Extremism in the Pursuit of Historical Truth

This week, The New Yorker published an article on the John Birch Society.

It goes into the background of the forgotten missionary to China, John Birch. For this reason alone, the article deserves to be archived in your Evernote files. The article also provides a reasonable summary of the influence of the JBS on the conservative movement, especially in the 1960’s.

The author is a professor. He says that he keeps a poster of the Goldwater campaign on his office wall at the university.

I have several reasons for keeping a half-century-old “Goldwater for President” poster on a wall of my university office. It serves as a reminder of youthful political passion (I turned thirteen the day before Lyndon Johnson crushed the Arizona senator at the polls), and it pays tribute to the plainspoken candidate’s libertarian anti-Communism. It also, I suppose, offers my own bit of micro-aggression toward those colleagues–which would be all of them–who find Goldwater’s world view, if they know it, even more abhorrent than antique. John Birch: A Life Lautz, Terry Best Price: $3.25 Buy New $13.99 (as of 09:10 EST - Details)

I voted for Goldwater. He was the only Republican candidate for President I have ever enthusiastically voted for. He was the only political figure in the 20th century to hijack a major political party away from the establishment (singular) that runs both parties. Donald Trump may prove to be the second.

It is interesting that Phyllis Schlafly made her reputation in her famous 1964 campaign book on why people should vote for Goldwater: A Choice, Not an Echo. She is also an enthusiastic supporter of Trump.

The article’s summary of John Birch’s life is based on a recent biography, long overdue: John Birch: A Life, by Terry Lautz. Oxford University Press published it. Birch was a fundamentalist missionary in China. He was shot and then mutilated by Communist Chinese revolutionaries in 1945.

Robert Welch designated him as “the first casualty in the Third World War between Communists and the ever-shrinking Free World.” As a symbol, fair enough. But Western prisoners in Soviet concentration camps better deserve that designation. We just do not know their names.

The article discusses the relationship of the JBS, William F. Buckey, Goldwater, and the liberal media. It is accurate, as far as I recall as a college conservative and early (1960) Goldwater supporter.

It neglects to mention this: the media’s attack on the JBS came simultaneously with an attack on the Nation of Islam — the so-called Black Muslims. The liberal media tarred and feathered both groups as extremist. That was in early 1962. The key document with respect to the Muslims was C. Eric Lincoln’s book, The Black Muslims in America (1961).

This assessment is on target: The Black Muslims in A... Lincoln, Mr. C. Eric Best Price: $2.94 Buy New $14.00 (as of 10:25 EST - Details)

. . . the more that mainstream conservatives downplayed the Birchers’ influence, the more effectively liberal-minded media and politicians tended to overestimate it–and to condemn moderate conservatives for insufficiently distancing themselves from the society. What Mulloy calls the society’s “uncanny ability . . . to draw attention to itself and its causes and activities” can better be attributed to the Birchers’ liberal opponents than to themselves.

Larry Abraham was an organizer for the JBS in the early 1960’s. He once told me that every time the media launched an attack, he got new recruits. They told him this: “I never knew that there were other people who think the way I do until I read this attack.” He said that this was the #1 recruiting device he had in those years.

What sticks in the liberals’ craw, and sticks in the craw of the Republican establishment, is this: extremism. They hate — the correct word — extremism, as well they should. Extremism disrupts consensus, and every establishment rests on consensus.

These words spoke by Goldwater at the Republican National Convention in 1964 laid down the gauntlet to liberalism:

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

The media pilloried him for these words. They have never forgiven him. Yet those words rang true to millions of us in 1964, and still do. They are the finest words that Harry Jaffa ever wrote . . . ideal for refuting Jaffa’s neoconservatism, which has become part of the American establishment.

The article misses what I regard as the crucial point in the history of the John Birch society. The author is vaguely aware of it, but he only gives it one sentence: “As the years went on, Welch became lengthily fixated on the Fire in the Minds of Men Billington, James Best Price: $39.45 Buy New $38.51 (as of 08:00 EST - Details) Illuminati of the eighteenth century.” He does not really understand the monumental nature of that shift in position.

CRIMINAL CONSPIRACIES

Welch and other conservatives prior to 1964 often referred to the Communist movement as a vast criminal conspiracy. It was surely criminal. We forget the extent to which it was criminal from day one. Lenin and Stalin were a couple of bank robbers. They used the takings to support the party. Were it not for the Web, hardly anybody would know this. This fact was dropped down the memory hole from the beginning. But these days, if you know what to ask, the details are probably somewhere on Wikipedia. This story is no exception.

In one sense, the Communists were not conspirators. They were open about what they were planning to do with respect to overturning Western capitalist society. Nevertheless, always in the background of Communism but rarely discussed, were the roots of the Communist movement. Why did the League of the Just hire Marx and Engels in 1847 to write their anonymous 1848 tract? Why did they pressure the two authors to get the tract out in time, which the two failed to do? Why did they know that, in 1848, there would be revolutions all across Western Europe? Who exactly made up the League of the Just? Where did they get their money? More important, why do these kinds of questions rarely if ever get asked in the textbooks? The only scholarly book that I have ever read that mentions this is the monumental book by James Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith (1980), which I regard as the most important single history book on 19th century Europe. More than any other scholarly book, it goes into the conspiratorial roots of the entire revolutionary movement. It traces these roots to these major sources: journalism, secret societies, and occultism. His thesis has never worked its way into university textbooks on European history.

This is the question: was there something more fundamental to Communism than the writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin? And this question: what do we mean, “fundamental”?

Robert Welch switched his views in late 1964 with his book, More Stately Mansions. In this book, he went back to John Robison’s 1798 book, Proofs of a Conspiracy. It was on the Bavarian Illuminati.

Welch became convinced that the Bavarian Illuminati, not the Communist Party, had been crucially important in the development of Left-wing conspiracies. Then, step-by-step, he came to the conclusion that the conspiracy of the Left in the United States to merge the Soviet Union and the United States was not based on the Left’s Communist ideology. It was based on a far deeper motivation, the conspiratorial, one world movement that he and other Proofs of a Conspiracy... John Robison Best Price: $4.39 Buy New $6.95 (as of 03:20 EST - Details) conservatives labeled the New World Order. His interest shifted from the Communist Party to David Rockefeller.

My friend Gary Allen became the main writer for the Birch society’s magazine, American Opinion, after 1971. That was because of his book, None Dare Call It Conspiracy (1970). This was, in fact, Larry Abraham’s book, as we can see in the first edition, in the hardback printing. He is listed as co-author. He did most of the original research. Allen was the writer. (After 1979, Allen relied on the research of Sam Wells. No one ever mentions Sam Wells. Almost no ones knows about him. If there is one person who never gets sufficient credit for shaping conservatives’ views of the American conspiracy, it is Sam Wells. Start here.)

In the first major book from the conservative movement on the Council on Foreign Relations, Dan Smoot’s The Invisible Government (1962), the author came close to what later became a dominant theme in the far Right: the financing of the American Left. The financing came from the New York banking interests.

The book which gained traction on this was Carroll Quigley’s 1350-page treatise, Tragedy and Hope (1966). In this book, he devoted about 20 pages to the issue of Morgan banking interests’ financing of the American Left. He did not discuss the Rockefeller banking interests to any degree. Murray Rothbard once suggested in private that the reason why Quigley was given access to so many secret documents was that the Rockefellers were trying to get even with the Morgan interests. The documents shaped Quigley’s. That’s the kind of preliminary thesis that I would like to pursue. But how?

Quigley was a professor at Georgetown University. He taught history to Bill Clinton. His book had almost no footnotes. It is famous only for the 20 pages on the Morgan banking interests. Otherwise, it has been ignored. McMillan, its publisher, later suppressed the book. This ticked off Quigley to no end. You can buy it in a pirated edition.

The American Right has long focused on the attempt of the American establishment to gain some kind of workable arrangement with the Soviet Union. They initially saw this as part of the far Left commitment of the American establishment. It never occurred to them that the American establishment was simply trying to milk the Soviet Union’s cheap labor, cheap raw materials, and centralized control over the economy. In other words, the The Invisible Government Dan Smoot Best Price: $31.88 Buy New $120.09 (as of 10:55 EST - Details) establishment was attempting to cash in on the Communists. (The dots to connect here are found in the secretive publications of the US-USSR Trade and Economic Council [USTEC] The biggest corporations in America were involved. Few research libraries have ever had its publications on the shelves.)

The far Right, represented by Gary Allen and Larry Abraham, believed that there was in fact an underlying conspiracy on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In other words, there was something in the back of both sides of the Iron Curtain. There were, to put it in familiar terms, little men behind the curtain, except these little men were not so little. They were powerful, rich, and influential. They were, to use the phrase, the powers that be, or the powers behind the throne.

This is the essence of all conspiracy theories. There is always a hidden hand behind the events of the day. It is like a series of marionettes.

The danger of conspiracy theories is not that they undermine consensus. The danger is this: they can become secular or occult variations of Augustinianism and Calvinism. They substitute various conspiracies for God. They divinize some group. This leads to what R. J. Rushdoony called the grave-diggers’ mentality. Like the victims who are told to dig their graves before they are shot, standing in front of the grave, so are conspiracy buffs who divinize their enemies. They give up hope.

Read the Whole Article

Political Theatre

LRC Blog

LRC Podcasts