The Forgotten Men You Should Know About

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by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Recently by Thomas DiLorenzo: Time's Rx: More Politics, More Politicians, More Lincoln Worship

     

In their new book, Forgotten Conservatives in American History, Brion McClanahan and the great Clyde Wilson discuss how the Machiavellian-minded connivers and plotters known as "neoconservatives" weaseled their way into the Reagan administration and hence "became the accepted, respectable Right in American discourse . . ." Genuine conservatives, which during the u201860s and u201870s included traditionalists, libertarians, anti-communists, and other opponents of leftism, "became an irrelevant and possibly dangerous fringe, disdained by all decent people. . . " This latter category would include most readers of LewRockwell.com and certainly all the writers.

The "new conservatives" who now run the Republican Party and much of the Democratic Party as well, are a peculiar bunch. The leading lights of "neoconservatism" during the Reagan years "were Trotskyites who had replaced their hereditary agenda of global socialist revolution with one of a global revolution of u2018democratic capitalism.' Unashamedly embracing Machiavellian tactics against opponents and against the American people, they gloried in u2018big government' and fervently planned to project American armed force around the world, the national debt be damned." None of this "could be considered a "conservative" agenda . . .", they write.

McClanahan and Wilson don't mention it, but the intellectual guru of most of the high profile neoconservatives was the late Leo Strauss, a University of Chicago professor. Strauss was quite the crackpot. He was an atheist who "scoffed at the idea of God," wrote Daniel Flynn in his book, Intellectual Morons, but who nevertheless preached about the value of using religion to dupe the masses into accepting the neocons' interventionist foreign policy agenda. The "evangelical Christians" in America would be Exhibit A of the success of this Machiavellian strategy.

Strauss's nuttiness was nowhere more on display than when he bloviated on about the "value" of numerology in reading books. For example, in his book, Persecution and the Art of Writing, he insisted that "a book's first and last words have special meaning." The famous book The Prince, about Machiavelli, "consists of 26 chapters and twenty six is the numerical value of the letters of the sacred name of God in Hebrew," Strauss wrote. Wowwwww. Far out.

Strauss's followers, wrote Flynn, are a bizarre cult whose members claim to know TRUTH that "lesser humans fail to grasp"; they "talk in a kind of code to one another"; and "genuflect to their great guru" Strauss. They steadfastly believe in the idea of "the noble lie" and "exalt dishonesty in the service of supposedly noble causes." As such, they are among the worst of the Lincoln mythologists, among other things.

But I digress. The real focus of Forgotten Conservatives in American History is the ideas of sixteen or so historical figures who espoused genuinely American, conservative ideas, as opposed to the weird and creepy Eastern European totalitarian schemes of the "respectable" neoconservatives . These men include John Taylor of Caroline, James Fenimore Cooper, Condy Raguet, President John Tyler, Abel Upshur, Grover Cleveland, William Graham Sumner, H.L. Mencken, Mel Bradford, and others. All of these men could have been listed as former LewRockwell.com columnists had the Web site been around in some published form since the early nineteenth century.

What do these historical figures have in common? They all share, to some degree, a belief in genuine American conservatism as defined by McClanahan and Wilson (drawing on the late Russell Kirk). This includes avoiding burdening future generations with government debt; honoring the Constitution; remembering the founders' warnings about "entangling alliances" with foreigners; valuing "voluntary community" and "a larger sphere for private society, and a smaller sphere for government, especially the federal government"; opposition to "multiculturalism" or "an enforced monolithic non-culture"; and belief in the necessity of free markets and opposition to corporate welfare and other forms of neo-mercantilism.

The writing in the book is eloquent, and the substance is inspiring, informative, and entertaining. The chapter on H.L. Mencken alone is worth the purchase price. The authors discuss Mencken's famous statement that "government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods." Mencken was a relentless critic of all politicians, but especially of the worst of the worst, such as Woodrow Wilson, whose professorial writings were described by Mencken with "its ideational hollowness, its ludicrous strutting and bombast, its heavy dependence on greasy and meaningless words . . . and almost inexhaustible mine of bad writing, faulty generalizing, childish pussyfooting, ludicrous posturing and naïve stupidity. To find a match for it one must try to imagine a biography of the Duke of Wellington by his barber."

The Virginia senator John Taylor of Caroline was the author of six books that espoused the Jeffersonian position in the American political tradition. These were all deeply scholarly books in stark contrast to the silly, elementary-schoolish "biographies" that today's politicians hire ghost writers to write for them. McClanahan and Wilson explain how Taylor's writings smoked out and relentlessly critiqued the Hamiltonian statists of his time with their schemes of perpetual government debt, corporate welfare, protectionist tariffs, and an insidious national bank. He was also an eloquent proponent of the Jeffersonian states' rights position.

While many early American Northern politicians were relying on the propaganda efforts of two early corporate PR flacks — Mathew and Henry C. Cary — in bamboozling the public into believing that high taxes, high protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare, and a national bank operated by politicians was "in the public interest," the North also produced a number of prolific writers who understood economics and spoke economic sense. One of them is the Philadelphian Condy Raguet, who was an "eloquent opponent" of every aspect of the Hamilton/Henry Clay/Lincoln "American System" of British-style corporate welfare, central banking, and protectionism. As such, Raguet could reasonably be labeled as a precursor to the free-market, Austrian School of Economics. If Ron Paul had been alive then and running for president, Raguet would surely have been one of his top economic advisors.

McClanahan and Wilson describe James Fenimore Cooper's book, The American Democrat, published in 1838, as "one of the most important and original political treatises written in the antebellum United States." Cooper's writings explain how "It was the Whigs — the party of business . . . who had vulgarized and subverted American democracy" and not "the Democrats — advocated of states' rights and laissez faire." This was also a theme of some of Murray Rothbard's writings on this period of American history.

McClanahan and Wilson provide insights into why Ivan Eland, in his recent book Recarving Rushmore, labeled John Tyler as the best of all American presidents when it comes to fulfilling his duty to protect the lives, liberty and property of American citizens. Tyler was another Virginia Jeffersonian who became president when, while serving as vice president in 1841, President William Henry Harrison dropped dead a month after his inauguration. He outraged the statist Whigs, led by Henry Clay, by vetoing national banking, protectionist tariff, and corporate welfare legislation the Whigs assumed would be rammed down the throats of the American public with "their man" (Harrison) finally in the White House. Alas, they would have to wait until the old Whig Abraham Lincoln occupied that office twenty years later.

If the chapter on Mencken alone is not worth the purchase price, the chapter on John C. Calhoun, presumably written by Clyde Wilson, the world's preeminent Calhoun scholar, is. Calhoun was Murray Rothbard's favorite American political philosopher, and the reader can quickly understand why by reading this short chapter.

Then there is Grover Cleveland, the last good Jeffersonian Democrat; the great William Graham Sumner; the anti-war Lindbergs of Minnesota; famed novelist William Faulkner; Senator Sam Ervin; and Professor Mel Bradford, the great Lincoln critic of the last generation, among others.

If the neoconservatives ever get around to reviewing Forgotten Conservatives in American History, they will probably look at it like Dracula would look at a Christian cross. Which is exactly why the book should be read by all real conservatives, especially libertarians.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His latest book is Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — And What It Means for America Today. His latest book is Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government.

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