"America's beleaguered conservatives have kept so busy surviving that they have paid scant attention to an enormous fissure in their ranks," wrote William F. Buckley in 1954. This "fissure" Buckley spoke of was in regards to the Soviet Union, but the animus behind this rift ran much deeper: what Buckley called the "conservative movement" was, in reality an uneasy alliance between two groups, conservatives and libertarians, who forged a coalition in hopes of defeating the leviathan state. Once in bed, however, the two parties quickly realized their respective world-views made cordiality next to impossible foreign policy regarding the Soviet Union only brought this animosity to the surface. Buckley was correct, however, in that these two groups had worked so hard to survive, they had failed to realize the vast chasm that separated them.
The polite tone and tenor of Mr. Buckley's 1954 remarks had all but vanished by his 1971 New York Times commentary, "The Conservative Reply." Here, Buckley attempts to read Murray Rothbard and the rest of the "moral naifs" out of the conservative movement. "The ideological licentiousness that rages through America today makes anarchy attractive to the simple-minded. Even to the ingeniously simple-minded," opined Buckley. Obviously something had occurred during the course of these 17 years to prompt Buckley, and the rest of the "conservative" movement to distance themselves from the growing band of libertarians (anarchists and minarchists alike) the question is what?
Certainly anarchism was not a new phenomenon to the libertarian movement. Buckley was an early disciple of Albert Jay Nock, self-described anarchist. Frank Chodorov, one of Buckley's closest friends was, in some manner or form, an anarchist. F.A. "Baldy" Harper, who left the Foundation for Economic Education and later went on to form the Institute for Humane Studies in 1961, was an anarchist.
The recent war in Iraq only galvanized the difference between the two respective groups. Writes Joseph Stromberg, "Issues of war and peace do not sum up the differences between the Old and the New Right, but they are at the heart of it." Or, as National Review's David Frum (correctly) wrote in 2003, "War is a great clarifier. It forces people to take sides." Indeed, Frum and a whole group of conservatives did choose sides neo and mainstream conservatives now favor the spread of militaristic central planning to far away lands.
What follows is a bibliographic attempt to answer the question of what makes libertarians and conservatives different. Where possible I have linked to the articles and books, but much of the debate transpired before the advent of the Internet, and as such, is only available in hard copy.
Two sources in particular warrant special attention Murray Rothbard and Bill Buckley's National Review. In many ways they encapsulate the rift. Where as they may have found many points of agreement when National Review was founded in 1955 (and even this is a stretch), by the early 60's, the New Right was far removed from its old right roots. Militant anti-communism coupled with an increasing social conservative statism were tendencies many libertarians found distasteful. If the modus vivendi of the early 1940 revival of the libertarian/conservative movement had been the defeat the leviathan state, only the libertarians stayed the course with any consistency.
The Old Right
As with any political label, it is hard to encapsulate a movement or any group of individuals in a word, or in this case two words. Yet it can safely be said that the "Old Right" was born in protest to Roosevelt and the New Deal. Its leaders were H.L Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Garet Garrett, John T. Flynn, Suzanne La Follette and Felix Morley. It is notable that what one finds in their writings one can still find in the work of most libertarians today. In fact, it could argue that the modern libertarian movement has more in common with conservatives of the 30s and 40s than do contemporary conservatives. The ideas of the Old Right conservatives (skepticism of government planning, isolationist foreign policy and a general belief in the free market) have taken a back seat to the modern conservative emphasis on domestic pragmatism and international interventionism.
It must be stressed that there was no single Old Right movement that spoke in unison. As a movement, it was primarily an opposition movement, and as such, the general beliefs outlined above are just that general beliefs. However, in order to delineate the conservative and libertarian movement, it is useful to start here. NB: This listing of Old Right sources is by no means exhaustive; I have only attempted to give an overview of the movement to show how far conservatives of today have moved from their original beliefs.
For excellent overviews of the Old Right movement, see Sheldon Richman, New Deal Nemesis: The u2018Old Right' Jeffersonians (Independent Review, Vol. I, No. 2, Fall 1996) and two pieces by Murray Rothbard, The Anti-War, Anti-State Right (Continuum, Summer 1964, pp. 220231 and first published as “The Transformation of the American Right.”) and The Old Right (originally published in Inquiry, 3, 18 [October 27, 1980], pp. 24–27.) Next to the economic policies of the New Deal, foreign adventures abroad were the primary concern of the Old Right. See Rothbard's essay, The Foreign Policy of the Old Right. There is an excellent collection of pre-1945 conservative thought entitled, The Superfluous Men: Conservative Critics of Modern Culture, 19001945 (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1999). You can read the introduction here.
While there are many who comprised the Old Right, three are worth singling out for the volume of their writings, and the influence they had during the late 30's and early 40's. The first is Felix Morley, the Pulitzer Prize winning editor of the Washington Post (19331940), president of Haverford College, co-founder of Human Events and prominent critic of American imperialism. See Joseph R. Stromberg's Felix Morley: An Old Fashioned Republican Critic of Statism and Interventionism (Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 269277) and Felix Morley: An Old Fashioned Republican. Leonard Liggio, in Felix Morley and the Commonwealthman Tradition: The Country-Party, Centralization and the American Empire (Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 279286) looks at Morley's historical analysis of the libertarian movement and the rise of the state. Of Morley's books, Freedom and Federalism (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981 ) and The Power in the People (Nash Publishing, 1972 ) are his best critiques of imperialism abroad and the welfare state at home.
Frank Chodorov, born Fishel Chodorowsky to Russian immigrants, was a powerful voice among the Old Right. Influenced primarily by Albert Jay Nock and Henry George, Chodorov was a prolific writer and ardent opponent of the State in any of its manifestations. In 1969, M. Stanton Evans noted, "The Chodorov imprint is visible in every phase of conservative effort." William F. Buckley was greatly taken with his four-page journal of opinion, analysis. Indeed, in a letter to E. Victor Milione, Buckley admitted, "It is quite unlikely that I should have pursued a career as a writer but for the encouragement [Chodorov] gave me just after I graduated from Yale." For overviews of Chodorov's life and influence, see Aaron Steelman's Frank Chodorov: Champion of Liberty, Joseph Stromberg's Frank Chodorov: A Libertarian's Libertarian and Charles Hamilton, "Frank Chodorov and the American Right," (The Libertarian Review) December, 1979, pp. 2022. In Frank Chodorov, R.I.P, Murray Rothbard provides a touching tribute to his mentor, while in The Freeman's "People on Our Side: Frank Chodorov" (May 5, 1952) John Chamberlain provides a brief summary of Chodorov's political thought. All of Chodorov's works are worth reading, especially Out of Step (New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1962), One is a Crowd (New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1952), The Income Tax: Root of All Evil (New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1954) and Fugitive Essays (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1980).
John T. Flynn considered himself a liberal his whole life. Born in 1882 Maryland, Flynn rose to prominence as an economic journalist who gradually became FDR's severest critic. His prose is peppered with acerbic wit and keen insight. Perhaps the best place to start is with Flynn's magisterial achievement, The Roosevelt Myth (San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes, 1998 originally published by Devin-Adair in 1948). Flynn's other works include, As We Go Marching (New York: Doubleday, 1944), The Decline of the American Republic (New York: Devin-Adair, 1955), While You Slept (New York: Devin-Adair, 1951), Country Squire in the White House (Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 1972), Forgotten Lessons: Selected Essays by John T. Flynn (Irvington, NY: FEE, 1995) and The Road Ahead: America's Creeping Revolution (New York: Devin Adair, 1953). For two overviews of Flynn's life and writings see Justin Raimondo's John T. Flynn: Exemplar of the Old Right (Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. X, No. 2 (Fall 1992) and John F. McManus' Principles First (The New American, January 31, 2000).
In addition to the contingent of Old Right publicists and journalists, there was active conservative resistance to the New Deal and foreign interventionism within the political arena. See Justus D. Doenecke's, Not to the swift: The old isolationists in the cold war era (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1979) and Storm on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention, 19391941 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). For a look at congressional isolationists, see John C. Donovan, "Congressional Isolationists and the Roosevelt Foreign Policy" (World Politics, vol. 3, No. 3 (Apr., 1951), 299316.)
The twelve years beginning in 1943 and ending in 1955 are pivotal in understanding the gulf that exists today between modern conservatives and libertarians. While the two groups could write for the same magazines in 1940s and early 50s, they rarely spoke by 1955. If domestic economic planning and the rise of the welfare state were paramount concerns for both groups in the early 40s, Soviet aggression abroad and communist infiltration at home became the idée fix of the emerging New Right by the mid fifties.
By the early '40s, the American people had lost much of their faith in free enterprise liberalism. Shaken by the Great Depression and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, America, and indeed most of the Western world, increasingly looked to government for security and stability. To Robert Crunden, "The war period, 19391945, marked the nadir of individualistic, Jeffersonian thought in the United States."
Yet in 1943, stirrings on the Right were evident with the publication of three remarkable books by three remarkable women. It took Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, Rose Wilder Lane's The Discovery of Freedom, and Isabel Paterson's The God of the Machine to reinvigorate the anti-statist movement. If the Old Right was a movement characterized by anti-statist dissent, the epoch beginning in 1943 was marked by a positive vision for liberty. While polemic warnings continued to occur (think Road to Serfdom and As We Go Marching), the free market was slowly gaining intellectual legitimacy.
At least at the beginning of the incipient movement, conservatives and libertarians could find a common enemy in the growth of the New Deal welfare state. As strength in the movement gathered, the two groups quickly discovered they had little in common. Perhaps the most divisive issue was that of foreign policy, specifically what to do about the Soviet Union. In addition to the publications listed below, readers should seek out issues of the old Human Events and Robert LeFevre's Rampart Journal.
Much of this emerging divergence played out in the pages of The Freeman, one of the only publications at the time aimed exclusively at an anti-statist audience. In its modern reincarnation (it had been published first by Albert Jay Nock in the 20s, by his protégée Suzanne La Follette as The New Freeman and finally under the editorship of Frank Chodorov in the 1940s) The Freeman was to be an answer to liberal (in the contemporary sense) publications that glorified the state. As Freeman Editor John Chamberlain was to observe in his autobiography, "If the Nation and the New Republic had not sold intellectuals on the virtues of the planned economy in the '20s and early '30s, there would have been no Roosevelt Revolution." The Freeman was to reverse this trend.
Several articles in particular stand out for their importance in dividing conservatives from libertarians. In Frank Chodorov, "The Return of 1940," (The Freeman) V, 3 (September, 1954), pp. 8182, Chodorov warns of the impending danger to domestic liberty as America mobilized for WWII. Future co-founder of National Review, William S. Schlamm, rebuts Chodorov in "But It Is Not 1940," (The Freeman) V, 5 (November, 1954), pp. 169171. Not one to let issues go lightly, Chodorov fires back in, "A War to Communize America," (The Freeman), V, 5 (November, 1954), pp. 171174. V. Orval Watts courageously argues for free trade with Communist Russia in, "Should We Trade with Russia," (The Freeman), V, 8 (February, 1954), pp. 295297. America's international role is criticized in Frank Chodorov’s, "One Worldism," (The Freeman), V, 9 (March, 1955), pp. 334336 and Samuel B. Pettengill, "Crusading in Asia," (The Freeman), V, 10 (April, 1955), pp. 430432.
Much like The Freeman, Modern Age provided conservatives and libertarians a forum in which to voice their respective opinions. Founded in 1957 by the late Russell Kirk, Modern Age represented the "traditional" camp of the conservative movement, although it was receptive to a wide-range of opinions. The very first issue contained Felix Morley's "American Republic or American Empire," (Modern Age) I, 1 (Summer, 1957), pp. 2027, a particularly stinging criticism of interventionist foreign policy. The following essays deal with the conservative/libertarian paradigm: Donald Atwell Zoll, "The Future of American Conservativism: a New Revival?" (Modern Age) XVIII, 1 (Winter, 1974), pp. 213; Ronald Hamowy, "Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism: Is a Synthesis Possible?" (Modern Age) VIII, 4 (Fall, 1964), pp. 350359; Donald Atwell Zoll, "Philosophical Foundations of the American Political Right," (Modern Age), XV, 2 (Spring, 1971), pp. 114129; M. Stanton Evans, "Varieties of Conservative Experience," (Modern Age) XV, 2 (Spring, 1971), pp. 130137; Gary North, "Reason, Neutrality and the Free Market," (Modern Age) XV, 2 (Spring, 1971), pp. 138142; Russell Kirk, "Libertarians: the Chirping Sectaries," (Modern Age) XXV, 4 (Fall, 1981), pp. 345351; John Hospers, "Conservatives and Libertarians: Differences of Theory and Strategy," (Modern Age) XXV, 4 (Fall, 1981), pp. 369380.
New Individualist Review
This brief, but brilliant journal was edited by several of Hayek's students from the University of Chicago (including Mises Institute Senior Faculty member Ralph Raico). Published from April 1961 until the winter of 1968, the New Individualist Review's decline left a gaping hole for libertarian scholarship. See Edward Facey, "Conservatives or Individualists: Which Are We?" (New Individualist Review) I, 2 (Summer, 1962), pp. 2426. John Weicher, "Mr. Facey's Article: A Comment" (New Individualist Review) I, 2 (Summer, 1962), pp. 2627. William F. Buckley, Jr. and Ronald Hamowy, "u2018National Review: Criticism and Reply" (New Individualist Review) I, 3 (November, 1961), pp. 311. James M. O'Connell, "The New Conservatism" (New Individualist Review) II, 1 (Spring 1962), pp. 1721. John P. McCarthy, "The Shortcomings of Right-Wing Foreign Policy" (New Individualist Review) II, 1 (Spring, 1962), pp. 4452. Benjamin A. Rogge, "New Conservatives and Old Liberals" (New Individualist Review) II, 3 (Autumn, 1963), pp. 3134. Ralph Raico, "The Fusionists on Liberalism and Tradition" (New Individualist Review) III, 3, pp. 2936.
Love it or hate it, National Review's role in the conservative/libertarian movement is hard to deny. From its inception in November, 1955, Bill Buckley's magazine was to exert a profound influence on the shape and direction of conservative movement. Almost from the beginning, however, the magazine's masthead indicated that the "extreme" individualism and isolationism of the libertarian movement would not be tolerated. While the occasional libertarian managed to sneak his way into its pages, National Review was (is) vehemently interventionist. Most of the following essays are negative attacks on libertarians, or libertarians attacking other libertarians: Ramesh Ponnuru, "1984 in 2003?" (National Review) Vol. 55 Issue 10, p17, 2p. Ramesh Ponnuru, "A Duty of Government?" (National Review) Vol. 54 Issue 19, p24. William F. Buckley "Murray Rothbard, RIP" (National Review) Vol. 47 Issue 2, p19, 2p. Lew Rockwell and Jeff Tucker, "AYN RAND IS DEAD" (National Review) Vol. 42 Issue 10, p35, 2p. "Has the Libertarian Movement Gone Kooky" (National Review) Vol. 31 Issue 31, p967, 7p. Ernest Van Den Haag, "The Libertarian Argument" (National Review) Vol. 27 Issue 25, p729, 3p. James Jackson Kilpatrick, "The Libertarians: Nothing if Not Consistent" (National Review) Vol. 27 Issue 39, p1117, 4p. Ernest Van Den Haag, "Libertarian Ideology," (National Review), XXXI, 23 (June 8, 1979), pp. 725739. Jerome Tuccille, "The Failure of Libertarianism," (National Review), XXIX, 16 (April 29th, 1977), pp. 489, 511.
For a more recent debate between National Review and the libertarians on LRC, see Jonah Goldberg's, "Libertarians Under My Skin," "Farewell, Lew Rockwell" and "The Libertarian Lobe." LRC'ers responded here, here and here. David Frum's infamous article, "Unpatriotic Conservatives," received a host of criticism (and rightfully so). See in particular Justin Raimondo's "Commissar Frum," Samuel Francis' "u2018Mainstream' Conservatives Opposing Frumpurge (Quietly, Belatedly)," Williams Rusher, "Civil War on the American right," and Gene Callahan's "Axis of Drivel."
Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Libertarian Forum, Left and Right
Rothbard produced a large amount of writings that deal with definitional problems associated with the conservative/libertarian split. See Murray Rothbard, "Stop Reagan!" (The Libertarian Forum), VIII, 12 (December, 1975), pp. 12. Murray Rothbard, "To The Elections" (The Libertarian Forum), IX, 10 (October, 1976), pp. 12. Murray Rothbard, "The End of Ideology," (The Libertarian Forum), X, 3 (March, 1977), pp. 1. Murray Rothbard, "The Tuccille Defection," (The Libertarian Forum), X, 4 (April, 1977), pp. 45. Murray Rothbard, "New Right: National Review's Anniversary," (Left and Right), II, 2 (Winter, 1966), pp. 813. Murray Rothbard, "Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty," (Left and Right), 1, 1 (Spring, 1965) pp. 422. Lew Rockwell, "Unity on the Right." (Rothbard-Rockwell Report) V, 5 (May, 1994), pp. 1719. Lew Rockwell, "Paleoism: Past, Present, and Future" (Rothbard-Rockwell Report) VI, 12 (December, 1995), pp. 19. Lew Rockwell, "Conservative Wars" (Rothbard-Rockwell Report) VI, 11 (November, 1995), pp. 59. Murray Rothbard, "Dead Wrong" (Rothbard-Rockwell Report) V, 10 (October, 1994), pp. 1112. Murray Rothbard, "For a New Isolationism."
Frank Meyer and Fusionism
Frank Meyer was long-time editor of National Review and the originator of what Brent Bozell called "fusionism." It represented Meyer's noble attempt to unite conservatives and libertarians under a banner of anti-statism and tradition. For many, Meyer's philosophy was nothing novel; rather it merely represented a certain type of libertarian, e.g., one who believed in the limited powers of the state, all the while holding Judeo-Christian values. A good place to start would be Meyer's book, In Defense of Freedom, in which he defines his philosophy. See also, Murray Rothbard, "Frank Meyer and Sidney Hook," Patrick M. O’Neil, "The Failure of Fusionism in the Libertarian-Traditionalist Debate," Samuel Francis "(Con)fusion on the Right," Kenneth Silber, "The Fusionist Path," Murray Rothbard, “Frank Meyer on the Communist Bogey Man.” (Left and Right), III, 2 (Spring-Summer 1967), Murray Rothbard, "Fusionism" (Rothbard-Rockwell Report) VI, 8 (August, 1995), pp. 16, Murray Rothbard, "Frank S. Meyer: The Fusionist as Libertarian Manqué," (Modern Age) XXV, 4 (Fall, 1981), pp. 352363, Dr. Enrico Peppe's review of Meyer's "In Defense of Freedom" can be read here. "Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate," published by ISI and edited by George W. Carey is an excellent attempt to explore the potentialities of the fusionist path. The book's introduction can be read online here and Brian Doherty's review here.
The recent war in Iraq has only compounded the conservative/libertarian rift. A new round of zoo-like curiosity from the left has turned the names Strauss and Kristol as well as paleo- and neo- into household regulars. Below are a host of Internet articles that cover the war, neo-conservatism, and the general state of conservatism and libertarianism (including Hayek's classic "Why I am Not a Conservative").
- Joshua Muravchik, "The Neoconservative Cabal"
- Arnold Kling, "My Libertarian Persuasion"
- Peter Augustine Lawler, "Compassionate Conservatism vs. Libertarianism"
- W. James Antle III, "The Conservative Crack-Up"
- W. James Antle III, "Conservative-Libertarian Split: Liberals Get It, Conservatives Don't"
- W. James Antle III, "The Conservative-Libertarian clash: Values and the free society"
- Joseph Stromberg, "Conserving Nothing"
- Thomas Fleming, "Abuse Your Illusions"
- Francis Fukuyama, "The Fall of the Libertarians"
- Jerry Taylor & Peter VanDoren, "Big Foot vs. Invisible Hand"
- Tibor Machan, "Libertarian Answers to Conservative Challenges"
- Lew Rockwell, "Neo-Conservative Archive"
- Justin Raimondo, "Neoconservatism Versus Libertarianism"
- Wall Street Journal, "American Conservatism" This is an attempt by the WSJ to define the American brand of conservatism.
- Samuel Francis, "Does Conservatism Have a Future?"
- Richard Ebeling, "The Fall of Libertarianism or the Failure of Interventionism? A Reply to Francis Fukuyama"
- Uncommon Knowledge, "The Fight on The Right" This is an archived video of the interview program sponsored by the Hoover Institution.
- James Bovard, "The Neocon War on Peace and Freedom"
- Robert J. Lieber, "The Neoconservative-Conspiracy Theory: Pure Myth"
- Rachel Alexander, "The New Conservative Divide: Paleocons versus Neocons"
- Laura Flanders, "Conservative Unity?" Includes link to a James Bovard/David Frum radio debate.
- Edward Feser, "What Libertarianism Isn't"
- Edward Feser, "The Trouble With Libertarianism"
- David Gordon, "Right by Half"
- The Intercollegiate Review, "The State of Conservatism: A Symposium"
- John Robbins, "Conservatism versus Objectivism"
- George Carey, "Civil Libertarianism vs. Civil Society: A Conservative's Reflections on Freedom of Speech"
- William A. Rusher, "Conservatism's Third and Final Battle"
- Harry Browne, "Freedom First: Libertarians are not part of the ‘Right’"
- Franklin Foer, "Once Again, America First"
- Jonah Goldberg's three-part attempt to "define" neoconservatism can be read here
- Thomas Fleming, "Abuse Your Illusions"
- F.A Hayek, "Why I am Not a Conservative"
- David Gordon, "Rothbard on Strauss"
- Paul Gottfried, "What's In a Name? The Curious Case of u2018Neoconservative'"
- Russell Kirk, "The Conservative Movement: Then and Now"
- Justin Lambert, "Is there a conservative split?"
October 27, 2004