Buckley, the Old Right, and Reality

Jeffrey Tucker over at the Mises Blog gives us two links comparing two different takes on the post-WWII right.

The Wall Street Journal, in light of (National Review founder) William F. Buckley's retirement, pens a short tribute to him, and credits Mr. Buckley with taking an unruly rabble of "isolationists, protectionists, traditionalists, anti-Semites, Southern Agrarians and just plain cranks" and turning them into the New Right (or modern conservatism), and "infuse U.S. conservatism with a coherence it had never had."

Jeffrey takes exception and notes that among the leading lights of the pre-Buckley right were people such as Henry Hazlitt (among others). Hazlitt was neither a crank, nor a protectionist, nor a traditionalist, etc, so the standard cliche must be wrong.

The problem comes when Jeffrey brings out a work on 'history' by Murray Rothbard--who is by his own admission a propagandist (er, 'revisionist') who assumes his conclusions and twists everything else to fit, when it comes to history[1]-- who claims that the Old Right was really Libertarian and it was those nasty interventionist proto-neocons from National Review that ruined the movement[2].

While Rothbard's economic works are great, his forays into Political Economy and history need to be taken with a gigantic lump of rock salt.

Looking at the modern day, the group that calls itself the inheritors of the Old Right (the 'paleoconservatives') are the Buchananites. Who are the Buchananites but traditionalist, isolationist, protectionists? There isn't a lover of the free market to be found anywhere near Buchanan's coterie, and the social conservatives among his fold rarely blanche at suggesting the use of (John Lopez' phrase) the mass initiation of force on people they consider deviants (as well as favoring government support for traditional society, such as church, the nuclear family, etc). Rothbardian paleos are obviously different in that, fortunately, dogma requires adherence to free market thinking, but even within that strain there are attempts to square the free-market command with a desire for traditional authority (such as Hoppe's call for a return to monarchism and Familiar/propertied absolutism)

Beyond that, Rothbard's own position is somewhat peculiar- he claims that the Old Right coalesced as a reaction against the New Deal- which would make the Old Right only ~25 years older than the 'New Right', which is a rather odd claim to make when your position is that the New Right is a heresy from hoary American conservative ideals (as embodied by the... slightly older Old Right?).

I think that the Wall Street Journal's characterization of the old right is more on target than that of Rothbard. Among the pre-Buckley Right were a host of American-style conservatives (classical liberals) and European-style conservatives (reactionaries, crypto-monarchists, etc). In a sense the right was united by a common distrust of the government, though for completely different reasons (one because of liberal objections to government, period, the other objecting to its democratic nature and the fact that it wasn't run in honor of and in obeisance to traditional values). The WSJ errs perhaps in that it doesn't give credit to the liberal strain of the American right that existed prior to Buckley[3], but nevertheless the fact that liberals existed in what was the "old" Right doesn't mean that the entire Old Right was liberal, but simply anti-New Deal.


fn1. From an interview with Mikko Ellil? by No Treason's Tim Starr:

bq.. (Ellil?, in Finnish)
Tim Starr proceeds with his reminder of Rothbard's manipulation:

[(Starr, in English) After having discussed Rothbard's misinterpretation of the Winter War, I now turn to his denial that Soviet foreign policy was based upon aggressive military expansion:

(Rothbard in English)
"First, there is no doubt that the Soviets, along with all other Marxist-Leninists, would like to replace all existing social systems by Communist regimes. But such a sentiment, of course, scarcely implies any sort of realistic threat of attack - just as an ill wish in private life can hardly be grounds for realistic expectation of imminent aggression." - Rothbard, "For A New Liberty," p. 282

"Any idea of "exporting" communism to other countries on the backs of the Soviet military is totally contradictory to Marxist-Leninist theory." - ibid, p. 283

"Thus, fortuitously, from a mixture of theoretical and practical grounds of their own, the Soviets arrived early at what libertarians consider to be the only proper and principled foreign policy." - ibid, pp. 283-284]

(Ellil?, in Finnish)
Rothbard was utterly serious when talking such incredibly outrageous bullshit.

fn2. What's more amusing is that in Rothbard's article, he claims there are "striking resemblances between [the Old Right's] outlook and that of the New Left" (of 1972). Suppressing my initial desire to ask what Uncle Murray was smoking when he wrote that, how is it even remotely possible to square the circle between the New Left's adamant desire to subject all of society to complete government control, oversight, and regulation, with the supposed Old Right's desire for economic laissez-faire and sharply circumscribed government power?

fn3. Buckley didn't create his movement out of thin air... he worked in fertile ground among the right who agreed with his program but had yet to find an articulation of it. I could be wrong and missing something, but I hadn't heard of any great antipathy between Henry Hazlitt and Buckley, for example.

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Thanks for the trackback

Thanks for the trackback ping. Your argument, as I understand it, is that the Old Right wasn't libertarian because the successors to the Old Right, whom you say are the Buchananites, are not libertarian, and hence the WSJ is correct, quod erat demonstrandum. In response, I might suggest fewer winding paths; stick to the texts of Nock, Chodorov, Mencken, etc., and make your own evaluation. Sometimes reading can be more productive than blogging.