History

Rothbard on How the Right Went Wrong

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Murray Rothbard's early 1970s book The Betrayal of the American Right (which, had it been published as scheduled by Ramparts Press, would have made one more irony in the career of David Horowitz, an editor at the lefty magazine Ramparts from which the publishing concern derived, who has since turned from leftist anti-Vietnam Warrior to right-wing war cheerleader) has finally been issued by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

They are putting it online piece-by-piece, and Anthony Gregory is liveblogging his reading of it.

Rothbard's summation of the book's message:

The book was a cry in the wilderness against what I saw as the betrayal of what I here call the "Old Right." Or, to allay confusion about various "olds" and "news," we call it the Original Right. The Old Right arose during the 1930s as a reaction against the Great Leap Forward (or Backward) into collectivism that characterized the New Deal. That Old Right continued and flourished through the 1940s and down to about the mid-1950s. The Old Right was staunchly opposed to Big Government and the New Deal at home and abroad: that is, to both facets of the welfare-warfare state. It combated U.S. intervention in foreign affairs and foreign wars as fervently as it opposed intervention at home.

At the present time, many conservatives have come to realize that the old feisty, antigovernment spirit of conservatives has been abraded and somehow been transformed into its statist opposite. It is tempting, and, so far as it goes, certainly correct, to put the blame on the Right's embrace in the 1970s of Truman-Humphrey Cold War liberals calling themselves "neoconservatives," and to allow these ex-Trotskyites and ex-Mensheviks not only into the tent but also to take over the show. But the thesis of the book is that those who wonder what happened to the good old cause must not stop with the neocons: that the rot started long before, with the founding in 1955 of National Review and its rapid rise to dominance of the conservative movement. It was National Review that, consciously and cleverly, transformed the content of the Old Right into something very like its opposite, while preserving the old forms and rituals, such as lip service to the free market and to the Constitution of the United States.

Rothbard's story, among many others, is related in my book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.

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  1. Fascinating reading. I suspect I’m going to waste the Company’s time & money reading this thing …

  2. Interesting book, even if Murray did some crazy things, most of which are recounted in the book.

    Best story involves his speech denouncing Goldwater to a group of older libertarians. After his speech he was confronted by people shaking their canes at him and shouting “I haven’t voted in 30 years, but next Tuesday I am going out to vote for Goldwater!”

    Buy it online @ http://www.renbook.com

  3. If you are game for some hysterical “How the Right went Wrong” go check out the recent post by Ezra Klein on his ‘blog.

  4. Some lighter reading:

    “Mozart Was a Red”
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/mozart.html

  5. Besides checking out the hot chick on the Right margin who, thankfully, survived Row v. Wade, is anybody watching Radley on Mythbusters right now?

  6. Rothbard is a nut. Jumping for joy over the complete Communist takeover of Vietnam? Praising Stalin as having the perfect Libertarian foreign policy?

    The man with the net should’ve taken Murray under his wing before he fouled and made the Libertarian movement into a caricticure.

    “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here!”

  7. I have my copy of Radicals for Capitalism on the coffee table, ready to crack open as soon as I turn off this infernal machine. So, Brian Doherty, at least one person will begin reading your book today.

  8. Rothbard is super-awesome. Underzog obviously can not understand context and humor.

  9. Underzog forgot about the Soviet troops staged at the Chinese border during the Vietnam War.

  10. By that definition, I guess I’m “old right”.

    If I were to pinpoint when the “old right” was betrayed, when the “old right” really got kicked out of the driver’s seat, I’d point to the founding of the Reagan Coalition.

    As “old right”, I was a big fan of Reagan and what I saw as our last, best hope for undoing the New Deal. To get where he wanted to go, he made a deal with the devil–Southern social conservatives. He brought them into the big tent, and mostly just paid lip service to them himself, but those of us who cared primarily about undoing the damage of the New Deal have been trying to scrape them off the bottom of our shoes ever since.

    If conservatives had devoted themselves to getting rid of the income tax, Social Security and Medicare the way they’ve gone on about Roe v. Wade, prayer in public schools and Intelligent Design, what a wonderful world it might have been!

  11. Underzog also forgot about Stalin’s agression against Finland /sarcasm

    Agression against that small courageous country is an example of the perfect Libertarian foreign policy? Rothbard was a nut.

    But… hey! Let’s have all this private, competing governments such as mafia turf fights or the civil war. That will work for society /more sarcasm

    “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here!”

  12. As “old right”, I was a big fan of Reagan and what I saw as our last, best hope for undoing the New Deal.

    Huh? Reagan liked FDR and never opposed the New Deal. He was against the Great Society stuff (welfare), but not the New Deal.

  13. As someone who is basically “old right” to the core, it pains me to say the reason the GOP moved toward watered-down New Dealism is because the “old right” wasn’t good at winning elections. Americans became very enthusiastic, very quickly, about sucking off the federal tit.

  14. Brian, you are the only one on here who still likes writing about Libertaian icons, and ideas. As I have said before, it’s turned into a whine-fest the likes od Daily Cos around here.

    Thank God you are still here. Loved your book, and just ordered my copy of Mr. Rothbard’s book as well.

  15. The Old Right arose during the 1930s as a reaction against the Great Leap Forward (or Backward) into collectivism that characterized the New Deal.

    Huh? How was the anti-New Deal right any different from the anti-union, pro-business, laissez-faire Republicanism of the Coolidge-Harding-Hoover 20s?

  16. I’d have to say the bombing of Pearl Harbor pretty much did away with the “Old Right” that Rothbard is talking about.

  17. I’d have to say the bombing of Pearl Harbor pretty much did away with the “Old Right” that Rothbard is talking about.

    No, it was actually the dominant force in the Republican Party into the mid-1950s. You’ve no doubt heard of Robert Taft.

    While Eisenhower defeated Taft in the 1952 primaries and accepted many facets of the New Deal, on foreign policy issues his views were much more Old Right. Generally, the 1950s GOP advocated countering the USSR by building lots of impressive and scary bombs and missiles rather than getting involved in the “hearts and minds” business in every Third World shithole. That was the Democratic strategy back then.

    Huh? How was the anti-New Deal right any different from the anti-union, pro-business, laissez-faire Republicanism of the Coolidge-Harding-Hoover 20s?

    It came into being as a conscious “movement” based on opposition to the New Deal, even though it was ideologically consistent with Coolidge–who was, not coincidentally, the last great American president.

  18. joe,

    ifferent from the anti-union, pro-business, laissez-faire Republicanism of the Coolidge-Harding-Hoover 20s

    I laughed out loud reading that.

    You might want to read some of the literature on the FDR-Hoover presidential election. FDR was the free market candidate, and Hoover was the interventionist. In fact, much of the New Deal go t its start in the Hoover administration.

    Hoover, like FDR fell in love with government management of the economy in World War I. He worked diligently throughout the subsequent years to establish things like the Agriculture Dept, the FCC etc. to do just that. Much of FDR’s New Deal, in fact, was an expansion of programs put in place by Hoover, and a btrayal by FDR of his campaign promises!

    The Old Right were not fans of Hoover (although Coolidge was far less unacceptable), anymore than San Fransiscan Democrats are fans of Joe Lieberman.

  19. The hot chick in the right margin may have survived Roe v. Wade, but she doesn’t look especially conservative to me.

  20. ChrisO,

    The Republican Party from Pearl Harbor through the 50s was already quite different from the “Old Right” Rothbard was talking about. You talk about “building lots of scary bombs” – have you ever read anything about Roosevelt’s attempt to rearm in the years before Pearl Harbor and how the GOP reacted? The fact that they did support such arming in the 50s, and did not in the 30s, is exactly the point I made about Pearl Harbor doing away with the America First ur-paleo-conservatism Rothbart is talking about.

    It came into being as a conscious “movement” based on opposition to the New Deal So you’re saying the Republicans didn’t qualify as a movement when they were the majoritiy party?

    tarran,

    You’re right, I should have left Hoover off that list. While he was anti-New Deal, he was also much more out of the Progressive (1920 definition) mold than the other two Republican presidents of that decade.

  21. The Republican Party from Pearl Harbor through the 50s was already quite different from the “Old Right” Rothbard was talking about. You talk about “building lots of scary bombs” – have you ever read anything about Roosevelt’s attempt to rearm in the years before Pearl Harbor and how the GOP reacted? The fact that they did support such arming in the 50s, and did not in the 30s, is exactly the point I made about Pearl Harbor doing away with the America First ur-paleo-conservatism Rothbart is talking about.

    No, the ‘scary bombs’ strategy was in large part driven by a GOP desire for the cheapest possible way to deter the USSR. Entirely consistent with their pre-war stance on building up the military.

    In any event, I don’t think you and Rothbard are that far off, really. Remember, he’s saying that the ‘old right’ was largely history by 1955. Pearl Harbor may have changed the Right, but it didn’t the kill opposition to the New Deal that formed the basis for the movement.

    So you’re saying the Republicans didn’t qualify as a movement when they were the majoritiy party?

    One party or another has advocated limited government since the beginning of the republic. I think Rothbard is referring to a specific group of people and particular expression of the idea that arose in opposition to the New Deal. Haven’t read the work in question, though, so I’m just speculating.

  22. No, the ‘scary bombs’ strategy was in large part driven by a GOP desire for the cheapest possible way to deter the USSR. Entirely consistent with their pre-war stance on building up the military.

    No, ChrisO. The Republicans’ pre-WW2 stance on building up the military was “Don’t.” They opposed rearming, considering it a provocation. It wasn’t just fiscal cheapness – they were committed to not involving America in “foreign wars,” and opposed rearming on principle, and an anti-foreign entanglement measure. Just like Rothbard.

  23. Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement by Justin Raimondo is a fascinating volume on this topic.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1883959004/reasonmagazinea-20/

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