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Excerpt from the Blue Book of the John Birch Society (c. 1960)


Though the 1960s are remembered as the era of left-wing radicalism, they also saw the development of the John Birch Society, a radical-right group formed in the name of anti-communism. Founded in 1958 by ultraconservative businessman Robert H. W. Welch Jr., the society takes its name from John Birch, a Fundamentalist Baptist missionary killed by Chinese Communists after World War II ended. Hailing Birch as the first casualty in the war against communism, the society aims to fight communism by whatever means necessary.

The Blue Book of the John Birch Society is the group's manifesto. The society believes in a radical reduction of the federal government and the abandonment of the Federal Reserve System, among other things. The book attacks the civil rights movement for sowing subversion in the United States. In this excerpt, collectivism is described as a devious cancer growing on the healthy body of the American public.

Leah R.Shafer,
Cornell University

See also Anti-communism ; John Birch Society .

But Let's Look Deeper…

Now if the danger from the Communist conspiracy were all we had to worry about, it would be enough. But every thinking and informed man senses that, even as cunning, as ruthless, and as determined as are the activists whom we call Communists with a capital "C," the conspiracy could never have reached its present extensiveness, and the gangsters at the head of it could never have reached their present power, unless there were tremendous weaknesses in the whole body of our civilization—weaknesses to make the advance of such a disease so rapid and its ravages so disastrous. And this feeling is easily confirmed by observation. But to analyze and understand these weaknesses we have to go deeply into both the political history and the philosophical history of the human race. By your leave—or perhaps I should say without it—I am going to attempt that analysis. For we definitely need this understanding also, as background to the suggestions of program and of action which will eventually follow. I shall keep this exploration from being dry and boring, to the best of my ability. And I shall keep it as short as I well can.

In my opinion, the first great basic weakness of the United States, and hence its susceptibility to the disease of collectivism, is simply the age of the Western European civilization. And I am not being cryptic, clever, nor facetious, as I hope soon to make clear. Some of you will already have recognized, in fact, that I am drawing a corollary to the conclusions usually connected with the name of Oswald Spengler. In actual fact there were many other scholars who, during the first decades of this century, supplied what were probably sounder studies and interpretations of the cyclic theory of cultures than did Spengler. But the concept has become so associated with his name that we might as well accept that identification. So let me put "Spengler's theory" in simple language, as concisely as I can.

Oswald Spengler was a very learned but very conceited German who wrote a book, first published in 1918, I believe, of which the title in the English translation was The Decline of the West. A lot of its direct effectiveness was spoiled by the almost nauseating displays of erudition in which the book abounds. Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once called it "a marvelous humbug of a book," which description actually reveals more about that eternal sophomore, Holmes, than it does about the ostentatious scholar, Spengler.

And despite the way that Spengler overplayed his hand and overproved his point, a rather strange thing has happened. The so-called liberal scholars of the world completely demolished Spengler's arguments at once. And then they have kept right on returning to the task, and demolishing Spengler's thesis finally and for good, every year or two for the past forty years. For the convincing way in which Spengler's explanation fits the known facts of human history just would not let his conclusion be downed and forgotten—any more than the convincing way in which Darwin's general theory fitted the known facts of animal life would let Darwin's theory be suppressed and ignored two generations earlier.

Until at last the international socialists, with the Fabians and Labor Party bosses in England taking the lead, made one grand and lasting effort to have Spengler discredited by being overshadowed. They took a meretricious hack named Arnold J. Toynbee, who just by the intrinsic evidence of his own pages is one of the worst charlatans that ever lived; they had Toynbee interpret and rewrite history in such fashion as specifically to supplant Spengler's cyclic theory of cultures with Toynbee's half-baked nonsense; and then they—the whole liberal establishment, especially of England and America—gave Toynbee such favorable publicity and such a terrific build-up as no other historian, not even the socialist H. G. Wells, has ever enjoyed before. The result has been that today at least one thousand people are familiar with Toynbee's history, and have even read a few pages of it, to each one who has read Spengler and knows what he tried to say.

Those who are familiar with the way in which Stalin won out in his contest with Trotsky, in the years 1924 to 1929, will recognize the similarity of the technique used. Stalin, who was in complete charge of all media of communication in Russia during those years, never actually suppressed, nor even refused to allow to be published, any pamphlets by, or favorable to, Trotsky. He merely held the press run and distribution of all such pamphlets down to a few thousand, on the ground that the demand didn't justify any more; while pamphlets by himself or others, condemning Trotsky, were printed and distributed in huge quantities all over Russia. Incidentally, it is the same typically Communist technique which was used by the Fund for the Republic, when they printed and distributed thirty-five thousand copies of Erwin Griswold's straining pedantry in defense of the Fifth Amendment pleaders; and then printed and distributed one thousand copies of Dickerman Williams' answer to Griswold's nonsense, in order to show how fair-minded they were.

But I am getting off the track. Which is that, due to all this huge build-up of Arnold Toynbee as a philosopher-historian, almost any American or Englishman who happened to take a notion, for some reason, to go digging into world history from a philosophical viewpoint—or just from sheer curiosity—would certainly turn to Toynbee, would never have heard of Spengler, and hence would have no chance to learn Spengler's ideas. And all of this introduction to those ideas has not been wasted, I hope. For it does emphasize this fact. Spengler's theory is absolutely fatal to the acceptance of socialism or any form of collectivism as a forward step, or as a form of progress, in man's sociological arrangements. For in Spengler's view collectivism is a disease of society, concomitant with decay, and remarkably similar to cancer in the individual.

Basically, when you dig through the chaff and the dressing in Spengler enough to get at his thought, he held that a societal development which we ordinarily classify as a civilization is an organic culture, which goes through a life cycle just the same as any of the individual organisms which we see whole and with which we are more familiar. It has been many years since I have read Spengler, so I do not know how far I am wandering from his own specific or exact thinking, in trying to present his central theme. There is certainly more Welch than there is Spengler in what follows. But the easiest way to make the theme clear is to illustrate the life of a civilization as a parallel to the life of an individual man.

You then find, that of the some twenty-one or twenty-two civilizations which we know enough about to discuss intelligently, some were struck down while in middle age and reasonable health, by an enemy, as was the Neo-Babylonian civilization by Cyrus, for instance; just the same as an individual man might be shot by an enemy, or run over by a streetcar. Another, like the Carthaginian, never was able to attain its full normal growth and strength, because of the overwhelming competition, for sustenance and lebensraum, of a too close, too powerful, and too greedy rival, namely Rome—which must have been the case for many a man, in the barbarian settings of our evolution. And another, like the Assyrian, could almost be said to have died of a heart attack, it went to pieces so suddenly and so completely in the middle stage of an apparently successful and healthy existence. There were factors of weakness inside the body which caused it to drop almost exactly like a man whose heart suddenly kicks up and then quits altogether twenty minutes later.

The real point, however, is this. An individual human being may die of any number of causes. But if he escapes the fortuitous diseases, does not meet with any fatal accident, does not starve to death, does not have his heart give out, but lives in normal health to his three score years and ten and then keeps on living—if he escapes or survives everything else and keeps on doing so, he will eventually succumb to the degenerative disease of cancer. For death must come, and cancer is merely death coming by stages, instead of all at once. And exactly the same thing seems to be true of those organic aggregations of human beings, which we called cultures or civilizations.

The individual cells in a human body die and are replaced by new ones constantly. Only when and where cancer attacks a part of the body are the dead ones not replaced by new cells which contribute their share of strength to the body as a whole. The individual human beings in an organic culture die and are replaced constantly by new ones. But even if the culture escapes enemy conquest and accidents of nature and starvation and all the fortuitous diseases—such as the internal bleeding which almost destroyed Europe at the time of the Reformation and the Thirty Years War—death will still come eventually, and usually a lingering death, through the degenerative disease of collectivism. For collectivism destroys the value to the organism of the individual cells—that is, the individual human beings—without replacing them with new ones with new strength. The Roman Empire of the West, for instance, started dying from the cancer of collectivism from the time Diocletian imposed on it his New Deal. And while it was given the coup de grace by the barbarians a hundred and seventy-five years later, it had already been so weakened by this cancer that the city of Rome itself had been an easy prey to Alaric more than sixty years before its final fall.

Now how really exact or how valid this parallel between the lives of human individuals and the lives of their well integrated aggregations may be, I don't know. I certainly do not have either the knowledge or the inclination to support whatever belief Spengler may have had that there was actually a biological compulsion for a social organism to follow a life cycle similar to that of the individual. But no such rigid crystallization of the thought is at all necessary. For whether fatalistically determined by biological principles or not, there is an analogy between the two which is inescapable. And even if it is nothing more than a useful analogy, subject to all of the flaws and possible exceptions which may mar any analogy, it leads automatically to conclusions which are devastating to socialist theory. For it is perfectly evident, right in the cases of the very civilizations that we know most about, that both the Greek and the Roman civilizations did perish of the cancer of collectivism, and that the civilization of Western Europe is doing so today.

Now it is even possible to establish a fairly accurate time ratio for this analogy or parallel. It runs about twenty to one. In other words a civilization fourteen hundred years old would be at the physical stage in its life cycle, roughly, of a man of seventy. And with that yardstick in mind we can now come at last to take the look at Western Europe which I have been trying to make worthwhile; and after that the look at America which is the real goal of all this preparation.

The civilization of Western Europe arose out of the ashes of the Roman Empire of the West. If we try to establish any approximation to a birthdate, the analogy becomes sloppy. For actually the parallel is much closer to that of an oak tree which has been felled, but which still scatters acorns that sprout long afterwards. But if we still stick to the analogy of a man nevertheless, we might consider that, after a long gestation period, an entity which could eventually become Western European civilization was born in the time of Charlemagne. The boy had reached the strutting, stick-throwing stage at the time of the Crusades; the stage of growing intellectual curiosity in the Renaissance; the stage of youthful adventure in the ocean explorations of the fifteenth century; and then three centuries, or the equivalent of fifteen years for a man, of the most solid accomplishments of a hard-working, hard-thinking middle age.

None of these comparisons will quite hold water, and I don't know whether Spengler could have postulated some that would or not. But after all shortcomings of the allegory are recognized, the fact remains that Western Europe of the last half of the nineteenth century was remarkably similar to a man of some sixty-five years of age who had led an extremely busy life of great stresses and strains, but an extremely successful life, nevertheless, of mental growth, physical accomplishments, and material acquisitions. The old man had weathered every danger, had stood all the bludgeonings of fate, and had come out, at that age, with a tremendous accumulation of knowledge, experience, material possessions, and prestige among his neighbors—the other civilizations or societal organizations of the rest of the planet.

In fact, in my amateurish opinion, the last half of the nineteenth century A.D., like the first half of the sixth century B.C. before it, was the high-water mark up to its time of human civilization, accomplishment, and hope for the future. And it was Western Europe which made that last half of the nineteenth century the period of the highest level to which man has yet climbed in his struggle to reach an enlightened and humane life.

But, as so often happens for the individual, by the time Western Europe had the knowledge, the wealth, and the ability to get the most out of life, it was ready to die. The truth is that, by a cycle which seems inevitable whether it is a biological reality or only an analogy, Western Europe was worn out. And under those circumstances the degenerative disease of collectivism, the cancer of social organizations, began its peripheral infiltration.

Not only the early beginnings of the disease, but the certainty of its slowly increasing ravages, and the eventual fatal effect of its ultimately advanced stages, were clearly visible to the genius of Herbert Spencer as early as the middle of the century. And by the time Bismarck, forming that alliance of the autocratic top of society with the greedy masses at the bottom, which is so commonplace in history, began to crystallize the nebulous theories of the Marxists and other modern socialists into the welfare legislation of Germany of the 1880's; by that time the disease was starting to eat its way further into the body in disastrous fashion. Its ravages continued, increased, and spread, until today Western Europe is so sick and weakened from the collectivism in its body and veins that it can never recover.

This doesn't mean that, in the normal course of events, Europe will soon become a desolate waste, while the monuments of its former kings lie toppled and forgotten where the lone and level sands stretch far away. Even when an individual is dying of cancer, there are periods of apparent recovery or improvement, and even times when some organs of the body seem as strong, healthy, and invulnerable to the disease as ever. Also, I must emphasize again that there are many points—such as the doubtful transmissibility of cancer itself to individuals, through either contagion or environment—at which there are apparent flaws in the analogy which would take more time than we can spare here to put in their proper light. And sticking to the historical parallels for the minute, rather than the biological one, it is clear that even hundreds of years after the fall of the Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian civilizations in the Tigris-Euphrates stretches of Western Asia, the subjects of the Sassanid dynasty and other lesser offsprings of those once great civilizations led lives that were perhaps happy, and that certainly were important to themselves. I am sure that, likewise, it will be a long time before the lizards run undisturbed over the toppled ruins of the Arc de Triomphe, or London Bridge is allowed to fall, unreconstructed, into the waters of the Thames.

But our analysis does mean that the entity which was Western Europe; the social organism which was so closely knit and so well integrated despite its national boundaries, languages, and jealousies; the Western Europe whose parts were so intertwined that Napoleon of France could marry the daughter of the emperor of Austria to help one of his brothers to rule Spain and another brother to rule Holland; the Western Europe which could spare the strength to spread its pioneers to colonize the uninhabited lands, and its pukka sahibs to bring civilized rule to the settled natives, on all the continents of earth—that Western Europe of the nineteenth century can never come back. It is either dying before our eyes, or is already dead. For the vigor of its muscles and the strength of its whole body have been sapped beyond recovery by the cancer of collectivism.

Now, lest I seem to be putting too much dependence in an analogy which is full of holes, let me just very briefly make a more matter-of-fact approach towards the same conclusion. For regardless of any organic cycles which may be involved, it is perfectly visible and incontrovertible that the rugged pioneer settlers of a new land want as little government as possible; that as the new society becomes more settled, as population grows, as commerce and/or industry increase, as the society grows older, more and more government creeps in. And then, because demagogues find it to their personal advantage, they use trickery, persuasion, and bribery of the people with their own money, to make the rate of increase in the quantity and reach of government far greater than the rate of increase in either the population or the justifiable need for government. So that by the time any society which has been so originated and fashioned has reached a thick population, comparative wealth and considerable age, enough government has already been imposed on the people to constitute the beginnings of collectivism.

This happened to the people who settled the islands and founded the city-states of Greece. It happened to their descendants who settled the Italian peninsula and founded the Roman Empire. It happened to their spiritual descendants who built the Western European civilization. And it is certainly happening to their descendants who founded and have built the American Republic.

With the next inevitable stage, after advanced collectivism has destroyed the vigor of any such society—which is its break-up into feudal units and the accompanying serfdom—we are not concerned here. But what we are concerned with is the time usually involved in these successive developments. It is this question of the speed of the movement around the arc, from pioneer to serf, or of the various stages of the movement, to which this whole present discussion has been leading. And purely for the sake of simplicity and clarity, I hope you will let me go back to my analogy, even if you now regard it only as a figure of speech.

For the whole point is that the Greek civilization was at least many centuries old—that is, many centuries removed from its pioneer days—before Pericles started it on the road to death, at the very height of its glory, through making the government increasingly responsible for its citizens, instead of its citizens being responsible for, and watchdogs over, their government. Rome was already over a thousand years from the days of Romulus and Remus when Diocletian's reign signalized the advance of collectivism beyond the point of any possible recovery. Western Europe was, by a most conservative method of figuring its age, at least eleven to twelve hundred years old before the disease of collectivism began to bring it to its deathbed. Or we even know enough today to go back in the other direction, where we find that the first Babylonian civilization also was at least a thousand years old before collectivism had become sufficiently prevalent for Hammurabi to formalize it as the New Deal of his era.

Now—in view of all of that, take a look at what has happened to America. It's true that the same thing has also happened to most of the other former British colonies, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but that is not our concern here; and there was a little more justification for it anyway, because they remained more closely tied to England. But the United States was not only a new and completely independent country. It was, by any measure of appraisal, the seat of a whole new civilization.

There are few parallels in history more striking than the way Italy was settled by Greek pioneers, who simply took over from the aborigines already there, and developed the new nation and new civilization of Rome, and the way America was settled by pioneers from Western Europe who developed a new nation and a new civilization here. In its earlier centuries America not only did not regard itself as a part of the European organism at all, but became fiercely proud of its differences from Europe, and of its indigenously vigorous customs, culture, and destiny of its own. The American civilization was every bit as much of an entirely new and different civilization from the old and ancestral one of Western Europe, as was Rome a new civilization distinct from Greece.

And this American civilization, at the turn of the present century, was only three hundred years old. It had the strength and vigor and promise of a healthy young man in his late teens. There was no reason on earth for any such organism to be attacked by, and start succumbing to, the cancerous disease of collectivism at that stage of its young manhood, with its whole life span of accomplishment before it. And any of the natural or fortuitous attempts of the disease to get a foothold in the American social body—such as the virus implanted by Edward Bellamy with his Looking Backward, or by Upton Sinclair with his Jungle, or even the more pretentious concoctions of Thorstein Veblen—would have been so easily repulsed by the strong and growing organism that none of them would have left even a scar.

But we have the cancerous disease of collectivism firmly implanted now, nevertheless. We have people feeling that nothing should be done by them, but everything for them by the government. Its disastrous ravages are quite far advanced. And we have it, basically, because of too long and too close an association with a parent that was dying of the disease; that was old enough and weakened enough for the virus to be rampantly active throughout this parent's whole environment.

When Woodrow Wilson, cajoled and guided even then by the collectivists of Europe, took us into the first World War, while solemnly swearing that he would never do so, he did much more than end America's great period of happy and wholesome independence of Europe. He put his healthy young country in the same house, and for a while in the same bed, with this parent who was already yielding to the collectivist cancer. We never got out of that house again. We were once more put back even in the same bed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, also while lying in his teeth about his intentions, and we have never been able to get out of that bed since.

In the meantime, the closer our relationship with this parent civilization has become, and the more exposed to the unhealthy air and the raging virus of the sick room we have been, the sicker and more morbidly diseased has the patient become. Until now, there is a tremendous question whether, even if we did not have the Communist conspirators deliberately helping to spread the virus for their own purposes, we could recover from just the natural demagogue-fed spread of that virus when it is already so far advanced. With the Communists skillfully using and encouraging the disease as a means of weakening us, the outlook leads ever more irresistibly to despondency and despair. And we simply cannot over-look or underrate the prevalence of this disease in our vitals—entirely aside from the way the Communists agitate the affected parts and make the disease worse—in any sound thinking or constructive plans for the future of America.

But—if I thought all hope were gone I wouldn't be here, and neither would you. Let's leave the Communist disease-carriers out of the picture for a minute. I knew a man who, when he was around fifty, and still otherwise a very healthy fifty, was found by the doctors to have cancer already far advanced in one side of his jaw. They took that side of his jaw, and practically half his face, right away from him at once. And when I first got to know him, at least ten years later, he had a very peculiar looking face, it is true; but otherwise he was a grand example of both mental and physical health for a man of sixty-five; and he was very happily teaching his lifetime subject as a professor at one of our most famous universities. Probably all of you have known somewhat similar cases. And it is certain that in those very rare cases where a healthy young man of twenty-five does, in some way, contract cancer, a sufficiently accurate diagnosis and sufficiently drastic surgery can restore him to health and enable him to go on and live out a normal, active, successful and happy life. But it can't be done by half measures.

Now what I have been trying so long and so hard to say comes to this. We have got to stop the Communists, for many reasons. One reason is to keep them from agitating our cancerous tissues, reimplanting the virus, and working to spread it, so that we never have any chance of recovery. And stopping the Communists is the most urgently important task before us, which we are going to talk about plenty at this meeting. But even in stopping them, or in our efforts to do so, we cannot forget for a minute the disease which has enabled them to go so far, weaken us so much, and become so dangerous to us. Nor can we forget for a minute the imperative need of excising and stopping the disease itself, while we are stopping and after we have stopped the Communists, or we shall merely die a somewhat slower and more lingering national death than if we let the Communists destroy us in the first place.

Push the Communists back, get out of the bed of a Europe that is dying with this cancer of collectivism, and breathe our own healthy air of opportunity, enterprise, and freedom; then the cancer we already have, even though it is of considerable growth, can be cut out. And despite the bad scars and the loss of some muscles, this young, strong, great new nation, restored to vigor, courage, ambition, and self-confidence, can still go ahead to fulfill its great destiny, and to become an even more glorious example for all the earth than it ever was before. It should be centuries from now before the natural time comes for the decline of America, and for the highest torch of civilization to be taken over by the rising newer nations to the West. But we do have to achieve the sufficiently drastic surgery; and that of course is a Herculean task. We shall return to a study of it when we come to the more positive part of this program.

source: Welch, R. The Blue Book of the John Birch Society. Reprinted, 1995.

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