The Unthinking Right

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With each
published interview, Ron Paul only seems to become more articulate,
more persuasive and compelling, more to the pedagogical point
in explaining the meaning and priority of liberty as the central
political principle. Those of us who understand can only cheer.
Those who hold contradictory opinions — favoring liberty in some
areas and government expansion in others — find his views, in
the words of National
, “quixotic — unquestionably a little weird.”

Let’s talk
about weird. What’s weird is the world of National Review
where it troubles no one to call for huge spending cuts and slashing
government at the domestic level while defending the worst form
of global imperialism abroad, complete with reflexive defenses
of every violation of human rights and liberty.

In what sense
can these people claim to favor freedom? Julian Assange released
a bunch of boring emails between government bureaucrats and National
Review wants
him prosecuted under the Espionage Act, passed by Woodrow Wilson
in 1917 to persecute his political opponents in America. Editor
Rich Lowry writes
the following paragraph and fully expects his readers to pick
up rocks to stone Assange:

He wants
to expose to retribution those who cooperate with us on the
ground in war zones. He wants to undercut domestic support for
our wars. He wants to embarrass our foreign allies and exact
a price for their trust in us. He wants to complicate sensitive
operations like securing nuclear material in Pakistan and attacking
terrorists with missiles in Yemen…. Confronting a dangerous
world is difficult enough without the brazen exposure of the
nation's secrets…. Surely, the same Justice Department that
sued Arizona for daring to enforce the nation's immigration
laws can find a creative way to harry and shut down Assange.

So much for
opposing big government. This paragraph reveals that Lowry believes
in an identity between the citizens and the imperial national
state (“us,” to his mind, means you, me, and the Pentagon). These
people seem to think that anyone who releases what the government
calls a state secret — no matter how boring and irrelevant it
is — should be subjected to the “severest possible punishment,”
which would presumably include the torture that is also consistently
defended on their pages.

What a distance
these people have traveled from their ideological ancestors. After
World War II, it took about ten years before the American right
could be cajoled into embracing militarism as an essential plank
in their platform. In doing so, they gave up their traditional
love of non-interventionism as an essential aspect of liberty.
And what made them give it up? In a word, it was communism.

The rap from
the late 1950s through the late 1980s was that there was a global
struggle that was the essential challenge of the time. It was
a struggle between individualism and collectivism. The struggle
took place on the domestic level between those who favored capitalism
and those who wanted a highly regulated, Keynesianized, socialized
economy. This struggle was mirrored on an international level
because there were these communists running around trying to impose
their godless collectivism on all kinds of innocent people around
the world, and they had to be stopped. Therefore a consistent
individualist could and would oppose big government at home and
embrace the use of American military might to roll back communism

That was
the ideological tableau that was painted by the likes of William
F. Buckley and Whittaker Chambers, and many good people were drawn
to it, even sincere libertarians like Frank Mayer went along with
it. On the surface it seemed to make some sense. You had to have
a pretty keen eye to figure out that it was all a pack of lies,
that this was an old-fashioned, illiberal imperialism sneaking
in under a different guise.


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So far as
I know, there were only a handful of people on the right who saw
the Cold War as the statist racket that it was. They were led
by Murray Rothbard, who documented the whole business in his essential
book The
Betrayal of the American Right
, and included people like
Leonard Read, who was for peace in private but pretty much decided
not to talk about it for the duration.

In any case,
it took something like the great global menace of Soviet communism
to persuade the advocates of limited government to go along with
cheering on big-government imperialism in the tradition of FDR,
Truman, and Wilson. It ran against their instincts that rightly
saw military expansionism and war as particular kinds of socialistic

But let bygones
be bygones at this point. In 1989, something very striking happened.
The Soviet Union imploded, as did its satellite states. The enemy
vanished from the planet. One might have supposed that at this
point, conservatives would have reverted to their pre-Cold War
posture of favoring peace and being suspicious of the state. For
a bit, during the Clinton years, this started to happen.

it didn’t last long. Once a Republican took control of the White
House, the conservatives were at it again, whooping it up for
war, calling the advocates of peace traitors, arguing for the
worst possible Machiavellian policies of lies and the rack for
the opponents of the great god nation state.

Today it
is hard to make sense of why people on the right are so solidly
pro-imperialist. I offer two possible explanations.

The first
is rooted in an ancient nationalist/Manichean instinct variously
alive from the Roman empire in the ancient world through the 19th-century
British experience. The idea here posits that one’s own state
is the light, and the rest of the world is the dark. We must constantly
be on the march to light the darkness through military might in
order to assure the progress of humanity. This explanation posits
a core chauvinism
that has taken hold of this sector of American opinion, and it
is hardly surprising. It’s a very low intellectual orientation,
however, as unthinking as it is unseemly. It also stands in direct
contradiction to all the talk about the desire to limit the state.

explanation is that it is a purely oppositional stance. The American
right is against the left. The left tends toward peacenikism.
Therefore the right must oppose peace. This is a view held by
people who lack the courage to think independently, people who
buy their political ideology pre-packaged right out of the vending
machine. It is a tendency of people who join the College Republicans,
but it is beneath any serious adult.

it is a sad and pathetic thing that people at National Review
would look at a consistent proponent of liberty like Ron Paul
and find his views completely quixotic, bizarre, unpredictable,
incoherent, whereas every single one of the monikers applies in
spades to a crowd that imagines itself opposing government while
lustily calling for the death of anyone who would dare reveal
to the public the inner workings of that government.

H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him
], former editorial assistant to Ludwig von Mises and congressional
chief of staff to Ron Paul, is founder and chairman of the Mises
, executor for the estate of Murray N. Rothbard, and
editor of
See his

Best of Lew Rockwell

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