Swan Song of the Old Right

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This article
is excerpted from chapter 10 of
Betrayal of the American Right
. An MP3 audio file of this
article, narrated by Keith Hocker, is available
for download

In addition
to being staunch opponents of war and militarism, the Old Right
of the postwar period had a rugged and near-libertarian honesty
in domestic affairs as well. When a nationwide railroad strike loomed,
it was the liberal Harry Truman who proposed to draft the strikers
into the army and force them to keep working, and it was Senator
Taft who led the opposition to the move as slavery.

The National
Association of Manufacturers (NAM), in those days before big business
corporate liberalism had conquered it in the name of a “partnership
of government and industry,” took a firm laissez-faire line. Its
staff economist, Noel Sargent, was a believer in the free market,
and the dean of laissez-faire economics, Ludwig von Mises, was one
of the NAM’s consultants. In those days, the NAM was largely small-business
oriented, and indeed, various small businessmen’s organizations
formed the business base for the organized Right. Indeed, it was
in the high places of the NAM that Robert Welch learned the anti-Establishment
views that were later to erupt into the John Birch Society.

even in those early days, the handwriting was on the wall for the
NAM as a laissez-faire organization. The first great turning point
came in the spring of 1947, after a conservative Republican majority
had captured both houses of Congress in a mass uprising of voters
against the Fair Deal, and partially in reaction against the power
of labor unionism. The NAM, since the inception of the Wagner Act,
had been pledged, year in and year out, to outright repeal of the
law, and therefore to a repeal of the special privileges that the
Wagner Act gave to union organizing. When the 80th Congress opened
in the winter of 1946 the NAM, which now finally had its chance
to succeed in Wagner repeal, shifted its stand in a dramatic battle,
in which the corporate big-business liberals defeated the old laissez-fairists,
headed by B.E. Hutchinson of Chrysler, who was also a leading trustee
of FEE. The NAM, on the point of a significant laissez-faire victory
in labor relations, thus turned completely and called simply for
extending the powers of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
to regulate unions as well as business – a notion which soon
took shape in the Taft-Hartley Act. It was the Taft-Hartley Act
that completed the Wagner Act process of taming as well as privileging
industrial unionism, and bringing the new union movement into the
cozy junior partnership with big business and Big Government that
we know so well today. Once again, Taft, in opposition to the purists
and “extreme” rightists in Congress, played a compromising role.

One thing that
the Old Right specialized in was anti-Establishment muckraking.
The Hearst columns of Westbrook Pegler were a leading example.[1]
But particularly delightful was the anti–Wall Street muckraking
of the Chicago Tribune under Colonel McCormick. For the
Tribune understood clearly and zeroed in on the Wall Street-Anglophile
Establishment that ran and still runs this country, and was fearless
in continuing exposés of this ruling elite. The old files of
the Chicago Tribune are a rich source of information for
the anti-Establishment historian.[2]

One example
is a series of articles by William Fulton and others in the Tribune,
from July 15 to July 31, 1951, of what we might call “Rhodes scholar
revisionism,” in which the journalists traced the Rhodes scholar
Anglophile influence in the foreign-policymaking bodies of the US
government. The title for the series was “Rhodes’ Goal: Return U.S.
to British Empire.” Named as Rhodes scholars were such leading American
“internationalists” as Dean Rusk, George McGhee, Stanley K. Hornbeck,
W. Walton Butterworth, Professor Bernadotte E. Schmitt, Ernest A.
Gross (an Oxford student, though not strictly a Rhodes scholar),
ditto Henry R. Luce, Clarence K. Streit, Frank Aydelotte, and many
others, including tie-ins with the Council on Foreign Relations,
the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations, and the New York Times
and Herald-Tribune.

One of the
most sophisticated pieces of right-wing muckraking in this era was
undertaken by the Reece Committee of the House to investigate tax-exempt
foundations during 1953–54. Staffed by such leading conservatives
as attorney René Wormser (brother of Felix E. Wormser, Eisenhower’s
Secretary of Interior) and Norman Dodd, the Reece Committee zeroed
in on alleged Communist and also liberal and socialist tie-ins with
the large foundations: Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, etc. But, furthermore,
the committee attacked the large foundations for invariably sponsoring
empirical and quantitatively oriented studies in the social sciences
and thus leading these disciplines into a “scientistic” promotion
of technocratic and spurious “value-freedom” to the neglect of the
qualitative and the ethical. Here, the Reece Committee, following
upon the searching critiques of liberal empiricism and scientism
leveled by F.A. Hayek, and by the conservative University of Pennsylvania
sociologist Albert H. Hobbs, hit on an extremely important flaw
in the new, postwar social science, but the committee’s insights
were buried in an avalanche of vituperation in the Establishment
press. The foundation’s man on the committee, obstructing its purposes
and in quiet league with the Eisenhower White House, was Rep. Wayne
Hays (D-OH), a Truman and later a Lyndon Johnson Democrat.[3]

Some of the
statements of maverick, antiquantitative social scientists to the
committee make fascinating reading in the light of the rediscovery
by the New Left in recent years of a critical view of empiricist,
pseudo “value-free” social science. Thus University of Pennsylvania
sociologist James H.S. Bossard wrote to the Reece Committee:

For some
years, I have regarded with increasing apprehension the development
of what I have called the comptometer school of research in social
sciences. By this I mean the gathering of detailed social data
and their manipulation by all the available statistical techniques.
… My own interest lies more in the development of qualitative
insights. This accords with my judgment of the nature of the life
process, that it cannot be reduced to statistical formulas but
that it is a richly diversified complex of relations.[4]

In a typically
hard-hitting letter, Harvard sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin affirmed
that foundations discriminate in favor of empirical research and
“greatly discriminate against theoretical, historical, and other
forms of nonempirical research,” aided and abetted by discrimination
on behalf of mathematical and mechanical models, “or other imitative
varieties of so-called natural science sociology.” The results of
this social science have been in most cases “perfectly fruitless
and almost sterile” or even in some cases, “rather destructive morally
and mentally for this Nation.”[5]

There was in
the work of the Reece Committee, however, a grave inner contradiction,
one that in the long run was probably more destructive of its work
than all the sniping of Wayne Hays. This was the fact that the conservatives
and quasi libertarians on the committee were wielding the coercive
arm of government – the congressional committee – to harass
private foundations. And for what reason? Largely because the foundations
had allegedly been advocating government control over private organizations!
And the Reece Committee ended by advocating government restrictions
on the private foundations; in short, the committee called for further
government controls over private institutions for the sin of advocating
government controls over private institutions! The upshot was merely
to launch the modern trend toward ever-tighter regulation of foundations,
but not in any way to change their ideological or methodological

Another fascinating
piece of combined muckraking and analysis in this era was a large,
sprawling book by Chicago Tribune reporter Frank Hughes,
and the Press
The Hughes book was a lengthy attack on the corporate-liberal “Commission”
on the Freedom of the Press, which had been largely financed by
Henry Luce and was headed by Robert M. Hutchins.[7]
The “Commission,” which had published its report in 1947, had called
for a “free” press in the modern sense of being “responsible”; in
contrast, Hughes countered with a ringing affirmation of the Bill
of Rights and the “old-fashioned” American ideal of the freedom
of the press. Hughes pointed out that the basic idea of modern liberals

to make the
press “accountable” or “responsible” to society or the community,
which … can only mean to government. … If liberty means anything
at all, freedom of the press is freedom from the government.[8]

The great watershed,
the single event that most marked the passing of the old isolationist
Right, was the defeat of Senator Taft by Eisenhower in the Wall
Street capture of the 1952 presidential nomination. With the Democrats
vulnerable, 1952 was at last a chance for the Old Right to achieve
dominance on the national scene. But the defeat of Taft in the outrageous
Eisenhower theft of the nomination, coupled with the death of the
great senator the following year, ended the Old Right as a significant
faction of the Republican Party. In effect, it also was to end my
own identification with Republicanism and with the “extreme right”
on the political spectrum.

I had not been
active in the Young Republican Club since the disappointment of
the Dewey nomination in 1948, but I was still a member, and Ronnie
Hertz, a libertarian friend of mine, exercised some clout in the
club as head of its midtown luncheon committee, to which we invited
isolationist and libertarian speakers. I was not a Taft enthusiast
on any absolute scale, because of his repeated compromises and “sellouts”
in domestic and foreign affairs, and in the climactic meeting of
the club that voted for the presidential endorsement, in which Taft
won a sizable minority, Ronnie and I cast our two votes for Senator
Everett Dirksen (R-IL). In that more innocent day, Dirksen had not
yet won his stripes as the supreme political opportunist; instead,
under the aegis of the Chicago Tribune, he then had a solidly
“extremist” voting record, including one of the few votes cast against
the draft. But in the momentous convention itself, I was of course
for Taft and still more in opposition to the leftist / corporate-liberal
/ Wall Street takeover, which conquered on the crest of an outrageous
press campaign implying that Taft had “stolen” the Southern delegations.
When Taft was cheated out of the nomination, I for one walked out
of the Republican Party, never to return. In the election I supported
Stevenson, largely as the only way to get the Wall Street incubus
off the back of the Republican Party.

It is important
to note that the later, 1960s Republican right wing, the Goldwater-Buckley
Right, had no connection with the old Taft Right, even organizationally.
Thus, Barry Goldwater was himself an Eisenhower delegate from Arizona;
the conservative warmonger Senator General Pat Hurley was an Eisenhower
man from New Mexico; the two doyens of the China Lobby were anti-Taft:
Representative Walter Judd (R-MN) being for Eisenhower and Senator
William Knowland (R-CA) being a supporter of Governor Earl Warren,
who was decisive in throwing his support to Ike on the Southern
delegate question.

Richard Nixon
was also instrumental in the California deal, and both Nixon and
Warren went on to their suitable rewards. And furthermore, the famous
Southern delegation fight was scarcely what it seemed on the surface.
The Taft delegations in the South were largely Negro, hence their
name of “Black and Tan,” and were led by the veteran black Republican
Perry Howard of Mississippi, whereas the Eisenhower delegations,
the representatives of the “progressive” white suburbanite businessmen
of the Southern Republican future, were known quite properly as
the Lilywhites.

let us note the bitter but accurate portrayal of the Taft defeat
by Chicago Tribune reporter Chesly Manly two years later,
as an example also of the right-wing muckraking style:

New York
banks, connected with the country’s great corporations by financial
ties and interlocking directorates, exerted their powerful influence
on the large uncommitted delegations for Eisenhower. They did
it more subtly, but no less effectively, than in 1940 when they
captured the Republican convention for Willkie. Having made enormous
profits out of foreign aid and armaments orders, the bankers and
corporation bosses understood each other perfectly. The Wall Street
influence was most fruitful in the Pennsylvania delegation …
and in that of Michigan. … Arthur Summerfield, Michigan’s national
committeeman and the largest Chevrolet dealer in the world, was
rewarded for his delivery of the bulk of the Michigan delegation
by appointment as Eisenhower’s campaign manager and later as his
Postmaster General. Charles E. Wilson, President of the General
Motors Corporation, which had strong influence in the Michigan
delegation, became Secretary of Defense. Winthrop W. Aldrich,
head of the Chase National Bank and kinsman of the Rockefeller
brothers, the front man for Wall Street, was in Chicago pulling
wires for Eisenhower, and his labors paid off with an appointment
as ambassador to Great Britain.[9]

With the election
of Eisenhower, the old right wing of the Republican Party began
to fade out of the picture. But Senator Taft had one final moment
of glory. In the last speech on foreign policy delivered before
his death, Taft attacked the foreign-policy hegemony beginning to
be exercised by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles,[10]
the epitome of global warmongering and anticommunism, the man who
hailed from the top Wall Street law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell
and was a long-time counsel for the Rockefeller interests. In this
speech, delivered on May 26, 1953, Taft leveled at the Dulles policies
the same criticism he had made against the similar policies of Harry
Truman: the system of worldwide military alliances and aid was “the
complete antithesis of the UN Charter,” a threat to Russian and
Chinese security, and furthermore valueless for the defense of the
United States.

Taft in particular
centered his fire on Dulles’s nascent policy in Southeast Asia.
He was especially concerned because the United States was increasing
to 70 percent its support of the costs of the fight of the French
puppet regime in Indochina against the revolutionary forces of Ho
Chi Minh. Taft feared – with great prescience! – that
Dulles’s policy, upon the inevitable defeat of French imperialism
in Indochina, would lead to its eventual replacement by American
imperialism, and – to Taft the worst of all possibilities –
the sending of American forces to Vietnam to fight the guerrillas.

Declared Taft:

I have never
felt that we should send American soldiers to the Continent of
Asia, which, of course, included China proper and Indo-China,
simply because we are so outnumbered in fighting a land war on
the Continent of Asia that it would bring about complete exhaustion
even if we were able to win. … So today, as since 1947 in Europe
and 1950 in Asia, we are really trying to arm the world against
Communist Russia, or at least furnish all the assistance which
can be of use to them in opposing Communism.

Is this policy
of uniting the free world against Communism in time of peace going
to be a practical long-term policy? I have always been a skeptic
on the subject of the military practicability of NATO. … I have
always felt that we should not attempt to fight Russia on the
ground on the Continent of Europe any more than we should attempt
to fight China on the Continent of Asia.[11]

In the months
immediately following Taft’s death, American support of the French
armies and of its puppet government in Vietnam was greatly increased
by Dulles, but while Dulles and Nixon urged American bombing of
Ho Chi Minh’s forces, Eisenhower himself, who had been greatly influenced
by his brief but deep association with Taft during and after the
1952 campaign, listened to such Taft supporters in his cabinet as
George Humphrey and decided not to use American forces directly
in Vietnam without the prior consent of Congress. By following this
Taftian principle, the Eisenhower administration allowed the Great
Debate in the Senate, as well as the opposition of Great Britain,
to block it from an immediate Vietnam adventure.

the election of Eisenhower, the old right wing of the Republican
Party began to fade out of the picture.”

The ex-isolationist
Alexander Wiley (R-WI) summed up the feelings of the majority of
Senate Republicans when he declared, “If war comes under this administration,
it could well be the end of the Republican Party.”

And Senator
Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) summed up the view of the Democrats by
saying that he was opposed to “sending American GIs into the mud
and muck of Indochina on a bloodletting spree to perpetuate colonialism
and white man’s exploitation in Asia.”[12]

As a result
of these pressures, and in defiance of Dulles, Nixon, and the Pentagon,
President Eisenhower moved toward the Geneva Agreement of 1954;
all-out American intervention in Vietnam was mercifully postponed,
though unfortunately not permanently abandoned. In death, Senator
Robert Taft’s influence on American foreign policy was greater,
at least for the moment, than it had ever been in life.


Interestingly, every one of the delightful exposés of Franklin
and Eleanor Roosevelt by Pegler, which caused such shock and horror
among liberals at the time, has now turned out to be correct –
with Pegler, of course, never receiving credit by historians for
his pioneering journalism.

For the only example that I know of an appreciative attitude toward
right-wing muckraking by a New Left historian, see G. William
Domhoff, The
Higher Circles: The Governing Class in America
(New York:
Random House, 1970), pp. 281–308.

A valuable summary of the Committee’s work can be found in a book
by its general counsel, René A. Wormser, Foundations:
Their Power and Influence
(New York: Devin-Adair, 1958).
Some of Wormser’s section heads are instructive: “Politics in
the Social Sciences,” “The Exclusion of the Dissident,” “Foundation-Fostered
Scientism,” “The ‘Social Engineers’ and the ‘Fact-Finding Mania,'”
“Mass Research-Integration and Conformity.” Wormser reports that
the foundations were able to force the committee to fire two particularly
knowledgeable staff members early in the investigation. Both of
these men were libertarian oriented: my friend George B. DeHuszar,
close to the Chicago Tribune people; and the Viennese
economist Dr. Karl Ettinger, friend of Ludwig von Mises. Ettinger’s
uncompleted studies would have investigated patterns of giving
in foundation support of colleges, as well as a survey of control
of the learned journals as an instrument of power and their relationships
with the foundations, and a study of the interlocks between foundations,
research institutions, and government. For the full flavor of
the Reece Committee, see the Hearings Before the Special Committee
to Investigate Tax Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations,
House of Representatives, 83rd Congress, 2nd session, Parts 1
and 2 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1954).
For a conservative critique of scientism in that era, see Albert
H. Hobbs, Social
Problems and Scientism
(Pittsburgh: Stackpole Co., 1953).

Hearings, p. 1188.

Ibid., p. 1191. Also see the remarks of Harvard sociologist Carle
C. Zimmerman, in ibid., pp. 1193–94.

(New York: Devin-Adair, 1950).

The private “commission” included such liberal intellectuals as
Zechariah Chafee, Jr., William E. Hocking, Harold Lasswell, Reinhold
Niebuhr, George Schuster, Robert Redfield, Charles E. Merriam,
and Archibald MacLeish; and businessman Beardsley Ruml and counsel
John Dickinson.

Hughes, Prejudice and the Press, p. 5.

Chesly Manly, The
Twenty-Year Revolution: From Roosevelt to Eisenhower

(Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1954), pp. 20–21.

The Dulles family stain on American foreign policy included John
Foster’s brother Allen, who headed the CIA, and his sister Eleanor,
at the Asia desk of the State Department.

Robert A. Taft, “United States Foreign Policy: Forget United Nations
in Korea and Far East,” Vital Speeches 19, no. 17 (June
15, 1953): 530–31. Also see Leonard P. Liggio, “Why
the Futile Crusade?
and Right
1, no. 1 (Spring, 1965): 60–62. [Available
in PDF.]

Bernard B. Fall, The
Two Viet-Nams
(New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1963),
pp. 227–28. Also see Liggio, “Why the Futile Crusade?” p.

from Mises.org.

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

Best of Murray Rothbard

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