The late 1960s, early 1970s saw a dramatic shift in the American political matrix, a redefinition of competing political ideologies or belief systems.
War, urban riots, campus protests and student alienation, assassinations, inter-generational mistrust, monetary inflation, the growth of the welfare-warfare state, and the “Sexual Revolution,” were the background sociopolitical issues driving this sea change.
While 1968 was the pivotal year in this process, I want to focus upon 1970.
This was the year I entered college as a political science student, and began my own personal ideological odyssey.
In November of 1970, Republican Richard Nixon was president. He and his outspoken vice president, Spiro Agnew, had been aggressively waging war on what they described as “Radical Liberals," or “Radiclibs” during this off-year midterm congressional election.
While staunchly portrayed by the media as “anti-Communist,” many conservatives never really trusted Richard Nixon. Spiro Agnew came from the “Nelson Rockefeller-wing” of the GOP. Detente’, Nixon’s trips to the Soviet Union and China, and Watergate were still two years in the future.
Strategists and analysts dictated that a political realignment was needed. “Demographics is destiny” became the formula of the day.
The Republicans made as their centerpiece in this campaign the disingenuous slogan of “Law and Order.” Liberal Democrats were said to be weak on this issue, cowardly advocating withdrawal of American troops from the war in Vietnam, and coddling student protesters against the war on college campuses.
“Law and Order” were actually GOP code words to angry, status resentful working class and middle class whites who made up the ethnocultural base of the Democratic Party.
“Law and Order” meant “getting tough” on urban blacks who had rioted in the cities and believed in expansion of the welfare entitlement programs such as Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
“Law and Order” also meant class warfare against upper-class antiwar student protesters at elite Ivy League universities.
These new Republican “conservatives” were said to represent the patriotic “Silent Majority” of Americans who believed in God, Country, and the State against the effete “radical chic” Democratic “limousine liberals” who championed Peace (appeasement), Non-intervention (isolationism), and Pluralism (permissiveness).
Those “Radical Liberals” were driven from office in a GOP midterm electoral victory.
This pejorative labeling set the ideological tone for politics for the next several decades. It continues today in the mindset of what commentator Lew Rockwell has described as “Red State Fascists.”
This watershed period saw a battle of the books trying to explain what was happening in American politics. There was Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg’s The Real Majority, Kevin Phillips’ The Emerging Republican Majority, Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Majority, Kenneth M. and Patricia Dolbeare, American Ideologies: The Competing Political Beliefs of the 1970s, Charles A. Reich’s The Greening of America, Arnold S. Kauffman’s The Radical Liberal, and Jerome Tuccille’s Radical Libertarianism: A Right-Wing Alternative. As a young college student I heard Scammon, Phillips, and Goldwater address these issues on the University of Tulsa campus, while the Dolbeare book was a key text in a poli-sci class.
In that fall of 1970, since I considered myself a “radical liberal,” I had eagerly read Kauffman’s The Radical Liberal. In it he championed the “New Left” ideas of opposition to the war in Vietnam, participatory democracy, and community control of local institutions.
I was singularly unimpressed.
However, next to this book on the shelf of the local library was Tuccille’s Radical Libertarianism: A Right-Wing Alternative. Right-Wing Alternative? I almost dropped the book in disgust. And what in the world was a “libertarian?” I curiously opened this book, scanned through it, and stared at the photo of the author on the back flyleaf cover.
With his debonair mustache and fashionable turtle-neck sweater, he did not resemble your typical “right-wing” spokesman of the day. Neither did the contents of this slim volume.
I took it home, read it in about an hour and a half, and as they say, the rest is history. This amazing book changed my perceptions about politics and the world about me. It was my “red pill.”
In 1974 I had the opportunity to personally thank Jerome Tuccille for writing this seminal book that changed my life.
So what was going on in America? What was changing? How were ideas, perceptions, and ideological concepts being remolded and refashioned? The two works providing the best, most thoughtful answers to these questions are Murray N. Rothbard’s The Betrayal of the American Right and Jeff Riggenbach’s In Praise of Decadence.
Both books tackle the same basic subject but their analytical framework or approach is very different. However, each work compliments the other in this search for the truth. Rothbard’s book was originally written during this period (but only published in 2007), while Riggenbach’s was published in 1998.
I commend them both to you as able guides to this ideological odyssey that both America and I have undertaken in the past four decades.
But our journey is not yet over.
A Brief Addendum:
After writing Radical Libertarianism: A Right-Wing Alternative, Jerome Tuccille went on to describe his own ideological odyssey towards libertarianism in his hilarious and insightful book, It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand.
Tuccille cogently recognized that in the early 1970s, most persons alienated by the sterile conventional politics of left and right who had made the same intellectual quest towards libertarianism as himself, arrived via acquaintance with the published works of the controversial novelist-philosopher Rand.
But as I described above, for me it began with Jerome Tuccille, for which I am eternally grateful.
Tuccille has gone on to author more than twenty books, including best-selling, highly acclaimed biographies of Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, Alan Greenspan, and the Hunts of Texas, as well as several novels.
Tuccille hailed this revolutionary work celebrating the birth of a new political awareness, or “Consciousness III,” provided by the New Left’s counterculture and its critique of liberal corporatism.
Rothbard savagely attacked the book as “the Conning of America,” defending the values of traditional middle-class America (Consciousness I) against both the liberal onslaught of the Corporate welfare-warfare State (Consciousness II), and the misguided communitarianism and loopy egalitarianism of Reich’s Consciousness III counterculture.
(The best, most thorough examination of the Reich book and its powerful impact is The CON III Controversy: The Critics Look At The Greening of America, edited by Philip Nobile.)
Looking back in hindsight of how our technocratic society has actually evolved over the past several decades, I believe Tuccille and Rothbard posed a deceptive Hobson’s choice. It was never really a matter of either/or, of insisting one choose between Consciousness I or Consciousness III, in opposition to the dreaded, stultifying Consciousness II of the bureaucratic Corporate State.
What has emerged can only be described as a bold synthesis of seemingly disparate elements, of Consciousness I entrepreneurial savvy and dynamic capitalistic innovation combined with Consciousness III’s holistic vision of self-realization and celebration of freedom.
These ideas are put forth in one of the most brilliant, and under-appreciated books of our time, Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism.
What a refreshing and incredibly illuminating book. There is absolutely nothing like it.
This fascinating volume tells more about what has really been going on for the past fifty years to shape our digital present and cyber future than anything else I’ve encountered.
More than anything else, it confirms Ron Paul’s liberating assertion that "Freedom Brings Us Together."
Exactly the powerful and reassuring message we need on our continuing ideological odyssey.
Charles A. Burris [send him mail] is a history instructor in an American high school.