I recall it is pretty short and you can finish it off in a couple of hours.

This really pisses me off:
“Especially ecstatic were the intellectuals, who viewed the war as a triumph of “idealism” over the selfish individualism and crass materialism of the trading and shop keeping spirit (i.e., free market capitalism.)

Tooley also utilizes “Robert Higgs’s conceptual framework in his seminal Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government.”

I have not read that one, but it sounds like it might be a good one for us to read in the future.
SummaryThroughout the book, Raico illustrates the (avoidable) problems that got us in to these “great” wars (that seem to have been forgotten by history and overlooked by modern historians with their love of these blood thirsty leaders and the policy they set forth).

It is striking how history seems to repeat itself continually. Reading through this book, it is very easy to see parallels drawn between the effects of foreign policy (and interventionist leaders) then and what we deal with now as an effect of the War on Terror (and certainly what is coming from that).

Raico is not one to make things up, and lists countless citations and footnotes at the end of every chapter (some of these going on for 30 pages). His attention to detail is much appreciated. The content is fantastic in addressing these topics thoroughly and illustrating how these wars were completely avoidable, these men are no heroes of history, and much of what we’ve been told or lead to believe about all of this is simply false.

Throughout the book, Raico talks of “isolationism”, much like others from the previously named “Old Right”, in place of the more fitting (which he admits to at times in the book) term “non-intervention”. I understand that throughout the early 20th century (and still today), the term “isolationism” or “isolationist” is used to criticize and mislabel one who supports non-interventionism. Still, it is puzzling to me why Raico and similar authors use this term despite knowing better today.

Overall, the content in this book is fantastic, and the citations numerous (some chapters contain 30 pages of citations and footnotes on the citations, as Raico gives page numbers and even quotations). My only complaint is that this is a series of essays and book reviews, and not a true book in itself. I personally loathe this style of book writing (though it is a double-edged sword, as much like with Tom DiLorenzo’s fantastic book Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government, it gets the information out there quickly and saves the author a good deal of time, but, in my opinion at least, it makes the book far less enjoyable).

I scratch my head and wonder why it is that there are book reviews mixed in with expanded articles that Raico has written. The content is always great, but such formatting makes it harder on the reader to follow through with the author at times, I think.

The content of the book is easily 5 stars, but I had to sadly knock a star off because of the way the book was formatted, by including book reviews in with expansive essays. This book is a very insightful and worthwhile read for anyone interested in history or US foreign policy, but it could have really been golden if Raico were to have sit down and write it cover to cover as a traditional book.

Raico has given numerous lectures on the history of US foreign policy, and these can be found easily on YouTube if one is interested. Additionally, Raico at times discusses the “Old Right”, and one may be inclined to believe that he is talking about Republicans or the collective pre-1950’s Right-Wing (which is far from the case), so I would suggest reading Murray Rothbard’s Betrayal of the American Right if you’re not familiar with this small circle of Libertarians and Classical Liberals.

If you’re a fan of this book, I’d suggest listening to the Dangerous History Podcast, found here

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