Current Reading

As always — but even more so than usual — I have piles of books on my desk and strewn throughout my apartment. The review pile by itself is fairly hefty, with volumes by Bill Kauffman, William F. Buckley Jr., Alan Crawford, Dan Flynn, and Paul Gottfried. Some of the reviews are for quarterlies, so it may be a while before they appear in print. (On the other hand, I have one or two pieces already queued up to appear in the next month or so. Will post details as soon as I know they’re out.)

On top of that, I have various bits of research reading ongoing at the moment. In what spare time I have left, though, the book that has my attention is Carl Oglesby’s Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Antiwar Movement. Actually, I’ll review it somewhere or other eventually too, if there are any editors interested. Or maybe I’ll see if I can get a magazine interested in a longer essay on the student Left and Right in the 1960s. Oglesby was a leader of SDS, for a while its president, and he made a point to learn about the anti-interventionist tradition on the Right. He even made the occasional appeal to YAF to join forces with SDS, which earned him denunciation from his Marxist colleagues. He wasn’t apologetic about it:

If it was an error, it was one I kept on making. I even put it into print at the end of my contribution to a two-part book Containment and Change, published in early 1967. The book had grown out of a “dialogue” with Professor Richard Shaull at Union Theological Seminary in February 1966. Shaull, whose specialty was the political history of Protestant theology, had recently discovered two historians who rang my bells and had talked about them a lot at the Union session. One was the liberal William Appleman Williams, and the other was the conservative Murray Rothbard. They were both libertarians, and that is what I had begun calling myself.

That’s from page 120 of Ravens in the Storm. Unfortunately, SDS and its spin-offs kept getting pulled further and further to the left, deep into Marxism and revolutionary rhetoric (as well as some comical, but occasionally deadly, attempts at revolutionary action). The damage that did to the noninterventionist cause is still being felt to this day — not least in that the backlash against such radicalism made the Right even more militaristic than it had been before. The hawks on the Right could now always set up a cardboard sixties radical as a symbol of everything that patriotic Americans had to oppose. On the other hand, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go against the war with the activists you have, not necessarily the activists you want.

Update: I should have linked to Bill Kauffman’s interview with Carl Oglesby before now.


Karl Hess: Toward Liberty

It’s amazing what you can find on Google Video. This is the Academy Award-winning (yes, really) documentary about Karl Hess, who was one of the founding editors of National Review and a key Goldwater speechwriter — and who later became a New Leftist and an outspoken (as well as tax-resisting) libertarian. A very interesting figure, though I can’t say I’m impressed with the film, which won the 1981 Academy Award for best short documentary.

I think I’ve described Hess in the past as a “crunchy libertarian.” You’ll see why in the documentary:

For good measure, here’s a link to Hess’s best-known essay, “The Death of Politics.”

A Libertarian Syllabus

A friend of mine who is involved in youth politics asked me to put together a curriculum for Ron Paul libertarians, a four-year course of study that will take students from the basics of free-market economics and the Constitution into the deeper waters where theory, history, and policy meet. Here’s the tentative curriculum I’ve come up with:

Year 1

Ron Paul – The Revolution: A Manifesto
Barry Goldwater – The Conscience of a Conservative
Tom Paine – “Common Sense,” “The Crisis”
The Federalist (selections)
The Anti-Federalist Papers (selections)
The Constitution of the United States of America
Douglas Hyde – Dedication and Leadership
Henry Hazlitt – Economics in One Lesson
Murray Rothbard – What Has Government Done to Our Money?

I’m fairly confident in this first-year syllabus. Arguably I ought to add Thomas Woods’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Kevin R.C. Gutzman’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, but I wanted to restrict myself mostly to primary sources. The Federalist, Anti-Federalist, and Paine selections, plus the Constitution itself, will give students a basic feel for what was at stake in the Revolutionary War and the struggle over ratification. Hazlitt’s book is a terrific economic primer. Hyde’s very short book is an activist’s handbook. The Paul and Goldwater books both establish the essential character of the movement. And Rothbard’s brief book is a good introduction to Dr. Paul’s thinking on monetary policy.

This isn’t as much reading as it might look like, since most of these texts aren’t long.

Year 2

Gene Callahan – Economics for Real People
Frederic Bastiat – The Law
Israel Kirzner – Ludwig von Mises
Andrew Bacevich – American Empire
Ron Paul – A Foreign Policy of Freedom
Justin Raimondo – Reclaiming the American Right

The Law is basic enough that it could be included in Year 1, but I actually think it’s better to have some grounding in economics before reading The Law. The Callahan and Kirzner books will serve as the student’s introduction to specifically Austrian economics. Bacevich’s book is still, to my mind, the best general introduction to what’s wrong with American foreign policy that’s on the market. And since Bacevich is a conservative Catholic and former Army colonel, it’s not easy to dismiss him as an anti-American leftist. His book provides scholarly support for the views expressed in Ron Paul’s collection. Justin Raimondo’s book, meanwhile, ties things together, showing how the Right was drawn into supporting an interventionist foreign policy and the beginnings of the Old Right’s comeback in the early 1990s.

Year 3

Friedrich Hayek – The Road to Serfdom
Murray Rothbard – America’s Great Depression
Albert Jay Nock – Our Enemy, the State
Chalmers Johnson – Blowback
Ludwig von Mises – Liberalism

Now we’re getting into deceptively deep waters. Hayek and Rothbard make a good unit, since both show the relationship economic crisis and the growth of state power. Rothbard’s book provides answers to the usual Keynesian and left-liberal arguments that we need the Federal Reserve to stave off another depression, while Hayek spells out where state economic interventionism leads. Liberalism is a relatively easy-going introduction to Mises and sets out the positive case for classical liberalism. Johnson’s Blowback picks up the foreign-policy thread from the last year’s syllabus, showing how foreign-policy interventionism gives rise to terrorism, or “blowback” in the CIA’s term. Nock’s short but deceptively dense book presents a general case against state action. On reflection, this course fits together better than I originally thought it did.

Year 4

Murray Rothbard – Man, Economy, and State
Hans-Hermann Hoppe – Democracy: The God That Failed
Michael Scheuer – Imperial Hubris
Robert Pape – Dying to Win

Now we’re into some very long texts. I originally had Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action listed in place of Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State, but I decided that the latter would be somewhat easier going on the students, and it’s a fine summation of Austrian economics in its own right. Hoppe’s book builds upon Rothbard and applies his thoughts to controversial policy questions such as immigration. Scheuer and Pape complete the student’s basic training in foreign policy, presenting some hard realities about war, nation-building, occupation, and terrorism.

I welcome everyone’s feedback on this list. As I say, it’s a rough draft, and I’d like to fine-tune it. There are many other libertarian and conservative books that I’d like to include, but these seem like the best fit for what my friend has in mind. I may have overlooked something important, however, so feel free to make other suggestions.