“The idea of imposing universal peace on the world by force is a barbarian fantasy.” – Garet Garrett
After the death of Taft and as the Eisenhower foreign policy began to take on the frozen Dullesian lineaments of permanent mass armament and the threat of “massive nuclear retaliation” throughout the globe, I began to notice isolationist sentiment starting to fade away, even among old libertarian and isolationist compatriots who should have known better. Old friends who used to scoff at the “Russian threat” and had declared The Enemy to be Washington, DC now began to mutter about the “international Communist conspiracy.” I noticed that young libertarians coming into the ranks were increasingly infected with the Cold War mentality and had never even heard of the isolationist alternative. Young libertarians wondered how it was that I upheld a “Communist foreign policy.”
In this emerging atmosphere, novelist Louis Bromfield’s nonfiction work of 1954, A New Pattern for a Tired World, a hard-hitting tract on behalf of free-market capitalism and a peaceful foreign policy, began to seem anachronistic and had almost no impact on the right wing of the day.
Aside from the tragic drain on our youth, whether drafted for two of the best years of their lives or maimed or killed or imprisoned, the grandiose “containment” policy means an immense and constant drain in terms of money….
One of the great failures of our foreign policy throughout the world arises from the fact that we have permitted ourselves to be identified everywhere with the old, doomed and rotting colonial-imperialist small European nations which once imposed upon so much of the world the pattern of exploitation and economic and political domination. This fact lies at the core of our failure to win the support and trust of the once-exploited nations and peoples who are now in rebellion and revolution in all parts of the world but especially in Asia. We have not given these peoples a real choice between the practices of Russian Communist imperialism or Communism and those of a truly democratic world in which individualism, American capitalism and free enterprise are the very pillars of independence, solid economics, liberty and good living standards. We have appeared to these peoples themselves … in the role of colonial imperialists … and of supporters in almost every case of the rotting old European empires….
None of these rebellious, awakening peoples will, in their hearts or even superficially, trust us or cooperate in any way so long as we remain identified with the economic colonial system of Europe; which represents, even in its capitalist pattern, the last remnants of feudalism. … We cannot appear to these Asiatic peoples in the role of friend and benefactor while we are at the same time financing, attempting to restore to power and even providing arms to the very forces of the dying colonial empires, against which they are in rebellion.
This is exactly what we are doing in Indo-China and in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world under a confused policy based upon the doomed past rather than upon the inevitable dynamic pattern of the future. We leave these awakening peoples with no choice but to turn to Russian and Communist comfort and promises of Utopia. We make it possible everywhere … for the Communists … to create the impression that what in fact is merely an intense assertion of nationalism is really a Communist liberation, planned and carried out by Communist influence….
We are playing the politics of a vanished world, blindly and stupidly attempting to surround and contain what can not be contained, blocking the free exchange of goods and keeping the world in a constant uproar by making alliances and setting up military installations everywhere. It is an antique pattern of power politics.
Again on Asia:
The battle in Indo-China engages … countless Indo-Chinese … who hate French domination…. Yet there are even those, principally in armed forces of the U.S., who would, if they dared, advocate drafting American boys from Ohio, Iowa, Kansas and elsewhere and sending them into this struggle where they or the nation itself have no proper place and where our intervention can only serve to do us tragic harm in the long run….
[Korea] may well prove to be not the martyred heroic nation which the sentimental have made of her, but merely the albatross around our neck which can carry us deeper and deeper into tragic complications and future wars. Because we have no real reason to be in Korea, unless, as every Asiatic suspects, for reasons of power and exploitation. To say that a country so remote and insignificant as Korea is our first line of defense is to say that every nation in every part of the world is also our “first line of defense”—a conception which is obviously fantastic and grotesque to the borders of megalomania….
Our permanent occupation of Korea in order to maintain her economic and political independence artificially is an act against the whole trend of world revolution and the irresistible forces of our times…. We must stay in Korea indefinitely and eventually retire and accept defeat or involve ourselves and the world in a war which may well be for us and will be certainly for all Europe the end of the road…. The Korean situation … will not be settled until we withdraw entirely from an area in which we have no right to be and leave the peoples of that area to work out their own problems.
Bromfield concluded that the whole of our foreign policy was not “worth the torture or the life of one unwilling conscript, even if it were not the most dangerous and destructive of policies to the peace and welfare of the world.”
In this period of slippage of devotion to peace, in a right wing on which the Bromfield book made little impact, I determined to try to reaffirm the older foreign policy tradition in the conservative-libertarian movement.
In April 1954, William Johnson put together an all-isolationist, all-peace issue of Faith and Freedom that was one of the last intellectual gasps of the isolationist-libertarian Right. The issue included an article by Garet Garrett, “The Suicidal Impulse,” which continued his analysis of “The Rise of Empire.” Garrett declared that the American Empire had built up “the most terrible killing machine mankind had ever known,” that we were brandishing our “immense stock of atomic bombs,” that there were American troops and air bases throughout the globe, and that there was “from time to time a statement from an eminent American military person saying the American Air Force is prepared to drop bombs in Russia with the greatest of ease, on targets already selected.” Garrett concluded that the “allure of world leadership weaves a fatal spell. The idea of imposing universal peace on the world by force is a barbarian fantasy.”
Also included in the Faith and Freedom issue was Ernest T. Weir, the right-wing union-busting industrialist of the 1930s, World War II isolationist, and head of the National Steel Corporation of Pittsburgh. Weir, the Cyrus Eaton of the 1950s, had been stumping the country and publishing pamphlets calling for a negotiated peace with the Soviet Union and Communist China and an end to the Cold War. In his article, “Leaving Emotions Out of Foreign Policy,” Weir declared that
we have to accept the fact that it is not the mission of the United States to go charging about the world to free it from bad nations and bad systems of government. We must reconcile ourselves to the fact that there will always be bad nations and bad systems and that our task is to contrive some basis other than warfare on which we can live in the world.
My own contribution to the issue was “The Real Aggressor,” under the nom de plume of “Aubrey Herbert,” in which I tried to establish a libertarian basis for an isolationist and peaceful foreign policy, and called for peaceful coexistence, joint disarmament, withdrawal from NATO and the UN, and recognition of Communist China, as well as free trade with all countries.
For our pains, both Mr. Weir and I were red-baited in the Social Democratic New Leader by William Henry Chamberlin. The fact of Chamberlin’s growing influence on the intellectual Right was symptomatic of its accelerating decay. A former Communist fellow traveler in the 1930s, Chamberlin seemed able to shift his principles at will, writing assiduously for both the Wall Street Journal and the New Leader, supporting free-market economics in the former publication and statism in the latter. He was also capable of writing a book praising isolationism and the Munich pact for World War II, while at the same time denouncing present-day isolationists and opponents of the Cold War as “appeasers” and proponents of “another Munich.” But in one sense this new Chamberlin was consistent; for he was one of that growing legion of ex-Communist and ex-fellow-traveler journalists who spearheaded the ideological front for the Cold War and the world anti-Communist crusade. In his article “Appeasement on the Right,” Chamberlin charged that Weir’s article “could have appeared in the Nation, perhaps even in Masses and Mainstream“; as for my article, I had laid “down a blueprint for America policy tailor-made to the specifications of the Kremlin.”
It was the first time that I had ever been red-baited, though it was not to be the last, and to a professed “extreme right winger” this charge was something of a shock. When I replied in the New Leader and noted that Chamberlin himself had hailed appeasement and Munich a short while before, Chamberlin responded in characteristic fashion: that Ernest Weir had been recently hailed in the Warsaw Trybuna Ludu, and that perhaps I would soon “receive [my] appropriate recognition from the same or a similar source.”
Soon afterward, I signed on to replace Chodorov as monthly Washington columnist of Faith and Freedom, and month in and month out, until the end of 1956, I hammered away at the statism of the Eisenhower administration. Troubled at the growing adherence to militarism and the Cold War on the right wing, I particularly blasted away at these trends. While calling for withdrawal from the United Nations, I urged that it recognize reality and admit China to membership; calling for neutralism and isolationism, I expressed the hope for neutralism abroad and a neutralist and peacefully reunified Germany; attacking permanent expansion of the United States beyond our shores, I called for granting Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico their independence instead of incorporating them as permanent states. In early 1956, I attacked the Eisenhower administration for torpedoing the second Geneva conference and its hopes for détente and disarmament: first, by presenting a demand for German reunification under NATO as our prime demand at the conference; and second, by withdrawing our longstanding demand for simultaneous disarmament and inspection as soon as the Russians had agreed to our own position, and later substituting instead Ike’s demagogic proposal for “open skies.” A few months later, I sharply criticized the Right for springing to the defense of the Marine drill instructor who brutally ordered six men to watery graves in a senseless death march at Parris Island. How is it, I asked, that only the left-liberals had risen to champion freedom against brutality and militarism?
My most severe tangle with the prowar Right came in a series of debates in early 1955 on whether or not to fight for Formosa, a question which loomed large in that year.
In my March column I called for withdrawal from Formosa, attacked the manic logic which demanded an endless series of bases to “protect our previous bases,” and asked how we would feel if the Chinese were occupying and fortifying an island three miles off our coast? Furthermore, I hailed the call for peace recently delivered by the hero of the prowar Right, Douglas MacArthur, and also praised Rep. Eugene R. Siler (R., Ky.) for picking up the old isolationist baton and voting against the blank-check congressional resolution of January 29 on Formosa because he had promised his constituents that he would never help to “engage their boys in war on foreign soil.”
This article precipitated a debate with a fellow columnist on Faith and Freedom, William S. Schlamm, another leader of the new trends on the right wing, and formerly book review editor of the then-major intellectual right-wing magazine, the Freeman. Schlamm was typical of the New Rightist: formerly a leading German Communist and editor of Die Rote Fahne, Schlamm was now dedicating his career to whipping up enthusiasm for the crushing of his old comrades, at home and abroad. In his zeal for the world anti-Communist crusade, I could never—and still cannot—detect one iota of devotion to freedom in Schlamm’s worldview. What was he doing on Faith and Freedom to begin with? When National Review was founded in late 1955, Schlamm became its book review editor and, for a while, its chief theoretician; later he was to return to Germany and gain a large popular following for an ultra-hardline foreign policy against the East.
Schlamm and I had a series of two debates—”Fight for Formosa—or Not?”—in the May and June issues of Faith and Freedom. I accused him of advocating preventive war, and reminded our readers that we had not been attacked by either Russia or China, and that a world war would mean the total destruction of civilization. And why, I asked, as I had before in those columns, do the prowar conservatives, supposedly dedicated to the superiority of capitalism over Communism, by thirsting for an immediate showdown, implicitly grant that time is on the side of the Communist system? I then reaffirmed that surely any libertarian must hold “the enemy” to be not Russian Communism but any invasion of our liberty by the State; to give up our freedom in order to “preserve” it is only succumbing to the Orwellian dialectic that “freedom is slavery.” As for Schlamm’s position that we had already been “attacked” by Communism, I pointed out the crucial distinction between military and “ideological” attack, a distinction to which the libertarian, with his entire philosophy resting on the difference between violent aggression and nonviolent persuasion, should be particularly attuned. My puzzlement should have been solved by realizing that Mr. Schlamm was the furthest thing from a “libertarian.” I also called for realistic negotiations with the Communist world, which would result in mutual atomic and bacteriological disarmament.
More important in trying to stem the efforts of the war crowd to take over the Right was the redoubtable Frank Chodorov. It turned out to be a tragedy for the libertarian cause that Frank had liquidated his magnificent analysis in the early 1950s and merged it into Human Events, where he then served as an associate editor. Frank was also my predecessor as Washington columnist of Faith and Freedom. In the summer of 1954, Frank took up the editorship of the Freeman, the leading organ of the intellectual Right, previously a weekly and by this time reduced to a monthly issued by the Foundation for Economic Education. In his September Freeman editorial (“The Return of 1940?”) Chodorov proclaimed that the old isolationist-interventionist split among conservatives and libertarians was once again coming into play. “Already the libertarians are debating among themselves on the need of putting off the struggle for freedom until after the threat of communism, Moscow style, shall have been removed, even by war.” Frank pointed out the consequences of our entry into World War II: a massive debt burden, a gigantic tax structure, a permanent incubus of conscription, an enormous federal bureaucracy, the loss of our sense of personal freedom and independence. “All this,” Frank concluded,
the “isolationists” of 1940 foresaw. Not because they were endowed with any gift of prevision, but because they knew history and would not deny its lesson: that during war the State acquires power at the expense of freedom, and that because of its insatiable lust for power the State is incapable of giving up any of it. The State never abdicates.
Any further war would be infinitely worse, and perhaps destroy the world in the process.
Chodorov’s editorial drew a rebuttal from the indefatigable Willi Schlamm, and the two debated the war question in the pages of the November 1954 Freeman. Chodorov’s rebuttal, “A War to Communize America,” was his last great reaffirmation of the isolationist Old Right position. Chodorov began,
We are again being told to be afraid. As it was before the two world wars so it is now; politicians talk in frightening terms, journalists invent scare-lines, and even next-door neighbors are taking up the cry: the enemy is at the city gates; we must gird for battle. In case you don’t know, the enemy this time is the U.S.S.R.
Chodorov centered on the question of conscription, since “to fight a war with Russia on foreign soil,” the interventionists conceded, required this form of slavery. “I don’t think a single division could have been raised by the volunteer system for the Korean adventure.” And if the American people do not want to fight in such wars, by what right are they to be “compelled to fight them?” And: “We are told that we must fear the Russians. I am more afraid of those who, like their forebears, would compel us against our will to fight the Russians. They have the dictator complex.”
Chodorov then reiterated that any further war would end whatever liberty we had, that slavery to an American master was no better than slavery to some foreign master: “Why go to war for [the] privilege” of choosing one or the other? As for ourselves being invaded, there was no real possibility of such a thing happening. The only thing we had to fear in the current situation was “the hysteria of fear” itself. The only way to remove this fear on both sides, Chodorov concluded, was for us to “abandon our global military commitments” and return home.
As for the alleged Russian threat to Western Europe if we should withdraw, “it would be hard on the Europeans if they fell into Soviet hands; but not any worse than if we precipitated a war in which their homes became the battlefield.”
And if these countries do, in fact, desire communism, then “our presence in Europe is an impertinent interference with the internal affairs of these countries; let them go communist if they want to.”
Unfortunately, shortly afterward Chodorov was ousted as editor; a man of stubborn independence and integrity, Chodorov would not submit to any form of mental castration. With Chodorov gone, Leonard Read could return to his long-standing policy of never engaging in direct political or ideological controversy, and the Freeman proceeded to sink into the slough of innocuous desuetude in which it remains today.
Chodorov was now deprived of a libertarian outlet, his great voice was stilled; and this loss was made final by the tragic illness that struck in 1961 and in which Frank spent the last years of his life. Aggravating the tragedy was his ideological betrayal by close friends such as young William F. Buckley, whom Frank had discovered as a writer while editing Human Events (and who in a recent “Firing Line” exchange with Karl Hess dared to bring up the name of the dead Chodorov as a libertarian sanction for his own prowar stance).
Even more poignant is the history of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, which Frank had founded in 1952 as a “fifty-year project” to win the college campuses away from statism and toward individualism. In 1956, ISI left FEE’s offices to take up headquarters in Philadelphia. Frank’s selection to succeed him as head of ISI, E. Victor Milione, has since taken ISI squarely into the traditionalist-conservative camp, even to the extent—at about the time of Frank’s death in late 1966—of changing the name of Chodorov’s brainchild to the “Intercollegiate Studies Institute.” It seems that the name “individualist” was upsetting conservative businessmen, to whom it conjured up visions of the rebels of the New Left. Oh, liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!
Another grave blow to isolationism and the Old Right was the loss of Human Events. From the beginning, the three owners of Human Events had been Felix Morley, the theoretician; Frank Hanighen, the journalist; and Henry Regnery, the financial supporter. Before and during World War II, all had been isolationists, but after the war Hanighen, followed by Regnery, began to jump on the anti-Communist and pro-interventionist bandwagon, much to the resistance of Morley. Morley, who in his autobiography paid high tribute to the influence of Nock, scoffed at his colleagues’ emphasis on the Hiss case. Once Franklin Roosevelt, guided by Harry Hopkins, had brought about a “Communist victory,” declared Morley, “it seemed silly to bother about the hole-and-corner machinations of a few fellow-travelers as accused communist turncoats.” In addition to ideology, Hanighen was particularly motivated by moolah: Hanighen
believed that the Hiss case would prove sensational, as indeed it did, and that we could greatly increase our circulation by exploiting it, as also Senator McCarthy’s sweeping charges. He was probably right, since after I left it the little publication grew rapidly by climbing aboard the anti-Communist bandwagon.
Finally, the split came in February 1950, over Hanighen’s insistence that Human Events go all out in support of American intervention on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek’s regime now holed up in Taiwan. Regnery sided with Hanighen, and so Morley was bought out by his partners. Looking back on this forced separation Morley concluded,
In retrospect I see this episode as symptomatic of that which has come to divide the conservative movement in the United States. Frank and Henry, in their separate ways, moved on to associate with the far Right in the Republican Party. My position remained essentially “Libertarian,” though it is with great reluctance that I yield the old terminology of “liberal” to the socialists. I was, and continue to be, strongly opposed to centralization of political power, thinking that this process will eventually destroy our federal republic, if it has not already done so. The vestment of power in HEW is demonstrably bad, but its concentration in the Pentagon and CIA is worse because the authority is often concealed and covertly exercised. Failure to check either extreme means continuous deficit financing and consequent inflation which in time can be fatal to the free enterprise system.
Morley, a friend of Bob Taft, had been slated for a high appointment in the State Department if Taft had become President in 1953; but it was not to be.
But by the mid-1950s the battle for Old Right isolationism had not yet been completely lost. Thus, at the end of 1955, For America, a leading right-wing political action group headed by Notre Dame Law School Dean Clarence Manion, issued its political platform. Two of its major foreign policy planks were “Abolish Conscription” and “Enter No Foreign Wars unless the safety of the United States is directly threatened.” Not a word about liberating Communist countries, or about stopping Communism all over the world. As for our small libertarian group, right-wing anarchists Robert LeFevre and Thaddeus Ashby were able to gain control, for a short but glorious time, of the right-wing Congress of Freedom, headed by Washingtonian Arnold Kruckman. On April 24, 1954, LeFevre and Ashby managed to push through the Congress a libertarian platform, specifically calling for the abolition of conscription, the “severing our entangling alliance with foreign nations,” and the abolition of all foreign aid. The platform declared: “We decry the war we have lost in Korea and we will oppose American intervention in the war in Indochina.” More orthodox rightists, however, managed to regain control of the Congress the following year.
The last great political gasp of the isolationist Right came in the fight for the Bricker Amendment, the major foreign-policy plan of the conservative Republicans during the first Eisenhower term. Senator John W. Bricker (R., Ohio) had been the ill-fated right-wing candidate for president in 1948, and was Taft’s natural successor after the death of his fellow Ohioan. The Bricker Amendment to the Constitution was designed to prevent the threat of international treaties and executive agreements becoming the supreme law of the land and overriding previous internal law or provisions of the Constitution. It provided that no treaty or executive agreement conflicting with, or not made in pursuance of, the Constitution, shall have any force; and that no such treaty or executive agreement shall become effective as internal law except by domestic legislation that would have been valid in the absence of the agreement.
Favoring the amendment were a battery of right-wing groups: veterans and patriotic organizations, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Chamber of Commerce, Pro America, the National Small Business Association, the Conference of Small Business Organizations, Merwin K. Hart’s National Economic Council, the Committee for Constitutional Government, Rev. Fifield’s Freedom Clubs, Inc., and large chunks of the American Bar Association.
The major opponent of the Amendment was the Eisenhower administration, in particular Secretary of State Dulles and Attorney General Herbert Brownell, ably seconded by the forces of organized liberalism: the Americans for Democratic Action, the AFL, B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Congress, the American Association for the United Nations, and the United World Federalists.
The climactic vote on the Bricker Amendment came in the US Senate in February 1954, the amendment going down to a severe defeat. While the overwhelming majority of right-wing Republicans voted for the amendment, there were some significant defections, including William Knowland and Alexander Wiley (R., Wis.), a former isolationist who was playing the iniquitous “Vandenberg role” as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in what might well have been the last Republican-controlled Senate.
It is indicative of the later decline of the Old Right that the Bricker Amendment was to race away and disappear totally in right-wing councils, never to be heard from again. In particular, the New Right, which began to emerge in force after 1955, was able to bury the Bricker Amendment, as well as the isolationist sentiment that it embodied, in some form of Orwellian “memory hole.”
If the Bricker Amendment was the last isolationist pressure campaign of the Old Right, the third-party ticket of 1956 was its last direct political embodiment. I had been yearning for an Old Right third party ever since the disgraceful Republican convention of 1952, and some Taftites tried to launch a Constitution Party, nominating Douglas MacArthur that very fall, only to lament that there was not enough time, and that 1956 would be the year. Third-party discussions and movements by disgruntled Old Rightists began in late 1955, and numerous conservative, Constitution, and “New” Parties sprang up in various states. But there was precious little organization or money or political savvy in these attempts, and none of the top right-wing leaders endorsed their efforts.
I myself was involved in two third-party attempts in New York, a minuscule Constitution Party and a larger Independent Party, headed by an elderly man named Dan Sawyer. I vividly remember a good-sized rally held by the Independents in early 1956. One featured speaker was Kent Courtney of New Orleans, who with his wife, Phoebe, was the main founder of the new party. A particular feature was a colorful old gent, whose name escapes me, looking like a stereotyped Kentucky colonel, who limped his way to the stand. The Colonel, for such I believe he was, though from Texas, proclaimed that he was an unsung founder of the science of public opinion polling, and that he had been President Coolidge’s opinion poll adviser. (And had Hoover only listened to him! …) At any rate, the Colonel assured us, from the very depths of his public-opinion know-how, that any Democrat was certain to defeat Eisenhower in the 1956 election. Such was the acumen of the third-party leadership. Unsurprisingly, the Independent Party of New York held no further meetings.
The Constitution Party of New York was even shorter lived. Again, I attended only one “mass” meeting, presided over by a young lawyer named Ed Scharfenberger in a tiny Manhattan restaurant. Scharfenberger gave me to understand that I could help write the platform of the party, but something told me that the party was not long for this world. The Constitution Party’s great talking point was its connection with a mini-network of Constitution groups headed by the party in Texas, which actually got on the ballot and ran some candidates.
My own personal candidate for president in 1956 was Governor Bracken Lee of Utah, who was certainly the closest thing to a libertarian in political life. There were indeed few other governors who advocated repeal of the income tax, sold state colleges to private enterprise, refused Federal grants-in-aid for highways, denounced social security, urged withdrawal from the UN, or proclaimed foreign aid to be unconstitutional.
In fact, a third party did get underway, but once again it began very late, in mid-September of the election year, and so could get on the ballot in only a few states. The New Party, in a States’ Rights Convention, nominated T. Coleman Andrews of Virginia for president, and former Representative Thomas H. Werdel (R., Calif.) for vice president. Andrews had made himself an antitax hero by serving for several years as Eisenhower’s Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and then resigning to stump the country for repeal of the 16th (income tax) Amendment. I firmly supported the Andrews-Werdel ticket, not the least of whose charms was the absence of any call for a worldwide anti-Communist crusade. The Bricker Amendment, opposition to foreign aid, and withdrawal from the UN were the extent of their foreign affairs program, and the same in fact could be said about the Constitution parties. Andrews-Werdel reached their peak in Virginia and Louisiana, where they polled about 7 percent of the vote, carrying one county—Prince Edward in Virginia—while J. Bracken Lee collected over 100,000 votes in Utah in an independent race for president in his home state.
While I supported Andrews-Werdel, I made clear to my Faith and Freedom readers that between the two major candidates I favored Adlai Stevenson. The major motive was not, as in 1952, to punish the left Republicans for taking over the party. Presaging my later political career, my major reason was the decidedly more pro-peace stand that Stevenson was taking: specifically in his call for abolition of testing of H-bombs as well as his suggestion that we abolish the draft. This was enough to push me in a Stevensonian direction.
Soon after the election, Bill Johnson, who had always commended my columns, flew East to inform me that I was being dumped as Washington columnist. Why? Because his Protestant minister readership had come to the conclusion that I was a “Communist.” Red-baiting again, and this time from “libertarians”! I protested that, month in and month out, I had consistently attacked government and defended the individual; how could this possibly be “Communist”? The lines were tightening. Faith and Freedom itself collapsed shortly thereafter (not, I must hasten to add, because of my dismissal). Bill Johnson went on to join Dick Cornuelle in the Volker Fund operation.
The demise of Faith and Freedom, and of its controlling organization, Spiritual Mobilization (SM), was symptomatic of the grievous decline of the libertarian wing of the Old Right in the latter half of the 1950s. In the midst of libertarianism’s—and the Old Right’s—gravest crisis since World War II, Spiritual Mobilization, instead of providing leadership in these stormy times, turned toward what can only be called neo-Buddhist mystical gabble. In the mid-1950s, the Reverend Fifield had turned over day-to-day operation of SM to Jim Ingebretsen, a libertarian and old friend of Leonard Read who had been an official with the Chamber of Commerce. No sooner did he assume the reins of SM, however, than he—and the rest of the influential SM group—fell under the charismatic influence of the gnomic English neo-Buddhist mystic, Gerald Heard.
Heard, who liked to think of his murky lucubrations as the requirements of “science,” had already converted Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood to Heardian mysticism (it was Heard who had provided the model for the guru who converted Huxley’s sophisticated hero to mysticism in Eyeless in Gaza). Heard had set up shop in a retreat provided by a businessman patron in an estate called Idyllwild in the Los Angeles area; and there he organized retreats for all the once-active libertarian Old Right businessmen.
In particular, Heard, blathering about the “Growing Edge” and the paranormal, organized mystical sessions which included experiments in hallucinogenic “mad mushrooms” and even LSD. It is fascinating that Heard and his crew were proto–Timothy Leary types—an incongruous leap into a genteel but highly debilitating form of right-wing “counter-culture.” One thing that plunging into this nonsense accomplished, of course, was to convince the participants that liberty, statism, economics, politics, and even ethics were not really important; that the only thing that really counted was advances in personal spiritual “awareness.”
Even though presumably not designed for that purpose, this was a beautiful way to destroy an active ideological movement. All the participants became tainted in one way or another. Thaddeus Ashby, who had become assistant editor of Faith and Freedom, influenced Johnson, and Gerald Heard obtained a regular column there, every month issuing incomprehensible Confucius-like pronouncements. (A typical column began: “People ask me, Mr. Heard, will there be war? And I answer: ‘Have you read Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee?’“—I am sure a most useful answer to the burning foreign policy question.) Ashby ended up dropping out of libertarian ideology altogether, and pursuing the mad mushroom in Mexico and the bizarre path of Tantric Yoga. Bill Mullendore’s enthusiasm for liberty weakened. And Ingebretsen was so influenced as to go virtually on permanent retreat. Business contributions fell off drastically, despite a last-minute desperate attempt to transform Faith and Freedom into an exclusively antiunion organ, and the Rev. Fifield, who had run SM since the 1930s, resigned in 1959, thus sounding the death knell for a once active and important organization.
Even Leonard Read was affected, and Read’s flirtation on the fringes of the Growing Edge group could only accelerate the steady deterioration of FEE. Leonard had always had a mystical streak; thus, he treated every newcomer to FEE to a one-hour monologue to the effect that “scientists tell me that if you could blow up an atom to the size of this room, and then step inside it, you would hear beautiful music.” (I forbore to ask him whether it would be Bach or Beethoven.) Apparently, this nonsense went over well with many FEE devotees. It, of course, could not go over at all with Frank Chodorov, a down-to-earth type who enjoyed discussing real ideas and issues. It’s no wonder that Chodorov lasted for such a short time in such an intellectually stultifying atmosphere.
In the meanwhile, libertarian social life in New York City had been a lowly business. There were no young libertarians in New York after Dick Cornuelle moved West, and what few there were—who included no anarchists—clustered around the Mises Seminar at New York University. A path out of the wilderness came in late 1953, when I met at the seminar a brilliant group of young and budding libertarians; most were then seniors in high school, and one, Leonard Liggio, was a sophomore at Georgetown.
Some of this group had formed a Cobden Club at the Bronx High School of Science and the group as a whole had met as activists in the Youth for Taft campaign in 1952. The conversion of this group to anarchism was a simple matter of libertarian logic, and we all became fast friends, forming ourselves into a highly informal group called the Circle Bastiat, after the nineteenth-century French laissez-faire economist. We had endless discussions of libertarian political theory and current events, we sang and composed songs, joked about how we would be treated by “future historians,” toasted the day of future victory, and played board games until the wee hours. Those were truly joyous times.
When I first met them, the Circle had, after the Taft defeat, formed the libertarian wing of a conservative-libertarian coalition that had constituted the Students for America; in fact the Circle kids totally controlled the Eastern branch of the SFA, while its president, Bob Munger, a conservative with rightist political connections, controlled the West. Unfortunately, however, only Munger had access to the financing, and when he was drafted shortly thereafter, SFA fell apart. From then on, we continued throughout the 1950s as an isolated though rollicking group in New York.
By the mid-1950s, the Old Right was demoralized politically with Taft dead, the Bricker Amendment defeated, and Eisenhower Republicanism triumphant, while intellectually the fading of the Old Right left a vacuum: the Freeman was to all intents and purposes finished, FEE was declining, Chodorov was incapacitated, Garrett dead, and Felix Morley, for persistent isolationism, was ousted from the Human Events that he had helped to found. Faith and Freedom and Spiritual Mobilization were likewise dead.
Finally, the death of Colonel McCormick in April 1955 deprived isolationism and its Middle-Western base of its most important and dedicated voice, as the publisher molding the Chicago Tribune. There were by now literally no libertarian or isolationist publishing outlets available. The time was ripe for the filling of the vacuum, for the seizure of this lost continent and lost army, and for their mobilization by a man and a group that could supply intelligence, glibness, erudition, money, and political knowhow to capture the right wing for a very different cause and for a very different drummer. The time had come for Bill Buckley and National Review.
This article is excerpted from chapter 11 of The Betrayal of the American Right.