beleaguered conservatives have kept so busy surviving that they
have paid scant attention to an enormous fissure in their ranks,"
wrote William F. Buckley in 1954. This "fissure" Buckley
spoke of was in regards to the Soviet Union, but the animus behind
this rift ran much deeper: what Buckley called the "conservative
movement" was, in reality an uneasy alliance between two groups,
conservatives and libertarians, who forged a coalition in hopes
of defeating the leviathan state. Once in bed, however, the two
parties quickly realized their respective world-views made cordiality
next to impossible – foreign policy regarding the Soviet Union
only brought this animosity to the surface. Buckley was correct,
however, in that these two groups had worked so hard to survive,
they had failed to realize the vast chasm that separated them.
polite tone and tenor of Mr. Buckley's 1954 remarks had all but
vanished by his 1971 New York Times commentary, "The
Conservative Reply." Here, Buckley attempts to read Murray
Rothbard and the rest of the "moral naifs" out of the
conservative movement. "The ideological licentiousness that
rages through America today makes anarchy attractive to the simple-minded.
Even to the ingeniously simple-minded," opined Buckley. Obviously
something had occurred during the course of these 17 years to prompt
Buckley, and the rest of the "conservative" movement to
distance themselves from the growing band of libertarians (anarchists
and minarchists alike) – the question is what?
anarchism was not a new phenomenon to the libertarian movement.
Buckley was an early disciple of Albert Jay Nock, self-described
anarchist. Frank Chodorov, one of Buckley's closest friends was,
in some manner or form, an anarchist. F.A. "Baldy" Harper,
who left the Foundation for Economic Education and later went on
to form the Institute for Humane Studies in 1961, was an anarchist.
recent war in Iraq only galvanized the difference between the two
respective groups. Writes Joseph Stromberg, "Issues of war
and peace do not sum up the differences between the Old and the
New Right, but they are at the heart of it." Or, as National
Review's David Frum (correctly) wrote in 2003, "War is
a great clarifier. It forces people to take sides." Indeed,
Frum and a whole group of conservatives did choose sides
– neo and mainstream conservatives now favor the spread
of militaristic central planning to far away lands.
follows is a bibliographic attempt to answer the question of what
makes libertarians and conservatives different. Where possible I
have linked to the articles and books, but much of the debate transpired
before the advent of the Internet, and as such, is only available
in hard copy.
sources in particular warrant special attention – Murray Rothbard
and Bill Buckley's National Review. In many ways they encapsulate
the rift. Where as they may have found many points of agreement
when National Review was founded in 1955 (and even this is
a stretch), by the early 60's, the New Right was far removed from
its old right roots. Militant anti-communism coupled with an increasing
social conservative statism were tendencies many libertarians found
distasteful. If the modus vivendi of the early 1940 revival
of the libertarian/conservative movement had been the defeat the
leviathan state, only the libertarians stayed the course with any
with any political label, it is hard to encapsulate a movement or
any group of individuals in a word, or in this case two words. Yet
it can safely be said that the "Old Right" was born in
protest to Roosevelt and the New Deal. Its leaders were H.L Mencken,
Albert Jay Nock, Garet Garrett, John T. Flynn, Suzanne La Follette
and Felix Morley. It is notable that what one finds in their writings
one can still find in the work of most libertarians today. In fact,
it could argue that the modern libertarian movement has more in
common with conservatives of the 30s and 40s than do contemporary
conservatives. The ideas of the Old Right conservatives (skepticism
of government planning, isolationist foreign policy and a general
belief in the free market) have taken a back seat to the modern
conservative emphasis on domestic pragmatism and international interventionism.
must be stressed that there was no single Old Right movement
that spoke in unison. As a movement, it was primarily an opposition
movement, and as such, the general beliefs outlined above are just
that – general beliefs. However, in order to delineate the
conservative and libertarian movement, it is useful to start here.
NB: This listing of Old Right sources is by no means exhaustive;
I have only attempted to give an overview of the movement to show
how far conservatives of today have moved from their original beliefs.
excellent overviews of the Old Right movement, see Sheldon Richman,
Deal Nemesis: The u2018Old Right' Jeffersonians (Independent Review,
Vol. I, No. 2, Fall 1996) and two pieces by Murray Rothbard,
Anti-War, Anti-State Right (Continuum, Summer 1964,
pp. 220–231 and first published as “The Transformation of the
American Right.”) and The
Old Right (originally published in Inquiry, 3, 18 [October 27,
1980], pp. 24–27.) Next to the economic policies of the New Deal,
foreign adventures abroad were the primary concern of the Old Right.
See Rothbard's essay, The
Foreign Policy of the Old Right. There is an excellent collection
of pre-1945 conservative thought entitled, The
Superfluous Men: Conservative Critics of Modern Culture, 1900–1945
(Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1999). You can read
the introduction here.
there are many who comprised the Old Right, three are worth singling
out for the volume of their writings, and the influence they had
during the late 30's and early 40's. The first is Felix Morley,
the Pulitzer Prize winning editor of the Washington Post
(1933–1940), president of Haverford College, co-founder of
Human Events and prominent critic of American imperialism.
See Joseph R. Stromberg's Felix
Morley: An Old Fashioned Republican Critic of Statism and Interventionism
(Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 269–277)
Morley: An Old Fashioned Republican. Leonard Liggio, in Felix
Morley and the Commonwealthman Tradition: The Country-Party, Centralization
and the American Empire (Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol.
2, No. 3, pp. 279–286) looks at Morley's historical analysis
of the libertarian movement and the rise of the state. Of Morley's
and Federalism (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981 ) and
Power in the People (Nash Publishing, 1972 ) are his
best critiques of imperialism abroad and the welfare state at home.
Chodorov, born Fishel Chodorowsky to Russian immigrants, was a powerful
voice among the Old Right. Influenced primarily by Albert Jay Nock
and Henry George, Chodorov was a prolific writer and ardent opponent
of the State in any of its manifestations. In 1969, M. Stanton Evans
noted, "The Chodorov imprint is visible in every phase of conservative
effort." William F. Buckley was greatly taken with his four-page
journal of opinion, analysis. Indeed, in a letter to E. Victor
Milione, Buckley admitted, "It is quite unlikely that I should
have pursued a career as a writer but for the encouragement [Chodorov]
gave me just after I graduated from Yale." For overviews of
Chodorov's life and influence, see Aaron Steelman's Frank
Chodorov: Champion of Liberty, Joseph Stromberg's Frank
Chodorov: A Libertarian's Libertarian and Charles
Hamilton, "Frank Chodorov and the American Right," (The
Libertarian Review) December, 1979, pp. 20–22. In Frank
Chodorov, R.I.P, Murray Rothbard provides a touching tribute
to his mentor, while in The Freeman's "People on Our
Side: Frank Chodorov" (May 5, 1952) John Chamberlain provides
a brief summary of Chodorov's political thought. All of Chodorov's
works are worth reading, especially Out of Step (New York:
Devin-Adair Company, 1962), One is a Crowd (New York: Devin-Adair
Company, 1952), The
Income Tax: Root of All Evil (New York: Devin-Adair Company,
1954) and Fugitive
Essays (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1980).
T. Flynn considered himself a liberal his whole life. Born in 1882
Maryland, Flynn rose to prominence as an economic journalist who
gradually became FDR's severest critic. His prose is peppered with
acerbic wit and keen insight. Perhaps the best place to start is
with Flynn's magisterial achievement, The
Roosevelt Myth (San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes, 1998 originally
published by Devin-Adair in 1948). Flynn's other works include,
We Go Marching (New York: Doubleday, 1944), The
Decline of the American Republic (New York: Devin-Adair,
You Slept (New York: Devin-Adair, 1951), Country Squire
in the White House (Philadelphia, PA:
Da Capo Press, 1972), Forgotten
Lessons: Selected Essays by John T. Flynn (Irvington, NY: FEE,
1995) and The
Road Ahead: America's Creeping Revolution (New York: Devin
Adair, 1953). For two overviews of Flynn's life and writings see
Justin Raimondo's John
T. Flynn: Exemplar of the Old Right (Journal of Libertarian
Studies, Vol. X, No. 2 (Fall 1992) and John F. McManus' Principles
First (The New American, January 31, 2000).
addition to the contingent of Old Right publicists and journalists,
there was active conservative resistance to the New Deal and foreign
interventionism within the political arena. See Justus D. Doenecke's,
to the swift: The old isolationists in the cold war era (Lewisburg,
PA: Bucknell University Press, 1979) and Storm
on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939–1941
(Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). For a look at
congressional isolationists, see John C. Donovan, "Congressional
Isolationists and the Roosevelt Foreign Policy" (World Politics,
vol. 3, No. 3 (Apr., 1951), 299–316.)
twelve years beginning in 1943 and ending in 1955 are pivotal in
understanding the gulf that exists today between modern conservatives
and libertarians. While the two groups could write for the same
magazines in 1940s and early 50s, they rarely spoke by 1955. If
domestic economic planning and the rise of the welfare state were
paramount concerns for both groups in the early 40s, Soviet aggression
abroad and communist infiltration at home became the idée
fix of the emerging New Right by the mid fifties.
the early '40s, the American people had lost much of their faith
in free enterprise liberalism. Shaken by the Great Depression and
the bombing of Pearl Harbor, America, and indeed most of the Western
world, increasingly looked to government for security and stability.
To Robert Crunden, "The war period, 1939–1945, marked
the nadir of individualistic, Jeffersonian thought in the United
in 1943, stirrings on the Right were evident with the publication
of three remarkable books by three remarkable women. It took Ayn
Fountainhead, Rose Wilder Lane's The
Discovery of Freedom, and Isabel Paterson's The
God of the Machine to reinvigorate the anti-statist
movement. If the Old Right was a movement characterized by anti-statist
dissent, the epoch beginning in 1943 was marked by a positive vision
for liberty. While polemic warnings continued to occur (think Road
to Serfdom and As We Go Marching), the free market
was slowly gaining intellectual legitimacy.
least at the beginning of the incipient movement, conservatives
and libertarians could find a common enemy in the growth of the
New Deal welfare state. As strength in the movement gathered, the
two groups quickly discovered they had little in common. Perhaps
the most divisive issue was that of foreign policy, specifically
what to do about the Soviet Union. In addition to the publications
listed below, readers should seek out issues of the old Human
Events and Robert LeFevre's Rampart Journal.
of this emerging divergence played out in the pages of The Freeman,
one of the only publications at the time aimed exclusively at an
anti-statist audience. In its modern reincarnation (it had been
published first by Albert Jay Nock in the 20s, by
his protégée Suzanne La Follette as The New Freeman
and finally under the editorship of Frank Chodorov in the 1940s)
The Freeman was to be an answer to liberal (in the contemporary
sense) publications that glorified the state. As Freeman
Editor John Chamberlain was to observe in his autobiography, "If
the Nation and the New Republic had not sold intellectuals
on the virtues of the planned economy in the '20s and early '30s,
there would have been no Roosevelt Revolution." The Freeman
was to reverse this trend.
articles in particular stand out for their importance in dividing
conservatives from libertarians. In Frank Chodorov, "The Return
of 1940," (The Freeman) V, 3 (September, 1954), pp.
81–82, Chodorov warns of the impending danger to domestic liberty
as America mobilized for WWII. Future co-founder of National
Review, William S. Schlamm, rebuts Chodorov in "But It
Is Not 1940," (The Freeman) V, 5 (November, 1954), pp.
169–171. Not one to let issues go lightly, Chodorov fires back
in, "A War to Communize America," (The Freeman), V, 5
(November, 1954), pp. 171–174. V. Orval Watts courageously
argues for free trade with Communist Russia in, "Should We
Trade with Russia," (The Freeman), V, 8 (February, 1954),
pp. 295–297. America's international role is criticized in
Frank Chodorov’s, "One Worldism," (The Freeman),
V, 9 (March, 1955), pp. 334–336 and Samuel B. Pettengill, "Crusading
in Asia," (The Freeman), V, 10 (April, 1955), pp. 430–432.
like The Freeman, Modern
Age provided conservatives and libertarians a forum in which
to voice their respective opinions. Founded in 1957 by the late
Russell Kirk, Modern Age represented the "traditional"
camp of the conservative movement, although it was receptive to
a wide-range of opinions. The very first issue contained Felix Morley's
"American Republic or American Empire," (Modern Age) I,
1 (Summer, 1957), pp. 20–27, a particularly stinging criticism
of interventionist foreign policy. The following essays deal with
the conservative/libertarian paradigm: Donald Atwell Zoll, "The
Future of American Conservativism: a New Revival?" (Modern
Age) XVIII, 1 (Winter, 1974), pp. 2–13; Ronald Hamowy, "Liberalism
and Neo-Conservatism: Is a Synthesis Possible?" (Modern Age)
VIII, 4 (Fall, 1964), pp. 350–359; Donald Atwell Zoll, "Philosophical
Foundations of the American Political Right," (Modern Age),
XV, 2 (Spring, 1971), pp. 114–129; M. Stanton Evans, "Varieties
of Conservative Experience," (Modern Age) XV, 2 (Spring, 1971),
pp. 130–137; Gary North, "Reason, Neutrality and the Free
Market," (Modern Age) XV, 2 (Spring, 1971), pp. 138–142;
Russell Kirk, "Libertarians: the Chirping Sectaries,"
(Modern Age) XXV, 4 (Fall, 1981), pp. 345–351; John Hospers,
"Conservatives and Libertarians: Differences of Theory and
Strategy," (Modern Age) XXV, 4 (Fall, 1981), pp. 369–380.
brief, but brilliant journal was edited by several of Hayek's students
from the University of Chicago (including Mises Institute Senior
Faculty member Ralph Raico). Published from April 1961 until the
winter of 1968, the New
Individualist Review's decline left a gaping hole
for libertarian scholarship. See Edward Facey, "Conservatives
or Individualists: Which Are We?" (New Individualist Review)
I, 2 (Summer, 1962), pp. 24–26. John Weicher, "Mr. Facey's
Article: A Comment" (New Individualist Review) I, 2
(Summer, 1962), pp. 26–27. William F. Buckley, Jr. and Ronald
Hamowy, "u2018National Review’: Criticism and Reply"
(New Individualist Review) I, 3 (November, 1961), pp. 3–11.
James M. O'Connell, "The New Conservatism" (New Individualist
Review) II, 1 (Spring 1962), pp. 17–21. John P. McCarthy,
"The Shortcomings of Right-Wing Foreign Policy" (New
Individualist Review) II, 1 (Spring, 1962), pp. 44–52.
Benjamin A. Rogge, "New Conservatives and Old Liberals"
(New Individualist Review) II, 3 (Autumn, 1963), pp. 31–34.
Ralph Raico, "The Fusionists on Liberalism and Tradition"
(New Individualist Review) III, 3, pp. 29–36.
it or hate it, National Review's role in the conservative/libertarian
movement is hard to deny. From its inception in November, 1955,
Bill Buckley's magazine was to exert a profound influence on the
shape and direction of conservative movement. Almost from the beginning,
however, the magazine's masthead indicated that the "extreme"
individualism and isolationism of the libertarian movement would
not be tolerated. While the occasional libertarian managed to sneak
his way into its pages, National Review was (is) vehemently
interventionist. Most of the following essays are negative attacks
on libertarians, or libertarians attacking other libertarians: Ramesh
Ponnuru, "1984 in 2003?" (National Review) Vol.
55 Issue 10, p17, 2p. Ramesh Ponnuru, "A Duty of Government?"
(National Review) Vol. 54 Issue 19, p24. William F. Buckley
"Murray Rothbard, RIP" (National Review) Vol. 47
Issue 2, p19, 2p. Lew Rockwell and Jeff Tucker, "AYN RAND IS
DEAD" (National Review) Vol. 42 Issue 10, p35, 2p. "Has
the Libertarian Movement Gone Kooky" (National Review)
Vol. 31 Issue 31, p967, 7p. Ernest Van Den Haag, "The Libertarian
Argument" (National Review) Vol. 27 Issue 25, p729,
3p. James Jackson Kilpatrick, "The Libertarians: Nothing if
Not Consistent" (National Review) Vol. 27 Issue 39,
p1117, 4p. Ernest Van Den Haag, "Libertarian Ideology,"
(National Review), XXXI, 23 (June 8, 1979), pp. 725–739.
Jerome Tuccille, "The Failure of Libertarianism," (National
Review), XXIX, 16 (April 29th, 1977), pp. 489, 511.
a more recent debate between National Review and the libertarians
on LRC, see Jonah Goldberg's, "Libertarians
Under My Skin," "Farewell,
Lew Rockwell" and "The
Libertarian Lobe." LRC'ers responded here,
David Frum's infamous article, "Unpatriotic
Conservatives," received a host of criticism (and rightfully
so). See in particular Justin Raimondo's "Commissar
Frum," Samuel Francis' "u2018Mainstream'
Conservatives Opposing Frumpurge (Quietly, Belatedly),"
Williams Rusher, "Civil
War on the American right," and Gene Callahan's "Axis
Report, Libertarian Forum, Left and Right
produced a large amount of writings that deal with definitional
problems associated with the conservative/libertarian split. See
Murray Rothbard, "Stop Reagan!" (The Libertarian Forum),
VIII, 12 (December, 1975), pp. 1–2. Murray Rothbard, "To
The Elections" (The Libertarian Forum), IX, 10 (October,
1976), pp. 1–2. Murray Rothbard, "The End of Ideology,"
(The Libertarian Forum), X, 3 (March, 1977), pp. 1. Murray
Rothbard, "The Tuccille Defection," (The Libertarian
Forum), X, 4 (April, 1977), pp. 4–5. Murray Rothbard, "New
Right: National Review's Anniversary," (Left
and Right), II, 2 (Winter, 1966), pp. 8–13. Murray Rothbard,
and Right: The Prospects for Liberty," (Left and Right),
1, 1 (Spring, 1965) pp. 4–22. Lew Rockwell, "Unity on
the Right." (Rothbard-Rockwell Report) V, 5 (May, 1994),
pp. 17–19. Lew Rockwell, "Paleoism: Past, Present, and
Future" (Rothbard-Rockwell Report) VI, 12 (December,
1995), pp. 1–9. Lew Rockwell, "Conservative Wars"
(Rothbard-Rockwell Report) VI, 11 (November, 1995), pp. 5–9.
Murray Rothbard, "Dead Wrong" (Rothbard-Rockwell Report)
V, 10 (October, 1994), pp. 11–12. Murray Rothbard, "For
a New Isolationism."
Meyer and Fusionism
Meyer was long-time editor of National Review and the originator
of what Brent Bozell called "fusionism." It represented
Meyer's noble attempt to unite conservatives and libertarians under
a banner of anti-statism and tradition. For many, Meyer's philosophy
was nothing novel; rather it merely represented a certain type of
libertarian, e.g., one who believed in the limited powers of the
state, all the while holding Judeo-Christian values. A good place
to start would be Meyer's book, In
Defense of Freedom, in which he defines his philosophy. See
also, Murray Rothbard, "Frank
Meyer and Sidney Hook," Patrick M. O’Neil, "The
Failure of Fusionism in the Libertarian-Traditionalist Debate,"
Samuel Francis "(Con)fusion
on the Right," Kenneth Silber, "The
Fusionist Path," Murray Rothbard, “Frank
Meyer on the Communist Bogey Man.” (Left and Right),
III, 2 (Spring-Summer 1967), Murray Rothbard, "Fusionism"
(Rothbard-Rockwell Report) VI, 8 (August, 1995), pp. 1–6,
Murray Rothbard, "Frank
S. Meyer: The Fusionist as Libertarian Manqué,"
(Modern Age) XXV, 4 (Fall, 1981), pp. 352–363, Dr. Enrico Peppe's
review of Meyer's "In Defense of Freedom" can be read
and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate," published
by ISI and edited by George W. Carey is an excellent attempt to
explore the potentialities of the fusionist path. The book's introduction
can be read online here
and Brian Doherty's review here.
recent war in Iraq has only compounded the conservative/libertarian
rift. A new round of zoo-like curiosity from the left has turned
the names Strauss and Kristol as well as paleo- and neo-
into household regulars. Below are a host of Internet articles that
cover the war, neo-conservatism, and the general state of conservatism
and libertarianism (including Hayek's classic "Why I am Not
- Arnold Kling,
- Peter Augustine
Conservatism vs. Libertarianism"
- W. James
Antle III, "The
- W. James
Antle III, "Conservative-Libertarian
Split: Liberals Get It, Conservatives Don't"
- W. James
Antle III, "The
Conservative-Libertarian clash: Values and the free society"
- Joseph Stromberg,
- Thomas Fleming, "Abuse
Fall of the Libertarians"
Taylor & Peter VanDoren, "Big
Foot vs. Invisible Hand"
- Tibor Machan,
Answers to Conservative Challenges"
- Lew Rockwell,
- Justin Raimondo,
Street Journal, "American
Conservatism" This is an attempt by the WSJ to define
the American brand of conservatism.
- Samuel Francis,
Conservatism Have a Future?"
Fall of Libertarianism or the Failure of Interventionism? A Reply
to Francis Fukuyama"
Fight on The Right" This is an archived video of the
interview program sponsored by the Hoover Institution.
- James Bovard,
Neocon War on Peace and Freedom"
- Robert J.
Neoconservative-Conspiracy Theory: Pure Myth"
- Rachel Alexander,
New Conservative Divide: Paleocons versus Neocons"
- Laura Flanders,
Unity?" Includes link to a James Bovard/David Frum radio
- Edward Feser,
- Edward Feser,
Trouble With Libertarianism"
- David Gordon,
- The Intercollegiate
State of Conservatism: A Symposium"
- John Robbins,
- George Carey,
Libertarianism vs. Civil Society: A Conservative's Reflections
on Freedom of Speech"
- William A. Rusher, "Conservatism's
Third and Final Battle"
- Harry Browne,
First: Libertarians are not part of the ‘Right’"
Again, America First"
- Jonah Goldberg's
three-part attempt to "define" neoconservatism can be
- Thomas Fleming,
- F.A Hayek,
I am Not a Conservative"
- David Gordon,
- Paul Gottfried,
In a Name? The Curious Case of u2018Neoconservative'"
Conservative Movement: Then and Now"
there a conservative split?"
Jude Blanchette [send him mail]
is a research fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education.