If you’ve not had the chance, please check out the Ludwig von Mises website, www.mises.org, as the archival resources available are astounding.
This afternoon, I had the chance (as a reward to myself for each final exam graded!) to read through one of the site’s free e-books, Murray Rothbard’s Strictly Confidential: The Private Volker Fund Memos.
I personally know very little about Rothbard, but I found his analysis fascinating—offering us an important piece of the conservative-libertarian puzzle of division and tension in the 1950s.
The following two quotes come from Rothbard’s notes regarding a conservative conference and Dr. Russell Kirk in Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, 1956.
“We should now face the question: how does [Wilmoore] Kendall differ, say, from Russell Kirk in the ‘new conservatives’? Why is he anti-Kirk, as he is reputed to be, even though both of them unite in being opposed to free speech and Mill’s On Liberty? Answer: there is great difference between them. Kirk is the philosopher of old pre-Industrial Revolution, High Anglican England, the land of the squire, the Church, the happy peasant, and the aristocratic bureaucratic caste. He is essentially and basically antidemocratic. Kendall, on the contrary, is, as I have said, the pattern of the Lynch mob—he is an ur-democrat, a Jacobin impatient of any restrains on his beloved community. He hates bureaucracy, but not as we do, because it is tyrannical; he hates it because it has usurped control from the popular masses. He is the sort of person whom the Rossiter-Viereck ‘new conservatives’ are combating, for they are trying to defend the existent rule of the leftist bureaucracy against any populist mass upheaval. So they—the leftists—have shifted from mob whippers to soothing conservatives.” [David Gordon, ed., Strictly Confidential: The Private Volker Fund Memos of Murray N. Rothbard (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute,” 2010), 48.]
This leads me, at long last, to the question of what has happened to the Right in the last decade. It has grown but it is also decayed in quality by becoming confused, and confusing itself with wicked [end page 49] doctrine. A dramatic contrast can be shown, for example in taking a very early issue of Plain Talk—I think late 1946–and noting a moving article by Edna Lonigan, “I Taught Economics.” There, at the very beginning of this postwar flowering of the ‘radical Right,’ Lonigan wrote of her experiences as a wartime college teacher. The climax came when she converted some Pro–Commies in the class, after arguing with them all term for individual liberty, by giving them Mills On Liberty. In those days, the Right was small, but we were libertarian. We all fought for individual liberty, and battled majority as well as elitist tyranny of all types. And now, when we find Mill’s On Liberty discussed today—extensively by ‘rightists’ also, what do we find? Kirk and Kendall, each from his own point of view blatantly attacking liberty—and who is there to challenge them on the Right? This is the tragedy of the decade. How did this change happen to the “Right”? How did they change from pro–liberty to pro–tyranny without noting the difference? I submit because of the change in spirit from being a conscious minority to being almost, at least, in the majority in the country. And this came about from a switch in emphasis in doctrine. It came about from increasing stress on the Right on the twin issues of Communism and Christianity. Since the bulk of the populace has become converted to anti–Communism in this decade, the rightist can give up the burdens of being a lonely minority, by forgetting about libertarianism and stressing only Red–baiting. The same thing happens when the completely irrelevant issue of Christianity crops up; by arrogating to itself the Christian, or more, the theist mantle, the Right can again join a majority. So this is what has happened. The journalists write about the iniquities of Moscow, and the “philosophers” talk about the Christian tradition. It seems to me that to advance libertarianism, therefore, we should cut ourselves off completely, and even attack the Christian Red–baiting Right, which has become the evil exponent of tyranny that we know today. Red baiting and religion mongering should be exposed for the red herrings that they are, and shelves to concentrate on the prime issue: liberty versus tyranny.” [David Gordon, ed., Strictly Confidential: The Private Volker Fund Memos of Murray N. Rothbard (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute,” 2010), 49-50.]
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.