From Murray Rothbard's 1992 "Strategy for the Right"
"The answer to both of these seemingly disparate questions is the same: what happened to the original right, and the cause of the present mess, is the advent and domination of the right wing by Bill Buckley and the National Review. By the mid-1950s, much of the leadership of the Old Right was dead or in retirement. Senator Taft and Colonel McCormick had died, and many of the right-wing congressmen had retired.
The conservative masses, for a long time short on intellectual leadership, were now lacking in political leadership as well. An intellectual and power vacuum had developed on the right, and rushing to fill it, in 1955, were Bill Buckley, fresh from several years in the CIA, and National Review, an intelligent, well-written periodical staffed with ex-communists and ex-leftists eager to transform the right from an isolationist movement into a crusade to crush the Soviet god that had failed them.
Also, Buckley's writing style, while in those days often witty and sparkling, was rococo enough to give the reader the impression of profound thought, an impression redoubled by Bill's habit of sprinkling his prose with French and Latin terms. Very quickly, National Review became the dominant, if not the only, power center on the right-wing.
This power was reinforced by a brilliantly successful strategy (perhaps guided by National Review editors trained in Marxist cadre tactics) of creating front groups: ISI for college intellectuals, Young Americans for Freedom for campus activists. Moreover, lead by veteran Republican politico and National Review publisher Bill Rusher, the National Review complex was able to take over, in swift succession, the College Young Republicans, then the National Young Republicans, and finally to create a Goldwater movement in 1960 and beyond.
And so, with almost Blitzkrieg swiftness, by the early 1960s, the new global crusading conservative movement, transformed and headed by Bill Buckley, was almost ready to take power in America. But not quite, because first, all the various heretics of the right, some left over from the original right, all the groups that were in any way radical or could deprive the new conservative movement of its much-desired respectability in the eyes of the liberal and centrist elite, all these had to be jettisoned. Only such a denatured, respectable, non-radical conserving right was worthy of power.
And so the purges began. One after another, Buckley and National Review purged and excommunicated all the radicals, all the non-respectables. Consider the roll-call: isolationists (such as John T. Flynn), anti-Zionists, libertarians, Ayn Randians, the John Birch Society, and all those who continued, like the early National Review, to dare to oppose Martin Luther King and the civil rights revolution after Buckley had changed and decided to embrace it. But if, by the middle and late 1960s, Buckley had purged the conservative movement of the genuine right, he also hastened to embrace any group that proclaimed its hard anti-communism, or rather anti-Sovietism or anti-Stalinism.
And of course the first anti-Stalinists were the devotees of the martyred communist Leon Trotsky. And so the conservative movement, while purging itself of genuine right-wingers, was happy to embrace anyone, any variety of Marxist: Trotskyites, Schachtmanites, Mensheviks, social democrats (such as grouped around the magazine The New Leader), Lovestonite theoreticians of the American Federation of Labor, extreme right-wing Marxists like the incredibly beloved Sidney Hook, anyone who could present not anti-socialist but suitably anti-Soviet, anti-Stalinist credentials.
The way was then paved for the final, fateful influx: that of the ex-Trotskyite, right-wing social democrat, democrat capitalist, Truman-Humphrey-Scoop Jackson liberals, displaced from their home in the Democratic party by the loony left that we know so well: the feminist, deconstructing, quota-loving, advanced victimological left. And also, we should point out, at least a semi-isolationist, semi anti-war left. These displaced people are, of course, the famed neoconservatives, a tiny but ubiquitous group with Bill Buckley as their aging figurehead, now dominating the conservative movement. Of the 35 neoconservatives, 34 seem to be syndicated columnists.
And so the neocons have managed to establish themselves as the only right-wing alternative to the left. The neocons now constitute the right-wing end of the ideological spectrum. Of the respectable, responsible right wing, that is. For the neocons have managed to establish the notion that anyone who might be to the right of them is, by definition, a representative of the forces of darkness, of chaos, old night, racism, and anti-Semitism. At the very least."
Rothbard's synopsis of how the "movement" was co-opted by the lefties makes a lot of sense. I wish he was around to update it to the new century. I wish he was around, period.
Amazon doesn't list this book. Do you know if it's still available?
Great article by Murray Rothbard.
I think what Rothbard was trying to say, is that what we consider to be the "Old Right" was really a coalition of cirtics of FDR and the New Deal. They included classic liberals like Albert Jay Nock, Midwestern Conservatives like Robert Taft, a number of Southern Agrarian Conservatives like Sen. Russell of Georgia, social critics like HL Mencken, American Firsters, and a whole lot of other folk.
You did not have to believe certain specific things in order to qualify as an Old Rightist. True, the Old Rightists were strict constructionists when it came to interpreting the constitution. But the various interpretations differed widely.
The most important difference between Old Rightists and Neo-Cons, is that great ideological diversity existed in the Old Right, while all (or most) Neo-Cons seem to read from the same script.
I have seen Rothbard's comments on Buckley and National Review on this forum, before. I think he makes some significant errors in the emphasis that he gives to certain events. Let me try to put this whole question into a better perspective.
Buckley, although he made as I suggested earlier, a very significant contribution to Conservatism (#42, above), his contribution was no where near as significant as Rothbard is suggesting. Buckley was never the dominant factor that Rothbard suggests, except in the Conservatism of the North East Coast. He never had that much influence in the South and West--the real bases for the eventual Reagan counter-attack--and was only one of a number of factors in the Midwest. (Actually, his associate Bill Rusher, played a more significant role than Buckley in bringing the Reagan victory to pass, precise because he did not adopt Buckley's sanctimonious distancing of himself from so-called Populists, such as George Wallace in 1968, when he wrote the very significant "The Making Of The New Majority Party," in 1975.
Buckley's influence probably topped out in the early 1960s, when he was busy distancing himself from other Conservative groups and activity, precisely because of his aloofness. After Goldwater's defeat in 1964, as Conservatives regrouped, it is probable that some of the activity in the South, from which Buckley carefully distanced himself, represented a far broader based Conservatism--call it "Populism," if you like--than anything Buckley ever really contributed to. Throw in the gradual awakening in California--now drowned in Clinton's failure to protect our Southern border--and in other Western States, where Buckley's style was alike less than really effective--and you will begin to put his influence into a truer perspective.
But again. He has made very valuable contributions to our cause. And I refuse to repay those contributions with the same narrow aloofness that he has shown towards others who also made valuable contributions. We are not a monolithic movement. And unless we mean to fail, we must embrace all who are on our side, issue by issue--just as our enemies do.
One other point. You need also to understand that by publishing an ex-Communist's article on the Soviet Union, or even a Socialist's article against Bolshevism, the magazine was not necessarily endorsing the view of that ex-Communist or Socialist upon any subject whatsoever. There were sound reasons to draw on the experiences of defectors on the Left in trying to defeat the threat of Communist expansion in the 1950s, 60s, etc.. It is a stretch to suggest that Buckley embraced Trotskyites in National Review--although some ex-Trotskyites (once the extreme Left of Bolshevism) may have moved to the Right.
I am also not aware that Buckley ever actually embraced the ideology of any of those on the Left, just because he saw fit to find fault with the way some of the rest of us attacked them. For example, while he may have grown rather squeamish in his opposition to what Rothbard correctly terms "the civil rights revolution," he was still willing to speak up for the Bob Jones University dating policy in 2000. And it is important, here also, to recognize that even at its apex, Buckley never had the influence that the far more widely circulated news weekly, U.S. News & World Report, had under David Lawrence, during the 1950s and 1960s, when it regularly ran articles questioning the premises of the movement.
In summary, I think the truth is somewhere between Buckley and Rothbard; that Rothbard's critique is worth considering, but it is an over-reach, reading too much into some articles that may have appeared in National Review, and reading more into Buckely's aloofness than is really justified.
William Flax Return Of The Gods Web Site
posted on 09/27/2002 4:30:39 PM PDT
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