Lynch Me in St. Louis

Robert Higgs gets a savage reception from the war-loving Babbitts in St. Louis. I think I know the group to which he was speaking, and I'm only half-surprised: it's a collection of superannuated and very rich right-wingers, including a handful of outright paranoics, eager to hear free-market arguments that justify their pocketbooks but mentally mired in the early Cold War. I thought, though, that there were some better sorts among them, too. Apparently not.

Well, I'm a Missourian myself and attended college in St. Louis, and I know there are still plenty of decent people there, even if they're not the kind of people whose bank accounts light up the eyes of Kit Bond and John Ashcroft. I have a pet theory, by the way, that the kind of pro-war zeal Higgs encountered is of a species different from, though superficially similar to, the bellicosity one finds elsewhere. In the East, the desire to rule the world takes the form of a feeling of obligation, the notion that only the United States — by which is meant, of course, its bureaucratic and political elites — can bring order to the world. It's the "best and brightest" technocratic mentality. There's a moralistic patina on it, but morality is something so foreign to Eastern elites that it's pretty plainly an imposture.

In the South, the zeal is Jacksonian and passionate, religiously infused and hyper-moralistic. In the Midwest, while there's some stoic, simple Americanism that translates into blind support for the government's wars once they've been launched, the really fierce stuff comes from the Babbitts, the businessmen who believe so ardently — religiously even — in going along to get along that they actually surpass the Eastern trendsetters in their devotion to the cause. There's no concern for what Iraqis or anyone else we bomb or invade might suffer because, well, what does that have to do with the bottom line? If anything, it's good for Boeing (a major employer in St. Louis), and war is good for business generally. It promotes "openness," which means U.S. access, by force if necessary, to foreign markets and resources. The Babbitts aren't technocratic and they're not proud fighting men, they're just eager not to stick out and to make a buck on whatever opportunity might arise, regardless of cost in foreigners' lives. (And Americans' too? Plenty of Midwesterners and Missourians in particular are in harm's way or have been killed; I'm less sure how many of the gentry's sons and daughters have signed up — though I have a pretty good guess.)

The Midwest has always been the home, if home there is, of America's anti-interventionists and, speaking more generally, there's historically been a healthy mixture of populism, progressivism, and Jeffersonianism there that isn't purely libertarian but that does stand athwart the centralizing and technocartic tendencies of the federal government. I cling to the hope that one day the old spirit of the Midwest will make a comeback.

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One thought on “Lynch Me in St. Louis

  1. Brian Rapp May 25, 2006 / 5:45 pm

    Are you saying that I was once a Babbitt? 🙂

    The “neoconservative adventurer” spirit we talked about awhile back lives in every country club in the St. Louis metropolitan area for sure. A lot of it stems from an elitist view that “we are god’s best, and these foreigners better do what we tell them to do”. Outside of that, most of these people have a very poor understanding of history and economics, and are perfectly susceptible to believing and agreeing with those who write in the pages of NRO or the Weekly Standard.

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