11 December 2010

Eisenhower's farewell warning...

Dwight D. Eisenhower, was, of course, President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. Before that he had been a five-star Army general, Supreme Commander of all Allied forces in Europe in WWII, and subsequently Supreme Commander of NATO.

As he left office in 1961, he offered a televised address to the nation, from which the above is excerpted. Another video, with some commentary, is here. Further text and video (with subtitles) is here - part one, part two.

The full speech, with raw television feed is at Google video. If you have sufficient time the full presentation is worthwhile. The text without video is here. Some other excerpts:
Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in the newer elements of our defenses; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research – these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration; the need to maintain balance in and among national programs – balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages – balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between the actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future....

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite...

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow...
There are a lot of prescient observations in the speech.  The Wikipedia page on this topic has additional background information.

(Reposted to supplement the post above this one).


  1. That was back when the Republican Party was a respectable national party. Eisenhower wouldn't recognize the GOP of today.

  2. I saved that Eisenhower video for a post on 9/11 ... unfortunately, once you've seen it, semi-frequent appearances on your blog will seem necessary.

  3. Interesting that a lot of fellow NIH & NSF fundees agree wholeheartedly with the warnings against a huge military-industrial complex, but completely ignore the warnings against science having too much government support.

  4. The alternative being corporate (big pharma) support?

  5. Mercantilism is bad news regardless of the industry involved, but that is the economy of the US today. It's scarcely better than the democratic socialism of Europe.

    A man is none the less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years. - Lysander Spooner

  6. Barbwire I think that Jefferson would weep openly at the Democratic party of today, and would fight against its policies with every fiber of his being.

    Both of the ruling parties have utterly abandoned the principles of liberty and limited government, and any rhetoric that they employ referring to freedom is just a nod to that faint cultural memory.

    Most Americans talk about freedom, but very few of them can even imagine what it would look like, and even fewer can accept it as a desirable goal.

    Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.


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