National Review and the Triumph of the New Right

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This article
is excerpted from chapter 12 of The
Betrayal of the American Right
.

Garet Garrett
had called the shots: in referring to the triumph of the New Deal
and then of American Empire, he had summed up the strategy: “revolution
within the form.” The New Right did not bother, would not rouse
possible resistance, by directing a frontal assault on the old idols:
on the dead Senator Taft, on the Bricker Amendment, or on the old
ideals of individualism and liberty. Instead, they ignored some,
dropped others, and claimed to come to fulfill the general ideals
of individualism in a new and superior “fusion” of liberty and ordered
tradition.

How, specifically,
was the deed done? For one thing, by hitting us at our most vulnerable
point: the blight of anti-Communism. For red-baiting came easily
to all of us, even the most libertarian. In the first place, there
were the terrible memories of World War II: the way in which the
Communist Party had gleefully adopted the mantle of war patriots,
of “twentieth-century Americanism,” and had unashamedly smeared
all opponents of war as agents of Hitler.

Conservative
and former liberal isolationists could scarcely forget and forgive;
and hence, when the Cold War began, when the “great patriotic coalition”
of the United States and Russia fell apart, it was difficult for
the Old Right to resist the temptation to avenge themselves, to
turn the agents-of-a-foreign-power smear back upon their old tormentors.
Furthermore, blinded by hatred of Russia as an interventionist power,
we mistakenly believed that repudiation of the fruits of the Russian
alliance, including Teheran and Yalta, was in itself a repudiation
of World War II. We unfortunately did not realize – as later
New Left historians were to point out – that the Cold War and
the intervention into World War II were part and parcel of the same
development: that one was the inevitable outgrowth of the other,
and that both were an integral part of American imperialism rampant.

But the problem
was still deeper than that. For our main problem was our simplistic
view of the ideological-political spectrum. We all assumed that
there were two poles: a “left” pole of Communism, socialism, and
total government; and a “right” pole of libertarianism and individualist
anarchism. Left of center were the liberals and social democrats;
right of center were the conservatives. From that simplistic spectrum
we concluded, first, that conservatives, no matter how divergent,
were our “natural” allies, and second, that there was little real
difference between liberals and Communists. Why not then fuzz the
truth just a bit, and use the anti-Communist bludgeon to hit at
the liberals, especially since the liberals had become entrenched
in power and were running the country? There was a temptation that
few of us could resist.

What we didn’t
fully realize at the time was that the Communists and socialists
had not invented statism or leviathan government, that the latter
had been around for centuries, and that the current developing liberal-conservative
consensus and in particular the triumph of liberalism was a reversion
to the old despotic ancien régime. This ancien
régime was the Old Order against which the libertarian
and laissez-faire movements of the 18th and 19th centuries
had emerged as a revolutionary opposition: an opposition on behalf
of economic freedom and individual liberty. Jefferson, Cobden, and
Thoreau as our forbears were ancestors in more ways than one; for
both we and they were battling against a mercantilist statism that
established bureaucratic despotism and corporate monopolies at home
and waged imperial wars abroad. But if socialism and liberalism
are reversions to the Old European Conservatism, then it becomes
clear that it is statist conservatism – now joined by liberalism
and social democracy – that is still, and not simply in 1800,
the major enemy of liberty. And if liberals and Communists sound
alike, this does not mean, as we thought then, that liberals had
somehow become crypto-Communists; on the contrary, it was a sign
that Communists had become liberals!

But for us
this analysis – to be developed by Leonard Liggio – was
still far in the future. During the 1940s and ’50s we merrily engaged
in red-baiting. My own position was characteristically libertarian:
I distinguished between “compulsory” red-baiting, using the power
of the State to repress Communists and leftists, which I deplored,
and “voluntary” red-baiting by private organizations and groups,
which I supported. The former included the Smith Act prosecutions,
the McCarran Act, and the inquisitions of HUAC. Another of my blind
spots is that I did not realize the virtual impossibility of keeping
domestic and foreign red-baiting strictly separate; it was psychologically
and politically impossible to persecute or harass Communists or
leftists at home, while at the same time pursuing a policy of peace,
neutrality, and friendship with Communist countries overseas. And
the global anti-Communist crusaders knew this truth all too well.

From early
in the postwar period, the major carriers of the anti-Communist
contagion were the ex-Communist and ex-leftist intellectuals. In
a climate of growing disillusion with the fatuous propaganda of
World War II, the ex-Communists hit the intellectual and political
worlds like a bombshell, more and more forming the spearhead of
the anti-Communist crusade, domestic and foreign. Sophisticated,
worldly, veteran polemicists, they had been there: to nave and
breathless Americans, the ex-leftists were like travelers from an
unknown and therefore terrifying land, returning with authentic
tales of horror and warning. Since they, with their special knowledge,
knew, and since they raised the terrible warnings, who were we to
deny that truth? The fact that “ex-es” throughout history have tried
frantically to expiate their guilt and their fear of having wasted
their lives by attempting to denigrate and exterminate their former
love – that fact was lost on us as well as on most of America.

From the very
end of the war, the “ex-es” were everywhere on the Right, whipping
up fear, pointing the finger, eager to persecute or exterminate
any Communists they could find, at home and abroad. Several older
generation “ex-es” from the prewar era were prominent. One was George
E. Sokolsky, columnist for the New York Sun, who had been
a Communist in the early 1920s. Particularly prominent on the Right
was Dr. J.B. Matthews, foremost Communist fellow traveler of the
early 1930s, who by the end of that decade was chief investigator
for the Dies Committee; Matthews was to make a fortune out of his
famous “card files,” a mammoth collection of “Communist front” names
which he would use to sell his services as finger man for industries
and organizations; pleasant and erudite, Matthews had been converted
from socialism partly by reading Mises’s Socialism.
But the first libertarian-red-baiting marriage was effected shortly
after the end of the war by the veteran red-baiter Isaac Don Levine,
who founded a little-known monthly called Plain Talk, which
featured a curious mixture of libertarian political philosophy and
ferocious exposés of alleged “Reds” in America. It was particularly
curious because Don Levine has never, before or since that short-lived
venture, ever exhibited any interest in freedom or libertarianism.
When Plain Talk folded, Don Levine moved to West Germany
to play in the revanchist politics of East European emigré
groups.

Plain Talk
disappeared after several years to make way for the weekly Freeman
in 1950, a far more ambitious and better-financed venture which,
however, never achieved anything like the influence or readership
of the later National Review. Again, this was a libertarian-conservative-red-baiting
coalition venture. Coeditors were two veteran writers and journalists:
Henry Hazlitt, a laissez-faire economist but never an isolationist;
and John Chamberlain, a man of libertarian instincts and a former
isolationist, but an ex-leftist deeply scarred by a Communist cell
which had been nasty to him in Time magazine.[1]
And so the isolationist cause was never well represented in the
Freeman; furthermore, Willi Schlamm later came in as book
editor, and Chamberlain brought in the profoundly antilibertarian
Forrest Davis to be a third coeditor. Davis, along with Ernest K.
Lindley, had written the official Roosevelt administration apologia
for Pearl Harbor, and then moved on to become a ghostwriter for
Joe McCarthy.[2]

It was, in
fact, McCarthy and “McCarthyism” that provided the main catalyst
for transforming the mass base of the right wing from isolationism
and quasi-libertarianism to simple anti-Communism. Before McCarthy
launched his famous crusade in February 1950, he had not been particularly
associated with the right wing of the Republican Party; on the contrary,
his record was more nearly liberal and centrist, statist rather
than libertarian. It should be remembered that red-baiting and anti-Communist
witch-hunting was launched by the liberals and, even after McCarthy
arose, it was the liberals who were the most effective at this game.
It was, after all, the liberal Roosevelt administration that passed
the Smith Act, which was then used against Trotskyites and isolationists
during World War II and against the Communists after the war; it
was the liberal Truman administration that prosecuted Alger Hiss
and the Rosenbergs – and that launched the Cold War; it was
the eminently liberal Hubert Humphrey who put through a clause in
the McCarran Act of 1950 threatening concentration camps for “subversives.”

In fact, New
Left historians Steinke and Weinstein have shown that McCarthy himself
learned his red-baiting from none other than the saintly social
democratic figure Norman Thomas. During the 1946 campaign, McCarthy
first ran for the Senate against the great isolationist leader Robert
LaFollette, Jr. While McCarthy did a little red-baiting of the still-consistent
isolationist LaFollette in the primary, McCarthy was then a standard
internationalist, or Vandenberg, Republican, with indeed a few maverick
endorsements of the idea of negotiating peace with the Soviet Union.
Then, on August 26, 1946, Norman Thomas, speaking at an annual picnic
of the Wisconsin Socialist Party, red-baited the Democratic senatorial
candidate, Howard J. McMurray. Thomas in particular accused McMurray
of being endorsed by the Daily Worker, an accusation that
McCarthy picked up eagerly a few weeks later. McCarthy had gotten
the bit in his teeth; he had learned how from a veteran of the internecine
struggles on the Left.[3]

McCarthy’s
crusade effectively transformed the mass base of the right wing
by bringing into the movement a mass of urban Catholics from the
Eastern seaboard. Before McCarthy, the rank-and-file of the right
wing was the small-town, isolationist Middle West, the typical readers
of the old Chicago Tribune. In contrast to the old base,
the interest of the new urban Catholic constituency in individual
liberty was, if anything, negative; one might say that their main
political interest was in stamping out blasphemy and pornography
at home and in killing Communists at home and abroad. In a sense,
the subsequent emergence of Bill Buckley and his highly Catholic-ish
National Review reflected this mass influx and transformation.
It is surely no accident that Buckley’s first emergence on the political
scene was to coauthor (with his brother-in-law, L. Brent Bozell,
a convert to Catholicism) the leading pro-McCarthy work, McCarthy
and His Enemies
(1954). To the McCarthy banner also flocked
the increasingly powerful gaggle of ex-Communists and ex-leftists:
notably, George Sokolsky, a leading McCarthy adviser, and J.B. Matthews,
who was chief investigator for McCarthy until he stepped on too
many toes by denouncing the supposedly massive “infiltration” of
the Protestant clergy by the Communist Party.

Not seeing
this transformation process at work at the time, I myself was a
McCarthy enthusiast. There were two basic reasons. One was that
while McCarthy was employing the weapon of a governmental committee,
the great bulk of his victims were not private citizens but government
officials: bureaucrats and Army officers. Most of McCarthy’s red-baiting
was therefore “voluntary” rather than “compulsory,” since the persons
being attacked were, as government officials, fair game from the
libertarian point of view. Besides, day in and day out, such Establishment
organs as the New York Times kept telling us that McCarthy
was “tearing down the morale of the executive branch”; what more
could a libertarian hope for? And “tearing down the morale of the
Army” to boot! What balm for an antimilitarist!

Recently, I
had occasion to see once again, after all these years, Emile de
Antonio’s film of the McCarthy censure hearings, Point
of Order
. Seeing it with an old-time member of the Circle
who had also abandoned the right wing long since, we were curious
about how we would react; for neither of us had really rethought
the long-dead McCarthy episode. Within minutes, we found ourselves
cheering once again, though in a rather different way, for that
determined symbol of the witch-hunt. For the film began with McCarthy
pointing as his basic premise to some crazed map of the United States
with the “international Communist conspiracy” moving in a series
of coordinated arrows against the United States. (It was for all
the world like some ’50s issue of the Harvard Lampoon,
satirizing an absurd military “menace.”) But the crucial point is
that McCarthy’s army and senatorial adversaries never contested
this absurd axiom; and once given the axiom, McCarthy’s relentless
logic was impeccable. As Steinke and Weinstein point out, McCarthy
did not invent witch-hunting and red-baiting. “Nor, as many liberals
complain, did he abuse or misuse an otherwise useful tool; he simply
carried it to its logical conclusion.” Indeed, he took the liberals’
own creation and turned it against them, and against the swollen-leviathan
army officials as well; and to see them get at least a measure of
comeuppance, to see the liberals and centrists hoisted by their
own petard, was sweet indeed. In the words of Steinke and Weinstein,
McCarthy

rode the
monster too hard, turning it against its creators, and they, realizing
finally that their creation was out of control, attempted in flaccid
defense to turn it back upon him.[4]

As a bit of
personal corroboration, I fully remember the reaction of a close
acquaintance, an old Russian Menshevik, a member of the Russian
Social Democratic Federation and veteran anti-Communist, when McCarthy’s
movement began. He was positively gleeful, and ardently supported
the McCarthy crusade; it was only later, when he “went too far”
that the old Menshevik felt that McCarthy had to be dumped.

But there was
another reason for my own fascination with the McCarthy phenomenon:
his populism. For the ’50s was an era when liberalism – now
accurately termed “corporate liberalism” – had triumphed, and
seemed to be permanently in the saddle. Having now gained the seats
of power, the liberals had given up their radical veneer of the
’30s and were now settling down to the cozy enjoyment of their power
and perquisites. It was a comfortable alliance of Wall Street, Big
Business, Big Government, Big Unions, and liberal Ivy League intellectuals;
it seemed to me that while in the long run this unholy alliance
could only be overthrown by educating a new generation of intellectuals,
that in the short run the only hope to dislodge this new ruling
elite was a populist short-circuit. In sum, that there was a vital
need to appeal directly to the masses, emotionally, even demagogically,
over the heads of the Establishment: of the Ivy League,
the mass media, the liberal intellectuals, of the Republican-Democrat
political party structure. This appeal could be done – especially
in that period of no organized opposition whatever – only by
a charismatic leader, a leader who could make a direct appeal to
the masses and thereby undercut the ruling and opinion-molding elite;
in sum, by a populist short-circuit. It seemed to me that this was
what McCarthy was trying to do; and that it was largely this appeal,
the open-ended sense that there was no audacity of which McCarthy
was not capable, that frightened the liberals, who, from their opposite
side of the fence, also saw that the only danger to their rule was
in just such a whipping up of populist emotions.[5]

My own quip
at the time, which roughly summed up this position, was that in
contrast to the liberals, who approved of McCarthy’s “ends” (ouster
of Communists from offices and jobs) but disapproved of his radical
and demagogic means, I myself approved his means (radical assault
on the nation’s power structure) but not necessarily his ends.

It is surely
no accident that, with their power consolidated and a populist appeal
their only fear, the liberal intellectuals began to push hard for
their proclamation of the “end of ideology.” Hence their claim that
ideology and hard-nosed doctrines were no longer valuable or viable,
and their ardent celebration of the newfound American consensus.
With such enemies and for such reasons, it was hard for me not to
be a “McCarthyite.”

The leading
expression of this celebration of consensus combined with the newfound
fear of ideology and populism was Daniel Bell’s collection, The
New American Right
(1955). This collection was also significant
in drawing together exradicals (Bell, Seymour Martin Lipset, Richard
Hofstadter, Nathan Glazer) along with an antipopulist liberal “conservative”
(Peter Viereck), into this pro-elitist and antipopulist consensus.
Also noteworthy is the book’s dedication to S.M. Levitas, executive
editor of the social democratic New Leader, the publication
that bound “responsible” red-baiters and liberals into the postwar
Cold War consensus.[6]

The peak of
my populist and McCarthyite activities came during the height of
the McCarthy turmoil, in the furor over the activities of Roy Cohn
and S. David Schine. It was shortly after the founding of the Circle
Bastiat, and the kids of the Circle, in their capacity as leaders
of the still-functioning Students for America, were invited to address
a massive testimonial dinner given for Roy Cohn upon his forced
ouster from the McCarthy Committee at the Hotel Astor in New York
on July 26, 1954. Major speakers were such McCarthyite leaders as
Godfrey P. Schmidt, Colonel Archibald Roosevelt, George Sokolsky,
Alfred Kohlberg, Bill Buckley, and Rabbi Benjamin Schultz. But the
speech which drew the most applause, and which gained a considerable
amount of notoriety, was the brief address given by one of our Circle
members (George Reisman), which I had written. The speech asked
why the intensity of the hatred against Cohn and McCarthy by the
liberal intellectuals; and it answered that a threat against Communists
in government was also felt to be a threat against the “Socialists
and New Dealers, who have been running our political life for the
last 21 years, and are still running it!” The speech concluded in
a rousing populist appeal that

As the Chicago
Tribune aptly put it, the Case of Roy Cohn is the American
Dreyfus Case. As Dreyfus was redeemed, so will Roy Cohn when the
American people have taken back their government from the criminal
alliance of Communists, Socialists, New Dealers, and Eisenhower-Dewey
Republicans.

Rabbi Schultz,
presiding at the dinner, warily referred to the tumultuous applause
for the Reisman speech as a “runaway grand jury,” and the applause
and the speech were mentioned in the accounts of the New York
Journal-American, the New York Herald-Tribune, Jack
Lait’s column in the New York Mirror, the New York
World-Telegram and Sun, Murray Kempton’s column in the New
York Post, and Time magazine. Particularly upset was
the veteran liberal and “extremist-baiting” radio commentator, George
Hamilton Combs. Combs warned that “the resemblance between this
crowd and their opposite members of the extreme left is startlingly
close. This was a rightist version of the Henry Wallace convention
crowd, the Progressive Party convention of ’48.”

Particularly
interesting is the fact that the by-now-notorious concluding lines
of the speech became enshrined in Peter Viereck’s contribution to
the Daniel Bell book, “The Revolt Against the Elite.” Viereck saw
the Reisman phraseology as a dangerous “outburst of direct democracy”
which “comes straight from the leftist rhetoric of the old Populists
and Progressives, a rhetoric forever urging the People to take back
‘their’ government from the conspiring Powers That Be.” Precisely.

Viereck also
explained that he meant by “direct democracy,” “our mob tradition
of Tom Paine, Jacobinism, and the Midwestern Populist parties,”
which “is government by referendum and mass petition, such as the
McCarthyite Committee of Ten Million.” Being “immediate and hotheaded,”
direct democracy “facilitates revolution, demagogy, and Robespierrian
thought control” – in contrast, I suppose, to the quieter but
more pervasive elitist “thought control” of corporate liberalism.[7]

Since
I failed to understand the interplay of domestic and foreign red-baiting
that was at work in the McCarthy movement, I was bewildered when
McCarthy, after his outrageous censure by the Senate in late 1954,
turned to whooping it up for war on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek in
Asia. Why this turnabout? It was clear that the New Right forces
behind McCarthy were now convinced that domestic red-baiting, angering
as it did the center-right establishment, had become counterproductive,
and that from now on the full stress must be on pushing for war
against Communism abroad. In retrospect it is clear that a major
force for this turn was the sinister figure of the millionaire Far
Eastern importer, Alfred Kohlberg, a major backer of McCarthy who
supplied him with much of his material, and boasted of his position
as Dean of the powerful “China Lobby” on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek.
While a failure in the short run, the McCarthy movement had done
its work of shifting the entire focus of the right wing from libertarian,
antistatist, and isolationist concerns to a focus and concentration
upon the alleged Communist “menace.” A diversion from domestic to
foreign affairs would not only consolidate the right wing; it would
also draw no real opposition from liberals and internationalist
Republicans who had, after all, begun the Cold War in the first
place.

The short-run
collapse of the McCarthy movement was clearly due, furthermore,
to the lack of any sort of McCarthyite organization. There
were leaders, there was press support, there was a large mass base,
but there were no channels of organization, no intermediary links,
either in journals of opinion or of more direct popular organizations,
between the leaders and the base. In late 1955, William F. Buckley
and his newly formed weekly, National Review, set out to
remedy that lack.

In 1951, when
Bill Buckley first burst upon the scene with his God
and Man at Yale
, he liked to refer to himself as a “libertarian”
or even at times as an “anarchist”; for in those early days Buckley’s
major ideological mentor was Frank
Chodorov
rather than, as it would soon become, the notorious
Whittaker Chambers. But even in those early “libertarian” days,
there was one clinker that made his libertarianism only phony rhetoric:
the global anti-Communist crusade.

Thus, take
one of Buckley’s early efforts, “A Young Republican’s View,” published
in Commonweal, January 25, 1952. Buckley began the article
in unexceptionable libertarian fashion, affirming that the enemy
is the State, and endorsing the view of Herbert
Spencer
that the State is “begotten of aggression and by aggression.”
Buckley also contributed excellent quotations from such leading
individualists of the past as H.L.
Mencken and Albert Jay Nock
, and criticized the Republican Party
for offering no real alternative to the burgeoning of statism. But
then in the remainder of the article he gave the case away, for
there loomed the alleged Soviet menace, and all libertarian principles
had to go by the board for the duration. Thus, Buckley declared
that the “thus far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union”
imminently threatens American security, and that therefore “we have
to accept Big Government for the duration – for neither an
offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the
instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.”

In short, a
totalitarian bureaucracy must be accepted so long as the Soviet
Union exists (presumably for its alleged threat of imposing upon
us a totalitarian bureaucracy?).

In consequence,
Buckley concluded that we must all support “the extensive and productive
tax laws that are needed to support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign
policy,” as well as “large armies and air forces, atomic energy,
central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization
of power in Washington – even with Truman at the reins of it
all.”[8] Thus, even at his most
libertarian, even before Buckley came to accept Big Government and
morality laws as ends in themselves, the pretended National
Review “fusion” between liberty and order, between individualism
and anti-Communism, was a phony – the individualist and libertarian
part of the fusion was strictly rhetorical, to be saved for abstract
theorizing and after-dinner discourse. The guts of the New Conservatism
was the mobilization of Big Government for the worldwide crusade
against Communism.

And so, when
National Review was founded with much expertise and financing
in late 1955, the magazine was a coming together to direct the newly
transformed right wing on the part of two groups: all the veteran
ex-Communist journalists and intellectuals, and the new group of
younger Catholics whose major goal was anti-Communism. Thus, the
central and guiding theme for both groups in this Unholy Coalition
was the extirpation of Communism, at home and particularly abroad.
Prominent on the new magazine were leading ex-leftists: James Burnham,
former Trotskyite; Frank S. Meyer, formerly on the national committee
of the Communist Party and head of its Chicago training school;
ex-German Communist leader William S. Schlamm; Dr. J.B. Matthews;
ex-leftist Max Eastman; ex-Communist Ralph DeToledano; former leading
German Communist theoretician Professor Karl Wittfogel; John Chamberlain,
a leading leftist intellectual of the thirties; ex-fellow traveler
Eugene Lyons; ex-Communist Will Herberg; former Communist spy Whittaker
Chambers; and a whole slew of others.

The Catholic
wing consisted of two parts. One was a charming but ineffectual
group of older European or European-oriented monarchists and authoritarians:
e.g., the erudite Austrian Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn; the poet Roy
Campbell; the pro-Spanish Carlist Frederick Wilhelmsen; and the
Englishman Sir Arnold Lunn. I remember one night a heated discussion
at a conservative gathering about the respective merits of the Habsburgs,
the Stuarts, the Bourbons, the Carlists, the Crown of St. Stephen,
and the Crown of St. Wenceslas; and which monarchy should be restored
first. Whatever the merits of the monarchist position, this was
not an argument relevant to the American tradition, let alone the
American cultural and political scene of the day. In retrospect,
did Buckley keep this group around as exotic trimming, as an intellectual
counterpart to his own social jet set?

The other wing
of younger Catholics was far more important for the purposes of
the new magazine. These were the younger American anti-Communists,
most prominently the various members of the Buckley family (who
in closeness and lifestyle have seemed a right-wing version of the
Kennedys), which included at first Buckley’s brother-in-law and
college roommate, L. Brent Bozell; and Buckley’s then-favorite disciple
later turned leftist, Garry Wills. Rounding out the Catholic aura
at National Review was the fact that two of its leading
editors became Catholic converts: Frank Meyer and political scientist
Willmoore Kendall. It was the essence of National Review
as an anti-Communist organ that accounted for its being a coalition
of ex-Stalinists and Trotskyites and younger Catholics, and led
observers to remark on the curious absence of American Protestants
(who had of course been the staple of the Old Right) from the heart
of the Buckleyite New Right.[9]

In this formidable
but profoundly statist grouping, interest in individual liberty
was minimal or negative, being largely confined to some of the book
reviews by John Chamberlain and to whatever time Frank Meyer could
manage to take off from advocacy of all-out war against the Soviet
bloc. Interest in free-market economics was minimal and largely
rhetorical, confined to occasional pieces by Henry Hazlitt, who
for his part had never been an isolationist and who endorsed the
hard-line foreign policy of the magazine.

In the light
of hindsight, we should now ask whether or not a major objective
of National Review from its inception was to transform
the right wing from an isolationist to global warmongering anti-Communist
movement; and, particularly, whether or not the entire effort was
in essence a CIA operation. We now know that Bill Buckley, for the
two years prior to establishing National Review, was admittedly
a CIA agent in Mexico City, and that the sinister E. Howard Hunt
was his control. His sister Priscilla, who became managing editor
of National Review, was also in the CIA; and other editors
James Burnham and Willmoore Kendall had at least been recipients
of CIA largesse in the anti-Communist Congress for Cultural Freedom.
In addition, Burnham has been identified by two reliable sources
as a consultant for the CIA in the years after World War II.[10]
Moreover, Garry Wills relates in his memoirs of the conservative
movement that Frank Meyer, to whom he was close at the time, was
convinced that the magazine was a CIA operation. With his Leninist-trained
nose for intrigue, Meyer must be considered an important witness.

Furthermore,
it was a standard practice in the CIA, at least in those early years,
that no one ever resigned from the CIA. A friend of mine who joined
the agency in the early 1950s told me that if, before the age of
retirement, he was mentioned as having left the CIA for another
job, that I was to disregard it, since it would only be a cover
for continuing agency work. On that testimony, the case for NR
being a CIA operation becomes even stronger. Also suggestive is
the fact that a character even more sinister than E. Howard Hunt,
William J. Casey, appears at key moments of the establishment of
the New over the Old Right. It was Casey who, as attorney, presided
over the incorporation of National Review and had arranged
the details of the ouster of Felix Morley from Human Events.

At any rate,
in retrospect, it is clear that libertarians and Old Rightists,
including myself, had made a great mistake in endorsing domestic
red-baiting, a red-baiting that proved to be the major entering
wedge for the complete transformation of the original right wing.
We should have listened more carefully to Frank Chodorov, and to
his splendidly libertarian stand on domestic red-baiting: “How to
get rid of the communists in the government? Easy. Just abolish
the jobs.”[11] It was the jobs
and their functioning that was the important thing, not the quality
of the people who happened to fill them. More fully, Chodorov wrote:

And now we
come to the spy-hunt – which is, in reality, a heresy trial.
What is it that perturbs the inquisitors? They do not ask the
suspects: Do you believe in Power? Do you adhere to the idea that
the individual exists for the glory of the State? … Are you against
taxes, or would you raise them until they absorbed the entire
output of the country? … Are you opposed to the principle of conscription?
Do you favor more “social gains” under the aegis of an enlarged
bureaucracy? Or, would you advocate dismantling of the public
trough at which these bureaucrats feed? In short, do you deny
Power?

“How
to get rid of the communists in the government? Easy. Just abolish
the jobs.”

Such questions
might prove embarrassing, to the investigators. The answers might
bring out a similarity between their ideas and purposes and those
of the suspected. They too worship Power. Under the circumstances,
they limit themselves to one question: Are you a member of the
Communist Party? And this turns out to mean, have you aligned
yourselves with the Moscow branch of the church?

Power-worship
is presently sectarianized along nationalistic lines…. Each nation
guards its orthodoxy…. Where Power is attainable, the contest
between rival sects is unavoidable…. War is the apotheosis of
Power, the ultimate expression of the faith and solidarization
of its achievement.[12]

And Frank had
also written:

The case
against the communists involves a principle of transcending importance.
It is the right to be wrong. Heterodoxy is a necessary condition
of a free society…. The right to make a choice … is important
to me, for the freedom of selection is necessary to my sense of
personality; it is important to society, because only from the
juxtaposition of ideas can we hope to approach the ideal of truth.

Whenever
I choose an idea or label it “right,” I imply the prerogative
of another to reject that idea and label it “wrong.” To invalidate
his right is to invalidate mine. That is, I must brook error if
I would preserve my freedom of thought…. If men are punished for
espousing communism, shall we stop there? Once we deny the right
to be wrong, we put a vise on the human mind and put the temptation
to turn the handle into the hands of ruthlessness.[13]

While anti-Communism
was the central root of the decay of the Old Right and the replacement
by its statist opposite in National Review, there was another
important force in transforming the American right wing, especially
in vitiating its “domestic” libertarianism and even its rhetorical
devotion to individual liberty. This was the sudden emergence of
Russell Kirk as the leader of the New Conservatism, with the publication
of his book The
Conservative Mind
in 1953. Kirk, who became a regular columnist
of National Review as soon as it was founded, created a
sensation with his book and quickly became adopted as the conservative
darling of the “vital center.” In fact, before Buckley became prominent
as the leading conservative spokesman of the media, Russell Kirk
was the most prominent conservative. After the appearance of his
book, Kirk began to make speeches around the country, often in a
friendly “vital center” tandem with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

For Kirk was
far more acceptable to “vital center” corporate liberalism than
was the Old Right. Scorning any trait of individualism or rigorous
free-market economics, Kirk was instead quite close to the conservatism
of Peter Viereck; to Kirk, Big Government and domestic statism were
perfectly acceptable, provided that they were steeped in some sort
of Burkean tradition and enjoyed a Christian framework. Indeed,
it was clear that Kirk’s ideal society was an ordered English squirearchy,
ruled by the Anglican Church and Tory landlords in happy tandem.[14]
Here there was no fiery individualism, no trace of populism or radicalism
to upset the ruling classes or the liberal intellectual Establishment.
Here at last was a rightist with whom liberals, while not
exactly agreeing, could engage in a cozy dialogue.

It was Kirk,
in fact, who brought the words “conservatism” and “New Conservatism”
into general acceptance on the right wing. Before that, knowledgeable
libertarians had hated the word, and with good reason; for weren’t
the conservatives the ancient enemy, the 18th- and 19th-century
Tory and reactionary suppressors of individual liberty, the ancient
champions of the Old Order of Throne-and-Altar against which the
18th- and 19th-century liberals had fought so valiantly?

And so the
older classical-liberals and individualists resisted the term bitterly:
Ludwig von Mises, a classical liberal, scorned the term; F.A. Hayek
insisted on calling himself an “Old Whig”; and when Frank Chodorov
was called a “conservative” in the pages of National Review,
he wrote an outraged letter declaring, “As for me, I will punch
anyone who calls me a conservative in the nose. I am a radical.”[15]
Before Russell Kirk, the word “conservative,” being redolent of
reaction and the Old Order, was a left smear-word applied to the
right wing; it was only after Kirk that the right wing, including
the new National Review, rushed to embrace this previously
hated term.

The Kirkian
influence was soon evident in right-wing youth meetings. I remember
one gathering when, to my dismay, one Gridley Wright, an aristocratic
leader of Yale campus conservatism, declared that the true ideological
struggle of our day, between left and right, had nothing to do with
free-market economics or with individual liberty versus statism.
The true struggle, he declared, was Christianity versus atheism,
and good manners versus boorishness and materialistic greed: the
materialist greed, for example, of the starving peoples of India
who were trying to earn an income, a bit of subsistence. It was
easy, of course, for a wealthy Yale man whose father owned a large
chunk of Montana to decry the “materialistic greed” of the poor;
was this what the right wing was coming to?

Russell Kirk
also succeeded in altering our historical pantheon of heroes. Mencken,
Nock, Thoreau, Jefferson, Paine, and Garrison were condemned as
rationalists, atheists, or anarchists, and were replaced by such
reactionaries and antilibertarians as Burke, Metternich, De Maistre,
or Alexander Hamilton.[16]

With its formidable
array of anti-Communists and Catholic traditionalists, National
Review quickly took over the lead and direction of the New
Right, which it rapidly remolded in its own image. The “official”
line of National Review was what came to be called “fusionist,”
whose leading practitioners were Meyer and Buckley; “fusionism”
stressed the dominance of anti-Communism and Christian order, to
be sure, but retained some libertarian rhetoric in a subordinate
rank. The importance of the libertarian and Old Right rhetoric was
largely political; for it would have been difficult for National
Review to lead a conservative political revival in this country
in the garb of monarchy and Inquisition. Without fusionism, the
transformation of the right wing could not have taken place within
the form, and might have alienated much of the right-wing mass base.
Many of the other National Review intellectuals were, in
contrast, impatient with any concessions to liberty. These included
Kirk’s Tory traditionalism; the various wings of monarchists; and
Willmoore Kendall’s open call for suppression of freedom of speech.
The great thrust of Kendall, a National Review editor for
many years, was his view that it is the right and duty of the “majority”
of the community – as embodied, say, in Congress – to
suppress any individual who disturbs that community with radical
doctrines. Socrates, opined Kendall, not only should have
been killed by the Greek community, but it was their bounden moral
duty to kill him.

 


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Kendall, incidentally,
was symptomatic of the change in attitude toward the Supreme Court
from Old Right to New. One of the major doctrines of the Old Right
was the defense of the Supreme Court’s role in outlawing congressional
and executive incursions against individual liberty; but now
the New Right, as typified by Kendall, bitterly attacked the Supreme
Court day in and day out, and for what? Precisely for presuming
to defend the liberty of the individual against the incursions of
Congress and the executive.

Thus, the Old
Right had always bitterly attacked the judicial doctrines of Felix
Frankfurter, who was considered a left-wing monster for undercutting
the activist role of the Supreme Court in declaring various extensions
of government power to be unconstitutional; but now Kendall and
National Review were leading the Right in hailing Frankfurter
precisely for this permissive placing of the judicial imprimatur
on almost any action of the federal government. By staying in the
same place, Felix Frankfurter had shifted from being a villain to
a hero of the newly transformed Right, while it was now such libertarian
activists as Justices Black and Douglas who received the abuse of
the right wing. It was getting to be an ever weirder right-wing
world that I was inhabiting. It was indeed the venerable Alexander
Bickel, a disciple of Frankfurter’s at Yale Law School, who converted
young professor Robert Bork from a libertarian to a majoritarian
jurist.

At the opposite
pole from the Catholic ultras, but at one with them in being opposed
to liberty and individualism, was James Burnham, who since the inception
of National Review has been its cold, hard-nosed, amoral
political strategist and resident Machiavellian. Burnham, whose
National Review column was entitled “The Third World War,”
was the magazine’s leading power and global anti-Communist strategist.
In a lifetime of political writing, James Burnham has shown only
one fleeting bit of positive interest in individual liberty: and
that was a call in National Review for the legalization
of firecrackers!

On the more
directly political front, National Review obviously needed
a “fusionist” for its political tactician, for the direct guidance
of conservatism as a political movement. It found that tactician
in its publisher, the former Deweyite Young Republican Bill Rusher.
A brilliant political organizer, Rusher was able, by the late 1950s,
to take over control of the College Young Republicans, and then
the National Young Republican Federation.

Heading a group
called the “Syndicate,” Rusher has managed to control the national
Young Republications ever since. In 1959, National Review
organized the founding of the Young Americans for Freedom at Bill
Buckley’s estate at Sharon, Connecticut. Young Americans for Freedom
soon grew to many thousand strong, and became in effect the collegiate
youth-activist arm of the National Review political complex.
Unfortunately, the bulk of young libertarians at the time stayed
solidly in the conservative movement; heedless of the foreign policy
betrayal of the Old Right, these young libertarians and semi-libertarians
well served the purposes of National Review by lending
the patina of libertarian rhetoric to such ventures as Young Americans
for Freedom.

Thus, Young
Americans for Freedom’s founding Sharon
Statement
was its only even remotely close approach to libertarianism;
its actual activities have always been confined to anti-Communism,
including the attempted interdiction of trade with the Communist
countries – and lately were expanded to attempting legal suppression
of left-wing student rebellions. But the libertarian veneer was
supplied not only by the title and by parts of the Sharon Statement,
but also by the fact that Young Americans for Freedom’s first president,
Robert M. Schuchman, was a libertarian anti-Communist who had once
been close to the old Circle Bastiat. More typical of the mass base
of conservative youth was the considerable contingent at Sharon
who objected to the title of the new organization, because, they
said, “Freedom is a left-wing word.” It would have been far more
candid, though less politically astute, if the noble word freedom
had been left out of Young Americans for Freedom’s title.

By the late
1950s, Barry Goldwater had been decided upon as the political leader
of the New Right, and it was Rusher and the National Review
clique that inspired the Draft Goldwater movement and Youth for
Goldwater in 1960. Goldwater’s ideological manifesto of 1960, The
Conscience of a Conservative
, was ghostwritten by Brent
Bozell, who wrote fiery articles in National Review attacking
liberty even as an abstract principle, and upholding the function
of the State in imposing and enforcing moral and religious creeds.
Its foreign policy chapter, “The Soviet Menace,” was a thinly disguised
plea for all-out offensive war against the Soviet Union and other
Communist nations. The Goldwater movement of 1960 was a warm-up
for the future; and when Nixon was defeated in the 1960 election,
Rusher and National Review launched a well-coordinated
campaign to capture the Republican Party for Barry Goldwater in
1964.

It was this
drastic shift to all-out and pervasive war-mongering that I found
hardest to swallow. For years I had thought of myself politically
as an “extreme right-winger,” but this emotional identification
with the right was becoming increasingly difficult. To be a political
ally of Senator Taft was one thing; to be an ally of statists who
thirsted for all-out war against Russia was quite another.

For the first
five years of its existence I moved in National Review
circles. I had known Frank Meyer as a fellow analyst for the William
Volker Fund, and through Meyer had met Buckley and the rest of the
editorial staff. I attended National Review luncheons,
rallies, and cocktail parties, and wrote a fair number of articles
and book reviews for the magazine. But the more I circulated among
these people, the greater my horror because I realized with growing
certainty that what they wanted above all was total war against
the Soviet Union; their fanatical warmongering would settle for
no less.

Of course the
New Rightists of National Review would never quite dare
to admit this crazed goal in public, but the objective would always
be slyly implied. At right-wing rallies no one cheered a single
iota for the free market, if this minor item were ever so much as
mentioned; what really stirred up the animals were demagogic appeals
by National Review leaders for total victory, total destruction
of the Communist world. It was that which brought the right-wing
masses out of their seats.

It was National
Review editor Brent Bozell who trumpeted, at a right-wing rally:
“I would favor destroying not only the whole world, but the entire
universe out to the furthermost star, rather than suffer Communism
to live.”

It was National
Review editor Frank Meyer who once told me: “I have a vision,
a great vision of the future: a totally devastated Soviet Union.”
I knew that this was the vision that really animated the New Conservatism.
Frank Meyer, for example, had the following argument with his wife,
Elsie, over foreign-policy strategy: Should we drop the H-Bomb on
Moscow and destroy the Soviet Union immediately and without
warning (Frank), or should we give the Soviet regime 24 hours with
which to comply with an ultimatum to resign (Elsie)?

In the meanwhile,
isolationist or antiwar sentiment disappeared totally from right-wing
publications or organizations, as rightists hastened to follow the
lead of National Review and its burgeoning political and
activist organizations. The death of Colonel McCormick of the Chicago
Tribune and the ouster of Felix Morley from Human Events
meant that these crucial mass periodicals would swing behind the
new pro-war line. Harry Elmer Barnes, the leader and promoter of
World War II revisionism, was somehow able to publish an excellent
article on Hiroshima in National Review, but apart from
that, found that conservative interest in revisionism, prominent
after World War II, had dried up and become hostile.[17]
For as William Henry Chamberlin had discovered, the Munich analogy
was a powerful one to use against opponents of the new war drive;
besides, any questioning of American intervention in the previous
war crusade inevitably cast doubts on its current role, let alone
on New Right agitation for an even hotter war. Right-wing publishers
like Henry Regnery and Devin-Adair lost interest in isolationist
or revisionist works. Once in a while, a few libertarians who had
not fallen silent about the war drive or even joined it expressed
their opposition and concern; but they could only do so in private
correspondence. There was no other outlet available.[18]

Particularly
disgraceful was National Review’s refusal to give the great
John T. Flynn an outlet for his opposition to the Cold War. The
doughty veteran Flynn, who had, interestingly enough, championed
Joe McCarthy, bitterly opposed the New Right emphasis on a global
military crusade. In the fall of 1956, Flynn submitted an article
to National Review attacking the Cold War crusade, and
charging, as he had in the 1940s, that militarism was a “job-making
boondoggle,” whose purpose was not to defend but to bolster “the
economic system with jobs for soldiers and jobs and profits in the
munitions plants.” Presenting figures for swollen military spending
between the start of Roosevelt’s war buildup in 1939 and 1954, Flynn
argued that the economy no longer consisted of a “socialist sector”
and a “capitalist sector.” Instead, Flynn warned, there was only
the “racket” of military spending, “with the soldier-politician
in the middle – unaware of the hell-broth of war, taxes and
debt.” The Eisenhower administration, Flynn charged, was no better
than its Democratic predecessors; the administration is spending
$66 billion a year, most going for “so-called ‘national security’”
and only a “small fraction” spent on “the legitimate functions of
government.”

A fascinating
interchange followed between Buckley and Flynn. Rejecting Flynn’s
article in a letter on October 22, 1956, Buckley had the unmitigated
chutzpah to tell this veteran anti-Communist that he didn’t understand
the nature of the Soviet military threat, and condescendingly advised
him to read William Henry Chamberlin’s latest pot-boiler in National
Review describing “the difference in the nature of the threat
posed by the Commies and the Nazis.” Trying to sugar-coat the pill,
Buckley sent Flynn $100 along with the rejection note. The next
day, Flynn returned the $100, sarcastically adding that he was “greatly
obliged” to Buckley for “the little lecture.”

In this way,
Buckley used the same argument for depriving Flynn of a publishing
outlet that Bruce Bliven and the war liberals had employed when
ousting Flynn from the New Republic in the 1940s. In both
cases Flynn was accused of overlooking the alleged foreign threat
to the United States, and in both cases Flynn’s attempted answer
was to stress that the real menace to American liberties was militarism,
socialism, and fascism at home, imposed in the name of combating
an alleged foreign threat. Flynn denied the existence of a Soviet
military threat, and warned prophetically that the executive branch
of the government was about to involve us in a futile war in Indochina.[19]

Virtually the
only published echo of the Old Right was a book by the redoubtable
Felix Morley who, in the course of decrying the modern New Deal
and post-New Deal destruction of federalism by strong central government,
roundly attacked the developing and existing American Empire and
militarism.[20]

Meanwhile,
National Review’s image of me was that of a lovable though
utopian libertarian purist who, however, must be kept strictly confined
to propounding laissez-faire economics, to which National
Review had a kind of residual rhetorical attachment. There
was even talk at one time of my becoming an economic columnist for
National Review. But above all I was supposed to stay out
of political matters and leave to the warmongering ideologues of
National Review the gutsy real-world task of defending
me from the depredations of world Communism, and allowing me the
luxury of spinning utopias about private fire-fighting services.
I was increasingly unwilling to play that kind of a castrate role.

This appeared
on Mises.org.

Notes

[1]
Don Levine had been slated to be a coeditor, but was booted out
before the venture began because he had angered financial backers
of the Freeman by attacking Merwin K. Hart in Plain
Talk as being “anti-Semitic” (read: anti-Zionist).

[2]
His most famous ghostwritten piece was McCarthy’s famous attack
on the record of General George Marshall – an attack, significantly,
which began during World War II, thus deliberately ignoring Marshall’s
black record on Pearl Harbor.

[3]
On this instructive episode, see John Steinke and James Weinstein,
“McCarthy and the Liberals,” in For
a New America: Essays in History and Politics from Studies on the
Left, 1959–1967
, James Weinstein and David Eakins, eds.
(New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 180–93.

[4]
Ibid., p. 180.

[5]
It is precisely this sort of analysis that has made many astute
members of the New Left in a sense sympathetic to the George Wallace
movement of recent years. For while the Wallaceite program
may be questionable, his analysis of the Establishment
and his tapping of middle-class sentiment against the ruling elite
that oppresses them earns from the New Left a considerable amount
of sympathy.

[6]
Daniel Bell, ed., The
New American Right
(New York: Criterion Books, 1955). The
book was updated eight years later, with new chapters added from
the perspective of the early 1960s. Daniel Bell, ed., The
New American Right: Expanded and Updated
(Garden City,
N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1963). From a later perspective, it is clear
that this was a protoneoconservative book, Bell, Glazer, and Lipset
becoming prominent neocons in the 1970s and 1980s.

[7]
Peter Viereck, “Revolt Against the Elite,” in New American Right,
Bell, ed., pp. 97–98, 116.

[8]
William F. Buckley, Jr., “A Young Republican’s View,” Commonweal
55, no. 16 (January 25, 1952): 391–93.

[9]
Thus, see George H. Nash, The
Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945

(New York: Basic Books, 1976), p. 127; and Samuel Francis, “Beautiful
Losers: the Failure of American Conservatism,” Chronicles
(May 1991): 16.

[10]
See Nash, Conservative Intellectual Movement, p. 372.

[11]
Frank Chodorov, “Trailing the Trend,” analysis 6, no. 6
(April 1950): 3. Quoted in Hamilton, “Introduction,” p. 25.

[12]
Frank Chodorov, “The Spy-Hunt,” analysis 4, no. 11 (September
1948): 1–2. Reprinted in Chodorov, Out
of Step
(New York: Devin-Adair, 1962), pp. 181–83.

[13]
Frank Chodorov, “How to Curb the Commies,” analysis 5,
no. 7 (May 1949): 2.

[14]
Kirk, too, was to follow other National Review leaders
into Catholicism a decade later.

[15]
Letter to National Review 2, no. 20 (October 6, 1956):
23. Cited in Hamilton, “Introduction,” p. 29.

[16]
Kirk himself never equaled the success of The Conservative Mind.
His later columns in National Review were largely confined
to attacks upon the follies of progressive education. To be fair,
Nash’s work reveals that Kirk was really an isolationist Old Rightist
during World War II; his shift to the New Conservatism in the early
1950s remains something of a mystery. Nash, Conservative Intellectual
Movement, pp. 70–76.

[17]
Harry Elmer Barnes, “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe,” National
Review 5, no. 19 (May 10, 1958): 441–43. See Murray N. Rothbard,
“Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War,” in Harry
Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader
, A. Goddard, ed. (Colorado
Springs, Colo.: Ralph Myles, 1968), pp. 314–38.

[18]
Thus, see the letters in the late 1950s of Roland W. (“Rollie”)
Holmes, and of Dr. Paul Poirot of the FEE staff, in Toy, “Ideology
and Conflict,” pp. 206–07.

[19]
On Buckley’s rejection of the Flynn article, see Ronald Radosh,
Prophets
on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism

(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975), pp. 272–73; and Radosh, “Preface,”
in John T. Flynn, As
We Go Marching
(New York: Free Life Editions, 1973), pp.
xiv–xv.

[20]
Felix Morley, Freedom
and Federalism
(Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1959), especially
the chapters “Democracy and Empire,” “Nationalization through Foreign
Policy,” and “The Need for an Enemy.”

Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic
vice president of the Mises
Institute
. He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell —
of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor.

The
Best of Murray Rothbard

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