This article was first published in 1992, in the Rothbard-Rockwell Report.
What I call the Old Right is suddenly back! The terms “old” and “new” inevitably get confusing, with a new “new” every few years, so let’s call it the “Original” Right, the right wing as it existed from 1933 to approximately 1955. This Old Right was formed in reaction against the New Deal, and against the Great Leap Forward into the leviathan state that was the essence of that New Deal.
This anti–New Deal movement was a coalition of three groups:
- the “extremists” — the individualists and libertarians, like H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, and Garet Garrett;
- right-wing Democrats, harking back to the laissez-faire views of the 19th-century Democratic party, men such as Governor Albert Ritchie of Maryland or Senator James A. Reed of Missouri;
- moderate New Dealers, who thought that the Roosevelt New Deal went too far, for example Herbert Hoover.
Interestingly, even though the libertarian intellectuals were in the minority, they necessarily set the terms and the rhetoric of the debate, since theirs was the only thought-out, contrasting ideology to the New Deal.
The most radical view of the New Deal was that of libertarian essayist and novelist Garet Garrett, an editor of the Saturday Evening Post. His brilliant little pamphlet “The Revolution Was,” published in 1938, began with these penetrating words — words that would never be fully absorbed by the Right:
There are those who still think they are holding a pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the night of depression, singing songs to freedom.
The revolution was, said Garrett, and therefore nothing less than a counterrevolution is needed to take the country back. Behold then, not a “conservative,” but a radical Right.
In the late 1930s, there was added to this reaction against the domestic New Deal a reaction against the foreign policy of the New Deal: the insistent drive toward war in Europe and Asia. Hence, the right wing added a reaction against big government abroad to the attack on big government at home. The one fed on the other.
The right wing called for nonintervention in foreign as well as domestic affairs, and denounced FDR’s adoption of Woodrow Wilson’s global crusading, which had proved so disastrous in World War I. To Wilson-Roosevelt globalism, the Old Right countered with a policy of “America First.” American foreign policy must neither be based on the interests of a foreign power — such as Great Britain — nor be in the service of such abstract ideals as “making the world safe for democracy,” or waging a “war to end all wars,” both of which would amount, in the prophetic words of Charles A. Beard, to waging “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”
And so the Original Right was completed, combating the leviathan state in domestic affairs. It said “no!” to the welfare-warfare state. The result of adding foreign affairs to the list was some reshuffling of members: former rightists such as Lewis W. Douglas — who had opposed the domestic New Deal — now rejoined it as internationalists, while veteran isolationists, such as Senators Borah and Nye, or intellectuals such as Beard, Harry Elmer Barnes, or John T. Flynn, gradually but surely became domestic right-wingers in the course of their determined opposition to the foreign New Deal.
If we know what the Old Right was against, what were they for? In general terms, they were for a restoration of the liberty of the old republic, of a government strictly limited to the defense of the rights of private property. In the concrete, as in the case of any broad coalition, there were differences of opinion within this overall framework. But we can boil down those differences to this question: How much of existing government would you repeal? How far would you roll government back? Continue reading “A Strategy for the Right”