Libertarian Cover for the Corporate State

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This
article first appeared in the March 1, 1969, issue of The
Libertarian Forum
under the title The Nixon Administration:
Creeping Cornuellism.

Changeovers
in Administration are always a disheartening time for any thoughtful
observer of the political scene. The volume of treacle and pap
rises to the heavens, as the wit and wisdom and the high statesmanship
of both the outgoing and incoming rascals are trumpeted across
the land. But this year things are even worse than ever. First
we had to suffer the apotheosis of Lyndon Baines Johnson, before
last November the most universally reviled President of modern
times; but after November, suddenly lovable and wise. And now
Richard Nixon has had his sharp edges dissolved and his whole
Person made diffuse and mellow; he too has become uniquely lovable
to all. How much longer must we suffer this tripe? It is bad enough
that we have to live under a despotic government; must we also
have our intelligence systematically defiled? Already, Ted Lewis
of the New York Daily News, a dedicated Nixonian,
tells us gleefully that the new charm and grace and folksy friendliness
of Dick and his aides are so pronounced that maybe this time the
Presidential “honeymoon” will last the full four years.

Amidst
the cloud of goo surrounding the new Administration, it has been
difficult for anyone to penetrate the fog and figure out what
the new President is all about. Of the thousands of top jobs at
the immediate disposal of the new Administration, only 90 have
been filled. We have been getting inured to both parties and both
sets of rulers having the same policies; but now it looks as if
the very same people continue in power, regardless of who happens
to be chosen by the public. How much clearer can it be that the
much-vaunted free elections in the United States are a sham and
a fraud, designed to lull the public into believing that their
votes really count? It had long become physically impossible for
any of us to cast a vote against such ageless and lifetime oligarchs
as J. Edgar Hoover; now the same applies to almost everyone in
government. In the few cases where the same people do not remain,
there is a game of musical chairs with a few people shuffling
in and out of the usual Establishment institutions: General Dynamics,
Cal Tech, Litton Industries, the Chase Bank, etc. Certainly nothing
startling can be expected on Vietnam, where Ellsworth Bunker remains
as Ambassador, William Bundy, a longtime hawk, remains in the
State Department post on Southeast Asia, and Henry Sabotage returns
to head the negotiations in Paris.

Add to
all this the fact that the Nixon Administration has been remarkably
quiet and torpid – to the hosannahs of the press who proclaim
that a return to Babbitt is just what the country needs –
and one begins to wonder if there will be any change at all. To
the cognoscenti, a little-heralded article in the Washington
Post (Jan. 26) makes clear that a new note will indeed be
added. It is a note that will mark the peculiar essence of the
Nixon content and style; we might call it “Creeping Cornuellism."

The rise
to fame and fortune of Richard C. Cornuelle is a peculiarly 20th-century
variant of the Alger success story. Twenty years ago, Dick, a
bright young libertarian, was a student of the eminent laissez-faire
economist Ludwig von Mises at New York University; and with
a few other libertarians of that era he soon saw that the consistent
libertarian and laissez-faire position is really “right-wing
anarchism."

As the
years went on, Dick decided to abandon the world of scholarship
for direct action, which he originally saw as bringing us closer
to anarchism in practical, realistic terms. On reading De Tocqueville,
he claims to have been the first person in over a century to realize
that there exists, in addition to government and private business,
a third set of institutions – non-profit organizations. Anyone
who had ever heard of a church bazaar also realized this, but
Dick brushed such considerations aside; he had found his gimmick,
his shtick. He dubbed these non-profit institutions the
“independent sector," and he was off to the races.

After
several years of promoting such startlingly new activities as
private welfare to the aged, and loans to college students, Dick
found a disciple: T. George Harris, an editor of Look. Taking
advantage of the Goldwater debacle, Harris published an article
in Look at the year’s end of 1964, hailing Dick Cornuelle
as the New Messiah, of the Republican party and of the nation,
and heralding as the new Gospel a book which Cornuelle was working
on – with the substantial assistance of Harris himself. On the strength
of the article, Dick’s book was published by Random House, he
became Executive Vice-president of the National Association of
Manufacturers, and revered advisor to Nixon, Romney, and Reagan,
thus pulling off one of the neatest tricks of the decade.

Cornuelle’s
stress was on the glory of private charitable institutions, and
on the importance of businessmen contributing to more private
welfare programs. In another worshipful article following up the
Look piece, the San Francisco Examiner (March 28,
1965) asked Dick the $64 question: In essence, if the voluntary
welfare sector is so great, where do you fit in? In short,
what’s your program? Here entered the virus of Cornuellism. For
it seems that, as superb as it is, the “Independent Sector didn’t
keep pace while the rest of the country was developing.” The Independent
Sector, it seems, has “never learned to organize human activity
efficiently.” The Examiner adds: To show the Independents
how, Cornuelle thinks it may be necessary to add another department
to the Federal government, of all things … It would be an agency
that would find out what public problems are coming up and decide
how to meet them effectively.” Proclaiming enthusiastic support
from all wings of the Republican Party, as well
as – big surprise! – a “number of liberal Democrats,"
Cornuelle wistfully admitted that the one exception to the Cornuelle
bandwagon was Governor Rockefeller, because “He’s committed
to state action as opposed to Federal action.” So much for right-wing
anarchism!

There
is no need to keep belaboring the Cornuelle Saga. After all we
are not so much interested in the triumph of one man’s career
over “dogmatism” as we are in what this portends for the Nixon
Administration. For here is what the Washington Post now reports:
a “central theme” of the new Administration will be a nationwide
drive to stimulate “voluntary action” against social ills. It
adds that Secretary George Romney is “in charge of planning the
voluntary action effort.” This concept needs to be savored: government,
the quintessence of coercion, is going to plan a nationwide
“voluntary” effort. George Orwell, where art thou now? War is
Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Voluntary Action is Government Planning.

The Post
goes on to say that Romney, Secretary Finch, and the President
“are devotees of the idea that vast and untapped energies of volunteers
in an ‘independent sector’ can transform the Nation.” Nixon endorsed
the idea in 1965, and recently declared that “the President should
be the chief patron of citizen efforts.” And it turns out that
last year, Secretary Finch was co-author of a book on the independent
sector, with – you guessed it – Richard C. Cornuelle,
the “godfather of independent action” and head of the Nixon task-force
on independent voluntary action. Two major programs are emerging:
a mixed public-private organization chartered by the Federal government
to stimulate voluntary action drives, and a series of Presidential
awards, like the World War II Navy “E” for Efficiency, to be bestowed
by the President in person for outstanding voluntary efforts.

Oh right-wing
anarchy, where art thou now? So now we are to have “voluntary”
actors bedecked with honors by their Chief, the nation’s top coercive
actor; and we will have Dick’s long-standing dream of a Federal
agency to stimulate and coordinate these efforts. The Libertarian,
for one, would not bet a substantial sum against the prospect
of our old friend Dick being appointed to head the new bureau.
Who, after all, is better qualified?

But
we must not look at this sordid story as merely the saga of a
former anarchist who coined a “new" political philosophy
which might well result in his climbing to a high post in government.
The situation is far more sinister than that. For this “voluntary”
hogwash has a familiar smell: the smell of the Presidency of Herbert
Hoover, whose political life-style was one of frenetically promoting
“voluntary” programs, with the mailed fist of governmental coercion
always resting inside the velvet glove. Hoover’s pseudo-“voluntary”
New Deal was the complete forerunner of Franklin Roosevelt’s candidly
coercive New Deal. It has another smell: the smell of Mussolini’s
fascism, in which coercive government multiplied its power by
mobilizing the support of masses of misguided "volunteers”
from among the citizenry. And finally, Nixon-Cornuellism has the
smell of the burgeoning corporate state – the political economy
of fascism – which has increasingly marked the American system.
It is the “enlightened” corporate state where nothing is any longer
distinctively “private” or “public”; everything is cozily mixed,
in an ever-intensifying “partnership” of Big Government and Big
Business (with Big Unionism as the happy junior partner). This
is the sort of polity and economy that we have in the United States,
and Creeping Cornuellism embodies still more of it.

Not
only more of it; for Nixon-Cornuellism is, to the libertarian,
a peculiarly repulsive variant of American corporatism. For it
cloaks and camouflages the viper of statism in the soothing raiment
of voluntaristic and pseudolibertarian rhetoric. What political
style can be more disgusting than that?

Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He
was also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
.

Murray
Rothbard Archives

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