Isabel Paterson (1886–1961) was one of the most erudite and widely educated thinkers to ever grace the world of libertarian ideas. God of the Machine (click that and you can get the entire book instantly for free) 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.
The phrase that this work contributed to the lexicon sums up her thesis: the humanitarian with the guillotine. The phrase condemns the use of a good and right impulse in our hearts – to wish for the well being of all – to support what is a violent and pillaging political system that subjugates the individual in the interest of the group.
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 that 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.
The influence on Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and so many others, is obvious to anyone attentive to the intellectual historiography of the time.
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. I have a great sense of joy to be involved in presenting it through FEE to a new generation.
Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.