The American Right's Memory Holes

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Conservatives
traditionally have wrung their hands about lost traditions. As far
as I’m concerned, it’s mostly for show these days.

If those on
the Right were really concerned about lost traditions, they would
begin to recover their own lost traditions. A generation has come
to maturity without any notion of what preceded them.

Today, you
can buy a copy of Adobe Acrobat Pro for about $250 and a $70 scanner.
With these simple tools, you can scan in a page from a magazine
or a newsletter. You can post this on the web. The page can be made
searchable by Google or any other search engine. It looks very close
to the original document. The whole procedure can be farmed out:
scanned and put into PDF format for under 30 cents per page. Cheap!

If you want
to see excellent examples of this technology in action, see the
list of classic books that the Mises Institute has posted.

Book Reprints

I did this
years ago with my organizations’ books and newsletters: www.freebooks.com. I used an older
imaging technology: DjVu. It produces a far better image than Acrobat
does, but Google doesn’t search it. I also produced PDF files with
an ancient program that left many errors. At some point, I will
re-scan them. But it’s not imperative. Anyone can still get the
basics. Free.

Think of the
gems lying at the bottom of the memory holes. The John Birch Society
has decades of American Opinion, plus Robert Welch’s letters.
The Foundation for Economic Education has decades of The Freeman
and Leonard E. Read’s Notes from FEE. Human Events
has decades of the original newsletter known as Human Events.
Where are the complete on-line files of National Review and
Russell Kirk’s The University Bookman? Modern Age
is on-line. Why not all the others?

Somewhere,
there are files of newsletters like The Dan Smoot Report
and Don Bell Reports. These were gold mines of Constitutional
insights and commentary on the leviathan state.

Then there
are the newsletters sent to donors by dozens of Right-wing activist
organizations. These organizations struggled against the liberal
Establishment from the late 1940s through the 1970s. Their efforts
are lost to historians and journalists. They are lost to their own
donors. All of this material can be scanned in and posted. An intern
could do it in one summer vacation, organization by organization.

Then there
are the publishing houses: in the early years, Regnery, Devin-Adair,
and Caxton; later, Arlington House. Their books are long out of
print. They should be on-line. I have in mind the classic books
on Roosevelt’s maneuvering to get the Japanese to attack the United
States, as well as James J. Martin’s two-volume masterpiece, American
Liberalism and World Politics, 1931—1941
.

AN INTERVIEW
WITH AN HONEST CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST

Q: Why doesn’t
your organization post its old publications on-line?

A: Nobody cares
about history.

Q: But you
say you’re a conservative. Conservatives care about history. Don’t
you care about history?

A: Not if it
doesn’t sell. I care about the bottom line.

Q: But what
about all the ideological battles of the past?

A: What about
them?

Q: Don’t your
donors today deserve to know about them?

A: Our donors
don’t send donations based on inconclusive battles by my long-forgotten
predecessors. They care about the latest life-and-death struggle
for which we have just sent out a fund-raising letter.

Q: But isn’t
there continuity in history?

A: The only
thing I can think of is Teddy Kennedy. My predecessors sent out
“Teddy’s gonna get you if you don’t send us money” fund-raising
letters for two decades, and so do I. Teddy still sells.

Q: But aren’t
there fundamental principles that link your predecessors to you?

A: There is
only one. If a fund-raising letter doesn’t pull in more money than
it cost to mail it, we quit mailing it. My predecessors also adhered
to this principle.

Q: But what
about the giants of the past, without whom your organization would
not exist?

A: They’re
all dead.

Q: But are
their ideas dead?

A: I have no
idea.

Q: But haven’t
you at least skimmed through the back issues?

A: No.

Q: Then why
did you become a conservative?

A: Because
Ann Coulter has great legs.

Q: Wasn’t that
what liberals said about Gloria Steinem in 1975?

A: Who’s she?

Q: But isn’t
conservatism a movement based on ideas?

A: Yes, one:
“Teddy Kennedy’s gonna get you if you don’t sent us money.”

CONCLUSION

The conservative
chatter about the integrity of tradition is mostly that: chatter.
The organizations of the Right have their own memory holes. It’s
not that these are self-conscious memory holes, where historical
documents were deposited to be forgotten in order to be rewritten.
They are rather memory holes of the dusty filing cabinet variety.
Forgotten. Yet conservatism is supposed to the social philosophy
of self-conscious memory. I say: “Conservatism is as conservatism
does.”

If
you want the attitude of modern American conservatives toward the
history of American conservatism, think of the final scene of Raiders
of the Lost Ark
. A low-level worker is pushing the crate
containing the Ark of the Covenant. He is inside a gigantic warehouse.
He pushes the crate around a corner and disappears.

March
8, 2007

Gary
North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 19-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible
.

Gary
North Archives

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