It is important only when we do not have it

Friday, January 28th, 2022

The need for security is a constant need, Carroll Quigley notes in Weapons Systems and Political Stability, but it is important only when we do not have it:

That is why the United States, in the 1920s and 1930s, could have such mistaken ideas about the relative significance of security and prosperity. Because we had the former, with little or no effort or expense to ourselves, from about 1817 to at least 1917, we continued to regard this almost essential feature of human life as of less significance than prosperity and rising standards of living from 1920 till late in the 1930s or even to 1941. Accordingly, we ignored the problem of security and concentrated on the pursuit of wealth and other things we did not have. This was a perfectly legitimate attitude toward life, for ourselves, but it did not entitle us to insist that other countries, so much closer to the dangers of normal human life than we were, must accept our erroneous belief that economics was more fundamental than politics and security.

Many years ago, when I talked of this matter to my students, all in uniform and preparing to go off to fight Hitler, one of them, who already had a doctorate degree in economics, challenged my view that politics is more fundamental than economics. The problem arose from a discussion of the Nazi slogan “Guns or butter?”

I asked him, “If you and I were together in a locked room with a sub-machine gun on one side and a million dollars on the other side, and you were given first choice, which of these objects would you choose?”

He answered, “I would take the million dollars.”

When I asked, “Why?,” he replied, “Because anyone would sell the gun for a lot less than a million dollars.”

“You don’t know me,” I retorted, “because if I got the gun, I’d leave the room with the money as well!”


  1. Covfefe Anon says:

    “He answered, ‘I would take the million dollars.’”

    How did people like this ever exist?

  2. Contaminated NEET says:

    “How did people like this ever exist?”

    Quigley made up the anecdote to make himself sound cool.

  3. Covfefe Anon says:

    Almost certainly made up, yes, but for the anecdote to sound cool it has to have a shred of plausibility so people of the time could imagine someone saying that, whereas if he someone told that story today no one would believe it.

  4. Altitude Zero says:

    As near as I can tell Quigley was kind of a mid-century Scott Alexander. He’s frustrating, because he’s obviously intelligent, and he walks right up to being right, and then turns away, because the truth offends his liberal pieties. Almost more frustrating than dealing with obvious idiots like Howard Zinn and David French.

  5. Chedolf says:

    “Almost more frustrating than dealing with obvious idiots like David French.”

    I think the main problem with David French is that he’s a disguised enemy, not that he’s (just) an idiot.

  6. Wang Wei Lin says:

    Ahhhh… David French. He’s popping up in more blogs and comment threads as the typical TDS/RINO poster boy midwit. He’s clever, talented and wrong.

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