"I will punch anyone who calls me a conservative in the nose. I am a radical."

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Sheldon Richman, editor of the venerable libertarian journal The Freeman, delivers this birthday tribute (scroll down a bit to "Happy Birthday Frank") to a previous Freeman editor, the late Frank Chodorov. He quotes one of my favorite Chodorov lines: "As for me, I will punch anyone who calls me a conservative in the nose. I am a radical."

Chodorov edited and mostly wrote one of the earliest newsletters of radical libertarian thought in postwar America, analysis (yes, with the eccentric no-caps title) from 1944-51. Although his friendship with William Buckley (who generously supported his old friend in his dotage) and his 1953 founding of what is now called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have led him to be lumped in, with those who remember him at all, as an early right-winger, Chodorov's peace-loving, skeptical, radical anti-statism made him what in contemporary parlance would be known as a left-libertarian.

When he started ISI, he called it the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists; the name change, and the focus change to Russell Kirk worship, is one of the grimmest examples of the flight from founder intent one can find in the world of ideological organizations.

An good example of Chodorov's radicalism is posted at LewRockwell.com, his April 1947 anti-Cold War and anti-imperial essay "A Byzantine Empire of the West," from the April 1947 issue of analysis. The essay's main theme is how America is taking over the burdens of world empire post-WWII. And here's a bit of what he thinks of empire:

In olden times, when empire builders were at least picturesque, the business was done with simplicity and directness. There were silks and rare spices in the East to be had, diamonds to be picked up in Africa, gold asking to be taken in America, backward peoples every where needing civilization so that they might be the better exploited. For which noble purpose the ancient counterpart of the marines was sent. When the marines had the situation "well in hand"–signifying that the natives had resigned themselves to their fate–the higher-ups instituted the reliable double-barreled scheme of regularized loot; first, they levied a tax on production; next, they fixed up titles to land necessary for production and charged the workers rent for the use of it. Eventually the taxes and the titles were recorded in leather-bound volumes, which, having been blessed with resounding words by solemn professors, achieved reverential status. Black-robed gentlemen infused "justice" into the adjustment and traditional acquiescence dubbed it "law and order."

And here's what he thought the American people's reaction to the burgeoning Cold War should be:

In this country, unlike Russia, where the Communist party has attained that status, the doctrine of an omniscient upper class is without force, and the necessary cooperation must be gained by suasion. The ways of getting people to do that which they are disinclined to do comes under the general head of propaganda, of which the most effective is that which arouses fear. Currently, fear of communism, fear that it will engulf Europe, fear that it will eventually penetrate this country and destroy the cherished American "way of life," is seeping into our consciousness as if by the force of truth; and, as a consequence, belief in an inherent bestiality of communists is growing. Those we fear we hate, and those we hate automatically fall into a lower category of humans. This churning process is quite familiar to anyone who can remember back ten years.

If we will, we can still save ourselves the cost of empire building. We have only to square off against this propaganda, and to supplement rationality with a determination that, come what may, we will not lend ourselves, as individuals, to this new outrage against human dignity. We will not cooperate. We will urge non-cooperation upon our neighbors. We will resist, by counterpropaganda, every attempt to lead us to madness. Above all, when the time comes, we will refuse to fight, choosing the self-respect of the prison camp to the ignominy of the battlefield. It is far nobler to clean a latrine than to kill a man for profit.

Republican Rep. Howard Buffett, father of superinvestor Warren, loved this essay so much he inserted it in the Congressional Record.

See this great post for more biographical and historical perspective on Chodorov, with loads o' links, at Kenneth Gregg's blog of classical liberal and libertarian history.

NEXT: Protecting the Homeland from Fleshbot

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  1. It’s this point where I begin to wonder which path is better. I think it is wise to avoid the urge towards nation-building. I agree with Barry Goldwater’s comment that the U.S. ought not to be the policeman for the world.
    But then I look around and sees despots like Saddam Hussein. Or Hitler, or Stalin, or any of a number of leaders who have had hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people tortured, starved, gassed, raped, killed.
    In this situation does a person shrug his shoulders and do nothing?
    — And don’t tell me that the proper course is diplomacy. Most of the time, I don’t believe it will work, Neville Chamberlain’s ‘Peace in our time’ being the obvious example of merely deluding oneself into thinking it does. So while you’re waiting for diplomacy to work another 50000 Jews are gassed.
    When I choose a door, how can I know if I’ll get the lady or the tiger?

  2. Slainte’:

    I know I’m speaking as an idealist here, but I think that since the days of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades, we have forgotten something and fallen into a dichotomy. Somehow the debate about imperialism has become, “EITHER we use our government’s force to shoot foreigners, OR we let dictators do horrible things.” Where is the individual in here? Where is conscience?

    Back in the ’30s, Americans who saw fascism triumphing abroad actually took up private arms. They didn’t rely on the government, they just put in their piece. This is something that the Islamic world understands too: When the USSR invaded Afghanistan, volunteers from across the Islamic world flooded in to fight.

    Somehow in the course of the Cold War we have come to think of the fight against oppression and tyrrany as one conducted by governments against governments, an idea that would sound astonishingly odd if we thought about it for a moment. Governments, the foremost manufacturers of tyrrany, are supposed to be the sole antidote to it? How strange!

    Somehow we have forgotten the notion that if you or I dislike something, it is down to you or me to act against it, rather than to drag in a whole silly government intiative, the tackle and mechanism of democracy and agencies and whatnot, press conferences and joint hearings and the refined machinery of mass-produced suffering. I am thinking that the time may be coming to remember.

  3. slainte’,

    A country needs to weigh its moral obligations (if a country can be said to have any) with its national interests. Obviously it was in our best interest to take out Hitler, and even though millions of Jews (and Catholics, and homosexuals…) were already dead, we probably saved millions of more people. Of course, Germany was a country with a relatively civilized populace, a country that had already tasted democracy but had gone off on the wrong course.

    A country like Iraq has never been on the right course. Maybe they invented some useful stuff 1,000 years ago, but lately it’s just been shit in, shit out. Even though we got rid of a heinous despot, there’s plenty more ready and willing to take his place. They’ve never known a great deal that we would recognize as basic civil liberties, or peaceful government transfers. We won’t even mention the absurd tribal infighting.

    Iraq is not Germany. It is not Japan. It is not South Korea. I’m afraid our effort there will be in vain.

  4. I will punch anyone who calls me a freeper or a Republican in the nose. I am a left-libertarian. I am also a new fan of Chodorov.

  5. “Obviously it was in our best interest to take out Hitler,”

    I would say far from obvious, just by looking at results. What we ended up doing was stabilizing making Europe safe for the Soviet Union, which became an enemy with the professed intent of exporting Communist revolution and the ability to turn our country into a radioactive wasteland. While the Nazis were no beauts themselves, they had no professed intent to spread their revolution outside Europe – after all, all they did was borrow our concept of manifest destiny and dub “lebensraum”.

    “A country like Iraq has never been on the right course”

    Actually, up until around 1981 it was a shining beacon of western liberalism in the middle east. Relative freedom of religion, woman’s rights, and a very high standard of living. Then someone whispered in its leader’s ear that his back was covered if he invaded Iran, which had recently embarassed this someone. (And, oh, BTW, here’s some weapons to do it with). Things have gone badly downhill since then to the point that you are correct that it is now a cesspool of immense proportion, bearing no resemblence to the functioning states of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.

  6. “you are correct that it is now a cesspool of immense proportion, bearing no resemblence to the functioning states of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.”

    Serious question: Are you being facetious?

    “While the Nazis were no beauts themselves, they had no professed intent to spread their revolution outside Europe”

    Exactly: No PROFESSED intent…

  7. Chodorov made the best response to Joe McCarthy:

    “The way to get rid of Communists in government offices is to abolish the offices.”

  8. “Governments, the foremost manufacturers of tyrrany, are supposed to be the sole antidote to it? How strange!”

    It is somewhere near this point when unicorns step onto foreign shores from rainbow bridges, spreading candy and Girl Scout cookies until tyrants fall.

    A citizen can engage his own country’s government by way of civil disobedience or political action. A citizen can offer to trade with individuals in other lands who suffer under oppressive rule. The external problems created by oppressive rule can’t be addressed in any meaningful way at this level, however.

    I’ve often wondered at the foreign policy arm of libertarianism, with its insistence that oppression is an unstable equilibrium that can be toppled with blue jeans and cola alone. Engaging any individual under oppressive rule does you almost no good if that person is denied feedom to communicate, freedom to travel, and the freedom to arm and defend himself.

    The proper response to the Kremlin setting up puppet governments all over the world may not be to engage in a full blown cold war, but the locally obvious strategy of sitting on your ass seems naive of strategic concerns to the point of being childish from where I’m sitting.

  9. I’d probably get annoyed enough with people calling me a conservative in the nose that I’d punch them, too.

    yuk yuk!

  10. “Serious question: Are you being facetious?”

    No – when talking about a functioning state, all I’m referring to is how legitimate its populace views it as. The only serious attempts at revolution in Germany were among high ranking officers. There was very little else self-organized in the German citizenry. And even less than that in Imperial Japan.

    Compare to Iraq, where large swaths of the country, in fact the majority, saw Saddam as illegitimate to the point where he needed to use the military to put down recurring revolts. In this respect, Iraq was one of the most dysfunctional states in the world in the 90s. Iran is a far more functional state than Iraq. Perhaps Afghanistan was less, but it’s by no means an easy call there.

    “Exactly: No PROFESSED intent…”

    Nor was it even logical in their belief system – unlike Communism. That said, I’ll take an empire whose raison d’etre does not include global revolution and domination over one that does. Which, in the end, is all irrelevant to the point I made, and you failed to refute – that we weren’t “obviously” better off for having defeated Hitler. Maybe we were. I don’t think so, but I would never go so far as to say “obviously” – because it is actually far from obvious.

  11. I’m not certain one can say that the Nazi philosophy excluded world domination. There is the problem that “Nazi philosophy” meant only “whatever Hitler wanted at any given moment,” a fluidity that makes defining the philosophy rather challenging. The one thing on which Hitler was consistent was his hatred of non-Teutons and his calls for their removal in order to make room for Germans. The need to remove non-Germans so that Germans can take over the real estate requires military expansion outside of Germany. To the non-Teutonic conquered populace, there’s no difference between this and “worldwide revolution.” They get screwed either way.

  12. “I will punch anyone who calls me a conservative in the nose.”

    Okay… you’re a conservative in the nose.

    Where will you punch me?

    -Allen

  13. “Engaging any individual under oppressive rule does you almost no good if that person is denied feedom to communicate, freedom to travel, and the freedom to arm and defend himself. ”

    Are you advocating an invasion of Washington, D.C.?

    Seriously, the question that hawks never seem to answer is: How does killing someone liberate them in any meaningful way? And how do you know people want the “freedom” you’re looking to give them? Look here in the states, where we have a tradition and culture that at least pays lip service to freedom of religion and conscience and contract, and see how many people in the country support policies destructive to one or all of these values. For a state to be stable, it has to respond to the desires of its populace in some way – otherwise there will revolts, even if just in the military.

    Look at all “law and order” bots we have – people who are willing to sacrifice any other value to have “law and order”. Think that doesn’t apply elsewhere? That people aren’t willing to put up with a leader who places himself above the law as long as he protects them from Oceania and maintains order in the streets?

    Obeying your government involves a choice, even if it is a coerced one. And there are many levels of resistance. People choose how much energy, time, etc. that they want to spend in revolting against oppression. It’s a personal value decision, like any other. When you invade and bomb them, you’re taking that decision out of their hands and forcing many of them to pay more than they wanted (by killing or maiming them or their loved ones, or even just by lowering their standard of living for many years).

    Finally, there is a reason why authoritarian regimes will eventually crumble, if they involve highly centralized economies. It’s called the problem of social calculation, and it’s been around for a while. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was no surprise to those who understood the concept. In fact, there was book published around 81 or 82 that detailed the process. The only detail he got wrong, IIRC, was that he predicted too few resulting breakaway republics (by like 2 or 3).

  14. Coca-Cola and blue jeans won the Cold War. Period. No Dr. Strangelove-style armageddon was necessary to prove our way of life was more sustainable, efficient and better for mankind in general.

    Aside from the wars fought by proxy (Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan), not one American soldier had to set foot in Moscow to overthrough the Soviet apparatus. The Russians took a long hard, look, realized it sucked, and did it themselves.

    War hawks like to shoot first and hope the survivors like them. Yeah, that’s always an effective strategy.

  15. Correction: “overthrow”

  16. “A country needs to weigh its moral obligations (if a country can be said to have any) with its national interests.”

    A seperate debate entirely…

    “Obviously it was in our best interest to take out Hitler, and even though millions of Jews (and Catholics, and homosexuals…) were already dead, we probably saved millions of more people.”

    …however I think you’re applying a posteriori logic here. Yes we saved millions but that’s the result and not our cause (insofar as I recall).

    The more I examine the futility of war I find myself questioning when it is justified. Do you need to wait to be punched in the eye before you hit back? Is it equally defined as “acting in defense” if you punch the guy who gives your friend a black eye? I think these are things to which you must have a moral answer *BEFORE* engagement. Otherwise you’re always justifying your means by the ends, even when those ends require significant amounts of “spin” (ie. Vietnam, Iraq).

    “Somehow we have forgotten the notion that if you or I dislike something, it is down to you or me to act against it, rather than to drag in a whole silly government intiative, the tackle and mechanism of democracy and agencies and whatnot, press conferences and joint hearings and the refined machinery of mass-produced suffering. I am thinking that the time may be coming to remember.”

    I’ll punch anyone in the nose who disagrees with that statement. (comedic irony intentional).

  17. “The proper response to the Kremlin setting up puppet governments all over the world may not be to engage in a full blown cold war,…”

    Are you sure that the Kremlin setting up puppet governments “all over the world” (which is not really true, mostly in Eastern Europe) was a cause and not a result of the U.S. Cold War strategy in the developing world? (i.e. selling out our ideal and practical wisdom of freedom for the false sense of control gained by supporting colonial and “not-communist” local tyrants.)

    When the U.S. gov?t adopted a “with us or against us” attitude while cozying up to the characters above, it unnecessarily pushed a huge number of people into the arms of the Soviets, IMO. Even if I am wrong, the worst case would have been a Soviet Union struggling even more under the economic dead weight of a couple more Vietnams and Cubas and collapsing sooner.

    What I find interesting is the implied naivete and/or irrational fear of supporters of this strategy. It suggests a belief that Communism, central planning, etc, not only works but can be scaled up effectively to manage potential satellite states.

    In any case, that is the strategy the U.S. pursued in the developing world during the Cold War and continued to pursue in the Middle East until the recent modification (but not abandonment).

    This reality highlights other forms of foreign policy naivete. First is that of the neocon, who apparently fails to recognize that the strategy outlined above was pursued at all. This makes their view of the U.S. gov’t as the world’s “freedom fairy” look like gross hypocrisy and inspires distrust and resistance in those they wish to liberate.

    Second is that of the libertarian purist, who fails to recognize that the same Cold War strategy had far-reaching consequences that include the emergence of aggressively anti-American, anti-personal freedom forces that won’t suddenly go away if the U.S. adopts a pure libertarian foreign policy.

    I think the libertarian approach to foreign policy is, in general, the way to go. The problem is that we blew several opportunities to adopt it in the early and mid-20th century out of fear and have come a long way down a wrong road. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a reasonable plan to get there from here.

  18. “…however I think you’re applying a posteriori logic here. Yes we saved millions but that’s the result and not our cause (insofar as I recall). ”

    This argument, like the urban sprawl one, is all a posteriori reasoning on both sides. One side can argue that things only could have happened the way they did without being able to prove it, and the other side will argue that if only we had x, the better result y would have come about – also without being able to prove the hypothetical.

    My argument here is that much of libertarian foreign policy is about ignoring the guy with all the guns on the ground that he will soon become irrelevant. That position, along with the insistence that negative global situations are always the result of interference and that in net things are always worse when militaries are employed creates a foreign policy platform of childish simplicity – Do nothing and everything will always turn out better.

    Problem is, all of the axioms of that platform are wild suppositions with no qualifiers. How can you possibly lay out the assertion that “blowback” is always worse than the alternative? I’ll agree that there are certainly consequences, intended and otherwise, to all actions one might take. Some of these are good and some of them are bad. The claim that all karma is bad karma seems implausible to me. Further, inaction has its own problems and consequences. It is a choice with moral content.

  19. It is unfortunate that one cannot run double-blind studies on the effects of foreign policy decisions.

    We cannot know what might have happened if the United States had allowed Japan a free hand in China and resolutely stayed neutral in Europe; the variables are simply too vast. The short run would have been bad for others, but good for the USA. The long? We can’t say.

    The Soviet Union indeed fell without a single NATO soldier heading eastward. But how much longer would it have taken were there no NATO? And the USSR’s Afghan debacle (financed by the CIA)? Reagan’s arms race? Would it have occured at all? Or would it have been sooner?

    This in my view is the problem with much of the “imperial blowback” critique we see today. What we get is the policy and its links (often at an amazing remove — bin Laden, the Soviet Afghan War, and 9/11 represent an excellent example of this) to Something Bad Today. This is followed (to paraphrase another poster here) by a vision of unicorns dispensing candy in a world of peace and equity, had only (insert ideology here) policy been followed.

    I don’t want to say that it is therefore ALWAYS impossible to criticize policy choices, only that (1) it SOMETIMES is (the afore-mentioned WW2 scenario) and (2) that it is much harder and more complex than most people with a critique are willing to grant. And the bigger the change, the worse it gets.

  20. Jason made the arguement better than I could, I think.

  21. In the case of a “tyrant”, it’s up to people to free themselves if they really don’t like the conditions they are living under. The argument that the people want to be free but are crushed by an evil tyrant and his henchmen is a bunch of crap. Marcos, The Shah, The Soviet Union, Aristide, blah blah blah it’s happened thousands of times.
    In the case of a majority oppressing a minority, it’s unfortunate that people allow it but starting a war over it is unlikely to make it better.

  22. In the case of a “tyrant”, it’s up to people to free themselves if they really don’t like the conditions they are living under.

    While this may be true…

    The argument that the people want to be free but are crushed by an evil tyrant and his henchmen is a bunch of crap.

    This is an utter load. It’s one thing to argue the morality or effectiveness of getting involved in some other country’s internal situation. But to pretend that a lack of effective action somehow means people are not interested in freedom (or at least, in getting rid of their current leadership) is like arguing hostages deserve whatever they get because they can’t work up the guts to charge the guns of their jailers.

  23. OK, WTF is a center-libertarian then? Or a left- or right-lib? I can’t remember a big-L Libertarian back in the day who would be caught dead looking interventionist. Rather, they (we) sounded like quasibil.

    The Backlash Babies like laissez-faire capitalism, and maybe they’re a little soft on weed, so they like self-descibing as some sort of libertarian; but they bring interventionist sympathies along, defended by “what about Hitler?” arguments. Hey, there’s a better name for these people: neoconservatives.

  24. Chodorov edited and mostly wrote one of the earliest newsletters of radical libertarian thought in postwar America, analysis (yes, with the eccentric no-caps title) from 1944-51.

    what, mr doherty, is eccentric about no caps? is it not more eccentric to write letters in two different forms?

  25. capitals are the legacy of german, a language for a people so stupid they need to capitalize the first letter of nouns to remind them that they are nouns.

  26. In the case of a “tyrant”, it’s up to people to free themselves if they really don’t like the conditions they are living under.

    If the tyranny is a fully internalized problem, yes. If there are implications to the rest of us, which there are, I’m not so sure this argument ends the discussion. It may be necessary to smack a tyrant around so as to instill an incentive scheme that minimizes the external effects of his choice to oppress. I’m not suggesting that such a course of action is always preferred or that we have successfully performed this kind of action recently, but it again strikes me as naive to say that there are no global effects to local tyrannies.

  27. Coca-Cola and blue jeans won the Cold War. Period.
    Bullshit. American propaganda won the cold war-every idiot watching American movies thought that in America three cars and single-family with pool are mandatory. Health care was on no-one’s mind since all Americans were so good-looking and happy and rich hahahaha. The cold war, part one is over and the big corporations are ahead. Not for long. Come on, how much cocal-cola can you drink?

  28. appeasement extended the cold war. the “arms race’ and reagan’s missiles in europe etc. helped hasten its end

    two words: venona transcripts

    read them… and weep.

    the cold war warriors WERE right. we DID have “useful idiots:” in our midst who facilitated and helped the USSR every way they could. heck, duranty at the NYT won a pulitzer for lying about the soviets for years, and it helped them immeasurably.

    cmon, even their leaders have admitted as much

  29. “analysis” is written without a capital “A” because the name of Chodorov’s periodical was “analysis” (without a capital “A”).

    War is not, and will not ever, be necessary. The only idiots who would make such a claim have never been involved in a war or seen the irrationality of war up-front. War is NOT a rational activity and all the strategies and tactics that X-Box Commandos or Paint Ball freaks can imagine have nothing to do with war.

    The Cold War was irrational as is any war has ever been.

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