Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during the Second World War and 34th President of the United States, was a complex figure in the political history of the western world. While not a libertarian in the strict sense of the word, Eisenhower held deeply sceptical and conservative attitudes toward the expansion of government and the erosion of civil liberties in the name of security. Ironically, the principal architect of the massive military industrial complex that was created to defeat the Axis Powers was also one of its greatest critics. In the post-war period, as the dynamics of the Cold War were beginning to take shape, President Eisenhower’s aversion to deficit spending led him to undertake significant spending cuts in the traditional functions of the Army and Navy, relying instead on the more cost effective deterrent capability of nuclear weapons. His distinctly apolitical style of government, coupled with the scepticism of state power that shaped his economic and political policies, have made him a role model for countless libertarian policy makers since his presidency.
Now that the United States is grappling with manufactured partisan crises, increasing government spending, hyper-politicised governance, and cults of personality around every elected official, we would do well to look to Eisenhower’s example. In the space below, I have collected ten warnings and remarks by America’s 34th president that are just as appropriate now as they were at the beginning of the Cold War.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
1) “Never let yourself be persuaded that any one Great Man, any one leader, is necessary to the salvation of America. When America consists of one leader and 158 million followers, it will no longer be America.”
2) “In most communities it is illegal to cry “fire” in a crowded assembly. Should it not be considered serious international misconduct to manufacture a general war scare in an effort to achieve local political aims?”
3) “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head. That’s assault, not leadership.”
4) “May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”
5) “As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”
6) “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
7) “I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”
8) “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
9) “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
10) “The history of free men is never written by chance but by choice - their choice.”