Architect of the Old Right

That's Ralph Adams Cram, and I don't mean that he designed the Old Right — he was literally an architect, who happened to be on the Old Right. Alan Wall had a very good article on him on LRC a week or so back; check it out.

Cram was a late but seminal influence of Albert Jay Nock. Cram's essay "Why We Do Not Behave Like Human Beings" crystallized Nock's growing pessimism about humanity; Cram's thesis was that most people do not behave like human beings because most people are not human beings, not in a spiritual or psychological sense. At one point, Nock, Mencken, and Paul Palmer — at the time the editor of The American Mercury, later editor of Reader's Digest — discussed the prospect of publishing a book consisting of a series of letters between Nock, Mencken, and/or Cram. The idea never got off the ground: Mencken thought that he and Nock would have much too much in common to make for an interesting exchange of correspondence, and Cram was too old (by then, the late '30s or early '40s, he was in his 70s).

Nock and Palmer went some way with the project by themselves, though the results were never published. I've seen some of those letters, and while they tell us relatively little about Nock that wasn't already known (his correspondence with other acquaintances in the early '40s is more revealing, particularly for his thoughts on FDR, Stalin, and the British — he had a pretty black view of all three), Palmer's side is interesting for the light it throws on the emerging Cold War mindset. Mencken, Nock, and most of the old right were steadfast in supporting Communists' civil liberties; they were not proto-McCarthyites, despite what some liberal intellectual historians seem to think. Palmer, however, was: he argued that the gravest danger Communists posed within the U.S. was the risk that they would precipitate a popular and governmental backlash that would harm Americans' civil liberties generally; in order to forestall that outcome, he was willing to pre-emptively circumscribe the Reds' rights.

Palmer remains an obscure figure. Cram, however, has been the subject of a two-volume biography that I'm going to have to take a look at whenever I can, though it's been heavily criticized for its author's fashionable preoccupation with Cram's sex life. In the meantime, it's good to see him getting a little bit of appreciative coverage in Wall's LRC piece.


One thought on “Architect of the Old Right

  1. Brian Rapp May 27, 2006 / 6:19 am

    Humans who don’t act like humans aren’t actually human? My thoughts exactly! That’s friggin awesome. Nice post Dan.

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