Crisis and Leviathan, 25th Anniversary Edition
The Independent Institute is delighted to announce the publication of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, by Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs. First published in 1987, this classic work introduced to the reading public the notion that national crises—the Great Depression, the two World Wars, the Cold War, and sundry lesser “crises,” real or imagined—are the sparks that have driven the growth of Big Government since the turn of the twentieth century.
An early turning point, Higgs explains, came during the Progressive Era, when the nation’s intellectuals and many business leaders began to favor federal activism. This ideological change enabled unprecedented government activism when the United States entered World War I, including the federal takeover of shipping, price controls, and the draft. Although the government scaled down after the war, precedents had been set. When the Great Depression hit, collectivist sentiments and institutions were reactivated. Decades later, many programs and agencies begun during the New Deal remain in place.
Federal activism during World War II was even more severe. Although much of the administrative apparatus of control was dismantled soon after the war ended, a host of legacies remained, including government-financed plants and equipment, a voracious federal income tax system, a massive foreign aid program, and a money-hungry military-industrial complex. Most important, the notion of a “peacetime Constitution” was lost, and the prevailing ideology moved decisively toward acceptance of a larger role for government in the economy.
As Higgs shows, each crisis led to a host of new federal programs, activities, and functions that left legacies—including greater acceptance of bigger government—that endured long after each crisis passed. The result was not only a higher baseline for further growth, but also a government more intrusive in the lives of ordinary citizens and more resistant to meaningful reform.
Read the book summary.