The New End of Ideology?

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(This
piece first appeared in the Libertarian
Forum, Vol. X, No. 3, March 1977, p. 1. It reflects Rothbard's
lifelong interest in the long march of American political ideologists
toward the state-worshipping Center, a process in which Neo-Conservatism
was just the latest phase. ~ Joseph Stromberg.)

Back
in the complacent 1950's, many ex-radical intellectuals
were busily and happily proclaiming the "end of ideology"
in America. Led by such right-wing Social Democrats as Daniel
Bell, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Nathan Glazer, the "consensus
intellectuals" were sure that hard-edged ideology, whether
of right or left, would no longer appear in America, and that
we would all move forward in a new consensus of piecemeal, ad
hoc, pragmatists, all accepting the current Welfare-Warfare State
consensus. Since the End of Ideology theory immediately preceded
the remarkable eruption of the New Left and a decade of stormy
ideology, the End of Ideology theorists had to quietly dump their
wishful prophecies into the well-known dustbin of history.

Now,
in the peaceful 1970's however, a new form of the end of ideology – in
practice this time – has emerged, both on the Right and the Left,
and few analysts have described or examined this new trend. To
sum up our analysis, both Right and Left are experiencing a scuttling
of their ideologies, and a reversion to the Establishment Center.

On
the Right, a process is being completed which began when Bill
Buckley and National Review seized control of the Right-wing
in the late 1950's, and accelerated since the Goldwater defeat
in 1964. In brief, from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties, Buckley
and NR ran a conservative movement that was militant and hard-edged:
in favor of war and imperialism abroad, militarism and the repression
of "subversives" at home, but also inconsistently combined
with adherence to the free-market and to a limited libertarian
rhetoric in social philosophy. Since the failure of Goldwaterism,
however, Buckley and NR have accelerated their drive toward Establishment
respectability, being more and more willing to jettison any trace
of libertarian rhetoric, and to accept grave compromises on the
question of a free-market economy.

While
the Viguerie-Rusher-Phillips "New Majority" movement
did not succeed last year in taking over the American Independent
Party, and remain conservative Reaganite Republicans, the New
Majority begins to appear more and more as point men for the direction
that the conservative movement is going to take. Put briefly,
it involves abandoning the free market and liberty completely,
in order to put together a "right-wing populist" (read
"neo-fascist") coalition of Southern racists and urban
Catholic "ethnics," a coalition devoted to the following
programs: militarism at home and war abroad, repression of dissent
in the name of "anti-Communism" and "national security,"
moderate repression of racial minorities, especially blacks, and
State enforcement of "morality" in the form of the outlawry
of drugs, prostitution, pornography, and abortion, and the support
of prayer in the public schools. Inherent in the coalition is
the frank acceptance of a permanent Welfare State, except that
it [should] be "moderate" and "efficient"
(read: "the cutting of welfare aid to blacks.")

That
the New Majority may be the wave of the future for conservatism
is indicated by the fact that, since the defeat of the Reagan
movement, former Senator Buckley has already called publicly for
the permanent acceptance of the New Deal welfare state. Already,
in fact, there seems to be very little difference between the
Buckleyites and the Right-wing social democrats who now call themselves
"Neo-conservatives" – the Kristols, Glazers, Moynihans,
et al.

In
the meanwhile, a similar process of adaptation and self-emasculation
has been occurring on the remnants of the old New Left. One of
the best things about the New Left was its angry critique of the
policies and strategies of the Old Left (symbolized by the Communist
Party) namely, to function as the loyal left-wing of the Democratic
Party, of modern liberalism – to push for ever more government
spending, welfare measures, health insurance, minimum wages, etc.
The New Left had presumably broken with all that; they leveled
trenchant critiques of the Welfare State as State Capitalism oppressing
the dependent masses, they attacked centralized bureaucracy, and
called for radical opposition to the Welfare and Warfare States.
They scorned coalition with Establishment Democrats as a "coalition
with the Marines" (in Staughton Lynd's felicitous phrase.)
But now, after over a decade in the wilderness, the New Left "revolution"
dead and gone, the remnants of the New Left have sheepishly found
their way back into the Left-wing of the Democrat Party, calling
once more for more government spending, welfare payments, health
insurance, minimum wages, etc. The New Left, now physically older,
has, to all intents and purposes, rejoined the Old Left. Former
New Left firebrands are running for office in the Democratic Party,
or have joined the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee,
which is frankly in that party formerly scorned as hopelessly
State Capitalist. The New Leftists assure us that they have not
sold out, that times have changed, that their old opponents have
now abandoned the Cold War, but it's still the Old Left coalition
with the Marines.

And
so there is no distinguishable Right and Left anymore, no hard-edged
ideology for either side; they now form the right and left wings
of the Establishment, differing still, to be sure, on foreign
policy and militarism, but really part of one overall, mish-mash
consensus.

If
the Right and Left are disappearing as ideological forces, what
about the liberals, who still dominate academia, the media, and
opinion-molding groups? The liberals are, as they have been for
a long time, in a state of total intellectual confusion. There
have been no new liberal answers for a long time, and more and
more liberals realize that their old ideologies have broken down,
that they are not working. More and more liberals – as well as
members of the public in general – are realizing that the system
of statism has been breaking down. But, human nature being what
it is, they will not give up their crumbling paradigm until a
better one comes along to replace it. They have to see an attractive
alternative.

All
this provides an unusually favorable opportunity for libertarians.
For we are functioning in an intellectual climate where there
is no longer any real, determined, militant ideological competition.
Ideological decay and confusion are everywhere. But, in this miasma,
we libertarians have that alternative; we have a new and intellectually
stimulating and fascinating ideological paradigm, and one that
explains the collapse of modern statism better than anyone else.
We have a new and systematic creed, and we are just about the
only ones who still believe in our ideology. In contrast to the
Left, Right, and Center, our ideology hasn't ended; it is just
beginning.

Murray
N. Rothbard (1926–1995), the founder of modern libertarianism
and the dean of the Austrian School of economics, was the author
of The
Ethics of Liberty
and For
a New Liberty
and many
other books and articles
. He was also academic vice president
of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Center for Libertarian
Studies, and the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
.

Murray
Rothbard Archives

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