Two Rights, Old and New Chapter 1 of The Betrayal of the American Right

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In
the spring of 1970, a new political term – "the hard hats"
– burst upon the American consciousness. As the hard-hatted
construction workers barreled their way around the Wall Street area,
beating up college kids and peace demonstrators, earning the admiration
of the right wing and a citation from President Nixon, one of the
banners they raised summed up in a single phrase how remarkably
the right wing has changed over the past two decades. For the banner
said simply: "God Bless the Establishment." In that single
phrase, so typical of the current right wing, the hard-hats were
expressing the age-old political philosophy of Conservatism, that
philosophy which formed the central core of the originally labeled
"Conservatism" of early nineteenth-century Europe. In
fact, it is the philosophy that has marked genuinely conservative
thought, regardless of label, since the ancient days of Oriental
despotism: an all-encompassing reverence for "Throne-and-Altar,"
for whatever divinely sanctioned State apparatus happened to be
in existence. In one form or another, "God Bless the Establishment"
has always been the cry on behalf of State power.

But how many
Americans realize that, not so long ago, the American right wing
was almost the exact opposite of what we know today? In fact, how
many know that the term "Establishment" itself, now used
almost solely as a term of opprobrium by the Left, was first applied
to America not by C. Wright Mills or other Left sociologists, but
by National Review theoretician Frank S. Meyer, in the early
days of that central organ of the American Right? In the mid-1950s,
Meyer took a term which had previously been used only – and
rather affectionately – to describe the ruling institutions
of Great Britain, and applied the term with proper acidity to the
American scene. Broader and more subtle than "ruling class,"
more permanent and institutionalized than a "power elite,"
"the Establishment" quickly became a household word. But
the ironic and crucial point is that Meyer's and National Review's
use of the term in those days was bitterly critical: the spirit
of the right wing, then and particularly earlier, was far more "God
Damn" than "God Bless" the establishment.1 The
difference between the two right wings, "Old" and "New,"
and how one was transformed into the other, is the central theme
of this book.

The Old Right,
which constituted the American right wing from approximately the
mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, was, if nothing else, an Opposition
movement. Hostility to the Establishment was its hallmark, its very
lifeblood. In fact, when in the 1950s the monthly newsletter RIGHT
attempted to convey to its readers news of the right wing, it
was of course forced to define the movement it would be writing
about – and it found that it could define the right wing only
in negative terms: in its total opposition to what it conceived
to be the ruling trends of American life. In brief, the Old Right
was born and had its being as the opposition movement to the New
Deal, and to everything, foreign and domestic, that the New Deal
encompassed: at first, to burgeoning New Deal statism at home, and
then, later in the '30s, to the drive for American global intervention
abroad. Since the essence of the Old Right was a reaction against
runaway Big Government at home and overseas, this meant that the
Old Right was necessarily, even if not always consciously, libertarian
rather than statist, "radical" rather than traditional
conservative apologists for the existing order.

Notes

  1. By the 1964
    campaign, the irreverent Rightist Noel E. Parmentel, Jr., was
    writing, in his "Folk Songs for Conservatives":

    Won't
    you come home, Bill Buckley,
    Won't you come home
    From the Establishment?

Table
of Contents: The Betrayal of the American Right

Murray
Rothbard Archives

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