Isabel Paterson (1886–1961) was one of the most erudite and widely educated thinkers to ever grace the libertarian world. This book is her masterwork. Its contents have not been sufficiently absorbed into the current intellectual world. It is one of those lost treasures, a book that you begin and your whole world stops. It is wise. It is prophetic. It has stood the test of time.
It first appeared in 1943 as the book that went against everything that the politics of the time were telling people to believe. We had been through more than a decade of the planning state, with government robbing people in order to help them. This was the period of history that prepared the way for the predatory politics that define daily life today. The experience of the New Deal prepared the way for wartime planning in ways that people today do not understand. But Paterson did understand.
The phrase that this work contributed to the lexicon sums up her thesis: the humanitarian with the guillotine. The state assured the public that it had their best interests at heart. It would deliver jobs, food, security, progress and all wonderful things. And the masses were happy, for a time. But the economic recovery never came. Years went by. The New Dealers began searching for some way to cover their incredible failure and distract the population from the reality. The answer presented itself in the form of the draft, the war, the wrecking of family and community — and, finally, mass bloodshed on all sides.
The God of the Machine blew the whistle on the entire trajectory and celebrated individualism as no one else had yet done. Albert Jay Nock considered this book to be the greatest thus far on the subject of American liberty. You can see in these pages the foreshadowing of what would later become a robust intellectual tradition in the United States. It is, in many ways, a founding document of the entire laissez-faire perspective in modern America.
Rereading this book in preparation for release, I found myself stopping every few passages in delight and amazement at Paterson’s prose and insights. She was clearly a genius and a woman of enormous courage. How could this masterpiece have dropped from public consciousness? I don’t have an answer to that mystery. Perhaps the public was not ready for its message in 1943. And after the war, a whole generation of writers and books dropped down the memory hole to make way for the new and reconstructed scions of the statist postwar culture.
What a tragedy, but one that is being rectified.