appeared in The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report, January 1992.
What I call
the Old Right is suddenly back! The terms old and new inevitably
get confusing, with a new “new” every few years, so let’s call it
the “Original” Right, the right wing as it existed from 1933 to
approximately 1955. This Old Right was formed in reaction against
the New Deal, and against the Great Leap Forward into the Leviathan
state that was the essence of that New Deal.
Deal movement was a coalition of three groups: (1) the “extremists,”
the individualists and libertarians, like H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay
Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, and Garet Garrett; (2) right-wing Democrats,
harking back to the laissez-faire views of the nineteenth century
Democratic party, men such as Governor Albert Ritchie of Maryland
or Senator James A. Reed of Missouri; and (3) moderate New Dealers,
who thought that the Roosevelt New Deal went too far, for example
Herbert Hoover. Interestingly, even though the libertarian intellectuals
were in the minority, they necessarily set the terms and the rhetoric
of the debate, since theirs was the only thought-out contrasting
ideology to the New Deal.
The most radical
view of the New Deal was that of libertarian essayist and novelist
Garet Garrett, an editor of the Saturday Evening Post. His
brilliant little pamphlet The Revolution Was, published in
1938, began with these penetrating words – words that would
never be fully absorbed by the right:
those who still think they are holding a pass against a revolution
that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong
direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the night
of depression, singing songs to freedom.
was, said Garrett, and therefore nothing less than a counterrevolution
is needed to take the country back. Behold, then, not a "conservative,"
but a radical right.
In the late
1930s, there was added to this reaction against the domestic New
Deal, a reaction against the foreign policy of the New Deal: the
insistent drive toward war in Europe and Asia. Hence, the right
wing added a reaction against big government abroad to the attack
on big government at home. The one fed on the other. The right wing
called for non-intervention in foreign as well as domestic affairs,
and denounced FDR’s adoption of Woodrow Wilson’s Global Crusading
which had proved so disastrous in World War I. To Wilson-Roosevelt
globalism, the Old Right countered with a policy of America First.
American foreign policy must neither be based on the interests of
a foreign power – such as Great Britain – nor be in the
service of such abstract ideals as “making the world safe for democracy,”
or waging a “war to end all wars,” both of which would amount, in
the prophetic words of Charles A. Beard, to waging “perpetual war
for perpetual peace.”
And so the
original right was completed, combating the Leviathan state in domestic
affairs. It said “no!” to the welfare-warfare state. The result
of adding foreign affairs to the list was some reshuffling of members:
former rightists such as Lewis W. Douglas, who had opposed the domestic
New Deal, now rejoined it as internationalists; while veteran isolationists,
such as Senators Borah and Nye, or intellectuals such as Beard,
Harry Elmer Barnes, or John T. Flynn, gradually but surely became
domestic right-wingers in the course of their determined
opposition to the foreign New Deal.
If we know
what the Old Right was against, what were they for? In general
terms, they were for a restoration of the liberty of the Old Republic,
of a government strictly limited to the defense of the rights of
private property. In the concrete, as in the case of any broad coalition,
there were differences of opinion within this overall framework.
But we can boil down those differences to this question: how much
of existing government would you repeal? How far would you roll
demand which almost all Old Rightists agreed on, which virtually
defined the Old Right, was total abolition of the New Deal, the
whole kit and kaboodle of the welfare state, the Wagner Act, the
Social Security Act, going off gold in 1933, and all the rest. Beyond
that, there were charming disagreements. Some would stop at repealing
the New Deal. Others would press on, to abolition of Woodrow Wilson’s
New Freedom, including the Federal Reserve System and especially
that mighty instrument of tyranny, the income tax and the Internal
Revenue Service. Still others, extremists such as myself, would
not stop until we repealed the Federal Judiciary Act of 1789, and
maybe even think the unthinkable and restore the good old Articles
Here I should
stop and say that, contrary to accepted myth, the original right
did not disappear with, and was not discredited by, our entry into
World War II. On the contrary, the congressional elections of 1942
– an election neglected by scholars – was a significant
victory not only for conservative Republicans, but for isolationist
Republicans as well. Even though intellectual rightist opinion,
in books and especially in the journals, was virtually blotted out
during World War II, the right was still healthy in politics and
in the press, such as the Hearst press, the New York Daily News,
and especially the Chicago Tribune. After World War II, there
was an intellectual revival of the right, and the Old Right stayed
healthy until the mid-1950s.
overall consensus, then, on the Old Right, there were many differences
within the framework, but differences that remained remarkably friendly
and harmonious. Oddly enough, these are precisely the friendly differences
within the current paleo movement: free trade or protective tariff,
immigration policy, and within the policy of “isolationism,” whether
it should be “doctrinaire” isolationism, such as my own, or whether
the United States should regularly intervene in the Western Hemisphere
or in neighboring countries of Latin America. Or whether this nationalist
policy should be flexible among these various alternatives.
which also still exist, are more philosophical: should we be Lockians,
Hobbesians, or Burkeans: natural rightsers, or traditionalists,
or utilitarians? On political frameworks, should we be monarchists,
check-and-balance federalists, or radical decentralists? Hamiltonians
which agitated the right wing before the Buckleyite monolith managed
to stifle all debate, is particularly relevant to right-wing strategy.
The Marxists, who have spent a great deal of time thinking about
strategy for their movement, always post the question: who is the
agency of social change? Which group may be expected to bring about
the desired change in society? Classical Marxism found the answer
easy: the proletariat. Then things got a lot more complicated: the
peasantry, oppressed womanhood, minorities, etc.
question for the right wing is the other side of the coin: who can
we expect to be the bad guys? Who are agents of negative
social change? Or: which groups in society pose the greatest threats
to liberty? Basically, there have been two answers on the right:
(1) the unwashed masses; and (2) the power elites. I will return
to this question in a minute.
On the differences
of opinion, of the question of diversity in the Old Right, I was
struck by a remark that Tom Fleming of Chronicles made. Tom
noted that he was struck, in reading about that period, that there
was no party line, that there was no person or magazine excommunicating
heretics, that there was admirable diversity and freedom of discussion
on the Old Right. Amen! In other words there was no National
What was the
Old Right position on culture? There was no particular position,
because everyone was imbued with, and loved the old culture. Culture
was not an object of debate, either on the Old Right or, for that
matter, anywhere else. Of course, they would have been horrified
and incredulous at the accredited victimology that has rapidly taken
over our culture. Anyone who would have suggested to an Old Rightist
of 1950, for example, that in forty years, the federal courts would
be redrawing election districts all over the country so that Hispanics
would be elected according to their quota in the population, would
have been considered a fit candidate for the loony bin. As well
And while I’m
on this topic, this is the year 1992, so I am tempted to say, repeat
after me: COLUMBUS DISCOVERED AMERICA!
a fan of diversity, the only revisionism I will permit on this topic
is whether Columbus discovered America, or whether it was Amerigo
They have never been able to make it to accredited victim status.
The only thing they ever got was Columbus Day. And now, they’re
trying to take it away!
If I may be
pardoned a personal note, I joined the Old Right in 1946. I grew
up in New York City in the 1930s in the midst of what can only be
called a communist culture. As middle-class Jews in New York, my
relatives, friends, classmates, and neighbors faced only one great
moral decision in their lives: should they join the Communist Party
and devote 100 percent of their lives to the cause; or should they
remain fellow travelers and devote only a fraction of their lives?
That was the great range of debate.
I had two sets
of aunts and uncles on both sides of the family who were in the
Communist Party. The older uncle was an engineer who helped build
the legendary Moscow subway; the younger one was an editor for the
Communist-dominated Drug Workers Union, headed by one of the famous
Foner brothers. But I hasten to add that I am not, in the
current fashion, like Roseanne Barr Arnold or William F. Buckley,
Jr., claiming that I was a victim of child abuse. (Buckley’s claim
is that he was the victim of the high crime of insouciant anti-Semitism
at his father’s dinner table.)
On the contrary,
my father was an individualist, and was always strongly anti-communist
and anti-socialist, who turned against the New Deal in 1938 because
it had failed to correct the depression – a pretty good start.
In my high school and college career, at Columbia University, I
never met a Republican, much less anyone strongly right wing.
By the way,
even though I am admittedly several years younger than Daniel Bell,
Irving Kristol, and the rest, I must say that during all those years
I never heard of Leon Trotsky, much less of Trotskyites, until I
got to graduate school after World War II. I was fairly politically
aware, and in New York in those days, the “left” meant the Communist
Party, period. So I think that Kristol and the rest are weaving
pretty legends about the cosmic importance of the debates between
Trotskyites and Stalinists in alcoves A and B at the City College
cafeteria. As far as I’m concerned, the only Trotskyites were a
handful of academics. By the way, there is a perceptive saying in
left-wing circles in New York: that the Trotskyites all went into
academia, and the Stalinists went into real estate. Perhaps that’s
why the Trotskyites are running the world.
College, I was only one of two Republicans on the entire campus,
the other being a literature major with whom I had little in common.
Not only that: but, a remarkable thing for a cosmopolitan place
like Columbia, Lawrence Chamberlain, distinguished political scientist,
and dean of Columbia college, admitted one time that he had never
met a Republican either.
By 1946, I
had become politically active, and joined the Young Republicans
of New York. Unfortunately, the Republicans in New York weren’t
much of an improvement: the Dewey-Rockefeller forces constituted
the extreme right of the party; most of them being either pro-Communist,
like Stanley Isaacs, or social democrats like Jacob Javits. I did,
however, have fun writing a paper for the Young Republicans denouncing
price control and rent control. And after the Republican capture
of Congress in 1946, I was ecstatic. My first publication ever was
a “hallelujah!” letter in the New York World-Telegram exulting
that now, at last, the Republican 80th Congress would repeal the
entire New Deal. So much for my strategic acumen in 1946.
At any rate,
I found the Old Right and was happy there for a decade. For a couple
of years, I was delighted to subscribe to the Chicago Tribune,
whose every news item was filled with great Old Right punch and
analysis. It is forgotten now that the only organized opposition
to the Korean War was not on the left, which, except for the Communist
Party and I.F. Stone, fell for the chimera of Wilsonian-Rooseveltian
“collective security,” but was on the so-called extreme right, particularly
in the House of Representatives.
One of the
leaders was my friend Howard Buffett, Congressman from Omaha, who
was a pure libertarian and was Senator Taft’s midwestern campaign
manager at the monstrous Republican convention of 1952, when the
Eisenhower-Wall Street cabal stole the election from Robert Taft.
After that, I left the Republican Party, only to return this year
for the Buchanan campaign. During the 1950s, I joined every right-wing
third party I could find, most of which collapsed after the first
meeting. I supported the last presidential thrust of the Old Right,
the Andrews-Werdel ticket in 1956, but unfortunately, they never
made it up to New York City.
excursion on my personal activity in the Old Right, I return to
a key strategic question: who are the major bad guys, the unwashed
masses or the power elite? Very early, I concluded that the big
danger is the elite, and not the masses, and for the following reasons.
granting for a moment that the masses are the worst possible, that
they are perpetually Hell-bent on lynching anyone down the block,
the mass of people simply don’t have the time for politics or political
shenanigans. The average person must spend most of his time on the
daily business of life, being with his family, seeing his friends,
etc. He can only get interested in politics or engage in it sporadically.
The only people
who have time for politics are the professionals: the bureaucrats,
politicians, and special interest groups dependent on political
rule. They make money out of politics, and so they are intensely
interested, and lobby and are active twenty-four hours a day. Therefore,
these special interest groups will tend to win out over the uninterested
masses. This is the basic insight of the Public Choice school of
economics. The only other groups interested full-time in politics
are ideologists like ourselves, again not a very large segment of
the population. So the problem is the ruling elite, the professionals,
and their dependent special interest groups.
A second crucial
point: society is divided into a ruling elite, which is necessarily
a minority of the population, which lives off the second group –
the rest of the population. Here I point to one of the most brilliant
essays on political philosophy ever written, John C. Calhoun’s Disquisition
out that the very fact of government and of taxation creates inherent
conflict between two great classes: those who pay taxes, and those
who live off them; the net taxpayers vs. the tax-consumers. The
bigger government gets, Calhoun noted, the greater and more intense
the conflict between those two social classes. By the way, I’ve
never thought of Governor Pete Wilson of California as a distinguished
political theorist, but the other day he said something, presumably
unwittingly, that was remarkably Calhounian. Wilson lamented that
the tax-recipients in California were beginning to outnumber
the tax-payers. Well, it’s a start.
If a minority
of elites rule over, tax, and exploit the majority of the public,
then this brings up starkly the main problem of political theory:
what I like to call the mystery of civil obedience. Why does the
majority of the public obey these turkeys, anyway? This problem
I believe, was solved by three great political theorists, mainly
but not all libertarian: tienne de La Botie, French libertarian
theorist of the mid-sixteenth century; David Hume; and Ludwig von
Mises. They pointed out that, precisely because the ruling class
is a minority, that in the long run, force per se cannot
rule. Even in the most despotic dictatorship, the government can
only persist when it is backed by the majority of the population.
In the long run, ideas, not force, rule, and any government has
to have legitimacy in the minds of the public.
was starkly demonstrated in the collapse of the Soviet Union last
year. Simply put, when the tanks were sent to capture Yeltsin, they
were persuaded to turn their guns around and defend Yeltsin and
the Russian Parliament instead. More broadly, it is clear that the
Soviet government had totally lost legitimacy and support among
the public. To a libertarian, it was a particularly wonderful thing
to see unfolding before our very eyes, the death of a state, particularly
a monstrous one such as the Soviet Union. Toward the end, Gorby
continued to issue decrees as before, but now, no one paid any attention.
The once-mighty Supreme Soviet continued to meet, but nobody bothered
to show up. How glorious!
But we still
haven’t solved the mystery of civil obedience. If the ruling elite
is taxing, looting, and exploiting the public, why does the public
put up with this for a single moment? Why does it take them so long
to withdraw their consent?
Here we come
to the solution: the critical role of the intellectuals, the opinion-molding
class in society. If the masses knew what was going on, they would
withdraw their consent quickly: they would soon perceive that the
emperor has no clothes, that they are being ripped off. That is
where the intellectuals come in.
elite, whether it be the monarchs of yore or the Communist parties
of today, are in desperate need of intellectual elites to weave
apologias for state power. The state rules by divine edict;
the state insures the common good or the general welfare; the state
protects us from the bad guys over the mountain; the state guarantees
full employment; the state activates the multiplier effect; the
state insures social justice, and on and on. The apologias
differ over the centuries; the effect is always the same. As Karl
Wittfogel shows in his great work, Oriental Despotism, in
Asian empires the intellectuals were able to get away with the theory
that the emperor or pharaoh was himself divine. If the ruler is
God, few will be induced to disobey or question his commands.
We can see
what the state rulers get out of their alliance with the intellectuals;
but what do the intellectuals get out of it? Intellectuals are the
sort of people who believe that, in the free market, they are getting
paid far less than their wisdom requires. Now the state is willing
to pay them salaries, both for apologizing for state power, and
in the modern state, for staffing the myriad jobs in the welfare,
regulatory state apparatus.
In past centuries,
the churches have constituted the exclusive opinion-molding classes
in the society. Hence the importance to the state and its rulers
of an established church, and the importance to libertarians of
the concept of separating church and state, which really means not
allowing the state to confer upon one group a monopoly of the opinion-molding
function. In the twentieth century, of course, the church has been
replaced in its opinion-molding role, or, in that lovely phrase,
the “engineering of consent,” by a swarm of intellectuals, academics,
social scientists, technocrats, policy scientists, social workers,
journalists and the media generally, and on and on. Often included,
for old times’ sake, so to speak, is a sprinkling of social gospel
ministers and counselors from the mainstream churches.
to sum up: the problem is that the bad guys, the ruling classes,
have gathered unto themselves the intellectual and media elites,
who are able to bamboozle the masses into consenting to their rule,
to indoctrinate them, as the Marxists would say, with “false consciousness.”
What can we, the right-wing opposition, do about it?
endemic to libertarians and classical liberals, is what we can call
the “Hayekian” model, after F.A. Hayek, or what I have called “educationism.”
Ideas, the model declares, are crucial, and ideas filter down a
hierarchy, beginning with top philosophers, then seeping down to
lesser philosophers, then academics, and finally to journalists
and politicians, and then to the masses. The thing to do is to convert
the top philosophers to the correct ideas, they will convert the
lesser, and so on, in a kind of “trickle-down effect,” until, at
last, the masses are converted and liberty has been achieved.
should be noted that this trickle-down strategy is a very gentle
and genteel one, relying on quiet mediation and persuasion in the
austere corridors of intellectual cerebration. This strategy fits,
by the way, with Hayek’s personality, for Hayek is not exactly known
as an intellectual gut-fighter.
ideas and persuasion are important, but there are several fatal
flaws in the Hayekian strategy. First, of course, the strategy at
best will take several hundred years, and some of us are a bit more
impatient than that. But time is by no means the only problem. Many
people have noted, for example, mysterious blockages of the trickle.
Thus, most real scientists have a very different view of such environmental
questions as Alar than that of a few left-wing hysterics, and yet
somehow it is always the same few hysterics that are exclusively
quoted by the media. The same applies to the vexed problem of inheritance
and IQ testing. So how come the media invariably skew the result,
and pick and choose the few leftists in the field? Clearly, because
the media, especially the respectable and influential media, begin,
and continue, with a strong left-liberal bias.
the Hayekian trickle-down model overlooks a crucial point: that,
and I hate to break this to you, intellectuals, academics and the
media are not all motivated by truth alone. As we have seen, the
intellectual classes may be part of the solution, but also they
are a big part of the problem. For, as we have seen, the intellectuals
are part of the ruling class, and their economic interests, as well
as their interests in prestige, power and admiration, are wrapped
up in the present welfare-warfare state system.
in addition to converting intellectuals to the cause, the proper
course for the right-wing opposition must necessarily be a strategy
of boldness and confrontation, of dynamism and excitement, a strategy,
in short, of rousing the masses from their slumber and exposing
the arrogant elites that are ruling them, controlling them, taxing
them, and ripping them off.
right-wing strategy is that commonly pursued by many libertarian
or conservative think tanks: that of quiet persuasion, not in the
groves of academe, but in Washington, D.C., in the corridors of
power. This has been called the “Fabian” strategy, with think tanks
issuing reports calling for a two percent cut in a tax here, or
a tiny drop in a regulation there. The supporters of this strategy
often point to the success of the Fabian Society, which, by its
detailed empirical researches, gently pushed the British state into
a gradual accretion of socialist power.
The flaw here,
however, is that what works to increase state power does
not work in reverse. For the Fabians were gently nudging the ruling
elite precisely in the direction they wanted to travel anyway. Nudging
the other way would go strongly against the state’s grain,
and the result is far more likely to be the state’s co-opting and
Fabianizing the think-tankers themselves rather than the other way
around. This sort of strategy may, of course, be personally very
pleasant for the think-tankers, and may be profitable in cushy jobs
and contracts from the government. But that is precisely the problem.
It is important
to realize that the establishment doesn’t want excitement in politics,
it wants the masses to continue to be lulled to sleep. It wants
kinder, gentler; it wants the measured, judicious, mushy tone, and
content, of a James Reston, a David Broder, or a Washington Week
in Review. It doesn’t want a Pat Buchanan, not only for
the excitement and hard edge of his content, but also for his similar
tone and style.
And so the
proper strategy for the right wing must be what we can call “right-wing
populism”: exciting, dynamic, tough, and confrontational, rousing,
and inspiring not only the exploited masses, but the often shell-shocked
right-wing intellectual cadre as well. And in this era where the
intellectual and media elites are all establishment liberal-conservatives,
all in a deep sense one variety or another of social democrat, all
bitterly hostile to a genuine right, we need a dynamic, charismatic
leader who has the ability to short-circuit the media elites, and
to reach and rouse the masses directly. We need a leadership that
can reach the masses and cut through the crippling and distorting
hermeneutical fog spread by the media elites.
But can we
call such a strategy “conservative”? I, for one, am tired of the
liberal strategy, on which they have rung the changes for forty
years, of presuming to define “conservatism” as a supposed aid to
the conservative movement. Whenever liberals have encountered hard-edged
abolitionists who, for example, have wanted to repeal the New Deal
or Fair Deal, they say, "But that’s not genuine conservatism.
That’s radicalism.” The genuine conservative, these
liberals go on to say, doesn’t want to repeal or abolish anything.
He is a kind and gentle soul who wants to conserve what left-liberals
vision, then, of good conservatives is as follows: first,
left-liberals, in power, make a Great Leap Forward toward collectivism;
then, when, in the course of the political cycle, four or eight
years later, conservatives come to power, they of course are horrified
at the very idea of repealing anything; they simply slow
down the rate of growth of statism, consolidating the previous gains
of the left, and providing a bit of R&R for the next liberal Great
Leap Forward. And if you think about it, you will see that this
is precisely what every Republican administration has done since
the New Deal. Conservatives have readily played the desired Santa
Claus role in the liberal vision of history.
I would like
to ask: how long are we going to keep being suckers? How long will
we keep playing our appointed roles in the scenario of the left?
When are we going to stop playing their game, and start throwing
over the table?
I must admit
that, in one sense, the liberals have had a point. The word “conservative”
is unsatisfactory. The original right never used the term “conservative”:
we called ourselves individualists, or “true liberals,” or rightists.
The word “conservative” only swept the board after the publication
of Russell Kirk’s highly influential Conservative Mind in
1953, in the last years of the original right.
two major problems with the word “conservative.” First, that it
indeed connotes conserving the status quo, which is precisely why
the Brezhnevites were called “conservatives” in the Soviet Union.
Perhaps there was a case for calling us “conservatives” in 1910,
but surely not now. Now we want to uproot the status quo, not conserve
it. And secondly, the word conservative harks back to struggles
in nineteenth-century Europe, and in America conditions and institutions
have been so different that the term is seriously misleading. There
is a strong case here, as in other areas, for what has been called
So what should
we call ourselves? I haven’t got an easy answer, but perhaps we
could call ourselves radical reactionaries, or “radical rightists,”
the label that was given to us by our enemies in the 1950s. Or,
if there is too much objection to the dread term “radical,” we can
follow the suggestion of some of our group to call ourselves “the
Hard Right.” Any of these terms is preferable to “conservative,”
and it also serves the function of separating ourselves out from
the official conservative movement which, as I shall note in a minute,
has been largely taken over by our enemies.
It is instructive
to turn now to a prominent case of right-wing populism headed by
a dynamic leader who appeared in the last years of the original
right, and whose advent, indeed, marked a transition between the
original and the newer, Buckleyite right. Quick now: who was the
most hated, the most smeared man in American politics in this century,
more hated and reviled than even David Duke, even though he was
not a Nazi or a Ku Kluxer? He was not a libertarian, he was not
an isolationist, he was not even a conservative, but in fact
was a moderate Republican. And yet, he was so universally reviled
that his very name became a generic dictionary synonym for evil.
I refer, of
course, to Joe McCarthy. The key to the McCarthy phenomenon was
the comment made by the entire political culture, from moderate
left to moderate right: “we agree with McCarthy’s goals,
we just disagree with his means.” Of course, McCarthy’s goals
were the usual ones absorbed from the political culture: the alleged
necessity of waging war against an international Communist conspiracy
whose tentacles reached from the Soviet Union and spanned the entire
globe. McCarthy’s problem, and ultimately his tragedy, is that he
took this stuff seriously; if communists and their agents and fellow
travelers are everywhere, then shouldn’t we, in the midst of the
Cold War, root them out of American political life?
and the glorious thing about McCarthy was not his goals or his ideology,
but precisely his radical, populist means. For McCarthy was
able, for a few years, to short-circuit the intense opposition of
all the elites in American life: from the Eisenhower-Rockefeller
administration to the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex
to liberal and left media and academic elites – to overcome
all that opposition and reach and inspire the masses directly. And
he did it through television, and without any real movement behind
him; he had only a guerrilla band of a few advisers, but no organization
and no infrastructure.
enough, the response of the intellectual elites to the spectre of
McCarthyism was led by liberals such as Daniel Bell and Seymour
Martin Lipset, who are now prominent neoconservatives. For, in this
era, the neocons were in the midst of the long march which was to
take them from Trotskyism to right-wing Trotskyism to right-wing
social democracy, and finally to the leadership of the conservative
movement. At this stage of their hegira the neocons were Truman-Humphrey-Scoop
intellectual response to McCarthyism was a book edited by Daniel
Bell, The New American Right (1955) later updated and expanded
to The Radical Right (1963), published at a time when McCarthyism
was long gone and it was necessary to combat a new menace, the John
Birch Society. The basic method was to divert attention from the
content of the radical right message and direct attention
instead to a personal smear of the groups on the right.
or hard, Marxist method of smearing opponents of socialism
or communism was to condemn them as agents of monopoly capital or
of the bourgeoisie. While these charges were wrong, at least they
had the virtue of clarity and even a certain charm, compared to
the later tactics of the soft Marxists and liberals of the
1950s and 60s, who engaged in Marxo-Freudian psychobabble to infer,
in the name of psychological “science,” that their opponents were,
well, kind of crazy.
method of the time was invented by one of the contributors to the
Bell volume, and also one of my least favorite distinguished American
historians, Professor Richard Hofstadter. In Hofstadter’s formulation,
any radical dissenters from any status quo, be they rightists
or leftists, engage in a “paranoid” style (and you know, of course,
what paranoids are), and suffer from “status anxiety.”
at any time there are three and only three social groups: those
who are declining in status, those who are rising
in status, and those whose status is about even. (You can’t fault
that analysis!) The declining groups are the ones whom Hofstadter
focused on for the neurosis of status anxiety, which causes them
to lash out irrationally at their betters in a paranoid style, and
you can fill in the rest. But, of course, the rising groups
can also suffer from the anxiety of trying to keep their
higher status, and the level groups can be anxious about a future
decline. The result of his hocus-pocus is a non-falsifiable, universally
valid theory that can be trotted out to smear and dispose of any
person or group which dissents from the status quo. For who, after
all, wants to be, or to associate with, paranoids and the status
the Bell volume is dismissal of these terrible radicals as suffering
from the “politics of resentment.” It is interesting, by the way,
how left-liberals deal with political anger. It’s a question of
semantics. Anger by the good guys, the accredited victim groups,
is designated as “rage,” which is somehow noble: the latest example
was the rage of organized feminism in the Clarence Thomas/Willie
Smith incidents. On the other hand, anger by designated oppressor
groups is not called “rage,” but “resentment”: which conjures up
evil little figures, envious of their betters, skulking around the
edges of the night.
the entire Bell volume is permeated by a frank portrayal of the
noble, intelligent ivy-league governing elite, confronted and harassed
by a mass of odious, uneducated, redneck, paranoid, resentment-filled
authoritarian working and middle-class types in the heartland, trying
irrationally to undo the benevolent rule of wise elites concerned
for the public good.
was not very kind to Hofstadterian liberalism. For Hofstadter and
the others were consistent: they were defending what they considered
a wonderful status quo of elite rule, from any radicals whatever,
be they right or left. And so, Hofstadter and his followers went
back through American history tarring all radical dissenters from
any status quo with the status anxious, paranoid brush, including
such groups as progressives, populists, and Northern abolitionists
before the Civil War.
At the same
time, Bell, in 1960, published a once-famous work proclaiming the
End of Ideology: from now on, consensus elitist liberalism
would rule forever, ideology would disappear, and all political
problems would be merely technical ones, such as which machinery
to use to clear the streets. (Foreshadowing thirty years later,
a similar neocon proclamation of the End of History.) But
shortly afterwards, ideology came back with a bang, with the radical
civil rights and then the New Left revolutions, part of which, I
am convinced, was in reaction to these arrogant liberal doctrines.
Smearing radicals, at least left-wing ones, was no longer
in fashion, either in politics or in historiography.
of course, poor McCarthy was undone, partly because of the smears,
and the lack of a movement infrastructure, and partly too because
his populism, even though dynamic, had no goals and no program whatsoever,
except the very narrow one of rooting out communists. And partly,
too, because McCarthy was not really suited for the television medium
he had ridden to fame: being a “hot” person in a “cool” medium,
with his jowls, his heavy five-o’clock shadow (which also helped
ruin Nixon), and his lack of a sense of humor. And also, too, since
he was neither a libertarian nor really a radical rightist, McCarthy’s
heart was broken by the censure of the U.S. Senate, an institution
which he actually loved.
right, the radical right, had pretty much disappeared by the time
of the second edition of the Bell volume in 1963, and in a minute
we shall see why. But now, all of a sudden, with the entry of Pat
Buchanan into the presidential race, my God, they’re back! The radical
right is back, all over the place, feistier than ever and getting
to this historic phenomenon, by the entire spectrum of established
and correct thought, by all the elites from left over to official
conservatives and neoconservatives, is very much like the reaction
to the return of Godzilla in the old movies. And wouldn’t you know
that they would trot out the old psychobabble, as well as the old
smears of bigotry, anti-Semitism, the specter of Franco, and all
the rest? Every interview with, and article on Pat, dredges his
“authoritarian Catholic” background (ooh!) and the fact that he
fought a lot when he was a kid (gee whiz, like most of the American
Pat has been angry a lot. Ooh, anger! And of course, since
Pat is not only a right-winger but hails from a designated oppressor
group (White Male Irish Catholic), his anger can never be
righteous rage, but only a reflection of a paranoid, status-anxious
personality, filled with, you got it, “resentment.” And sure enough,
this week, January 13, the august New York Times, whose every
word, unlike the words of the rest of us, is fit to print,
in its lead editorial sets the establishment line, a line which
by definition is fixed in concrete, on Pat Buchanan.
the hard-edged and therefore politically incorrect vocabulary
(tsk, tsk!) of Pat Buchanan, the New York Times, I am
sure for the first time, solemnly quotes Bill Buckley as if his
words were holy writ (and I’ll get to that in a minute),
and therefore decides that Buchanan, if not actually anti-Semitic,
has said anti-Semitic things. And the Times concludes with
this final punchline, so reminiscent of the Bell-Hofstadter line
of yesteryear: “What his words convey, much as his bid for the nomination
conveys, is the politics, the dangerous politics, of resentment.”
Why should anyone, in his right mind, resent contemporary
America? Why should anyone, for example, going out into the streets
of Washington or New York, resent what is surely going to
happen to him? But, for heaven’s sake, what person in his right
mind, doesn’t resent it? What person is not filled with noble
rage, or ignoble resentment, or whatever you choose to call it?
want to turn to the question: what happened to the original right,
anyway? And how did the conservative movement get into its present
mess? Why does it need to be sundered, and split apart, and a new
radical right movement created upon its ashes?
to both of these seemingly disparate questions is the same: what
happened to the original right, and the cause of the present mess,
is the advent and domination of the right wing by Bill Buckley and
the National Review. By the mid-1950s, much of the leadership
of the Old Right was dead or in retirement. Senator Taft and Colonel
McCormick had died, and many of the right-wing congressmen had retired.
masses, for a long time short on intellectual leadership, were now
lacking in political leadership as well. An intellectual and power
vacuum had developed on the right, and rushing to fill it, in 1955,
were Bill Buckley, fresh from several years in the CIA, and National
Review, an intelligent, well-written periodical staffed with
ex-communists and ex-leftists eager to transform the right from
an isolationist movement into a crusade to crush the Soviet god
that had failed them.
writing style, while in those days often witty and sparkling, was
rococo enough to give the reader the impression of profound thought,
an impression redoubled by Bill’s habit of sprinkling his prose
with French and Latin terms. Very quickly, National Review
became the dominant, if not the only, power center on the
was reinforced by a brilliantly successful strategy (perhaps guided
by National Review editors trained in Marxist cadre tactics)
of creating front groups: ISI for college intellectuals, Young Americans
for Freedom for campus activists. Moreover, lead by veteran Republican
politico and National Review publisher Bill Rusher, the National
Review complex was able to take over, in swift succession, the
College Young Republicans, then the National Young Republicans,
and finally to create a Goldwater movement in 1960 and beyond.
And so, with
almost Blitzkrieg swiftness, by the early 1960s, the new global
crusading conservative movement, transformed and headed by Bill
Buckley, was almost ready to take power in America. But not quite,
because first, all the various heretics of the right, some left
over from the original right, all the groups that were in any way
radical or could deprive the new conservative movement of its much-desired
respectability in the eyes of the liberal and centrist elite,
all these had to be jettisoned. Only such a denatured, respectable,
non-radical conserving right was worthy of power.
And so the
purges began. One after another, Buckley and National Review
purged and excommunicated all the radicals, all the non-respectables.
Consider the roll-call: isolationists (such as John T. Flynn), anti-Zionists,
libertarians, Ayn Randians, the John Birch Society, and all those
who continued, like the early National Review, to dare to
oppose Martin Luther King and the civil rights revolution after
Buckley had changed and decided to embrace it. But if, by the middle
and late 1960s, Buckley had purged the conservative movement of
the genuine right, he also hastened to embrace any group that proclaimed
its hard anti-communism, or rather anti-Sovietism or anti-Stalinism.
And of course
the first anti-Stalinists were the devotees of the martyred
communist Leon Trotsky. And so the conservative movement, while
purging itself of genuine right-wingers, was happy to embrace anyone,
any variety of Marxist: Trotskyites, Schachtmanites, Mensheviks,
social democrats (such as grouped around the magazine The New
Leader), Lovestonite theoreticians of the American Federation
of Labor, extreme right-wing Marxists like the incredibly beloved
Sidney Hook, anyone who could present not anti-socialist
but suitably anti-Soviet, anti-Stalinist credentials.
The way was
then paved for the final, fateful influx: that of the ex-Trotskyite,
right-wing social democrat, democrat capitalist, Truman-Humphrey-Scoop
Jackson liberals, displaced from their home in the Democratic party
by the loony left that we know so well: the feminist, deconstructing,
quota-loving, advanced victimological left. And also, we should
point out, at least a semi-isolationist, semi anti-war left. These
displaced people are, of course, the famed neoconservatives, a tiny
but ubiquitous group with Bill Buckley as their aging figurehead,
now dominating the conservative movement. Of the 35 neoconservatives,
34 seem to be syndicated columnists.
And so the
neocons have managed to establish themselves as the only right-wing
alternative to the left. The neocons now constitute the right-wing
end of the ideological spectrum. Of the respectable, responsible
right wing, that is. For the neocons have managed to establish the
notion that anyone who might be to the right of them is, by definition,
a representative of the forces of darkness, of chaos, old night,
racism, and anti-Semitism. At the very least.
how the dice have been loaded in our current political game. And
virtually the only prominent media exception, the only genuine rightist
spokesman who has managed to escape neocon anathema has been Pat
It was time.
It was time to trot out the old master, the prince of excommunication,
the self-anointed pope of the conservative movement, William F.
Buckley, Jr. It was time for Bill to go into his old act, to save
the movement that he had made over into his own image. It was time
for the man hailed by neocon Eric Breindel, in his newspaper column
(New York Post, Jan. 16), as the “authoritative voice on
the American right.” It was time for Bill Buckley’s papal bull,
his 40,000-word Christmas encyclical to the conservative movement,
“In Search of Anti-Semitism,” the screed solemnly invoked in the
anti-Buchanan editorial of the New York Times.
The first thing
to say about Buckley’s essay is that it is virtually unreadable.
Gone, all gone is the wit and the sparkle. Buckley’s tendency to
the rococo has elongated beyond measure. His prose is serpentine,
involuted, and convoluted, twisted and qualified, until virtually
all sense is lost. Reading the whole thing through is doing penance
for one’s sins, and one can accomplish the task only if possessed
by a stern sense of duty, as one grits one’s teeth and plows through
a pile of turgid and pointless student term papers – which,
indeed, Buckley’s essay matches in content, in learning, and in
think that my view of Buckley’s and National Review’s role
in the past and present right wing merely reflects my own “paranoid
style,” we turn to the only revealing art of the Buckley piece,
the introduction by his acolyte John O’Sullivan, who, however, is
at least still capable of writing a coherent sentence.
Here is John’s
remarkable revelation of National Review’s self-image: “Since
its foundation, National Review has quietly played the role
of conscience of the right.” After listing a few of Buckley’s purges
– although omitting isolationists, Randians, libertarians,
and anti-civil rightsers – O’Sullivan gets to anti-Semites,
and the need for wise judgment on the issue. And then comes the
revelation of Bill’s papal role: “Before pronouncing [judgment,
that is], we wanted to be sure,” and then he goes on: was there
something substantial in the charges? “Was it a serious sin deserving
ex-communication, an error inviting a paternal reproof, or something
of both?” I’m sure all the defendants in the dock appreciated the
“paternal” reference: Papa Bill, the wise, stern, but merciful father
of us all, dispensing judgment. This statement of O’Sullivan’s is
matched in chutzpah only by his other assertion in the introduction
that his employer’s treatise is a “great read.” For shame, John,
The only other
point worth noting on the purges is Buckley’s own passage on exactly
why he had found it necessary to excommunicate the John Birch Society
(O’Sullivan said it was because they were “cranks”). In a footnote,
Buckley admits that “the Birch society was never anti-Semitic,”
but “it was a dangerous distraction to right reasoning and had to
be exiled. “National Review,” Bill goes on, “accomplished
my! Exiled to outer Siberia! And for the high crime of “distracting”
pope William from his habitual contemplation of pure reason, a distraction
that he never seems to suffer while skiing, yachting, or communing
with John Kenneth Galbraith or Abe Rosenthal! What a wondrous mind
try to summarize Buckley’s essay is to give it far too much credit
for clarity. But, taking that risk, here’s the best I can do:
1. His long-time
disciple and NR editor Joe Sobran is (a) certainly not an
anti-Semite, but (b) is “obsessed with” and “cuckoo about” Israel,
and (c) is therefore “contextually anti-Semitic,” whatever that
may mean, and yet, worst of all, (d) he remains “unrepentant”;
2. Pat Buchanan
is not an anti-Semite, but he has said unacceptably anti-Semitic
things, “probably” from an “iconoclastic temperament,” yet, curiously,
Buchanan too remains unrepentant;
3. Gore Vidal
is an anti-Semite, and the Nation, by presuming to publish
Vidal’s article (by the way, a hilarious one) critical of Norman
Podhoretz has revealed the left’s increasing proclivity for anti-Semitism;
bully-boy disciples at Dartmouth Review are not anti-Semitic
at all, but wonderful kids put upon by vicious leftists; and
5. Norman Podhoretz
and Irving Kristol are wonderful, brilliant people, and it is “unclear”
why anyone should ever want to criticize them, except possibly for
reasons of anti-Semitism.
and the Nation, absurdly treated in Bill’s article, can and
do take care of themselves, in the Nation in a blistering
counterattack in its January 6–13 issue. On Buchanan and Sobran,
there is nothing new, whether of fact or insight: it’s the same
thin old junk, tiresomely rehashed.
however, should be said about Buckley’s vicious treatment of Sobran,
a personal and ideological disciple who has virtually worshipped
his mentor for two decades. Lashing out at a friend and disciple
in public in this fashion, in order to propitiate Podhoretz and
the rest, is odious and repellent: at the very least, we can say
it is extremely tacky.
Buckley’s latest encyclical may play well in the New York Times,
but it’s not going to go down very well in the conservative movement.
The world is different now; it is no longer 1958. National Review
is no longer the monopoly power center on the right. There are new
people, young people, popping up all over the place, Pat Buchanan
for one, all the paleos for another, who frankly don’t give a fig
for Buckley’s papal pronunciamentos. The original right, and all
its heresies is back!
In fact, Bill
Buckley is the Mikhail Gorbachev of the conservative movement. Like
Gorbachev, Bill goes on with his old act, but like Gorbachev, nobody
trembles anymore, nobody bends the knee and goes into exile. Nobody
cares anymore; nobody, except the good old New York Times.
Bill Buckley should have accepted his banquet and stayed retired.
His comeback is going to be as successful as Mohammed Ali’s.
When I was
growing up, I found that the main argument against laissez-faire,
and for socialism, was that socialism and communism were
inevitable: “You can’t turn back the clock!” they chanted, “you
can’t turn back the clock.” But the clock of the once-mighty Soviet
Union, the clock of Marxism-Leninism, a creed that once mastered
half the world, is not only turned back, but lies dead and broken
forever. But we must not rest content with this victory. For though
Marxism-Bolshevism is gone forever, there still remains,
plaguing us everywhere, its evil cousin: call it “soft Marxism,”
“Marxism-Humanism,” “Marxism-Bernsteinism,” “Marxism-Trotskyism,”
“Marxism-Freudianism,” well, let’s just call it “Menshevism,” or
is still here in all its variants, defining our entire respectable
political spectrum, from advanced victimology and feminism on the
left over to neoconservatism on the right. We are now trapped, in
America, inside a Menshevik fantasy, with the narrow bounds of respectable
debate set for us by various brands of Marxists. It is now our task,
the task of the resurgent right, of the paleo movement, to break
those bonds, to finish the job, to finish off Marxism forever.
One of the
authors of the Daniel Bell volume says, in horror and astonishment,
that the radical right intends to repeal the twentieth century.
Heaven forfend! Who would want to repeal the twentieth century,
the century of horror, the century of collectivism, the century
of mass destruction and genocide, who would want to repeal that!
Well, we propose to do just that.
With the inspiration
of the death of the Soviet Union before us, we now know that it
can be done. We shall break the clock of social democracy.
We shall break the clock of the Great Society. We shall break the
clock of the welfare state. We shall break the clock of the New
Deal. We shall break the clock of Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom and
perpetual war. We shall repeal the twentieth century.
One of the
most inspiring and wonderful sights of our time was to see the peoples
of the Soviet Union rising up, last year, to tear down in their
fury the statues of Lenin, to obliterate the Leninist legacy. We,
too, shall tear down all the statues of Franklin D. Roosevelt, of
Harry Truman, of Woodrow Wilson, melt them down and beat them into
plowshares and pruninghooks, and usher in a twenty-first
century of peace, freedom and prosperity.
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 —
Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and appointed Lew as his