- Hardcover: 231 pages
- Publisher: Ludwig von Mises Institute; 1st edition (August 31, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1933550139
- ISBN-13: 978-1933550138
- Package Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,311,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Betrayal of the American Right Hardcover – August 31, 2007
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About the Author
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.
This book is both political history and an autobiography of one of the great libertarian thinkers. It is the story of Murray Rothbard's attempt to find a political home in a constantly changing and shifting national landscape. The first third or so is Rothbard's account of the "Old Right" and its influence on him: figures like H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Garett Garet, John T. Flynn, and Isabella Patterson. The next third is largely devoted to how World War II and the lead into the Cold War shifted the "Old Right" a bit toward the center, leaving many of the aforementioned figures (and Rothbard) quite politically homeless. The republican party ceased to be the party of small government, individualism, and isolationism, and instead became the home of the pro-war neoconservatives. The last third of the book details Rothbard's attempts to forge an alliance with the "New Left," who he saw as very similar in their libertarian leanings to the "Old Right." Alas, that allegiance collapsed as well. Where the "New Right" was about anti-communism at any cost (folks like William Buckley suggesting that fighting communism necessitated a "totalitarian bureaucracy" at home), the "New Left" came to depend on increasing statism to achieve any and every type of egalitarianism.
"The Betrayal of the American Right" sparkles! Not only is it an absolute treasure for anyone wishing to read about the history and development of libertarianism in the twentieth century, but it is an absolute gold mine for anyone wishing to understand the constantly moving (unfortunately toward statism) politics of the twentieth century. And finally, "The Betrayal of the American Right" illustrates several great lessons that any who have libertarian inclinations should learn:
(a) While short of an iron-clad law, the worst enemy to the philosophy of liberty is war and the panic it helps to produce. The best way for governments to gain and justify sweeping powers, and pander for approval while doing so, is to manufacture or overblow threats of catastrophe. If today's world doesn't prove that, check out Rothbard's account in this volume. (And while you are at it, read conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet's magnificent The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America, another great blow-by-blow account).
(b) The tendency libertarians often have to automatically wince whenever "leftist" ideas are mentioned is a mistake. As Rothbard points out, the "left" has a tendency to be just as libertarian in outlook as the right, depending on the circumstance. The historians of the "New Left" in the 1960's, for instance, are surprisingly libertarian in their distrust of the state. (For a great example, check out Gabriel Kolko's Triumph of Conservatism).
(c) No matter what, a person must stay true to what they believe. Rothbard admits (a rarity for autobiographical works) to making several mistakes, most to do with compromising with others in order to find a political home. While alliances can be useful, one of the big messages I took from "Betrayal" was that, in the end, alliances with those whom you have significant disagreement are always temporary. In the end, Rothbard broke with both the "left" and "right" and worked to create a party that was wholly libertarian.
Unlike the autobiography of one of Rothbard's idols (Albert Jay Nock) - Memoirs of a Superfluous Man - this book ends on a very optimistic note. To quote: "The difficulties are great, but the signs are excellent that such an anti-Establishment and antistatist coalition can and might come into being. Big government and corporate liberalism are showing themselves to be increasingly incapable of coping with the problems that they have brought into being. And so objective reality is on our side."
Are these words any less true today than they were when this manuscript was written? If anything, they should be more pertinent today, as government has only expanded, and liberty diminished, since this book was written. Read it!