This article is © 2015 by Stephen J. Sniegoski. All rights reserved by author.
This version was posted at The Last Ditch on April 9, 2015 by WTM Enterprises.


Philip Dru: Administrator

The authoritarian utopia of Colonel Edward M. House


Edward M. House, usually referred to as "Colonel" House, gained fame as President Woodrow Wilson's closest advisor, playing a significant role in Wilson's major domestic and foreign policies. House was essentially Wilson's alter ego. Wilson would say in 1912, less than one year after first meeting House, "Mr. House is my second personality. He is my independent self. His thoughts and mine are one." [1]

In the winter of 1911-1912, House wrote the futuristic dystopian/utopian political novella, Philip Dru: Administrator: 1920-1935. Though publishing anonymously in 1912, House made his authorship known to a number of his close friends, and it became public knowledge. The book revolves around Philip Dru, a young man of intellectual brilliance and perfect altruism, who leads a successful rebellion to overthrow the U.S. government, which has fallen under the control of a corrupt plutocracy. Acting as a totally benevolent dictator, Dru then enacts sweeping reforms that reflect the progressive thinking of the time. After finishing that task, with a functioning democracy established, Dru departs the country.

The book is of little literary quality, even though House paid a literary agent to improve his original draft. [2] House admitted the work's weakness as a novel but said that he had to use the novel genre to attract any significant readership: "It is not much of a novel," he related to a close friend, "as you will soon discover; at the same time, unless it were known by that name its audience would be reduced at least ninety-nine per cent. If it was called what I really mean it to be, only those who think pretty much as I do would read it, and those I am trying to reach would never look at it." [3]

House found it difficult to attract a publisher, and on the advice of his literary agent he would pay B.W. Huebsch, a New York publisher, $1,500 to print 2,000 copies. [4]

The significance of the book rests solely on the fact that it reflects the views of an individual who was very close to the president of the United States at a key time in American history. Historian Charles Seymour, who was the first scholar to study House's private papers, wrote of the book: "Whatever the literary merits of Philip Dru, it gives us an insight into the main political and social principles that actuated House in his companionship with President Wilson." [5]

In 1917, House wrote in his diary: "Philip Dru expresses my thought and aspirations, and at every opportunity, I have tried to press rulers, public men and those influencing public opinion in that direction. Perhaps the most valuable work I have done in this direction has been in influencing the President. I began with him before he became President and I have never relaxed my efforts. At every turn, I have stirred his ambition to become the great liberal leader of the world." [6]

House undoubtedly exaggerated his own influence on Wilson, but while historians differ over what impact House had on the president, those scholars who have focused on House believe that he was influential.

The book became a popular target for right-wing conspiracists. In 1965, the John Birch Society reissued Philip Dru, adding an unbylined preface, "The Master Plan for Conquering America." According to this account, House attended a conference in Brussels in the early 1900s that included Mussolini and Lenin and plotted the creation of a world government run by socialist and communist leaders. House returned to America "to draw up the blueprint for the coming American Red Revolution," which blueprint emerged as Philip Dru. The anonymous author of the preface wrote that "the majority of Wilson's leftist actions can be laid at Col. House's door." [7]

In a more recent John Birch Society edition of the novel, William Norman Grigg writes:

Just as it is impossible to understand the tragedy of modern totalitarianism without some understanding of the hate-drenched scribblings of Hitler and Marx, it is at best very difficult to understand the covert forces that have shaped America's political destiny without some understanding of the fictional Philip Dru and his historical counterpart, "Colonel" Edward Mandell House. Although sixty years have passed since House's death, the changes he wrought upon America's political and economic system remain with us. Although Dru can be profitably read for the insights it yields in retrospect, its real value resides in the insights it provides regarding the tactics and objectives of the Power Elite that House represented, which remains firmly in control of America's political culture. [8]
Grigg concludes: "Philip Dru: Administrator is arguably the most influential political tract of the twentieth century. Its influence has been written in blood and paid for in the coin of stolen liberties. But its malignant vision has not yet triumphed completely. Those who would defeat the designs of the Power Elite must first understand those designs — and they are on full display in Philip Dru." [9]

Philip Dru has also received attention from right-wing TV commentator Glenn Beck. [10] Conservative columnist George Will, for his part, has offered more-tempered comments. Will cites Peter Beinert's book The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, which calls Philip Dru the epitome of the hubris that was, Beinert maintains, the essence of American progressivism. Will, who views Barack Obama as being in the progressive tradition, writes: "Progressives are forever longing to replace the governance of people by the administration of things. Because they are entirely public-spirited, progressives volunteer to be the administrators, and to be as disinterested as the dickens." House's hero Philip Dru embodies those attributes. [11]

Before we delve at length into Philip Dru, let us limn its author, "Colonel" Edward Mandell House, in more detail. House was born in Houston in 1858, the youngest of eight children of one of the wealthiest men in Texas, Thomas William House. The elder House had emigrated from England and arrived in Texas when it still belonged to Mexico. He fought in the Texas revolution, being rewarded with a sizeable grant of land from which would spring his enormous wealth, primarily based on large sugar and cotton plantations and banking. Although most wealthy Southerners suffered severely from the Civil War, the elder House thrived by outfitting blockade-running ships.

House spent his early years in Houston and Galveston but eventually was sent off to private schools in Virginia, Connecticut, and England. As a boy he suffered a severe head injury, probably a concussion, after falling off a swing, and he also contracted malaria in swampy Galveston, bouts of which would recur throughout his life. Poor health would restrict his activities as an adult.

House attended Cornell University but left in his sophomore year to care for his ill father, who would soon die. His mother had already died. His father left House a substantial fortune, which enabled him to involve himself in his major passion, politics, though he would also manage his investments in cotton and sugar plantations and in railroads. Never a political candidate himself — his frail health was probably a major factor here — he became a very important player behind the scenes. Between 1892 and 1902 he managed the campaigns of four Texas governors, whom he would also advise once they took office. It was from one of those governors, James S. Hogg, that House received the honorary title of "lieutenant colonel," which the press soon shortened to "colonel," his moniker for the rest of his life. House did not care for the title, in line with his characteristic shunning of public attention, though he simultaneously cultivated close associations with the elite. What seemed odd about House was that in his politics he never sought any apparent personal benefits or official position. He enjoyed having influence without the outward trappings of power.

House was not simply a highly skilled political operator; by the first decade of the 20th century, he had adopted a progressive social and political outlook, and wanted to move beyond the confines of Texas to play a role in bringing about change on the national level. "The growing reform agitation across the nation affected House, who came to share the concerns of many Americans over the corruption of the political process, the excesses of giant corporations, and the strains appearing in the nation's social fabric," writes Charles Neu in Colonel House: A Biography of Woodrow Wilson's Silent Partner. "He concluded that an extension of public authority and the use of expert knowledge were essential to ease the crises in American life." [12]

House had never been a provincial Texan, having lived for periods of time outside the state since his boyhood, and in 1902 he moved into an apartment in New York City. He also began to spend his summers at a rented house in Boston's North Shore, a summer haven for the social and economic elite, and he vacationed in Europe in spots frequented by the upper echelon. By circulating in that rarefied environment, House was able to cultivate personal connections with leading politicians, bankers, academicians, journalists, and military leaders of the era. [13]

In November 1911, House met Woodrow Wilson, who he believed would not only make an excellent progressive president but would also provide a way for House to become intimately involved in reform at the national and even global level. The two hit it off right away, and their close connection would last until the end of the decade. House would begin by providing Wilson with his services for Wilson's campaign for the presidency in 1912. Of crucial importance in Wilson's obtaining the Democratic nomination for president was House's ability to secure the backing of William Jennings Bryan, the three-time presidential nominee who was the darling of Democratic voters in the West and South. (Reflecting his aversion to the public limelight, House did not attend Wilson's inauguration.)

After Wilson was elected president, House became his closest confidant and advisor. As biographer A. Scott Berg writes in his biography of Wilson, "Over time, House evolved into a figure unique in American history — a full-time unpaid adviser with singular and total access to the President of the United States, and answerable only to him. So long as Woodrow Wilson was pleased, Colonel House operated of his own volition and on his own dime, always behind the scenes. No man in American history ever wielded so much power yet remained so unaccountable." [14]

Historians differ on whether House moved Wilson in a progressive direction, though the debate rests partly on whether the term "progressive" refers to the actual progressive movement or to "progressive" in the generic sense — something that the particular historian deems to be forward-looking. In his study of House's private papers, historian Charles Seymour writes: "One may deduce from them, indeed, the definite conclusion that the Colonel was the more radical of the two and was ever in fear lest this Administration, like so many others, once it came into power should be content merely to govern and forget to pave the path for progress. House always insisted upon the need of courage and of radical reform." [15]

From a long-term perspective, the Federal Reserve Act of 1914 was Wilson's most significant domestic-reform measure. With respect to the banking-reform issue, Charles E. Neu, House's most recent biographer, departs from Seymour on the question of House's radicalism. Neu writes: "... House's role in this legislative drama, if measured by the standard set in Philip Dru: Administrator, had been disappointing. He had sided with conservative bankers, not with progressive reformers, and had therefore lagged behind the president and the more far-sighted members of his own party.... In the first year of the New Freedom, House had emerged as a timid reformer." [16]

Similarly, John Milton Cooper, a leading Wilson scholar and diplomatic historian, writes: "House fancied himself a progressive, but his advice on domestic policy usually had a conservative bent." [17]

However, House had a bifurcated view of big business, which comes out in his novel. While critical of what he conceived to be monopolistic exploitation by the big interests, he was not in any way anti-big business, nor did he see big-businessmen as being malevolent. He was, after all, a big-businessman himself and closely associated with people of that class. House essentially believed that leading businessmen had, in part, achieved their success by superior ability and that their malicious actions were the result of the existing system. He believed that they would convert to supporting what is good for the masses if their environment were changed — which is what he brought out in Philip Dru. Such a view was a key component of the progressive mindset, which was antithetical to class warfare.

And the Federal Reserve Act, which House promoted, should be seen as a progressive reform. As Alan Stone points out in an analysis of the literature on the Progressive Era, "The Federal Reserve Board ... illustrates two of the new institutions and devices developed by progressivism: rule by expert and rule by an agency or board insulated from public participation." [18]

Big business sought various progressive reforms to stifle competition and advance their own interests, as illustrated by the title of historian Gabriel Kolko's book on the Progressive Era: The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916. Kolko writes: "Progressivism was initially a movement for the political rationalization of business and industrial conditions, a movement that operated on the assumption that the general welfare of the community could be best served by satisfying the concrete needs of business. But the regulation itself was invariably controlled by leaders of the regulated industry, and directed toward ends they deemed acceptable or desirable." He continues: "It is business control over politics (and by 'business' I mean the major economic interests) rather than political regulation of the economy that is the significant phenomenon of the Progressive Era." [19]

Economist and historian Murray Rothbard adds: "[W]hile the bankers had preferred the Federal Reserve Board to be appointed by the bankers themselves, it was clear to most of the reformers that this was politically unpalatable. They realized that the same result of a government-coordinated cartel could be achieved by having the president and Congress appoint the Board, balanced by the bankers electing most of the officials of the regional Federal Reserve Banks and electing an advisory council to the Fed." [20]

The final Federal Reserve bill was given a veneer that was rather anti-elitist and populist (in the generic sense). The flexibility in the money system, it was claimed, would not only prevent depressions but also provide easy money to farmers and other people outside the financial elite. As Stone notes: "The battle over the ultimate shape of the Federal Reserve Act was fought within the discourse of reform and the language of denunciation [of Wall Street and big New York bankers]." [21]

Stone continues in his synopsis of the progressives and the Federal Reserve Act: "The government through the system was an umpire ... but its umpiring took place in a context in which the business class was to be favored over others in making credit decisions. And middle-class reformers could delight in the promise that financial panics and the misery they caused were a thing of the past." He concludes: "The legacy of progressivism has been that more and more activities once considered political have fallen into the hands of administrators and experts." [22]

Before the effort to pass the Federal Reserve bill, House's first significant assignment in the Wilson administration was to suggest people for the new regime, and he played a major role in the appointment of such key members as Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane, Attorney General James C. McReynolds, Postmaster General Albert F. Burleson, and Ambassador to Britain Walter Hines Page. [23]

As war began in Europe in 1914, House served as Wilson's unofficial envoy to Europe, especially Britain. While Wilson's goal was to broker peace, House's initial neutrality tended to give way to a pro-British bias thanks to the propaganda of British diplomats around him. For example, two days after the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, by a German submarine, causing the deaths of 100 Americans, House wrote Wilson that American military intervention would save, not lose, American lives. [24]

House came to believe that the war was one between democracy and autocracy, and that the United States ought to come to the aid of Britain and France, a position that Wilson would not fully embrace until after his re-election in November 1916. At the same time, however, House did not think in terms of a total victory for the Allies but instead of a negotiated peace in which the United States would be involved.

House's pro-Allies position was illustrated by the controversial House-Grey memorandum, developed with Britain in February 1916, which stated that at an appropriate time Wilson would call for a peace conference. If the Allies accepted the offer and Germany rejected it or acted intransigently at the conference, the United States would go to war against Germany. And if Germany accepted the offer and a peace conference did take place, the settlement would not be unfavorable to the Allies. While Edward Grey, the British foreign minister, approved the plan, he and others in the British government had serious doubts that Wilson would actually call for war — and Wilson would qualify his assent to America's entering the war with the word "probably" — or that he would be able to muster sufficient congressional support to achieve that goal. Moreover, at that time many British leaders still believed that the Allies could achieve an outright victory without U.S. entry and that British security required a significant diminution of German power. Those men did not want American peace meddling to bring about a more moderate result. [25]

After the United States entered the war in April 1917, Wilson in September had House bring together a group of academic experts, called the "Inquiry," to develop idealist postwar solutions to global problems. Using the information provided by that group, Wilson and House would on January 5, 1918, develop the first draft of Wilson's famous Fourteen Points speech in a two-hour session, at the end of which House hubristically wrote in his diary that they had "finished remaking the map of the world." [26]

By the time the war ended, Wilson's positions on the future of the world had diverged from those of House, and ultimately that led to a break in their relationship. Historians have offered different reasons for that development (often combining more than one) — that Wilson had developed a more idealistic, uncompromising progressivism than the pragmatic progressivism of House, who was more prone to make concessions to the victorious European powers and to the U.S. Senate; that Wilson's second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, turned her husband against him, being jealous of House's power (especially because House had opposed Wilson marrying her so soon after the death of his first wife in 1914 in light of its likely negative political effect); and that health problems — probably arising from a series of minor strokes that, over time, would intensify and ultimately be fatal — made Wilson intolerant of opposing viewpoints.

When Wilson temporarily returned from peacemaking in Paris to the United States in February 1919, House took his place on the dominant Council of Ten [27], where he negotiated tentative compromises unacceptable to Wilson, who believed his ideals were being violated, even though Wilson also would make concessions to the European victors. By mid-March 1919, when Wilson returned to Paris, he had lost confidence in House, and the latter would no longer play a role in shaping American policy. Although there was no distinct break or confrontation, after Wilson left Paris in June 1919 with the signing of the Versailles Treaty the twosome who had had been so close would never see each other again, though they did have a limited communication by mail. Wilson's wife would not allow House to attend Wilson's funeral in 1924. [28]

However, until his death in 1938, House would always defend Wilson's policies and describe him as a great man, while also trying to vindicate his own record. Although House would continue his travels and meetings with political and business leaders in both the United States and Europe and would be an outside advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 campaign, he would never again attain anything approaching the political influence he had during the Wilson administration.

Now to Philip Dru. House's use of a futuristic dystopian-utopian novel was a quite popular means of conveying a socio-political message in the decades leading up to World War I. The most noteworthy of such works was Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000- 1887, published in 1888, which was one of the most popular American novels of the 19th century, selling around a million copies in the first few years after its publication. [29] Reviewers saw House's novel as especially similar in plot to two novels published around the turn of the century, President John Smith by Frederick U. Adams and The Legal Revolution of 1902 by Bert Wellman. [30]

House's novel begins in the near future: 1920. The U.S. government, although retaining the façade of a constitutional republic, is largely under the control of a selfish plutocracy, with the masses living at a bare subsistence level and filled with a "sullen and rebellious discontent" that is about to boil over into a "civil war." (Feedbooks electronic edition, Paris, France, p. 87.) The hero is a brilliant polymath and morally impeccable graduate from West Point, Philip Dru, who resigns from the Army because of an eye injury — sustained while saving the heroine of the book (Gloria Strawn) — which makes him unfit for military service. In a sense, Dru appears to be an idealized version of House himself, or at least someone whom he would have liked to have been, though Dru reaches the dimensions of a secularized messiah: "He comes panoplied in justice and with the light of reason in his eyes. He comes as the advocate of equal opportunity and he comes with the power to enforce his will." (p. 54) It is noteworthy that Wilson, for a short time at the end of World War I, reached that status; commentators have claimed that he had a Christ complex.

During Dru's recuperation from his injury, he begins to dwell on the plight of the masses in the United States as he works as a social worker and community organizer in the impoverished neighborhoods of New York's Lower East Side. He decides to devote his life to improving the living conditions of the people not only near him but across the entire country.

After Dru leaves the military, it is announced that he has won a top Army award for a strategy paper on the defense of the United States — a paper that is considered superior to works by senior officers of the highest ranks. That revelation garners Dru nationwide fame, and a leading New York newspaper and a magazine pay him to write muckraking articles critical of the unfairness of existing society. Those writings keep him in the limelight.

In his campaign to improve conditions in America, Dru works with Gloria Strawn, the sister of his close friend in the military, who is from a wealthy family. In bringing about social and political change, Dru intends to focus on the masses while Gloria wants to proselytize among the wealthy, who she believes can be converted to the cause of social justice. While there are hints that Gloria has a romantic interest in Dru, he appears thoroughly focused on his social and political goal until the last pages of the book.

The senior plutocrats, led by John Thor, a J.P. Morgan-like character, and Senator Selwyn, a master political operator (who seems to represent the political artfulness of House), seek to completely solidify plutocratic control in the upcoming election, having selected a candidate, Rockland, to run for the presidency who is completely under their control. As a result of their purportedly corrupt tactics (though some seem rather tame by today's standards), Rockland wins the presidency.

After winning the election, Selwyn and Thor discuss the successful plot in the confines of the latter's office, but their conversation is inadvertently recorded on a dictagraph. One of Thor's honest employees then picks up the recording and, after some soul searching, releases it to the press. When the public learns of the deceptive political machinations, it becomes filled with rage.

Somehow another election is scheduled. The book becomes very murky here, since as a result of the last election Thor and Selwyn now control the government and, one would suppose, the scheduling of extraordinary elections. In any case, the government forcibly prevents a new, fair election by authorizing the killing of large numbers of the regime's opponents. Dru had opposed violence against the government, but he now realizes that he must take military action to violently overthrow the tyranny.

Because of his reputation as a great military strategist as the result of his award from the U.S. Army, Dru is chosen to command the rebel army, although he has never been involved in a real battle. Most of the central and western states support the rebellion and provide their militias to Dru for the conflict. Because of Dru's brilliant strategy, the rebel army is able to completely crush the forces of the government in one battle (gigantic by pre-World War I standards) near Buffalo, New York, involving more than a million men. The government's ultimate surrender is made by Selwyn, who is now serving as acting president, since the elected president — now referred to as Rockwell, rather than Rockland, in another of the oddities of the book — has fled the country. (p. 86)

Dru makes a very lenient peace. Those who fought for the government are pardoned if they promise to accept the new government and are even allowed to serve in the new regular Army — which Dru raises to 600,000 men. Even Selwyn, who masterminded the plan for total plutocratic control of the federal government, is punished only to the extent that he is not allowed to leave Washington, and he even becomes a close advisor to Dru (in some ways similar to how House saw his relationship to Wilson, though not as close). [31]

Dru realizes that the fluid situation resulting from the overthrow of the old regime provides a window of opportunity to enact multiple positive reforms that had not been possible under its mechanism and that would be difficult to achieve if it were restored. Moreover, he realizes that only he is in a position to implement the necessary reforms. Thus, Dru

called a conference of his officers and announced his purpose of assuming the powers of a dictator, distasteful as it was to him, and, as he felt it might also be, to the people. He explained that such a radical step was necessary, in order to quickly purge the Government of those abuses that had arisen, and give to it the form and purpose for which they had fought. They were assured that he was free from any personal ambition, and he pledged his honor to retire after the contemplated reforms had been made, so that the country could again have a constitutional government. Not one of them doubted his word, and they pledged themselves and the men under them, to sustain him loyally. He then issued an address to his army proclaiming himself "Administrator of the Republic." (p. 87)
While the Army strongly favors Dru's becoming dictator, a "large part, perhaps a majority" of the civilian leaders of the rebellion initially "were outspoken for an immediate return to representative government." (p. 88) But Dru speaks to them as a group, explaining that America "had a defective Government, defective in machinery and defective in its constitution and laws" and that to correct these problems under the old constitutional government "a century of public education would have been necessary." (p. 89) Dru emphasizes that it was essential to make the requisite changes at the present time when conditions were most favorable for such a transformation. He tells his audience that he had "conceived a plan of government" to rectify the situation.

"My life is consecrated to our cause, and, hateful as is the thought of assuming supreme power," Dru orates, "I can see no other way clearly, and I would be recreant to my trust if I faltered in my duty." (p. 89) All the civilian leaders are immediately converted to Dru's policy and "[t]hey, in turn, converted the people to their view of the situation, so that Dru was able to go forward with his great work, conscious of the support and approval of an overwhelming majority of his fellow countrymen." (p. 89) In short, in this imaginary world, Dru attains the degree of support from the people that dictators in the real world can only attain by lies and force. Somehow, no significant group is so benighted as to oppose him, nor would he take advantage of the situation to do other than advance the common good. Dru seems to be the embodiment of Plato's "Philosopher King."

Dru proposes what has been called a utopian society but, compared to many in this genre, it is a very moderate one. He advances no extreme visions of radically improving human nature over what it has been historically (e.g., Communism's "new Socialist man"); of eliminating unpleasant work and economic scarcity; or of doing away with all statist coercion (e.g., Marxism's "withering away of the state"). Leftist historian Christopher Lasch chides the book for its failure to be sufficiently radical. [32] Godfrey Hodgson refers to the book's "fairly cautious liberal or Progressive policies." [33]

The changes are meliorist, not perfectionist. The only perfect human seems to be Philip Dru.

But while the book does not conceive of a radical, perfectionist transformation of the human person and society, Dru is radical in the way he so extensively refashions the government at the national, state, and local levels, entailing the enactment of multifarious new laws that had been broached by progressive thinkers. In addition, he concerns himself with laws and regulations down to the minutest levels. Although Drew has advisors — a Council of Twelve is mentioned — he is the major architect of what will become the new government of the United States.

Dru also relies on "Selwyn's unusual talents for organization and administration, in thoroughly overhauling the actual machinery of both Federal and State Governments." (p. 95) Selwyn's involvement in reform reflects House's apparent belief that those highly able individuals who, in the existing society, used their talents to achieve self-gain at society's expense could be easily converted in a better environment to use their talents for the common good.

"Dru soon came to know that at heart Selwyn was not without patriotism," House writes, "and that it was only from environment and an overweening desire for power that had led him into the paths he had heretofore followed. Selwyn would have preferred ruling through the people rather than through the interests and the machinations of corrupt politics, but he had little confidence that the people would take enough interest in public affairs to make this possible." (pp. 93-94) Under Dru, Selwyn's role is to make the government more efficient — a fundamental goal of the progressives — by cutting government waste. "There was no doubt but that there was an enormous waste going on, and this he [Dru] undertook to stop, for he felt sure that as much efficiency could be obtained at two-thirds the cost." (p. 95)

One of the first reforms involves the judiciary. To achieve it, Dru selects "five great lawyers, who had no objectionable corporate or private practice, [to] give to them the task of defining the powers of all courts, both State and Federal." That board receives very wide powers, which include eliminating unnecessary courts and "reconstructing the rules governing lawyers, their practice before the courts, their relations to their clients, and the amount and character of their fees under given conditions." (p. 95)

Dru instructs the board to "limit the power of the courts to the extent that they could no longer pass upon the constitutionality of laws, their function being merely to decide, as between litigants, what the law was, as was the practice of all other civilized nations." That reflects the fact that, in House's era, conservative courts had struck down progressive reforms, such as the income tax, on grounds of unconstitutionality. Other judicial matters dealt with by the board include the selection of judges and the length of their term. Lawsuits of "doubtful character" would be prohibited. The attorney and the client would be required to "swear to the truth of the allegations submitted in their petitions of suits and briefs and [i]f they could not show that they had good reason to believe that their cause was just, they would be subject to fines and imprisonment, besides being subject to damages by the defendant."

Holding that the United States had "the most complicated, expensive and inadequate legal machinery of any civilized nation," Dru seeks to develop a transformed legal system "so that the people might be no longer ridden by either the law or the lawyer." (pp. 95-96)

In regard to government finance, Dru creates a new tax structure, borrowing some ideas from reformer Henry George, whose "single tax" (i.e., on land only) was very popular in America at the time. Thus, improved property would be taxed at a low rate and unimproved property at a very high rate. By deterring the holding of unimproved land, the reform would in the countryside "open up land for cultivation now lying idle, provide homes for more people, cheapen the cost of living to all, and make possible better schools, better roads and a better opportunity for the successful cooperative marketing of products. In the cities and towns, it would mean a more homogeneous population, with better streets, better sidewalks, better sewerage, more convenient churches and cheaper rents and homes." (p. 101)

Dru would also impose a graduated income tax — 1/2 of 1 percent on the first thousand dollars, and increasing to a maximum of 70 percent on incomes of $10 million or more. An inheritance tax would have the same rates as the income tax. A Federal Incorporation Act would make corporations share a percentage of their earnings with the central government and the states. The plan would place government and labor representatives on the board of every corporation. Both the government and labor would share in the profits. (pp. 101-104)

Labor, declares Dru, would no longer be classed as an "inert commodity to be bought and sold according to the law of supply and demand." Instead, it would receive "a certain percentage of the earnings ... after a reasonable per cent upon the capital had been earned." In return for that benefit, however, labor would not be allowed to strike; instead, it could "submit all grievances to arbitration." The "[law] was to stipulate that if the business prospered, wages should be high," but if business were poor, wages "should be reduced." None of those changes was intended to do away with private enterprise; on the contrary, in return for the positive reforms "people were asked to curb their prejudice against corporations." (p. 104) Private business, in short, by having some of its freedom of action curtailed by government, would be protected from labor strife. It would resemble a corporate state or, to use a description without such a negative connotation, a more-statist version of the advanced social-welfare states of today. (p. 103-104)

Dru seeks to implement numerous other socio-economic reforms in the new society. For example, he proposes eliminating unemployment by having free government employment bureaus; those individuals unable to find work in the private sector would be provided a job by the government. There would also be laws providing for old-age pensions, workers' insurance, an eight-hour day, low-interest loans for farmers, and "certain reforms in the study and practice of medicine." (p. 127) The federal government would entirely take over all public utilities, as well as the telephone and telegraph companies.

Balancing the multiplicity of statist laws that put impediments on the free market, Dru would enact a new tariff that prohibited protectionism. That would help American consumers. This free-market aberration, however, also reflected House's Southern mindset, in which protective tariffs were seen as protecting Northern industry at the expense of the agrarian South. In any case, with the many new government regulations, American industry would have a more difficult time selling goods abroad and also at home, where it would also face stiffer competition without a protective tariff.

Dru views a new banking law, which would provide a flexible currency largely based on commercial assets, "as one of his most pressing reforms, for he hoped that it would not only prevent panics, as formerly, but that its final construction would completely destroy the credit trust, the greatest, the most far reaching and, under evil direction, the most pernicious trust of all." (p. 105) It was through comparable rhetoric that the actual Federal Reserve Act of 1914 was sold to the American public.

The new representative government, which would take over when Dru finished revamping the existing system, would differ significantly from that created by the U.S. Constitution, no longer having the checks and balances that had, in Dru's view, thwarted positive social and economic reforms. Dru declaims that "[w]e have been living under a Government of negation, a Government with an executive with more power than any monarch, a Government having a Supreme Court, clothed with greater authority than any similar body on earth; therefore, we have lagged behind other nations in democracy. Our Government is, perhaps, less responsive to the will of the people than that of almost any of the civilized nations. Our Constitution and our laws served us well for the first hundred years of our existence, but under the conditions of to-day they are not only obsolete, but even grotesque." (p. 124)

Like Wilson in his days as an academician, House identified with the British parliamentary system of government, which, he thought, could more effectively allow the majority to pass legislation. Thus Dru makes the national government a parliamentary system somewhat similar to that in Britain. All legislation would originate in the House of Representatives, whose members would be chosen for a six-year term, though they would be subject to recall by their constituents. House members would elect an Executive who would be like a prime minister with a cabinet. The president, who Dru maintained had, under the old Constitution, held "dangerous power," (p. 126) was now chosen for a ten-year term by electors and was limited to largely formal and ceremonial duties. The president's only significant governmental activities would take place if there were, for some reason, an interruption in the government, whereupon he would be responsible for calling a new election and temporarily serving as the Executive until a new one was elected. (p. 136)

The Senate as refashioned by Dru is a much weaker body than the House. Each state is limited to one Senator, who would serve until the age of 70, unless recalled by the voters. Although the Senate was needed to pass bills originating in the House — except for those bills pertaining only to the raising of revenue, which did not need Senate approval — its rejection of a bill would allow the House "to dissolve and go before the people for their decision." If the people voted for a House that favored the bill, that body could then pass the bill "in the same form as when rejected by the Senate" and it would become law. (p. 135)

The new constitution was intended to simplify and standardize the administration of government, requiring the Executive to outline his program to the House of Representatives (as Wilson actually did with his domestic agenda), since that body, along with the Executive and his Cabinet, had the power to initiate legislation. The Executive and his Cabinet would be allowed to introduce their own legislative proposals, and those would not be "referred to committees, but would be considered by the House as a whole, and their consideration shall have preference over measures introduced by other members." (p. 135)

Dru maintains that the positive government he is fashioning would still have sufficient safeguards against an unsound temporary majority, but he expresses his full faith in the decisions of the majority, opining that "there has never been a time in our history when a majority of our people have not thought right on the public questions that came before them, and there is no reason to believe that they will think wrong now." (p. 125) Having faith in the will of the people, Dru sees to it that his new constitution mandates universal suffrage for both men and women. (pp. 122-23)

In foreign affairs, Dru faces a developing British-German-Japanese alliance that emerged during the internecine turmoil in the United States. Those countries plan to divide most of the world among themselves at the expense of the United States. The essentially anti-American alliance is made in secret, but Dru receives information about it from Selwyn, who has been informed by Thor, who in turn picked up the intelligence from his international banking confreres. The book provides few details here, but Dru essentially has the information conveyed to the British public, whose outrage over such a secretive Machiavellian plot brings about a change in government.

Dru negotiates with the new British ministry to have the two countries "join hands in a world wide policy of peace and commercial freedom." Germany and Japan are also brought into his global plan. It entails disarmament "to an appreciable degree," the elimination of customs barriers, and the establishment of "zones of influence [that are] clearly defined." (p. 153) The plan would essentially mean big-power dominance of the world, though national sovereignties are somehow to be respected.

Germany is to be granted a sphere of influence over southeast Europe and Asia Minor, comparable to what the United States exercised over South America. But Germany is to acquire free commercial access to South America, and its citizens are to have rights equal to those of the native population. Japan and China are to be allowed to divide up East Asia and to push Russia's boundaries westward. Significantly, Japan is to have a protectorate over the Philippines — which would be granted independence by the United States — though all nations are to be allowed equal trading rights there. Interestingly, such a development would have eliminated Japan's reason for its later aggression to gain needed resources for its industrial economy. Britain is to be allowed to control all of Africa. The United States is to dominate the entire Caribbean and take over Britain's position in Canada.

Because Mexico and the countries of Central America are chronically beset with disruptive revolutions, which threaten large financial investments of Americans and other foreigners in the region, Dru launches a war to conquer those countries, emphasizing that his purpose is "not to acquire territory or for the aggrandizement of either myself or my country, but it is to do the work that we feel must be done." (p. 160) The American army, led by Dru, easily defeats the combined forces of Mexico and the Central American countries.

After achieving victory, America would exercise a protectorate over the region. It would introduce modern education, land redistribution, and other modern reforms to uplift the people and make them ready for democracy. As a result of such positive developments, Dru naively believes that the inhabitants will come to love the American conquest. "In another generation," Dru states, "this beautiful land will be teeming with an educated, prosperous and contented people, who will go to the battlefield of La Tuna [where the Americans defeated their forces] as the birthplace of their redemption." (p. 162)

Wilson's imperialism reflected that line of thinking in his military interventions in Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Panama. His policies in those countries intended to establish stability and improve conditions for the native inhabitants by the Western standards of his day. That would include preparing the populace for self-rule. As Wilson stated in 1913: "I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men!" [34] Needless to say, contrary to House's mythical world, America's actual interventions engendered strong anti-American feeling.

What Dru's global scheme essentially does is include the United States in a plan for big-power dominance of the world, much like the plan that had initially been directed against it. As with Dru's reconstruction of American laws on the domestic level, his diplomatic coup represents House's paean to one-man dominance of government during crises. Dru "felt that it was almost providential that he was in a position to handle it unhampered, for at no time in our history were we in such peril of powerful foreign coalition." (p. 153) During World War I and its aftermath, both House and Wilson likewise strove, without input from Congress, to establish their own plan for a future global order; but they were ultimately defeated by the existing American political system.

House gives Dru's big-power spheres-of-influence plan for global peace an idealistic gloss, describing it as an "international policy, which, if adhered to in good faith, would bring about the comity of nations, a lasting and beneficent peace, and the acceptance of the principle of the brotherhood of man." (p. 155) However, even if such a global division would satiate the participating big powers — questionable over the long run — the purported comity and beneficence would not be likely to extend to the peoples and nations placed under their spheres of influence, since the big powers would in many cases likely infringe on the sovereign rights of weaker states in enforcing their spheres of influence. Dru's scheme lacks the democratic idealism and concern for weak countries embraced by Wilson and other liberal thinkers at the time of the Paris Peace Conference, but it does come close to approximating the reality of the actual territorial settlements outside of Europe, as the European (and Japanese) colonial empires remained intact, or expanded. Furthermore, it resembles President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Policemen" vision for the post-World War II global order, in which the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and Great Britain would maintain order in their respective regions.

After seven years of ruling, with the new democratic government beginning to function and America's national security secured, Dru voluntarily relinquishes his leadership position and leaves the country. Expressing his love for Gloria, he takes her as his bride, and the couple depart from San Francisco on a large sailboat, traveling westward to an unspecified destination. As a multitude of their friends watch the boat disappear into to the sunset, they wonder: "Where were they bound? Would they return? These were the questions asked by all, but to which none could give answer." (p. 168)

We may detect a clue, though. Being a language whiz is one of Dru's many remarkable intellectual talents, since he was able to make himself fluent in French, Spanish, and German during the time he was running and remaking the U.S. government. And before their departure, Dru and Gloria (at Dru's behest) had been learning the "language of the Slavs." (p. 166) Does Dru intend to travel to Russia in order to modernize its backward society? If so, one might think that he would not be treated well by the Tsarist government and its secret police, given his plan to invite the Japanese and Chinese to take over parts of Siberia.

Regarding the impact of the book, Vernon L. Parrington, the noted Pulitzer Prize-winning American literary historian, writes: "There is no reason to assume that this novel had any direct influence by itself, but Mr. House, who revealed himself in the novel, had a remarkable influence. He was a thoroughly enigmatic personality — aloof, shrewd, calculating, powerful. The novel indicates the extent to which his ideals were watered down by the demands of politics. And it serves to illustrate some of the sources of the 'New Freedom' and the 'New Deal.' Few reformers have had more power than Mr. House — and no other American utopia has come so close to being brought to life." [35]

While House was influential, he was not necessarily involved personally in having more than a few of the policies he outlines in his novel enacted; rather, the panoply of reforms he mentions in his book was popular among progressives, and it is largely for that reason that many were later enacted in one form or another.

To the modern reader, what stands out in the book is its authoritarian nature. As Neil Hollander puts it in his Elusive Dove: The Search for Peace during World War I: "The book displays contempt for the democratic process, a voracious appetite for violence, and an admiration for a benevolent dictatorship." [36]

"Whatever else it is," writes House's biographer Godfrey Hodgson, "Philip Dru is a profoundly authoritarian vision, not of a democratic leader but of an 'administrator.' Not that such visions were rare in the age of imperial democracy. Such more or less progressive Republicans as Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Stimson, and [William Howard] Taft were not afraid of robust speech and actions." [37]

Educated Americans did not abhor benevolent dictatorship during the Progressive Era. Historian Maxwell Bloomfield notes in his Peaceful Revolution: Constitutional Change and Culture from Progressivism to the New Deal: "To the modern reader, this flouting of constitutional norms seems proto-fascist at best, but turn-of-the-century audiences found it relatively easy to regard benevolent despots like Dru as democratic heroes" since he was "like Napoleon Bonaparte, whose organizational genius made him the object of an admiring cult in America during the 1890s." [38]

Further, in Philip Dru: Administrator, dictatorship is presented as temporary, like the dictatorships in the ancient Roman Republic that existed only during emergencies. Hodgson writes: "House's hero is a dictator in the original Roman sense, a strong man who knocks heads together when the constitutional government is incapable of responding to deep-seated social problems." [39]

To some extent, one could argue that House in 1911-12 would not have perceived dictatorship in the way people of later generations would who had seen the totalitarian and democidal policies of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.

In fact, authoritarianism loomed large among the utopian novels and progressive reformers of House's era. That was certainly the case for Edward Bellamy's popular Looking Backward — in which bureaucratic experts become the authoritarian directors of society — a book that is considered to be one of the intellectual roots of the progressive movement. In Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement, Arthur Lipow points out that this authoritarian principle is not characteristic just of the historical Progressive movement of the pre-World War I era but of all American progressive or liberal reform in the modern age, as well as the revolutionary regimes in the Soviet Union and other Communist states. [40]

That concept appears very similar to what James Burnham terms the "managerial state" or "managerial society," which he portrayed in his 1941 book The Managerial Revolution [41] as a development that he considered to be the inevitable result of structural and technological change. Later commentators on the managerial state, such as Paul Gottfried, have depicted it in a more negative light, equating it with modern Western liberalism. [42]

So, in the end, what can one say about the significance of House's Philip Dru: Administrator? While it is highly unlikely, verging on the impossible, that the book provided a blueprint for the Wilson administration, much less a blueprint for later policies that expanded the power of the U.S. government, the book does embody much of the American progressive/liberal mindset. And many of Dru's reforms appealed to average Americans and were adopted. Most Americans today would oppose eliminating the majority of the progressive reforms that have been enacted over the years. But by the same token they are unhappy with many of the accompanying ramifications that have become more apparent as time goes on: higher taxes; huge government debt and unfunded liabilities; economic bubbles and long-term inflation caused by Federal Reserve money creation; economic regulations that stifle new businesses and innovation; real wage stagnation; and the not-unlikely possibility of a bleak future.

While House's book implies that those transformative changes would work out for the best — obviously his assumption — we should understand that the book, ending with the termination of Dru's seven-year rule, makes no effort to show that this turns out to be the case.  Ω

April 9, 2015

Published in 2015 by WTM Enterprises.
© 2015 by Stephen J. Sniegoski. All rights reserved by author.

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1. Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 9.

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2. John Milton Cooper Jr. claims that Philip Dru was "largely ghostwritten." Cooper, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), p. 193. But Charles E. Neu writes that "[t]he House Papers ... contain the original draft of the novel, in House's handwriting, on small sheets of yellow paper. By Feb. 28, 1912, this longhand draft was transformed into a typed draft, one that contains many corrections." Neu, Colonel House: A Biography of Woodrow Wilson's Silent Partner (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), Kindle edition, p. 533.

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3. Colonel House to Dr. D.F. Houston, March 12, 1912, Charles Seymour, The Intimate Papers of Colonel House: Behind the Political Curtain, 1912-1915 (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926), p. 155.

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4. Neu, p. 71.

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5. Seymour, p. 156.

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6. Entry of March 17, 1917, House diary, quoted in Hodgson, p. 139.

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7. Billie Barnes Jensen, "Philip Dru: The Blueprint of a Presidential Adviser," American Studies, 12:1 (Spring 1971), p. 55.

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8. William Norman Grigg, Introduction, Philip Dru: Administrator (Appleton, Wis.: Robert Welch University Press, 1998), p. 3.

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9. Grigg, p. 9.

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10. "Philip Dru: Administrator from www.GlennBecksBookList.com by Colonel Edward Mandell House," Facebook, October 7, 2012; "Glenn Beck Discovers Philip Dru: Administrator by Colonel Edward Mandell House," by Larry Greeley, John Birch Society, July 18, 2010 ((original posting); Arthur Goldwag, "The century-old novel right-wingers believe guides Obama," Salon, April 3, 2012.

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11. George Will, "As a progressive, Obama hews to the Wilsonian tradition," Washington Post, March 11, 2010.

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12. Neu, p. 69.

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13. Hodgson, p. 9.

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14. A. Scott Berg, Wilson (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2013), Kindle edition, p. 253.

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15. Seymour, p. 155.

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16. Neu, p. 71.

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17. Cooper, p. 193.

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18. Alan Stone, "A Spectre Is Haunting America: An Interpretation of Progressivism," Journal of Libertarian Studies 3:3 (1979), p. 243.

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19. Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916, pp. 2-3.

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20. Murray Rothbard, "Origins of the Federal Reserve," Mises Daily, November 13, 2009, originally appearing in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Fall 1999), pp. 3-51.

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21. Stone, p. 255. Stone writes: "And, notwithstanding all of the rhetoric inveighed against 'Wall Street,' most of this broad coalition did not seek to de-concentrate or alter a banking structure in which balance sheet values were disproportionately centered in the largest New York banks."

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22. Stone, pp. 258-59.

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23. Justus D. Doenecke, Nothing Less Than War: A New History of America's Entry into World War I (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), pp. 5-6.

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24. Doenecke, p. 72.

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25. Wayne S. Cole, An Interpretive History of American Foreign Relations (Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press, 1968), p. 363; Hodgson, pp. 113-122; David Woodward, Trial by Friendship: Anglo-American Relations, 1917-1918 (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1993), p. 13.

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26. Neu, p. 331.

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27. The "Council of Ten" was made up of two delegates each from Britain, France, the United States, Italy, and Japan, and met officially to determine the peace terms. It became the "Big Four" when a dissatisfied Japan dropped out and the top person from each of the other four nations met in closed sessions to make the major decisions that were ratified by the entire assembly.

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28. Cooper, p. 597.

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29. Maxwell Bloomfield, Peaceful Revolution: Constitutional Change and Culture from Progressivism to the New Deal (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 26-27; Vernon Lewis Parrington, American Dreams: A Study of American Utopias (New York: Russell & Russell, 1964), 69-97.

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30. Parrington, pp. 116-19, 124-28.

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31. Neu points out that Selwyn shares some of House's traits: he is a man of political acumen, is a behind-the-scenes actor, has a daughter named Janet, and reads some of the same books. Neu, p. 73.

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32. Christopher Lasch, The New Radicalism in America, 1889-1963 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986), pp. 230-33.

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33. Hodgson, p. 48.

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34. Quoted in Don Wolfensberger, "Congress and Woodrow Wilson's Military Forays Into Mexico" (PDF), Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, May 17, 2004.

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35. Parrington, p. 191.

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36. Neil Hollander, Elusive Dove: The Search for Peace during World War I (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2014), p. 249.

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37. Hodgson, p. 52.

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38. Bloomfield, pp. 29-30.

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39. Hodgson, p. 52.

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40. Arthur Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1982).

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41. James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World (New York: John Day, 1941).

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42. Paul E. Gottfried, After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999).

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