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The Betrayal of the American Right Hardcover – August 31, 2007
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into that long trajectory that would lead to George Bush. As Thomas Woods writes in the introduction, "It is not just a history of the Old Right, or of the anti-interventionist tradition in America. It is the story at least in part of Rothbard's own political and intellectual development: the books he read, the people he met, the friends he made, the organizations he joined, and so much more." Obviously, little of this has made it into the official history of the United States. The movement called the Old Right is rarely discussed or even acknowledged, except to be smeared as backwards and isolationist. Countless times we read that the American right was founded by National Review, and nothing of any merit existed before. In fact, the most consistent opponents of Harry Truman's early Cold War measures were on the ideological right. They saw the whole thing as a trick to keep government control and spending in place. They resisted every step. And they were precisely right: Truman's whole plan was to prevent Republican political advances by distracting people with trumped-up foreign threats. Among the resistors was Senator Robert Taft. He opposed the Truman Doctrine, Nato, the Marshall Plan, and he refused to back more military spending in times of peace. And who supported all these policies? It was people on the left, such as The Nation. The Left favored big government in the mode of FDR. The Right was against it. But how many historians know anything about these crucial years? How many know that the left and right changed place from the late 50s through the 1960s? Very few indeed. What Rothbard shows is that the cause of peace is our heritage, and that free markets has been united with the antiwar cause from the founding fathers through the Old Right and as late as the 1950s. There is so much in this book to appreciate but especially valuable are his comments on the left in the 1960s. There might have seemed to be some hope for some type of collaboration. They were against war and for civil liberties at a time when the right was becoming increasingly imperialist and warmongering. Rothbard explains his attempt to educate the left on economics. Alas, there was no hope. He had to go it alone and forge a completely new movement called libertarianism. Rothbard plays a much more important role in the history of American politics than is usually acknowledged. He is the link between the Old Right and the new libertarian movement of our times. It was Rothbard who brought Mises's work to the attention of a new generation, writing about his ideas and expanding them. It was Rothbard who worked not only as an intellectual but an activist. It shows what one man and a typewriter can do. This book has been the best-kept secret in political writing for the last half century. Now at last it can be revealed to the world. Betrayal of the America Right is the tell-all book that shows why and how the ideological world turned upside down.
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It might seem nonsensical to some to try to draw a distinction between "rightism" and "conservatism," but that's just evidence for Rothbard's main point: that the true form and legacy of the American Right has been hijacked and perverted -- "betrayed" -- by self-styled "conservatives." Not really "rightists" at all, Rothbard argues, modern "conservatives" are a segment of social democracy, accepting the fundamental premises of militarism, corporatism, mercantilism, fiat money, and expensive, intrusive, bureaucratic government at home to enable the Global Anti-Communist Crusade, as it then was, around the world.
As this new kind of "right wing" grew to prominence in the 1950s, Rothbard suddenly found himself redefined as a "left-winger," without having changed any of his own views. This book thus becomes, not only a history of the Right, but also (as editor Thomas E. Woods notes), the closest we'll presumably ever have to Rothbard's autobiography. Given that Rothbard was a man who wrote movie reviews as well as philosophical treatises, "The Betrayal of the American Right" introduces us to personalities, events, and the social dynamics of political groupings around New York City. There is even, to my surprise and delight, mention of an anarcho-capitalist flag design unveiled in the 1960s.
At the root, though, what really stood out for me in these pages is the -- otherwise suppressed -- history of what's come to be called the "Old Right." While modern conservatism teaches that the American Right descended in a straight line from Burke to Kirk then sprung afresh from the brow of William F. Buckley to be carved into the stone tablets of "National Review," there's really quite a bit more to it than that. I would love to find a way to get College Republicans and other young conservatives to read this book and discover, not only how much wider America's political spectrum really is, but also how different "NR conservatism" is from the roots of the American Right.
Rothbard here reminds us of many of the most important thinkers and writers of the pre-NR Right, erased from the canon by modern conservatism. How sad to think Hannity or Coulter are the best there is, when Nock, Mencken, Chodorov, Harper ... or indeed Mises and Rothbard ... are still fresh and relevant. (R. Taft and H. Buffett, N. Gingrich and T. DeLay: compare and contrast.) As in almost any Mises Institute book, the bibliography of "The Betrayal of the American Right" is one of the most rewarding chapters of all.
Finally, I should note something most reviewers don't comment on, and that is the beautiful design and typesetting of this, and again almost any Mises Institute, book. Mises Institute typography is distinctive and, I've found, exceptionally readable. Combined with Rothbard's equally-readable prose, it's a winning combination.
Rothbard's gloriously acerbic writing style is on full display in this volume, as he relays his meanderings from mainstream conservatism, to support for Adlai Stephenson and then the New Left, introducing the reader to forgotten heroes of the Old Right along the way: Garet Garrett, John T. Flynn, H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Colonel Robert McCormick, Frank Chodorov, and many more. Even if you're tacidly familiar with some (or all) of these figures, chances are you'll be enriched by Rothbard's vivid accounts of them, which stand in stark contrast to Radicals for Capitalism's more detached portrayals.
Two nuggets I'd like to share: 1) In speaking of the 1952 Republican National Convention, Rothbard teasingly mentions what appears to have been a race-based stolen nomination for Dwight Eisenhower. The Southern GOP delegations were very small in those days of Dixiecrat supremacy, and composed largely of African Americans and working-class whites. This was in stark contrast to the elites who made up the Northern GOP. Well, the Southern Republican delegations overwhelmingly supported Old Rightist Robert Taft for the nomination, but -- according to Rothbard -- the "black and tans" (as the African Americans and working-class whites were known) were disenfranchised by the party in favor of Northern carpetbaggers known as the "lily whites" -- Northern businessman transplants. If you Google this, you won't find much... But tellingly, what you do find is how the mainstream has reversed this tale so that it was a "victory for democracy" wherein the "reactionary" Southerners almost "stole" the nomination for Taft, but they were luckily thwarted.
2) Rothbard throws out the idea that William F. Buckley may have been a CIA plant within the conservative movement to derail the isolationist tendencies of the Right and make the Old Left's foreign policy the consensus policy. There isn't a lot of evidence, other than Buckley having previously worked for the CIA, but it certainly makes sense.
Those are but two of the tasty bites Rothbard gives the reader to chew on. Buy this book and read it immediately!