Robert LeFevre (1911–1986) was a businessman and radio personality, and the founder of the Freedom School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose purpose was to educate people from all walks of life in the libertarian intellectual tradition. Before it closed in 1968, it had featured among its rotating faculty Rose Wilder Lane, Milton Friedman, F.A. Harper, Frank Chodorov, Leonard Read, Gordon Tullock, G. Warren Nutter, Bruno Leoni, James J. Martin, and even Ludwig von Mises.
This is the text of an undated leaflet from the late 1950s or early 1960s called "Those Who Protest." To our knowledge it has never been published in any other form until now.
We hear a great deal today about the "conservative movement." A brief review of its history may be in order.
Prior to the appearance of F.D. Roosevelt as president, the term was not used with any frequency to designate a particular group of persons. Rather, it was employed to signify an attitude, a point of reference which might relate to politics and equally might relate to science, religion, business, home life or a moral outlook.
Mr. Roosevelt's appearance as the major political figure of his time had an enormous effect upon the thinking of millions of Americans. Some were prone to accept him as the leader without a peer. Others were prone to oppose him and to recognize in his policies a turning away from the traditional stance of America as it related to citizens vis-à-vis their government.
It was at this juncture that the terms "conservative" and "liberal" took on other meanings than those classically employed. It was no longer sufficient to say of a person that he was a Republican or a Democrat.
These party labels began to slip into a hyphenated position. There were conservative-Republicans and conservative-Democrats. There were liberal-Republicans and liberal-Democrats. It became more important to know whether a person was a conservative or a liberal than to know what political party secured his allegiance.
The conservative position in the 1930s became the position of opposition to Roosevelt and his policies.
Tradition vs. FDR
Roosevelt began to prepare for war. The conservatives opposed and branded his actions as interventionist, extravagant, outright un-American. They took the traditional stand of Americans, that this nation should mind its own business, stay out of European and Asiatic conflicts, and certainly stay out of war.
Roosevelt instituted Social Security, the NRA, and a host of governmental bureaus bloomed from an executive department of the government. Conservatives opposed, pointing out that this was enlarging the government, reducing the dignity and the importance of individuals, taxing everyone in a manner never before imagined.
Roosevelt instituted huge programs of relief and public welfare, and the conservatives branded these moves as socialistic, costly, unnecessary.
Thus, by the beginning of the 1940s the lines were drawn. The conservative view was in favor of peace, individualism, lowered taxes, smaller government, independence, and self-reliance, and it contained a great love of the Constitution. The cry of the conservative was that we should "get back to the Constitution."
The "liberals," who rallied to Mr. Roosevelt's banner, proclaimed a new "deal" in which government would play an ever-larger role, taxes would rise, governmental services would increase, America would intervene in all international affairs and assume a position of "world leadership."
Liberals branded conservatives as "isolationists," "reactionaries," "Cro-Magnon men," "diehards," and "me-too-ers." Conservatives branded liberals as "socialists," "interventionists," "war-makers," "social experimenters," "crooks," "thieves" and "opportunists."
The conservative cry of "Back to the Constitution" was met by all the liberals with their cry of "Forward to more social legislation and a brave new world."
This was the decisive moment. The lines were clearly drawn.
If you were a liberal, in the new meaning of the word, you were in favor of generous helpings of the taxpayers' money for all manner of governmental programs.
If you were a conservative, you favored independence, self-reliance, the right to private property, and a small and limited government.
Into this conservative-liberal stand-off was introduced a new note…the threat of communism. Scholars, examining the Rooseveltian policies, discovered a strange parallel between the New Deal philosophy and the policies expounded by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and a host of socialist and pro-communist writers.
Could this parallel be circumstantial, inadvertent, a simple matter of political expediency?
Investigators turned up evidence that Russian spies, working in and out of various governmental offices, had stolen secrets, obtained restricted data, sometimes gotten hold of scarce and even rare material.
Russia was a communist country.
Suddenly, the whole thing seemed to fit together. It was a conspiracy, either of deliberate cooperation or one in which our own government people were the dupes of clever foreign operatives.
By the beginning of the 1950 the term "Communist" had been incontrovertibly linked with Russia. A "Communist" was presumed to be a Russian agent, a man working for the military takeover of this country by a foreign power. The conservatives became "patriots," those who sought to defend their nation from subversion at home or from military aggression abroad.
The attention of the American conservative shifted in emphasis. He became primarily concerned with foreign affairs. Russia was the new danger. It was no longer a matter of the rise of government and the displacement of individual rights, the erosion of property rights, the increase of taxes.
Instead, the conservative emphasis became known as anti-communism. And with this shift came a strange metamorphosis to the conservative objective.
For where it had served originally as the champion of peace, it now began to urge the line of "stand fast," "no compromise," "war if necessary."
And where it had originally championed the idea of smaller government, it began to clamor for larger bureaus to hunt down Communists. It called for expansion of the police powers, sought laws to arrest persons of non-conservative persuasion on the grounds that they were "traitors" and clamored for costly "investigations," all of which took more in the form of tax money.
Suddenly, it was not against high taxes per se, it was only against those taxes which were not to be used in anti-communist effort. All at once the government became the most important thing in the mind of the conservative. The government must be made strong. It must spend billions in missile and weapon research. It must develop "strong" men.
Gradually, the theory arose that the way to prevent a war with Russia was to start one. Russia was the head of the communist conspiracy. Russia was secretly planning for a military takeover of the world. The best defense was aggression.
Where conservatives had joined ranks in opposing the military draft of Roosevelt and in criticizing the draft of President Woodrow Wilson, they now joined hands in branding anyone who refused to be drafted as a "dupe" or an outright "red."
Those who saw in Civil Defense a massive new way for the government to obtain more power and more money, were suddenly the victims of conservative criticism. There was to be no limit on military preparedness. In the '30s such a move as C.D. would have been hooted down by conservatives. Now, moves to oppose massive new spending of this character were derided and vilified.
Those who had opposed Roosevelt's brand of interventionism now began to favor outright assistance to foreign countries which would oppose Russia. "Foreign aid," that biggest of all boondoggles, was seen to be a constructive thing if only it went to "non-communist" countries.
A Supreme Court justice who had consistently upheld the position of the government as it opposed the rights of individuals became the subject of praise if only the individual on trial was suspected or proved to be a Communist.
Still, within the framework of the "conservative movement" lived persons who objected to high taxes and the further advance of government. But the vigor of their opposition was blunted by their own cries to "make government strong."
This is the present status of the conservative movement. It is rent by conflicting philosophies. Its major "leaders" are beginning to hurl abuse at each other.
Most still favor lowered taxes. But at the same time they clamor for more power in the hands of government, more strict interpretation of law, more investigations, more crackdowns on those who disagree.
We believe that the original position of the conservative, that taken in the early days of Roosevelt's first term of office, is a proper and legitimate position. But, at the moment, the conservative, while still supporting this position to a degree, has tended to place all his emphasis in the anti-communist camp. And the anti-communist camp is sadly at variance within itself as to the things to be believed and the things to be done.
What we are beginning to see occur within the framework of conservative, is a new alliance between former "liberals" and latter-day "conservatives." The "liberal" of the '30s wanted larger government, principally in the area of social legislation, welfare and human experiment. The latter-day "conservatives" also want larger government. But they now want it in the police area of armies, navies, air forces and rocketry. They also want more trials, more rigid domestic policing.
But both the former liberal and the latter-day conservative desire larger government. And the end result of this combination is a bigger tax program, more spending on education (for defense), establishment of new bureaus (for patriotic reasons), and great emphasis upon national union.
The latter-day conservative, while still critical of the "welfare state" of the former liberal, lends his support to the formation of a military or a "police state" where things will be controlled at the top by a "strong man."
Meanwhile, another strange shift is occurring. For while some of the former liberals are intrigued by this turn of events and are now jumping on the bandwagon of "anti-communism," other liberals, in the 19th-century tradition of liberalism, are beginning to wonder about human liberty in the great sense, and are shifting over to oppose war-making, the draft, foreign intervention and even high taxes.
Thus, it appears that the liberal camp, as well as the conservative camp, is splitting. The traditional liberal of prior years is now aligning himself with the conservative of the '30s.
It seems to us that in time as confusing as these, only principles are safe and reliable. Only the truth is sure.
To try to find these principles, to try to discover truth should become each man's major concern. We cannot, any of us, afford to be wrong at this crucial juncture.
In times such as these, a re-anchoring to the basic concepts of America seems most urgent. To find these concepts, we can think of no better method than to turn to the Declaration of Independence, the basic document which sets forth the principles by means of which our forefathers sought to set down the motivating factors as they saw them. We believe they were valid then. We see no reason for supposing that they are not valid now.
The basic idea emphasized in the Declaration is the concept of freedom and individualism. There it was held that each man, by virtue of his creation, has certain unalienable rights. Among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Governments, it is clearly stated, are secondary in importance. They are tools devised by men for the preservation of their rights. Indeed, their importance is so meager that when men find themselves deprived of their rights, they have a right and a duty to throw off that government and to provide new methods, new guards for the preservation of those rights. It is the individual, not the government who is the sovereign.
If this is true, and we believe it to be true, then the present position of both the latter-day conservative and the liberal of the ’30s is in contravention of that truth. The rights of each individual man are supreme. Government, conceived either as a welfare agency or a police agent of aggressive potential, is invalid.
Nor does the threat of Russia change this truth. Nor does the threat of communism, socialism or welfare statism change it. What is paramount is freedom. What is of utmost value is the individual's right to be himself.
Any move to enlarge government is bound to be destructive of individual human rights in the long run. A "strong-man" government, even for the purpose of sustaining it, would dethrone human liberty.
We'll take our stand with the Declaration of Independence and the principles of individualism and human liberty.