Two Rights, Old and New Chapter 1 of The Betrayal of the American Right


In the spring of 1970, a new political term – "the hard hats" – burst upon the American consciousness. As the hard-hatted construction workers barreled their way around the Wall Street area, beating up college kids and peace demonstrators, earning the admiration of the right wing and a citation from President Nixon, one of the banners they raised summed up in a single phrase how remarkably the right wing has changed over the past two decades. For the banner said simply: "God Bless the Establishment." In that single phrase, so typical of the current right wing, the hard-hats were expressing the age-old political philosophy of Conservatism, that philosophy which formed the central core of the originally labeled "Conservatism" of early nineteenth-century Europe. In fact, it is the philosophy that has marked genuinely conservative thought, regardless of label, since the ancient days of Oriental despotism: an all-encompassing reverence for "Throne-and-Altar," for whatever divinely sanctioned State apparatus happened to be in existence. In one form or another, "God Bless the Establishment" has always been the cry on behalf of State power.

But how many Americans realize that, not so long ago, the American right wing was almost the exact opposite of what we know today? In fact, how many know that the term "Establishment" itself, now used almost solely as a term of opprobrium by the Left, was first applied to America not by C. Wright Mills or other Left sociologists, but by National Review theoretician Frank S. Meyer, in the early days of that central organ of the American Right? In the mid-1950s, Meyer took a term which had previously been used only – and rather affectionately – to describe the ruling institutions of Great Britain, and applied the term with proper acidity to the American scene. Broader and more subtle than "ruling class," more permanent and institutionalized than a "power elite," "the Establishment" quickly became a household word. But the ironic and crucial point is that Meyer's and National Review's use of the term in those days was bitterly critical: the spirit of the right wing, then and particularly earlier, was far more "God Damn" than "God Bless" the establishment.1 The difference between the two right wings, "Old" and "New," and how one was transformed into the other, is the central theme of this book.

The Old Right, which constituted the American right wing from approximately the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, was, if nothing else, an Opposition movement. Hostility to the Establishment was its hallmark, its very lifeblood. In fact, when in the 1950s the monthly newsletter RIGHT attempted to convey to its readers news of the right wing, it was of course forced to define the movement it would be writing about – and it found that it could define the right wing only in negative terms: in its total opposition to what it conceived to be the ruling trends of American life. In brief, the Old Right was born and had its being as the opposition movement to the New Deal, and to everything, foreign and domestic, that the New Deal encompassed: at first, to burgeoning New Deal statism at home, and then, later in the '30s, to the drive for American global intervention abroad. Since the essence of the Old Right was a reaction against runaway Big Government at home and overseas, this meant that the Old Right was necessarily, even if not always consciously, libertarian rather than statist, "radical" rather than traditional conservative apologists for the existing order.


  1. By the 1964 campaign, the irreverent Rightist Noel E. Parmentel, Jr., was writing, in his "Folk Songs for Conservatives":

    Won't you come home, Bill Buckley, Won't you come home From the Establishment?

Table of Contents: The Betrayal of the American Right

Murray Rothbard Archives