Who Is John T. Flynn?

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T. Flynn – journalist, author, and master polemicist of the
Old Right – is highly unusual. He started out as a liberal
columnist for that flagship of American liberalism, the New Republic,
and wound up on the Right, denouncing "creeping socialism."
What is unusual about Flynn is that instead of being seduced by
the New Deal and the Popular Front into supporting the war, Flynn
was led by his thoroughgoing antiwar stance to challenge the developing
state worship of modern liberalism.

T. Flynn was born in 1882, in Bladensburg, Maryland, where he grew
up in a devoutly Roman Catholic family. He studied law at Georgetown
University but soon switched to journalism. After a long struggle,
he finally found a position in 1920 with the New York Globe, where
he specialized in financial analysis. He also wrote a series of
books: Graft
in Business
, Men
of Wealth
, and a very fair biography of John D. Rockefeller,
entitled God’s

When Roosevelt
was swept into office, Flynn welcomed him, sharing the hope that
the new president would get the country moving again. Flynn supported
the Democratic Party platform of 1932, which called for an end to
the extravagant spending of the Republicans, a balanced budget,
and the abolition of the many government bureaus and commissions.

Flynn was soon disillusioned. In fact, the New Deal that Roosevelt
sold to the American people in 1932 bore absolutely no resemblance
to the one he immediately imposed on an unsuspecting nation. During
the first 100 days of his administration, Roosevelt racked up a
deficit larger than the one it took Hoover two years to produce.
Worse, from Flynn’s viewpoint, was the blizzard of new government
agencies the president created – agencies that sought to regulate
every aspect of economic life – and the billions in borrowed
money that financed them.

used his column in the New Republic to attack the president,
and in 1940 came out with a short book, Country
Squire in the White House
in which he excoriated Roosevelt
for betraying the trust of the people who had elected him. Flynn
was particularly horrified by the National Recovery Administration
(NRA), which he denounced as "one of the most amazing spectacles
of our times," that "represented probably the gravest
attack upon the whole principle of the democratic society in our
political history."

prices, wages, hours, and production quotas set by trade associations,
and an industry-wide code set up to regulate every aspect of commerce,
competition would be eliminated and business would ensure for itself
a secure and profitable niche in the new corporatist order. This
was all couched in the language of liberalism, Flynn said, but it
was championed primarily by the Chamber of Commerce and other business
groups. Flynn saw himself as the defender of true liberalism, which
had been betrayed by That Man in the White House.

Flynn predicted
that Roosevelt’s spending on vast domestic programs could not continue,
for he would run out of useful peacetime projects. The Supreme Court
may have declared the NRA unconstitutional, but there were other
ways to militarize the economy – such as actually going to
war. Roosevelt would pursue military adventure abroad to take the
people’s minds off their troubles at home – troubles that were
not getting any better, and that the New Deal was only making worse.



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His detailed
chronicle of the misdeeds of the New Deal remains a definitive account:
Roosevelt Myth
, which appeared in 1948. It turns the conventional
wisdom on its head with facts and powerful analytics. It is an excellent
sourcebook for anyone doing work in this area of history. He covers
FDR’s rise to power, his seizure of the economy and the nation’s
money, and his regimentation of national life that forestalled economic
recovery and led to war.

Flynn’s final
and definitive shift from left to right was completed with the writing
of his greatest work, As
We Go Marching
. In this book, Flynn stepped back and tried
to see the trends he had been fighting – militarism, centralism,
leader worship – as the interlocking components of a system.

growth of a huge bureaucratic apparatus, the partnership of government
and business, social welfare schemes, huge public debts, and the
need to resolve economic problems by creating a permanent war economy
– all of these phenomena had become dominant first in Italy,
then in Germany, and then in the United States under the New Deal.
The theme of the book is that while the US was fighting fascism
in Europe, the seeds of that doctrine had already been planted at
home; the war itself would accelerate their growth.

Throughout the 1950s Flynn sounded the alarm about the growing scope
of US intervention in Indochina. It was, he thought, only a matter
of time before "the United States may have to make a decision
as to whether or not it will get into another Asiatic war,"
probably in Vietnam, he said on January 15, 1952. To be put in the
position of defending French imperialism from the Communist-led
Vietnam would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States.

Flynn ended
his public career in 1960, at the age of seventy-nine; his health
was failing and he retired from journalism. He died in 1964, as
William F. Buckley and his followers were eradicating the last remnants
of the Old Right, his work largely forgotten. That he died isolated
from the Right as well as the Left, his books neglected, his legacy
largely unknown, is due to the fact that the history of any conflict,
both military and ideological, is written by the victors.

essential insight – that the threat to America is not to be
found in any foreign capitol, but in Washington, D.C. – takes
on new immediacy today. His analysis of the structure of the welfare-warfare
state as a system based on centralized government control of the
economy and a permanent war economy is vital to understanding where
we are today, how we got there – and how we can get out.

This article
is drawn from his longer piece “John
T. Flynn: Exemplar of the Old Right
” in the Journal of Libertarian
Studies, Fall 1992.

1, 2008

Raimondo [send him mail]
is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An
Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard
and Reclaiming
the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement

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