📰 Murray Rothbard, Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal
Full Title: Murray Rothbard, Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal
All of our political positions, from the free market in economics to opposing war and militarism, stemmed from our root belief in individual liberty and our opposition to the state. Simplistically, we adopted the standard view of the political spectrum: “left” meant socialism, or total power of the state; the further “right” one went the less government one favored. Hence, we called ourselves “extreme rightists.”
I came to know Buffett as a genuine and thoughtful libertarian. Attacking the Truman Doctrine on the floor of Congress, he declared: “Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home. Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns.”
When the Korean War came, almost the entire old left, with the exception of the Communist Party, surrendered to the global mystique of the United Nations and “collective security against aggression,” and backed Truman’s imperialist aggression in that war. Even Corliss Lamont backed the American stand in Korea. Only the extreme rightist Republicans continued to battle U.S. imperialism. It was the last great political outburst of the old right of my youth.
The main catalyst for transforming the mass base of the right wing from an isolationist and quasi-libertarian movement to an anti-communist one was probably “McCarthyism.” Before Senator Joe McCarthy launched his anti-communist crusade in February 1950, he had not been particularly associated with the right wing of the Republican Party; on the contrary, his record was liberal and centrist, statist rather than libertarian.
McCarthy not only shifted the focus of the right to communist hunting, however. His crusade also brought into the right wing a new mass base. Before McCarthy, the rank-and-file of the right wing was the small-town, isolationist middle west. McCarthyism brought into the movement a mass of urban Catholics from the eastern seaboard, people whose outlook on individual liberty was, if anything, negative.
If McCarthy was the main catalyst for mobilizing the mass base of the new right, the major ideological instrument of the transformation was the blight of anti-communism, and the major carriers were Bill Buckley and National Review.
A new, younger generation of rightists, of “conservatives,” began to emerge, who thought that the real problem of the modern world was nothing so ideological as the state vs. individual liberty or government intervention vs. the free market; the real problem, they declared, was the preservation of tradition, order, Christianity and good manners against the modern sins of reason, license, atheism and boorishness.
A prominent editor of National Review once told me: “I have a vision, a great vision of the future: a totally devastated Soviet Union.”
I became increasingly alarmed, however, as NR and its friends grew in strength because I knew, from innumerable conversations with rightist intellectuals, what their foreign policy goal was. They never quite dared to state it publicly, although they would slyly imply it and would try to whip the public up to the fever pitch of demanding it. What they wanted—and still want—was nuclear annihilation of the Soviet Union. They want to drop that Bomb on Moscow.
Having broken emotionally with the right wing, our tiny group of libertarians began to rethink many of our old, unexamined premises. First, we restudied the origins of the Cold War, we read our D.F. Fleming and we concluded, to our considerable surprise, that the United States was solely at fault in the Cold War, and that Russia was the aggrieved party.
And this meant that the great danger to the peace and freedom of the world came not from Moscow or “international communism,” but from the U.S. and its Empire stretching across and dominating the world.
And then we studied the foul European conservatism that had taken over the right wing; here we had statism in a virulent form, and yet no one could possibly think these conservatives to be “leftist.” But this meant that our simple “left/total government—right/no government” continuum was altogether wrong and that our whole identification of ourselves as “extreme rightists” must contain a basic flaw.
First there was the old order, the ancien régime, the regime of caste and frozen status, of exploitation by a despotic ruling class, using the church to dupe the masses into accepting its rule. This was pure statism; this was the right wing. Then, in 17th and 18th century western Europe, a liberal and radical opposition movement arose, our heroes, who championed a popular revolutionary movement on behalf of rationalism, individual liberty, minimal government, free markets, international peace and separation of church and state, in opposition to throne and altar, to monarchy, the ruling class, theocracy and war. These—”our people”—were the left, and the purer their vision the more “extreme” they were.
So far so good; but what of socialism, which we had always considered the extreme left? Where did that fit in? Liggio analyzed socialism as a confused middle-of-the-road movement, influenced historically by both the libertarian left and the conservative right. From the individualist left the socialists took the goals of freedom: the withering away of the state, the replacement of the governing of men by the administration of things, opposition to the ruling class and a search for its overthrow, the desire to establish international peace, an advanced industrial economy and a high standard of living for the mass of the people. From the right the socialists adopted the means to achieve these goals—collectivism, state planning, community control of the individual. This put socialism in the middle of the ideological spectrum. It also meant that socialism was an unstable, self-contradictory doctrine bound to fly apart in the inner contradiction between its means and ends.
America was born in a revolution against Western imperialism, born as a haven of freedom against the tyrannies and despotism, the wars and intrigues of the old world. Yet we have allowed ourselves to sacrifice the American ideals of peace and freedom and anti-colonialism on the altar of a crusade to kill communists throughout the world; we have surrendered our libertarian birthright into the hands of those who yearn to restore the Golden Age of the Holy Inquisition. It is about time that we wake up and rise up to restore our heritage.