Podhoretzes vs. Rothbard

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I
am less than 2 months from my 79th birthday (yikes!), and I am day
by day still finding out stuff I ought to have known, say, 63 years
ago. Can’t be helped, though; that appears to be the way the cookie
crumbles. (How do you like that for a fresh cliché?)

I
say that because I have just read a
1965 article by Murray N. Rothbard
posted by the Ludwig von
Mises Institute. From this piece by Rothbard, an incredibly learned
and cheerful scholar, I have learned the need to reassess my place
on the political spectrum. The article, “Left and Right: The Prospects
for Liberty,” was for me a corrective, a clarification, and a freeing,
all at the same time.

I
wrote on this site just a few days ago in “Concerning
World War Four
,” that I was convinced Norman Podhoretz, and
the so-called neo-conservatives generally, are really of the Left,
and I implied that all us good Libertarian folk are of the Right.
Well, slow up a bit. Rothbard makes it plain that there is much
confusion in this left-right business.

As
they relate to monopolists, cartelists, warmongering munitions manufacturers,
etc., libertarians have a natural affinity for the left that, in
the name of the “worker,” should and often does oppose “combinations
in restraint of trade,” the conspiracies against the general welfare
that old Adam Smith said always grow up where business men meet
to find ways to work with government and suppress competition.

On
the other hand, libertarians have no business making common cause
with those conservatives, people of the right, who would maintain
or even reconstitute oppressive, illiberal social structures, and
who think it just dandy that income and other taxes are gathered
in so ineluctably by government that it may spread largesse among
corporate fat cats, agricultural magnates, and the like.

Rothbard
would have it, as of 1965 anyway, that conservatives, properly so-called,
are doomed, because “conservatism is a dying remnant of the ancien
regime of the preindustrial era and, as such, it has no future.”
Conservatives who would conserve anything but the forward thrust
of liberty, innovation, and free trade as the principal means to
peace are no friends of libertarians.

Conservatives
who wish to conserve the governmental arrangements of the Cold War
(World War Three) and use them, enlarged and “improved,” to implement
World War Four, as Norman Podhoretz says he wishes to do, are people
it’s good to get far, far away from.

Looking
at Rothbard’s interesting assessment of the “political spectrum”
in 1965, I make adjustments as follows:

Let
me replace Left vs. Right with Bad vs. Good.

Then
under “Bad” I’d have, inter alia, this short list: collectivism,
big central government, imperialism, perpetual war, international
buttinskyism and bullying, and pseudo-free trade, that is, trade
managed in all particulars by government.

And
under “Good” I’d have, inter alia, this short list: individualism,
no (or drastically limited) government, anti-imperialism, peace,
minding one’s own business (which Plato said, I seem to recall,
is simple justice), and free trade with no “management” by government.

This
is only the rough beginning of a sort-out, but if you are hanging
on to such ideas as I advance here, then the “Podhoretz Program”
of fostering invigorating war to build our national character and
improve our usefulness to our betters, that is, to those who are
determining just what wars we should wage, will not look attractive
to you.

Another
Podhoretz, John, son of Norman – Poddy fils, or Poddy Jr. – weighed
in with a resounding second of his father’s program but with even
sharper notes of resentment about our tacky national character which
stands so in need of firming up.

I
give you some quotes from his
March 12NY Post op ed
with some asides of mine in brackets:

“The
problem Bush faces is that the sustained and relentless work necessary
to conduct this kind of war is not characteristic of the American
way.” [But I expect Poddy Jr. is up to it, keyboard at the ready,
and will show us how it’s done.]

“We
have tended throughout our history to become involved in international
confrontations almost against our will and to seek all the while
to pull back within ourselves as soon as possible.” [Why the Hell
not? What in the name of God were we doing in Vietnam or Somalia,
to name just two of these “international confrontations,” in the
first place?]

“And
none of these presidents was consistent. John Kennedy began our
proxy war in Vietnam to counter the Soviets, but also negotiated
the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. Carter talked about how we needed to
get over our “inordinate fear of Communism,” but then confronted
the Soviets over Cuba and Afghanistan. Reagan was the cold warrior
par excellence, but he ended the grain embargo against the Soviet
Union for crass political reasons.” [Now, I wonder if Poddy Jr.
knows anything of crass political reasons, or would such low-life
considerations be altogether beyond him. He wouldn’t have a crass
political agenda behind anything he says, would he?]

“The
idea that you can force a change in regimes in crisis-riddled nations
and then just pull up stakes and go home is a particularly American
fantasy.” [Well, I’m glad that Poddy Jr. is not afflicted with that
awful fantasy. He would no doubt have us never pull up stakes, never
come home. Sounds a bit stern, but then we need a stern taskmaster,
don’t we? Someone who won’t let himself encourage any unmanly yearnings
for home.]

“The
war on terror is more than a confrontation to the death against
a particularly complicated peril. It is a confrontation against
a deeply ingrained American attitude toward our role in the world – a
role defined for centuries by the oceans separating us from Europe
and Asia.” [Ah? And just what is that attitude that is so stubbornly
un-Poddylike? Why it’s our old friend, “Live and Let Live, which
does so well in our villages that we have stupidly assumed it might
work in foreign affairs. But Poddy says that it is OUT, that we
must forget our ridiculous old-timey notion that other nations should
be permitted to conduct their affairs as they wish, without our
nagging them to death.]

“We
can never occupy that role again. We do not have and will not have
the luxury, not with rogue nations capable of developing weaponry
that can do damage on a scale that would dwarf Sept. 11.” [It does
rather make you wonder why so many people are angry with us that
they are apparently being very roguish and developing weapons of
mass destruction and all, and plowing airplanes into our buildings,
and yelling at us in their streets, and generally behaving badly,
especially when you think how, on the other hand, so many millions
have struggled so hard over the centuries to get here (including
Poddy Jr.’s forbears and mine). What have we done to turn a large
segment of the world against us? Poddy doesn’t bring that up, but
I think he should, don't you?]

And
I think it might calm Poddy Jr.’s nerves a little as he thinks of
nuclear and biological weapons in the hands not only of such nations
as ourselves and Israel and Pakistan and India and China, but also
very soon all those “rogue” nations he talks about, if he were to
realize that should this whole thing get down to a sort of foot-soldier
slog across the landscape, we Americans are in pretty good shape
to survive the worst of those rogue fellows: we have 83 million
armed men, or thereabouts, in the world’s largest private militia,
all willing to set aside that tacky and lazy character that Poddy
Jr. so dislikes and rise to defend our homes and families, which
was the idea we had in the first place, the devil take Europe, the
Middle East, and all the rest, just as Thomas Jefferson, among others
of our Founders, said.

To
quote him so as to clear the air of cant: “There is not a crowned
head in all Europe fit to be a vestryman in an American parish.”
Well, there aren’t many kings anymore; so substitute prime ministers
and pundits.

March
15, 2002

Tom
White [send him mail] writes
from Odessa, Texas.

LRC
needs your help to stay on the air.

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