The Left-Rothbardians

Interesting couple of posts up at the Art of the Possible blog by Kevin Carson, who takes a look at Rothbard’s ’60s/’70s alliance with the Left and the wider movement of Left-Rothbardians, including Karl Hess and Samuel Konkin.

And over at the Left Conservative blog, a few thoughts from Dylan on paleo Right/decentralist Left common ground:

it is not the moderate Democrats that are worth looking at for support, but rather the patriotic, populist, American Left. There are many of them willing to call a truce in the culture wars on states rights grounds and a shockingly large number of them have a dim view of our nations immigration laws (for a couple of prominent examples compare Ralph Nader to the average Republican, or the great eco-anarchist Edward Abbey to anyone, Tom Tancredo included). Michael Kazin’s recent piece in World Affairs did a great job tracing the non-interventionist trend on the American Left (remember that Vidal and Norman Thomas were America First till the end) and Jeff Taylor’s great book “Where Did The Party Go?” suggests that their views on trade and monetary policy can be integrated into an explicitly paleo program. They have always been good on civil liberties and have been coming around on guns and internationalism for a long time now

I’m at work on an article at the moment but will put up some thoughts on all this in the next couple of days.


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.

Was the Conservative Movement Made in the 1970s?

That’s what Bruce Schulman and Julian Zelizer argue, not entirely persuasively, in this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. This bit, though, gets it just about right:

A number of scholars emphasize the emergence in the 70s of a conservative “movement” that turned the nascent New Right from an extremist ideology and a fledgling faction into a powerful electoral force. While modern American conservatism took shape in the 50s and 60s, it never cohered as a full-scale political movement.

The shift to the right, however, was anything but inevitable, even if previous accounts suggested that it was. After 1970, the New Right found its secret to success; it constructed its organizational infrastructure — the political-action committees, the volunteer operations, the radio talk shows, the think tanks, and the direct-mail network. The movement developed a post-Vietnam foreign-policy agenda that would define America’s position through the end of the cold war and establish the foundation for the war against terrorism. The agenda revolved around increasing the defense budget, using heated rhetoric against the Soviet Union, refraining from arms or territorial negotiation, and embarking on limited military interventions abroad. Ronald Reagan invigorated support for that agenda within the Republican Party when he challenged and almost upset President Gerald Ford, a Republican, for the nomination in 1976. Neoconservatives like Richard Perle and Jeane Kirkpatrick similarly popularized those ideas. Mobilizing previously quiescent evangelical Christians, the conservative movement also framed a new domestic agenda around cultural issues that would attract millions of voters into a reconstructed Republican Party. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson became known for shows that reached millions of Americans, calling on them to challenge the legality of abortion and to pressure broadcasters into refusing sexual material. The conservative movement of the 70s would become the motive force driving American politics for the next three decades.

There’s a stronger case to be made from all this than Schulman and Zelizer press, though maybe their book, Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, argues more forcefully. The conventional story of the Right is that before 1945, almost all was darkness and old night. Then several intellectuals, like F.A. Hayek and Richard Weaver, published important conservative books, and before long National Review appeared. That led to Goldwater, who led to Reagan, who led to Gingrich and Bush. (And the conservative movement thinks that’s a happy ending!) There’s a lot of truth to this narrative, but it’s basically a progressive “Whig history” of the American Right. The story can be told in other ways — stressing, for example, the quite vibrant political movement around Robert Taft in the 1940s and 1950s and the continuing strength of the Old Right up through the launch of National Review.

What neither the movement nor most of the movement’s critics talk much about are the continuities between the Old Right and the Cold War Right — while most Old Right thinkers were anti-statists and anti-interventionsists (think of Albert Jay Nock or Felix Morley), some of them were proto-Cold Warrriors or turned into actual Cold Warriors (Paul Palmer and John Chamberlain are two examples). The title of Murray Rothbard’s book is correct: the Old Right was betrayed. But that’s not the full story. Even the Goldwater movement, which can be seen as Cold War conservatism par excellence, had roots in the Old Right: Clarence Manion, who commissioned Brent Bozell to ghostwrite The Conscience of a Conservative and drafted Goldwater for his 1960 presidential run, was an Old Rightist, after all.

Just as there are continuities as well as discontinuities between the Old Right and the postwar Right, there are also discontinuities as well as continuities between the early Cold War Right of the Goldwater movement and the later Cold War Right of the 1970s and 1980s, with the rise of the populist New Right and social conservatism. The discontinuities are rarely stressed, though, even when they’re acknowledged. There’s a case to be made — and perhaps Zelizer and Schulman make it in their book — that the Right that emerged out of the 1970s was as different from the 1950s and 1960s Right as the 1950s and 1960s Right was from the Old Right.

Certainly ever since the end of Vietnam, the American Right has continued to refight the Vietnam War on the homefront, continually campaigning against McGovern Democrats (whether real or imagined) and the archetype of the hippie radical. I touched on some of these themes a few years back in a piece I titled “The Authoritarian Movement.” This is a topic I’ll have to revisit sometime soon.