February 16, 2011
Conservatives and LibertariansBy William J. Upton
The consummately rambunctious Young Americans for Freedom, sticking with tradition, have caused another stir at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year. They have seen fit to boot the libertarian-Republican from Texas, Congressman Ron Paul, from their board of advisors.
In removing the controversial Paul, YAF has not just knocked a hornets' nest out of a tree -- YAF has peeled away the weak adhesive that has held two less-than-cordial factions within the Right together for several decades. They have expanded the field of battle in America's war of ideas, and it is about time.
Since the 1950s there has been an awkward alliance of Cold Warriors, traditionalists, libertarians and reformed ex-communists, all of whom came together under the idea of "fusionism" coined by one of the late editors of National Review, Frank Meyer. Fusionism was Meyer's, and the Right's as a whole, solution to forming a broad coalition to defeat the growing threat of Soviet communism both at home and abroad. In the context of the time, it was a necessary alliance.
Even with many on the Right during the 1950s and 1960s accepting the terms of fusionism, the libertarian minded figures on the Right came along with deep reservations. Perhaps the most infamous and titanic figure among libertarians was the radical-individualist and self-described Old-Rightist, Murray Rothbard -- though Rothbard's claim of being Old-Right is entirely questionable.
Rothbard broke with the concept of fusionism, skeptical the implications of allowing an expansion of those considered part of his definition of the Right. A rift broke between the libertarian acolytes of Murray Rothbard and the conservative followers of Russell Kirk and the charismatic William F. Buckley, Jr. At this point it should be noted that Rothbard did become a member of Young Americans for Freedom only to turn on it and the entirety of the conservative movement in 1969.
The year 1969 was the high-water mark of fusionism.
Something happened in Murray Rothbard's mind. He fell to what Tocqueville warned against -- that is unbridled individualism driven by the ultimate utility and quest for pure-unenlightened self-interest. He, like Ayn Rand, rejected virtue for selfish-interest, the economy replaced God, the rule-of-man replaced the rule-of-law, and anarchy replaced limited-government.
In his 1969 letter -- Listen YAF -- to the libertarians who would be attending the Young Americans for Freedom national convention in St. Louis, Missouri, Rothbard spat the un-conservative credo:
In his letter, Rothbard continued on to accuse the conservative movement of being something that had been overrun by ex-Communists, monarchists and neo-fascists, stopping just short of calling Buckley and the rest devolved troglodytes.
But why, today, is Murray Rothbard important? What impact does Rothbard -- who died in 1995 -- have on the current state of the American Right?
In a tribute to Rothbard after his death, Congressman Ron Paul wrote:
A moving tribute to a man who came to hate conservatism; a man who railed against the traditionalist philosophy, the virtues espoused by the father of modern conservatism Edmund Burke, the father of American conservatism Russell Kirk, and the greatest promoter of American conservatism William F. Buckley, Jr.
Upon the death of Murray Rothbard, William F. Buckley had this to write:
Buckley did not mince his words. Rothbard had turned his back on the conservative movement, and at times on the idea of America itself. He and his followers were -- and should continue to be -- personae non grata in the conservative movement.
Conservatives should be wary of the influx of young new activists under the banner of Ron Paul. Congressman Paul's support organizations Young Americans for Liberty and Campaign for Liberty have aligned themselves with the anti-conservative Rothbardian ideology along with the Congressman. On March 30th, 2010 Young Americans for Liberty interviewed the radical-libertarian Walter Block. Block called Rothbard, "... a bad ass." "Murray Rothbard Was A Bad Ass -- An Interview with Walter Block" ran as the headline for the video post. A "bad ass"? Murray Rothbard? Yet, Young Americans for Liberty participates in the Conservative Political Action Conference and claims to be a libertarian and conservative organization. To those conservatives that have drifted to Young Americans for Liberty, come back, do not associate with a movement that has closer ideological ties to radical anarchists than to virtue and tradition.
Campaign for Liberty frequently reprints old Rothbard articles on their website, and yet they still try to claim some lineage to the mantle of conservatism! To those conservatives that have been duped into thinking Campaign for Liberty is on our side, come back to tradition and virtue!
And finally, to come back to Young Americans for Freedom and the purge of Ron Paul from their board of advisors, thank you. Why was a follower of Rothbard ever on the board of advisors in the first place though?
YAF citied Congressman Paul's naïve foreign policy and associations with conspiratorial nuts as a violation of The Sharon Statement's provisions for national defense and national interest. They could have gone further, though. Congressman Paul's -- and the libertarians infecting the conservative movement -- loyalty to the ideals of Murray Rothbard also violate the idea contained in The Sharon Statement of maintaining the internal order. Rothbard criticized the police crackdowns during the riots of the late 1960s, when angry radicals burned entire sections of major American cities to the ground. Rothbard reveled in anarchy.
It is not an easy thing to ask that an entire faction of a political movement be driven into the sunlight and exposed as being antithetical and hence requiring ostracism -- but it must be done. Libertarians, though seemingly at home on the Right, may better be categorized as being of the Left.
Conservatives should applaud Young Americans for Freedom and ask our libertarian colleagues just where their convictions really stand. YAF and others who stand up to the bullying and high screeches of the libertarians who have invaded the conservative movement will experience the meaning of condemnant quod non intellegunt. Take heart, though, in the fact that in time many of the young people who have drifted into the libertarian camp and the alliances it has formed with the Left will return to truth, and the Right can move on from this moment of inevitable schism.
Conservatives, we have long feared insulting and stepping on our once libertarian allies. We should worry about that no more. Those who merely voice their disagreement with someone's actions are labeled an enemy of liberty. As Whittaker Chambers once observed of the more virulent libertarian cult around Ayn Rand -- though she herself hated "libertarians" her "objectivists" really were just a more radicalized form of selfish-libertarians:
This has to be stopped, as it will destroy the conservative movement, they will smash up our house - we will lose tradition, we will lose virtue, we will lose conservatism.
Libertarianism is radical, it is not conservative. Let the libertarians go, they are marginal.
William J. Upton is a conservative activist and works in communications and new media in the Washington, D.C. area. He was also once a libertarian.