Is Frank Chodorov?
by Murray N. Rothbard
published in Left
& Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought, 1967.
It was almost
twenty years ago that I first met Frank Chodorov. It was at one
of those luxurious but terribly dreary cocktail parties that have
long served as rallying ground for the intelligentsia of
the American right wing. There the more articulate of the rightists
are wont to gather to declaim at each other for the umpteenth time
on the perils of inflation, the immorality of welfare recipients,
and the clear and present menace of Walter Reuther to the vitals
of the American Republic.
These and similar
clichés have long provided the feeble structure of application
for the glittering but always vague generalities on "free enterprise,"
"limited government," and the American Way. The men of the Right
have long been content to set forth this windy rhetoric as a convenient
and almost "non-controversial" substitute for hard-edged ideas,
while on the back stairs they dicker with the brokers of Big Government
for an increase in their subsidies and privileges and a cut in their
that crowd of time-servers, Frank Chodorov stood out like a blaze
of radiant light. He stood out at that cocktail party, too, the
only person alive and ablaze amidst the whole gaggle of one-dimensional
and identical men around him. There he stood, his tie askew, his
balding head disheveled, the ashes from his beloved pipe flying
all around, his intelligent and merry eyes twinkling as he scored
some outrageous, logical, and beautifully penetrating point to some
clod who couldn't tell the difference between the host of cardboard
"individualists" and this one genuine article.
For Frank was
sui generis, and the vast gulf in the quality of mind and
the rigor of ideas between him and the other "rightist" intellectuals
was, in a sense, embodied in that other gulf of spirit and outward
form. Unflinching honesty, courage, love of the intellect and the
products of the mind, these are some of the things that distinguished
Frank Chodorov to the very core of his being and set him many light
years above his confreres. While the others prattled on
about liberty and individualism, Frank Chodorov really
meant it; he was an individualist, and when he died in
late December 1966 an entire era died with him.
disciple of his beloved mentor, the great libertarian Albert Jay
Nock, Frank Chodorov, again unlike his "libertarian" colleagues,
never forgot for an instant that the State is the great predatory
enemy of the human race, that the State is, in its very being, the
organization and regularization of predation, exploitation, and
robbery. He did not, as do most classical liberals and alleged libertarians,
merely regard the State as another instrument of social utility,
which in proper measure might be useful and even praiseworthy. Scorning
evasion and compromise, Frank Chodorov saw the State, from early
days to last, as a profoundly anti-social institution, the canker
in the heart of any attempt at peaceful cooperation by free individuals
shall never forget the profound thrill a thrill of intellectual
liberation that ran through me when I first encountered the
name of Frank Chodorov, months before we were to meet in person.
As a young graduate student in economics, I had always believed
in the free market, and had become increasingly libertarian over
the years, but this sentiment was as nothing to the headline that
burst forth in the title of a pamphlet that I chanced upon at the
university bookstore: Taxation
is Robbery, by Frank Chodorov. There it was; simple perhaps,
but how many of us, let alone how many professors of the economics
of taxation, have ever given utterance to this shattering and demolishing
truth? Frank was always like that; while the pusillanimous rightists
pleaded with our rulers to cut the income tax by a few percent,
Frank had the perception and the profound honesty to "tell it like
While the general
run of rightists decorously deplored the increase in the public
debt and urged the government to retrench a bit, Frank Chodorov
boldly and logically exhorted his readers: "Don't Buy Bonds!" Since
he was a real individualist and not a would-be member of a team
of White House advisors, Frank's "alienation" from the government
of the United States was total; hence, he was the only one of the
host of ostensible believers in the free market economy in this
country to call for the out- right repudiation of the public debt,
and to see that such repudiation is infinitely more libertarian
and infinitely less criminal than looting taxpayers to redeem that
a genuine individualist, Frank again pursued the logic of liberty
without flinching to arrive at an even more dangerous position:
"isolationism," in short, absolute limitation upon government action
in the foreign as well as the domestic sphere. This brand of "isolationism"
meant, quite consistently, economic and cultural exchange to the
uttermost (free trade, freedom of migration, friendship with all
foreign peoples), coupled with the political isolating
of the US government from all forms of meddling with and pushing
around of the people of other countries.
militarism or conscription in any form. For his intransigent opposition
to American imperialism's entry into World War II Frank Chodorov
was obliged to leave his post as director of the Henry George School
of Social Science in New York, and to eke out a precarious living
as the owner, publisher, editor, and distributor of analysis,
one of the best, though undoubtedly the most neglected, of the "little
magazines" that has ever been published in the United States. Over
a decade later, and toward the end of his writing career in 1955,
Frank, as editor of the revived Freeman, did his best to
reaffirm the values of isolationism and to stem the headlong and
tragic rush of the right wing toward the even more disastrous imperial
crusade of the Cold War.
the end Frank tried his valiant best to stem the concomitant rush
of the right wing to adopt the label of "conservative." Frank knew
his intellectual history; he was and always would be an "individualist,"
and he recognized "conservatism" to be the embodiment of the creed
of the ancient Statist enemy. Writing to protest the designation
of himself as a "conservative" in the pages of National Review,
Frank retorted: "anyone who calls me a conservative gets a punch
in the nose." His cri de coeur, alas, went unheeded; and
a lot of deserving folk remain unpunched to this day.
was the crown of Frank Chodorov's achievement. The chief writer
as well as editor and publisher of this four-page monthly broadsheet,
Frank, sitting in a dingy loft in lower Manhattan, month after month,
published his beautifully written, penetrating, and infinitely logical
and hence radical essays. As a stylist he was a distinguished
craftsman, emulating Albert Jay Nock; his characteristic mode was
the quietly penetrating parable.
And so: the
attacks on taxation, on public schooling, on government debt, on
militarism; and the loving evocation of his heroes Nock,
Thoreau, Spencer. Going through the back files of analysis
will not take much time; but the reward in communicating with the
mind of a keen and fearless and clear-headed individualist at work
will make this an experience infinitely more educational than years
of courses at the multiversity.
For Frank as
a person, one adjective corny though it may seem persists
in crowding out all the others: "lovable." All of us loved Frank,
and loved him deeply; even those who were scarcely fit to be in
the same room with him, even those who used him only to betray everything
he stood for, even they realized that here, above all others, was
a man. Wedded to that keen intelligence and merriment, to that fearlessness
and candor, was an infinite gentleness of soul, an almost childlike
simplicity and open-heartedness that poured forth his generosity
and his spirit to the eager young.
that very first meeting at the cocktail party I was drawn irresistibly
to Frank, and would sit at his feet imbibing his wisdom and his
unvarnished insight. Always eager to give young libertarians their
start, he was the first to publish my own fledgling work; I remember
proudly my first article in print: a review of H.L. Mencken's A
in the August, 1949 issue of analysis.
One of Frank's
great attributes was his love of intellectual discourse, of the
play of ideas and the life of the mind. A son of rough-and-ready
days of Old New York, Frank cut his eyeteeth in intellectual discussion
and debate when these flourished in the cafeterias of the Lower
East Side in the early decades of the century. It was characteristic
of Frank that he once lamented to me that there didn't seem to be
any Marxism around anymore. With Marxists one could argue and converse;
one could slash away at the labor theory of value and make an impact.
But what can you do, he went on, with pragmatists, with men whose
statism or socialism is not grounded upon any logic or principle?
It was a sad,
sad day for me and maybe for Frank as well when his wonderful one-man
publication died; it was like the death of a dearly beloved member
of the family. Officially, as with almost all publications these
days, analysis did not die, but was merged with the Washington
weekly Human Events. In those days Human Events
was not the conservative puff sheet it was later to become, but
a newsletter of some distinction; but still, the loss was irreparable,
even though Frank continued to write frequently for Human Events
as associate editor.
I shall never
forget the last time I saw Frank as he was packing to make the move
to Washington, a move that was for him truly cataclysmic for he
was going, he said a bit fearfully, into the heart of the State
itself, into an environment of almost pure statism, and he hoped
that he would he able to remain uncontaminated by the deadly atmosphere.
Frank, in those
days, was far more unsentimental and radical about politics than
I. I was an ardent "extreme right-wing Republican," in the
days of course when this term meant isolationist and at least partial
devotion to the liberty of the individual, and not a racist or enthusiast
for the obliteration of any peasant whose ideology might differ
from ours. But Frank, even then, would look at me quizzically and
want to know why I was concerned with political claptrap; he personally
had not voted for decades and had no intention of ever voting again,
regardless of the degree of statism of the particular candidate.
I replied that extreme right-wing Republicans, though of little
hope in rolling back the statist tide, at least would keep things
from getting worse. "What's wrong," Frank countered, "with things
being allowed to get worse?"
remained a few years an exile in Washington, and then returned to
New York for an all-too-brief stint as editor of the Freeman
during 1955. Our paths crossed when I had the honor of succeeding
Frank as Washington columnist for the now totally forgotten "little"
West Coast magazine, Faith and Freedom. After 1955, however,
Frank's great voice was stilled. Partly for lack of suitable outlet,
then largely from the tragic illness that was to cut him down following
the death of his beloved wife, shortly after their golden wedding
anniversary. Frank's final flowering was his last ideological testament,
the brilliantly written The
Rise and Fall of Society, published in 1959, at the age
of 72. For the rest, we must hastily draw a veil over these years,
not only because of his lengthy illness but because of the betrayal
of his name and his ideas in the latter years by those whom Frank,
in his nobility of heart and simplicity of soul, embraced and trusted
mark of Frank's life now transcends all of that, as a giant blots
out the pygmies that might attempt to surround him. And yet it will
be a long time before they can be forgiven. One of the last times
that I saw Frank I recalled to him how much I had loved analysis,
and how much it had meant to me, both intellectually and personally.
A gleam, a strong hint of the old merry twinkle, came back into
his tired eyes, and he said, wistfully: "Ah yes, analysis.
That was the one time in my life I could write what I really believed."
As we gathered
a few weeks ago at Frank's funeral, we old acquaintances, friends,
and enemies, there was a very real sense that in paying last respects
to Frank we had found a life with a very special meaning, a meaning
that could transcend the very real grief at his loss. Surely one
part of that meaning is that we must all pledge to fight to bring
about a world where a Frank Chodorov will receive all the honors,
all the acclaim and even all the simple honesty of treatment, that
is his just due.
especially we must do what he wanted us to do above all: to hold
high the torch of liberty, and to pass it on to succeeding generations.
We mourn and grieve his loss; but we are proud that Frank has joined
the Immortals. Above all, we are proud and privileged to have known
him and loved him as a friend.
N. Rothbard (19261995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State, Conceived
in Liberty, What
Has Government Done to Our Money, For
a New Liberty, The
Case Against the Fed, and many
other books and articles. He was
also the editor with Lew Rockwell of The
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