Critical Mass: Economic Leadership or Dictatorship

Economic and political destabilization ranked high on al-Qaeda’s list of strategic objectives in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington, DC. In addition to killing nearly 3,000 innocent people, the attacks immediately inflicted over $80 billion dollars in damage, sent the airline industry into a tailspin, and forced the United States to undertake the economic burden of a long war. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda failed to seriously destabilize the American economic and political systems. The current economic crisis, however, could foster critical mass not only in the American and world economies but also put the world democracies in jeopardy.

Some experts maintain that a U.S. government economic relief package might lead to socialism. I am not an economist, so I will let that issue sit. However, as a historian I know what happened when the European and American economies collapsed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The role of government expanded exponentially in Europe and the United States. The Soviet system, already well entrenched in socialist totalitarianism, saw Stalin tighten his grip with the doctrine of “socialism in one country,” which allowed him to dispense with political opposition real and imagined. German economic collapse contributed to the Nazi rise to power in 1933. The alternatives in the Spanish civil war were between a fascist dictatorship and a communist dictatorship. Dictatorships also proliferated across Eastern Europe. In the United States, the Franklin Roosevelt administration vastly expanded the role and power of government. In Asia, Japanese militarists gained control of the political process and then fed Japan’s burgeoning industrial age economy with imperialist lunges into China and Korea; the first steps toward the greatest conflagration in the history of mankind … so far … World War II ultimately resulted. That’s what happened the last time the world came to a situation resembling critical mass. Scores upon scores of millions of people died.

Could it happen again? Bourgeois democracy requires a vibrant capitalist system. Without it, the role of the individual shrinks as government expands. At the very least, the dimensions of the U.S. government economic intervention will foster a growth in bureaucracy to administer the multi-faceted programs necessary for implementation. Bureaucracies, once established, inevitably become self-serving and self-perpetuating. Will this lead to “socialism” as some conservative economic prognosticators suggest? Perhaps. But so is the possibility of dictatorship. If the American economy collapses, especially in wartime, there remains that possibility. And if that happens the American democratic era may be over. If the world economies collapse, totalitarianism will almost certainly return to Russia, which already is well along that path in any event. Fragile democracies in South America and Eastern Europe could crumble.

A global economic collapse will also increase the chance of global conflict. As economic systems shut down, so will the distribution systems for resources like petroleum and food. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that nations perceiving themselves in peril will, if they have the military capability, use force, just as Japan and Nazi Germany did in the mid-to-late 1930s. Every nation in the world needs access to food and water. Industrial nations — the world powers of North America, Europe, and Asia — need access to energy. When the world economy runs smoothly, reciprocal trade meets these needs. If the world economy collapses, the use of military force becomes a more likely alternative. And given the increasingly rapid rate at which world affairs move, the world could devolve to that point very quickly.

The United States is at the epicenter as the world edges toward critical mass. And the ship of state appears rudderless. The current crisis is as much one of leadership as economics. This is the time for statesmen to come to the fore. So far, political leaders, anxious to preserve and to advance partisan agendas, have engaged in behavior bordering on the infantile. Whether or not men and women of selfless character, statesmen devoted to the preservation of the nation and its precious but always fragile democracy will emerge, remains unclear. But it is clear that if our leadership fails at this critical juncture, the fate of our nation and the world lies in the balance. At this point of critical mass, while rife with politicians, we are impoverished for leadership.

Dr. Earl Tilford, a fellow with the Center for Vision and Values, resides in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where he is working on a history of the University of Alabama in the mid- to late 1960s. He holds a PhD in history from George Washington University and served for thirty-two years as a military officer and analyst with the Air Force and Army. From 2001 until May 2008, Dr. Tilford taught history at Grove City College.

Dr. Earl Tilford


Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism.

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  • Dave

    In times of personal crisis I have always found that prayer and my trust in God leads to an inner peace that gets me through the tough times. For a world nearing crisis, the right leadership derives from Jesus Christ, from whom all good things come.

  • Warren Jewell

    Right on, Dave!

    Uh – think anyone in the Beltway hears you? Doesn’t the idea of ‘leadership’ in the current political crop make you grimace and cringe?

    Now, to me, one of the requirements of socialism is totalitarian government. How else do the ‘wheels’ decide about every next meal for every fool grunt of a citizen without dictatorially running the whole show?

    The last-resort cure for socialistic dictatorship is called ‘our Second Amendment’. I’ll pray for peace and composure, so as to gentle my aim, if such becomes necessary. I mean, the good Lord only gave me two cheeks . . . and founding, true leaders who advise us, nearly exhort us, to “shoot ’em out of office, if you have to”. And, do be ‘bi-partisan’, now.

    Oh, and yeah, I really have to chuckle at the ‘ad by Google’ for St. Peter Lutheran Church, ‘Bible based, christ (sic, no cap) centered’.

  • Dave

    Fine article by Dr. Tilford, let us hope and pray that our new leadership has the background, perspective, leadership and understanding to do what is right. Statesmen, sadly, won’t be revealed during the pandering of the election. Let’s hope they appear after Nov. 4th.

  • dennisofraleigh

    Dave, don’t quit your day job with the expectation that the “new leadership” will differ much from the “old leadership” in their ability to deal with the present crisis. With John McCain looking more and more like the hapless Bob Dole in 1996 I would be shocked if he was able to pull out of his present dive and into the victory seat in November. That said, if you think Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal changed the face of this country, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

    The “critical mass” I see on the horizon is a very liberal Congress coupling with a radically liberal Executive, and the opposition too divided and diminished to do anything about it, even mount a decent filibuster.

    Read on…

    The same people that made the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac debacle possible will be not only back in the legislative saddle, but very likely led by a radically liberal man of their own party more than willing to sign every socialist-leaning tax and spending bill that crosses his desk. And look for lots of ’em. It wouldn’t surprise me if he decides to try to outdo Franklin Roosevelt’s “First One Hundred Days” legislative agenda of 1933. New agencies. Mammoth spending. Socialization of medicine, energy, banking, etc. Fast-tracking of candidates to fill vacant Federal judgeships with the most liberal, libertine, amoral judicial appointees imaginable.

    On the education front, never mind “No Child Left Behind.” Look for “No Child Left Unindoctrinated” by the most outrageous anti-family and promiscuity-promoting education agendas of the radical “gay” agenda and Planned Parenthood Federation.

    And that’s not even counting the “social engineering” grotesqueries of signing a “Freedom of Choice Act” abortion-on-demand law (and the almost simultaneous repudiation of the “Mexico City” accord which until now has put brakes on massive funding for “reproductive health” eugenics programs in developing countries around the world).

    On the international front I fully expect to see an emboldened Islam push its demands even more militantly in the Middle East and Africa (encouraged by the election here of one they consider their own, or at least sympathetic to their overall goals).
    Watch for two newfound “allies” south of the border: Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez. Watch for lifting of travel & trade restrictions with Cuba and “trade” agreements worth billions with dictator Chavez and other left-wing Latin dictatorships.

    Perhaps you’re right, Dave in your first comment. Maybe all we’ll have left is a prayer and trust in God because with this election the voters of this country will have effectively taken what was once a “Republic and not a mobocracy” the heave-ho.

  • bwnasca

    They don’t call us the Church Militant for nothing. We’ve got to keep fighting,
    people. Remember this “theater of redemption” that we call the world is in the
    Lord’s hands. There’s always hope.

  • dennisofraleigh

    So true, bwnasca, but Dr. Tilford’s essay spoke of a possible world from a purely secular perspective, and so I responded. If we err in looking only to secular forces to “straighten things out,” even one populated by “statesmen” and “selfless character” (believe me, we do need them, now more than ever) we’re setting ourselves up for sore disappointment.
    Our experiment in republican democracy is just over 200 years old. It may be just about over. But the Church will carry on. She has through two millenia of pagan and Christian ceasars, kings, emperors, tsars, and in modern times party secretaries and commissars, chancellors and a hodge-podge of dictatorial governments (usually not without some great sacrifices—history of the Church in Poland case in point), but survive she did. And above all, no matter what, we must remain faithful sons and daughters of Mother Church, that Kingdom which surpasses all other kingdoms humans may devise.