A recent superb discussion on The Tom Woods Show between Tom and Lew Rockwell concerning Lew’s forthcoming book, Against the Left: A Rothbardian Libertarianism, prompted this brief focus upon Robert Nisbet.
For almost 50 years I have believed that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was “The First Leftist,” and one of the most evil and dangerous minds to have ever lived. His disastrous impact upon generations which have lived since his death has been profound, almost incalculable.
Conservative sociologist/historian Robert Nisbet, one of my favorite writers, was the quintessential critic of Rousseau, especially in his seminal book, The Quest for Community, and in this brilliant, prophetic article, Rousseau & Equality. And here is one of Nisbet’s most powerful, insightful articles, Cloaking the State’s Dagger.
The Great Debate
For hundreds of years a great debate between “conservative” traditionalist communitarians versus “classical liberal” (or libertarian) pluralist individualists has raged on and on. I personally have closely followed it for going on fifty years. Perhaps the person who best captured the essence of the serious issues involved was Robert Nisbet.
Conservative Michael Hendrix, at National Review, has contributed a very well written piece in this centuries old ongoing debate.
From the time of Edmund Burke the original “conservatives” were anti-individualist, anti-capitalist, reactionary, militaristic racists who valued throne and altar, rigid hierarchy, caste and fixed social status over the free and open society evolving under classical liberalism. “Conservatives” defended the monarchy and landed gentry, and scorned and demeaned the servile peasantry and emerging middle classes.
These horrific ideas were explicitly formulated and conceived against those of classical liberalism — individualism, freedom of the press, freedom of association, the rule of law, separation of church and state, free trade and free market (laissez-faire) capitalism as opposed to mercantilism and elitist state privilege — economic or ecclesiastical.
Conservatives were imperialists; classical liberals were anti-imperialists.
Later collectivists of all sorts, from Marx to Mussolini, from Hegel to Hitler, devised their totalitarian utopias and hatred of the free society and capitalism from ideas they borrowed or stole from these “conservatives.” (See my article, Ideas Have Consequences, below).
When this melange talk about defending “tradition and community” what are they talking about? Defending traditional French cuisine? Performing classical music such as grand opera? Defending traditional ethnic folk dancing, clogging, or square dancing? No, they are talking about defending the state, that hegemonic and parasitic entity which, from the time of ancient Sumer, has been the source of the greatest criminal conspiracy ever perpetuated upon humanity. All States originate in conquest and exploitation, and as elite oligarchies, continue to exercise this monopoly of crime over their subject peoples through war, taxation, conscription, and indoctrination. All statists, as Lew Rockwell has pointed out, would be totalitarians if they could get away with it.
Here are some very cogent thoughts on these issues from the late Ralph Raico, one of the great historians of classical liberalism and from my mentor, Murray N. Rothbard. Their articles remain a great influence on how I see how this ongoing debate is framed.
Finally here are some of my own contributions to the debate: Ideas Have Consequences; Conservatism: Roots and Essence; Liberalism: Origins and Corruption; Épater le bourgeois; “I’m Convinced That The Whole National Review Is A CIA Operation” — Murray Rothbard; How the CIA Bamboozled The Public For 70 Years; and The Libertarian Temperament.3:45 pm on November 9, 2019 Email Charles Burris