This remarkable piece of historiography will change the way you look at American politics. It shows that the corruption of American "conservatism" began long before George W. Bush ballooned the budget and asserted dictatorial rights over the country and the world. The American Right long ago slid into the abyss.
Betrayal of the American Right is the full story, and the author is none other than Murray N. Rothbard, who witnessed it all firsthand. He tells his own story and reveals the machinations behind the subversion of an anti-state movement into one that cheers statism of the worst sort.
The book was written in the mid-1970s and is only now published for the first time. Each time a prospective publisher promised to go ahead, the deal fell through. Even so, it has been privately circulated for the 30 years since it was written and everyone lucky enough to own a copy of the manuscript knew he had a treasure.
People who have read it swear that it is the best account ever of how the old right was subverted to become a propaganda branch of the state, not just recently but fifty years ago. So Rothbard’s account is not only a critical historical document; it also has explosive explanatory power.
According to Rothbard, the corruption of the right began in the ten years after the end of the Second World War. Before then, a strong movement of journalists, writers, and even politicians had formed during the New Deal and after. There was a burgeoning literature to explain why New Deal-style central planning was bad for American liberty. They also saw that central planning and war were linked as two socialistic programs.
The experience of war was telling. Prices were controlled by central edict. Businesses were not free to buy and sell. Government spending went through the roof. The Fed’s money machine ran constantly. The war was a continuation of the New Deal by others means. They learned that a president dictatorial enough to manipulate the country into war would think nothing of ending liberty at home.
There were wonderful intellectuals in this movement: Frank Chodorov, John T. Flynn, Garet Garrett, Albert Jay Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, and dozens of others. This movement didn’t want to conserve anything but liberty. They wanted to overthrow the alien regime that had taken hold of the country and restore respect for the Constitution. They believed in the free market as a creative mechanism to improve society. They favored a restoration of the gold standard, decentralized government, and peace and friendship with all nations (as George Washington wanted).
Murray Rothbard recounts all this, and then enters into the picture. He was a central player in the unfolding events. As a young man, he first encountered the new generation of people on the right who departed dramatically from the old. They were the first "neoconservatives." They favored war as a means. They were soft on executive dictatorship. They considered economics rather trivial compared with the struggle against international foes.
They found new uses for the state in the domestic realm as well. They liked the CIA and the FBI, and no amount of military spending was enough for them. A leader of the movement William F. Buckley even called for a "totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores" so long as Russia, which had been an ally in the war, had a communist system.
This transformation was formative for Rothbard. He began an intellectual journey that would lead to a break from the movement that was now calling itself conservative. He studied with Ludwig von Mises during and after his graduate school years. He wrote a seminal book on economics. He wrote at a fevered pace for the popular press. By 1965, he found that he was pretty much alone in carrying on the Old Right vision. Most everyone else had died or had entered into that long trajectory that would lead to George Bush.
As Thomas Woods writes in the introduction, "It is not just a history of the Old Right, or of the anti-interventionist tradition in America. It is the story at least in part of Rothbard’s own political and intellectual development: the books he read, the people he met, the friends he made, the organizations he joined, and so much more."
Obviously, little of this has made it into the official history of the United States. The movement called the Old Right is rarely discussed or even acknowledged, except to be smeared as backwards and isolationist. Countless times we read that the American right was founded by National Review, and nothing of any merit existed before.
In fact, the most consistent opponents of Harry Truman’s early Cold War measures were on the ideological right. They saw the whole thing as a trick to keep government control and spending in place. They resisted every step. And they were precisely right: Truman’s whole plan was to prevent Republican political advances by distracting people with trumped-up foreign threats.
Among the resistors was Senator Robert Taft. He opposed the Truman Doctrine, Nato, the Marshall Plan, and he refused to back more military spending in times of peace. And who supported all these policies? It was people on the left, such as The Nation. The Left favored big government in the mode of FDR. The Right was against it.
But how many historians know anything about these crucial years? How many know that the left and right changed place from the late 50s through the 1960s? Very few indeed. What Rothbard shows is that the cause of peace is our heritage, and that free markets has been united with the antiwar cause from the founding fathers through the Old Right and as late as the 1950s.
There is so much in this book to appreciate but especially valuable are his comments on the Left in the 1960s. There might have seemed to be some hope for some type of collaboration. They were against war and for civil liberties at a time when the right was becoming increasingly imperialist and warmongering. Rothbard explains his attempt to educate the left on economics. Alas, there was no hope. He had to go it alone and forge a completely new movement called libertarianism.
Rothbard plays a much more important role in the history of American politics than is usually acknowledged. He is the link between the Old Right and the new libertarian movement of our times. It was Rothbard who brought Mises’s work to the attention of a new generation, writing about his ideas and expanding them. It was Rothbard who worked not only as an intellectual but an activist. It shows what one man and a typewriter can do.
This book has been the best-kept secret in political writing for the last half century. Now at last it can be revealed to the world. Betrayal of the America Right is the tell-all book that shows why and how the ideological world turned upside down.
- Introduction by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
- Preface to the 1991 Revision by Murray N. Rothbard
- Two Rights, Old and New
- Origins of the Old Right, I: Early Individualism
- Origins of the Old Right, II: The Tory Anarchism of Mencken and Nock
- The New Deal and the Emergence of the Old Right
- Isolationism and the Foreign New Deal
- World War II: The Nadir
- The Postwar Renaissance I: Libertarianism
- The Postwar Renaissance II: Politics and Foreign Policy
- The Postwar Renaissance II: Libertarians and Foreign Policy
- The Postwar Renaissance IV: Swansong of the Old Right
- Decline of the Old Right
- National Review and the Triumph of the New Right
- The Early 1960s: From Right to Left
- The Late 1960s: The New Left
Murray 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 Rothbard-Rockwell Report.