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


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.