World War II: The Nadir Chapter 6 of The Betrayal of the American Right

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The
advent of World War II brought the Old Right to its darkest days.
Harassed, reviled, persecuted, the intellectuals and agitators of
the Old Right, the libertarians and the isolationists, folded their
tents and disappeared from view. While it is true that the isolationist
Republicans experienced a resurgence in the 1942 elections, they
were no longer supported by an ideological vanguard. The America
First Committee quickly dissolved after Pearl Harbor and went to
war – despite the pleas of the bulk of its militants to continue
being a focus of opposition to the nation's course. Charles Lindbergh
totally abandoned the ideological and political arena and joined
the war effort.

Among the intellectuals,
there was, amidst the monolith of wartime propaganda, no room or
hearing for libertarian or antiwar views. The veteran leaders of
libertarianism were deprived of a voice. H.L. Mencken had retired
from politics to write his charming and nostalgic autobiography.
Albert Jay Nock found all the journals and magazines closed to his
pen. Nock's leading disciple, Frank Chodorov, had been ousted from
his post as head of the Henry George School of New York for his
opposition to the war. Oswald Garrison Villard was virtually shut
out of the magazines and was forced to confine himself to letters
to his friends; in one of them he prophesied bitterly that "when
you and I have passed off the scene the country will be called upon
by some cheap poor white like Harry Truman to save the world from
bolshevism and preserve the Christian religion." For the Old
Right these were gloomy times indeed, and Villard was ready to select
his epitaph:

He grew old
in an age he condemned

Felt the
dissolving throes
Of a Social order he loved
And like the Theban seer
Died in his enemies' day.1

For the Old
Left, in contrast, World War II was a glorious age, the fulfillment
and the promise of a New Dawn. Everywhere, in the United States
and in western Europe, the liberal ideals of central planning, of
a new planned order staffed by Brain Trusters and liberal intellectuals,
seemed to be the wave of the future as well as the present. In the
colleges and among the opinion molders, any conservative views seemed
as dead and outmoded as the dodo, confined to the dustbin of history.
And no one was more pleased at this burgeoning New Deal collectivism
than the Communist Party. Its new Popular Front line of the late
1930s, a line that had replaced its old harsh revolutionary views,
seemed more than vindicated by the glorious New Order a-borning.
In foreign affairs, the United States was marching hand in hand
with the Soviet Union in a glorious war to defeat fascism and expand
democracy. Domestically, the Communists, under Earl Browder as their
leader, exulted in their newfound respectability; the Browderite
line of arriving at socialism through ever greater and more centralizing
New Deal reforms seemed to be working in glorious fashion. The Communists
trumpeted that "Communism was Twentieth-century Americanism,"
and they were in the forefront of the new patriotism – and
of a super-identification with the American Leviathan, foreign and
domestic. Communists played an exhilarating, if subordinate, role
in the war effort, in planning war production, in giving orientation
lectures in the armed forces, and in calling for persecution of
all possible opponents of the war. Earl Browder even seemed to find
a willing ear at the White House. In their role as leaders in the
CIO the Communists sternly put down any attempt at strikes or civil
rights agitation that might deflect any energy from the glorious
war. Indeed, so heady were the Communists' dreams that they took
the lead in advocating a permanent no-strike pledge even after the
war. As Earl Browder put it:

[W]e frankly
declare that we are ready to cooperate in making capitalism work
effectively in the postwar period. . . . We Communists are opposed
to permitting an explosion of class conflict in our country when
the war ends . . . we are now extending the perspective of national
unity for many years into the future.2

An eloquent
cry against this wartime atmosphere arose, in a brilliant anti-New
Deal novel published after the war by John Dos Passos, a lifelong
radical and individualist who had been pushed from "extreme
Left" to "extreme Right" by the march of war and
corporate statism in America. Dos Passos wrote:

At home we
organized bloodbanks and civilian defense and imitated the rest
of the world by setting up concentration camps (only we called
them relocation centers) and stuffing into them American citizens
of Japanese ancestry (Pearl Harbor the date that will live in
infamy) without benefit of habeas corpus. . . .

The President
of the United States talked the sincere democrat and so did the
members of Congress. In the Administration there were devout believers
in civil liberty. "Now we're busy fighting a war; we'll deploy
all four freedoms later on," they said. . . .

War is a
time of Caesars. The President of the United States was a man
of great personal courage and supreme confidence in his powers
of persuasion. He never spared himself a moment, flew to Brazil
and Casablanca, Cairo to negotiate at the level of the leaders;
at Teheran the triumvirate without asking anybody's leave got
to meddling with history; without consulting their constituents,
revamped geography, divided up the bloody globe and left the freedoms
out.

And the American
People were supposed to say thank you for the century of the Common
Man turned over for relocation behind barbed wire so help him
God.

We learned.
There were things we learned to do but we have not learned, in
spite of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence
and the great debates at Richmond and Philadelphia, how to put
power over the lives of men into the hands of one man and to make
him use it wisely.3

It was in this
stifling political and ideological atmosphere that I grew to political
consciousness. Economically, I had been a conservative since the
eighth grade, and exclusive contact with liberals and leftists in
high school and college only served to sharpen and intensify this
commitment. During World War II, I was an undergraduate at Columbia
University, and it seemed to my developing conservative and libertarian
spirit that there was no hope and no ideological allies anywhere
in the country. At Columbia, in New York generally, and in the intellectual
press there was only the Center-Left monolith trumpeting the New
Order. Opinion on campus ranged from Social Democratic liberals
to Communists and their allies, and there seemed to be little to
choose between them. Apart from the fraternity boys and the jocks
who may have been instinctively conservative but had no interest
in politics or ideology, I seemed to be totally alone. It was rumored
that there was, indeed, one other "Republican" on campus;
but he was an English major interested solely in literary matters,
and so we never came into contact. All around me, the Lib-Left was
echoing the same horror: "We are the government, so
why are you so negative about government action?" "We
must learn from Hitler, learn about planning the economy."
And my uncle, a long-time member of the Communist Party, condescendingly
told my conservative father that he would be safe in the postwar
world, "provided that he kept quiet about politics." The
New Order indeed seemed close at hand.

But just when
the days were darkest, and just when despair seemed the order of
the day for opponents of statism and despotism, individuals and
little groups were stirring, unbeknownst to me or anyone else, deep
in the catacombs, thinking and writing to keep alive the feeble
flame of liberty. The veteran libertarians found themselves forced
to find an obscure home among conservative publicists of the "extreme
Right." The aging Albert Jay Nock, now in his 70s, found a
home at the National Economic Council of the veteran right-wing
isolationist Merwin K. Hart; in the spring of 1943, several wealthy
friends induced Hart to set up a monthly Economic Council Review
of Books, which Nock wrote and edited for the duration of the
war. Frank Chodorov, ousted from the Henry George School, eked out
a precarious living by founding a superbly written, one-man monthly
broadsheet analysis in 1944, published from a dingy loft
in lower Manhattan. There, Chodorov began to apply and expand the
Nockian analysis of the State, and worked on a theoretical economic
complement to Nock's historical Our Enemy, the State, a work
which Chodorov issued in bound mimeographed form shortly after the
end of the war.4 John T. Flynn found a home with the
long-standing right-wing outfit, the Committee for Constitutional
Government, and its offshoot, America's Future, Inc. The veteran
publicist Garet Garrett, ousted in the shakeup at the Saturday
Evening Post, was able to found an obscure one-man quarterly,
American Affairs, issued as a minor part of the operations
of the statistical organization of American business, the National
Industrial Conference Board. In the Los Angeles area, Leonard E.
Read, general manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, was
converted to the laissez-faire libertarian creed by William
C. Mullendore, head of the Commonwealth Edison Company, while Raymond
Cyrus Hoiles, anarcho-capitalist publisher of the daily Santa
Ana Register (and later to be publisher of a string of "Freedom
Newspapers"), reprinted the works of the nineteenth-century
libertarian French economist Frédéric Bastiat. And,
on the Left, former Trotskyist turned anarcho-pacifist Dwight Macdonald
founded his virtually one-man monthly Politics, which tirelessly
lambasted the war and its attendant statism.

What was destined
to be the longest-lasting "right-wing" journalistic venture
launched during the war was the Washington weekly Human Events,
founded in 1944 as a four-page newsletter with a periodically appended
four-page article of analysis. Human Events was founded by
three veteran isolationists and conservative libertarians: Frank
Hanighen, coauthor of the most famous antimilitarist muckraking
book of the 1930s, The Merchants of Death; Felix Morley,
distinguished writer and former president of the Quaker Haver-ford
College; and Chicago businessman Henry Regnery.

But undoubtedly
most important for the postwar resurgence of libertarianism were
several books published during the war, books that were largely
ignored and forgotten at the time, but which helped build a groundwork
for a postwar renaissance. Three of the books, all published in
1943, were written by singularly independent, tough-minded, and
individualistic women. Screenwriter Ayn Rand produced the novel
The Fountainhead, a paean to individualism that had been
turned down by a host of publishers and finally published by Bobbs-Merrill.
Largely ignored at the time, The Fountainhead became a steady,
"underground" bestseller over the years, spreading largely
by word of mouth among its readers. (The novel had been turned down
by publishers on the grounds that its theme was too "controversial,"
its content too intellectual, and its tough-minded hero too unsympathetic
to have commercial possibilities.5)

From semi-isolation
in her home in Danbury, Connecticut, Rose Wilder Lane, who had been
a Communist Party member in the 1920s, published The Discovery
of Freedom,6 an eloquent, singing prose-poem in celebration
of the history of freedom and free-market capitalism.

The third important
wartime libertarian book by a woman was written by Isabel Paterson,
who had made her mark as an author of several flapper-type novels
in the 1920s and who had been a long-time regular columnist for
the New York Herald-Tribune Review of Books. Her nonfiction
The God of the Machine was an eccentric but important event
in libertarian thought. The book was a series of essays, some turgid
and marked by the intrusive use of electrical engineering analogies
in social affairs; but these essays were marked by flashes of brilliant
insight and analysis. Particularly important were her chapters on
the State promotion of monopoly after the Civil War, her demonstration
of the impossibility of "public" ownership, and her defense
of the gold standard. The two chapters with the greatest impact
among libertarians were "The Humanitarian with the Guillotine,"
a brilliant critique of dogooding and its consequence, the welfarist
ethic; and "Our Japanized Educational System," in which
Mrs. Paterson delivered a blistering philosophical critique of progressive
education, a critique that was to help ignite the reaction against
progressivism in the post-war era. Thus, Mrs. Paterson eloquently
explained the interconnection of welfarism, parasitism, and coercion
as follows:

What can
one human being actually do for another? He can give from his
own funds and his own time whatever he can spare. But he cannot
bestow faculties which nature has denied nor give away his own
subsistence without becoming dependent himself. If he earns what
he gives away, he must earn it first. . . . But supposing
he has no means of his own, and still imagines that he can make
"helping others" at once his primary purpose
and the normal way of life, which is the central doctrine of the
humanitarian creed, how is he to go about it? . . .

If the primary
objective of the philanthropist, his justification for living,
is to help others, his ultimate good requires that others shall
be in want. His happiness is the obverse of their misery.
If he wishes to help "Humanity," the whole of humanity
must be in need. The humanitarian wishes to be a prime mover in
the lives of others. He cannot admit either the divine or the
natural order, by which men have the power to help themselves.
The humanitarian puts himself in the place of God.

But he is
confronted by two awkward facts; first, that the competent do
not need his assistance; and second, that the majority of people
. . . positively do not want to be "done good" by the
humanitarian. . . . Of course what the humanitarian actually proposes
is that he shall do what he thinks is good for everybody.
It is at this point that the humanitarian sets up the guillotine.

What kind
of world does the humanitarian contemplate as affording him full
scope? It could only be a world filled with breadlines and hospitals,
in which nobody retained the natural power of a human being to
help himself or to resist having things done to him. And that
is precisely the world that the humanitarian arranges when he
gets his way. . . . There is only one way, and that is by the
use of the political power in its fullest extension. Hence the
humanitarian feels the utmost gratification when he visits or
hears of a country in which everyone is restricted to ration cards.
Where subsistence is doled out, the desideratum has been achieved,
of general want and a superior power to "relieve" it.
The humanitarian in theory is the terrorist in action.7

Equally important,
and equally obscure at the time, was the publication of Albert Nock's
last great work, his intellectual autobiography, Memoirs of a
Superfluous Man.8 In the Memoirs Nock expanded
and wove together the themes of his previous books on history, theory,
culture, and the State, and throughout all was an intensified pessimism
about the prospects for a widespread adoption of libertarianism
that was all too understandable for the times in which he wrote.
Gresham's Law – the bad driving out the good – worked
inevitably, he felt, in the field of culture and ideas as it did
in the field of coinage and money. As we marched into the new barbarism,
nature would have to take its course.9

Meanwhile,
in the field of economics, it seemed that the Keynesians and the
economic planners were sweeping all before them. The most distinguished
of laissez-faire economists, Ludwig von Mises, who had been
in the front rank of the economic world on the Continent during
the teens and twenties, had been largely forgotten in the wake of
the "Keynesian Revolution" of the late 1930s. And this
neglect came even though Mises had won fame among English-speaking
economists during the early 1930s, precisely on the basis of his
business-cycle theory that attributed the Great Depression to government
intervention. A refugee from the Nazis, Mises had published a giant
laissez-faire treatise on economics in Geneva in 1940, a
book which got lost amidst the twin storms of the march toward collectivism
in economic thought and the holocaust of World War II. Emigrating
to New York in 1940, Mises, devoid of an academic post, managed
to write and publish two books during the war. Both were highly
important works which, again, made little or no dent in the academic
world. Mises's brief Bureaucracy10 is still one
of the best treatments of the nature of bureaucracy, and of the
inherent sharp divergence between profit-seeking management and
nonprofit, or bureaucratic, management. Mises's Omnipotent Government11
won some academic recognition as the most important statement
of the anti-Marxian position that the essence of Nazi Germany was
not the reflection of big business but was a variant of socialism
and collectivism. (At Columbia, in those days, Omnipotent Government
was being read as the antipode to Franz Neumann's very popular
Marxian work on Nazism, Behemoth.)

But the wartime
libertarian work that was destined to have by far the greatest immediate
impact was not that of Mises, but of his most prominent Austrian
free-market follower, Friedrich A. Hayek. Hayek had emigrated to
England in the early 1930s, to teach at the London School of Economics,
and there had considerable impact on younger economists as well
as achieving prominence in English intellectual circles, and among
such distinguished emigré philosophers in England as Karl
Popper and Michael Polanyi. It was perhaps this prominence in England
that helps to account for the smashing popular and academic success
of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.12 For it was certainly
not Hayek's style, heavily Germanic rather than sparkling, and far
less readable than Mises, who had pursued a similar theme. Perhaps
intellectuals, surfeited with years of pro-statist and pro-planning
propaganda, were ripe for a statement of the other side of the coin.

Whatever the
reason, The Road to Serfdom hit the intellectual circles
of the United States and Britain like a blockbuster. Its major thesis
was that socialism and central planning were incompatible with freedom,
the rule of law, or democracy. The Nazi and Fascist regimes were
considered one aspect of this modern collectivism, and Hayek tellingly
outlined the great similarities between the statist planning of
the Weimar Republic and the later economic program of Hitler. The
highly touted social democracy of the Weimar Republic was but fascism
in embryo.13

The Road
to Serfdom made its impact on all levels of opinion. The Hearst
papers serialized the book, hailing its attack on socialism. It
became mandatory in virtually every college course, as the case
for the "other side" (although, in fact, it was scarcely
consistent in its laissez-faire views). English intellectuals
were so perturbed that two attempted refutations of Hayek by social
democrats were rushed into print: Hermann Finer's vituperative Road
to Reaction and Barbara Wootton's Plan or No Plan (to
which Mises would retort that free-market economists favored each
man's planning for himself). And Hayek's work had incalculable
effect in converting or helping to convert many socialist intellectuals
to the individualist, capitalist ranks. John Chamberlain, one of
the leading Left writers and critics of the 1930s and author of
the noted Farewell to Reform, found his conversion to conservative-individualism
greatly accelerated by the book, and Chamberlain contributed the
preface to The Road to Serfdom. F.A. Harper, a free-market
professor of agricultural economics at Cornell, found his dedication
to libertarian views redoubled. And Frank S. Meyer, one of the leading
theoreticians of the Communist Party, member of its national committee
and head of its Workers' School in Chicago, found disturbingly convincing
Hayek's portrayal of the incompatibility of socialism and freedom.
It is an ironic and fascinating footnote to the ideological history
of our time that The Road to Serfdom had one of its most
sympathetic reviews in the Communist New Masses – a
review that constituted one of Frank Meyer's last contributions
to the Communist movement. And surely these were but a few instances
of the vital impact of Hayek's work.

But this impact,
and indeed the quieter ripples made by the other libertarian works
during the war, was visible only as a success of the day. There
did not seem to be any lasting result, any sort of movement
to emerge out of the black days on which the libertarian creed had
fallen. On the surface, as the war came to an end, there seemed
to be as little hope as ever for the individualist, free-market
cause as there had been during the war.

  1. Michael
    Wreszin, Oswald Garrison Villard (Bloomington: Indiana
    University Press, 1965), p. 271.
  2. Art Preis,
    Labor's Giant Step (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1964),
    p. 221.
  3. John Dos
    Passos, The Grand Design (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949),
    pp. 416–18.
  4. Frank Chodorov,
    The Economics of Society, Government, and State (New York:
    Analysis Associates, 1946).
  5. See the
    worshipful biographical sketch by Barbara Branden in Nathaniel
    Branden, Who Is Ayn Rand? (New York: Paperback Library,
    1964), pp. 158ff.
  6. (New York:
    John Day, 1943).
  7. Isabel Paterson,
    The God of the Machine (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1943),
    pp. 240–42.
  8. (New York:
    Harper and Bros., 1943).
  9. For the
    reception of the Memoirs, see Robert M. Crunden, The
    Mind and Art of Albert Jay Nock (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1964),
    pp. 189–91; for Nock's appreciative views of the books of Lane
    and Paterson, see Selected Letters of Albert Jay Nock,
    F.J. Nock, ed. (Caldwell, Id.: Caxton Printers, 1962), pp. 145–51.
  10. (New Haven,
    Conn.: Yale University Press, 1944).
  11. (New Haven,
    Conn.: Yale University Press, 1944).
  12. (University
    of Chicago Press, 1944).
  13. It is intriguing
    that Hayek's analysis of social democracy as totalitarianism and
    fascism in embryo was very similar, though of course with very
    different rhetoric, to the critique of the English Marxist R.
    Palme Dutt in the radical days before the advent of the Popular
    Front line, of course. Cf. R. Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social
    Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1934).

Table
of Contents: The Betrayal of the American Right

Murray
Rothbard Archives

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