Skip to comments.The Modern Freedom Movement, 1940-2014
Posted on 06/03/2014 9:15:11 AM PDT by Nelson Hultberg
It began in the early 1940s. FDR had launched the New Deals collectivization of America, and a small but prescient group of libertarian and conservative intellectuals were in rebellion such thinkers as Richard Weaver, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, John T. Flynn, Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, and Ayn Rand, to be followed a decade later by the likes of Russell Kirk, Frank Meyer, and Murray Rothbard.
Out of their cerebral and activist efforts there began the movement to repeal the overweening statism that was infiltrating America from Europe via Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. The infamous year of 1913 was the infiltrations major manifestation. FDRs New Deal was its Rubicon. In reaction to the radical political changes taking place during the 1913-1940 era, todays freedom movement was born.
It is not well-known by the general public, but when the modern freedom movement first began in the early 1940s, it was not split between libertarians and conservatives. It was one coalition unified in rebellion against FDRs monster welfare state. By 1970, however, the movement had become tragically bifurcated. The radical economist Murray Rothbard took libertarians off into anarchy, while the traditionalist philosopher Russell Kirk drove conservatives into statism. This split has created two incomplete visions contemporary libertarianism and conservatism that are, in their singularity, incapable of effectively challenging the authoritarian mega-state.
Conservatives are caught up in the puritanical swamps of legislating morality and hegemonic conquest of the world, while libertarians chase the philosophical absurdities of moral subjectivism and ersatz individualism. Conservatives wish to return to the Middle Ages and mandate morality via the state, while Libertarians wish to do away with any reference to morality altogether. Conservatives revere leaders like Savonarola and John Calvin. Libertarians excite themselves with Larry Flynt and the Beatles Nowhere Man. Somewhere the Founding Fathers are twisting in their graves over each of these political movements and their embarrassing lack of comprehension concerning the requisites for a free and individualist society.
How do we confront this lack of comprehension? We must purge the libertarian and conservative movements of the fallacies they have adopted from Murray Rothbard and Russell Kirk. This will require a rational theory of politics that can bring together the two philosophical streams of John Locke and Edmund Burke so as to restore the original Republic of States that Jefferson and the Founders envisioned. More on this theory shortly.
THE TRAGIC BIFURCATION
In the aftermath of LBJs defeat of the Goldwater forces in the 1964 election, most libertarians, under the influence of the pied piper Murray Rothbard, split off from the official path of the freedom movement and wandered into the utopian forest of some very radical political-philosophical principles those of anarchism.
In contrast, conservatives went the other direction by abandoning principle altogether to align themselves with Irving Kristols collectivist neo-conservatives and tolerate the very government usurpations their movement had been formed to repeal. They began their sellout when Richard Nixon declared in 1971 that, Were all Keynesians now. They continued it with Ronald Reagans massive expansion of the welfare state and when George W. Bush launched a tide of spending, privilege, and corruption totally unhinged from sanity and reality.
Can todays freedom movement be rescued from this tragedy of default? Can the American people be convinced to restore the Republic? Yes, but in order for such a revolution to actually take place, American libertarians and conservatives must face up to some unsettling realities and take appropriate action.
The conservative wing of the freedom movement has been grievously corrupted by Machiavellian statists. The most important cause of this has been Russell Kirks philosophical emphasis on tradition being transcendent to reason and his rejection of equal individual rights in favor of special privileges and a flexible Constitution. This has led conservatives into a Faustian bargain with the statist enemy and opened the door for the hijacking of their movement by neoconservatives, thus moving most of todays conservatives to the left into lockstep with statist liberals.
The libertarian wing of the freedom movement has been equally corrupted, but in the opposite direction to the far right on the spectrum. The most important cause of this has been Murray Rothbards anarchist politics that privatizes all functions of the government, even the military, police, and courts of law. In addition his followers espouse an egoistic do your own thing culture that refuses to morally condemn the traditional evils of history. Whatever is peaceful is their creed. It is a sense of life that worships what the Greeks called the sin of eleutheromania, freedom without limits.
To better understand the nature of this disastrous split between libertarians and conservatives, a brief exposition of Americas concept of freedom is necessary.
JEFFERSONIANISM IS AMERICA'S PHILOSOPHY
The American concept of freedom has its ideological roots in the Founders libertarian political ideal, combined with conservative metaphysics and culture. It is a blend of the 17th and 18th century thinkers, John Locke and Edmund Burke (one libertarian and the other conservative), which heavily influenced Americans from the start and up through World War I the former emphasizing reason and individualism, the latter tradition and community. It manifested in what is called Jeffersonianism.
This political philosophy stands for the individual over the collective, a strictly limited constitutional government based upon federalism, equal rights instead of equal results, a free-market economy, no entangling foreign alliances, and an objective code of morality for society as opposed to the moral neutrality of Rothbardians and modern liberals. This is what needs to be restored.
The famous conservative philosopher, Richard Weaver, at the University of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s, and author of the great classic, Ideas Have Consequences, understood well this Jeffersonian concept of America and shaped his defense of freedom around it accordingly. Unlike todays neoconservatives, Weaver understood the necessity of limiting the tyrannical danger of the state. He would be horrified with todays neoconservative attacks upon the Founders vision of laissez-faire. He grasped the philosophical common ground between libertarianism and conservatism:
[C]onservatives and libertarians stand together, he said. Both of them believe that there is an order of things which will largely take care of itself if you leave it alone. Weaver was a strict constitutionalist because a Constitution provided for a settled code of freedom for the individual.
This is the crucial issue of our time restoration of libertarian conservatism in America and its settled code of freedom for the individual. If we, who believe in free enterprise and the Constitution, wish to reverse Americas drift into an authoritarian state, our goal must not be to accommodate, but to purge the Gargantua on the Potomac that usurps our rights and freedoms with impunity. Libertarians and conservatives must be reunited to effectively challenge this monster.
My book, THE GOLDEN MEAN: LIBERTARIAN POLITICS, CONSERVATIVE VALUES [http://afr.org/book-review/] explains the need for this ideological unification and how to bring it about. I realize authors dont usually promote their own books in their articles, but in defense of my lack of orthodoxy, I cite the popular economist, Walter Williams.
Several years ago he was writing a review in his newspaper column for one of his own books. And in defense of his partisan effort, Professor Williams explained to his readers that his mother had always told him, it's a poor dog who won't wag his own tail. So if the reader will indulge me, I would like to partake in a little tail wagging.
The Golden Mean is the philosophical answer to our immensely troubled times. It puts forth the rational theory of politics referred to earlier, and which we desperately need in order to challenge the authoritarian statism that has been destroying our republic ever since 1913.
The libertarian movement is lost in utopian unreality. The conservative movement is lost in statist appeasement. This is because of the disastrous libertarian-conservative split spawned by Murray Rothbard and Russell Kirk back in the 1960s. Without a correction of this split, freedom cannot be adequately defended and restored. Both libertarian and conservative activists are terribly misguided in their insistence on remaining separate movements. Conservatism needs libertarian politics in order to be just, and libertarianism needs conservative moral values in order to be workable.
The statist Gargantua controls our lives today because there is no effective ideological counterforce to overthrow its moral-philosophical-theoretical base. THE GOLDEN MEAN [http://afr.org/book-review/] provides that counterforce because it shows how to once again merge the two great systems of philosophical thought that brought America into being: libertarianism and conservatism. It shows how to recapture the Jeffersonian ideal.
Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas and the Director of Americans for a Free Republic www.afr.org. His articles have appeared over the past 20 years in such publications as The Dallas Morning News, American Conservative, Insight, Liberty, The Freeman, and The Social Critic, as well as on numerous Internet sites such as Capitol Hill Outsider, Conservative Action Alerts, Daily Paul, Canada Free Press, and The Daily Bell. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If the Libertarian Party and the Tea Party could find common ground in the fiscal issues, they could unite and take back the Republican Party.
If you think to promote your ideas by condemning Russell Kirk, I’m afraid you’ve lost me from the get-go. I consider Kirk one of the most cogent spokesmen for conservatism in the 20th century. And I don’t see him as a “big -government appeaser” at all, but simply a champion of the very morality you extol as a crucial Jeffersonian component.
I may read your book, if for no other reason than to gain a new perspective on the ideological schism that is your premise. But I would suggest that you can gain more adherents by synthesizing the best of Kirk and Rothbard instead of writing them off as crackpots or worse.
Let me suggest that the way back to the common ground, you urge, lies in returning to the experience based values of the Founders, by direct appeals not to dogma but to the easily verifiable experiences common to the human comedy/adventure/tragedy/or whatever.
Our institutions were clearly based upon reasoning premised on verifiable experience (See Experience & Reason).
The assault on our institutions has been premised upon a neurotic inability to accept the actual diversity of talent. People who feel a need, for whatever reason to pretend that people are in fact equal, have been susceptible to the appeal of demagogues to undo the result from different levels of achievement, motivation & family benefits, via collectivist interference in the economic & social orders. The demagogues have used the Blame & Envy Game to promote class & ethnic hatred, and focus the susceptible on what is no better than a cloud borne fantasy of the human future.
Yet no one ever sat next to his or her equal in a classroom, unless an identical twin or triplet. At least in the unexplored memory bank of all of us, is the evidence that egalitarian collectivism is absolute nonsense. All bureaucratic intrusions, intended to correct reality can only waste resources, while mucking up social interaction.
It’s pointless to address comments to Nelson Hultberg. He pontificates to those below him, and is way above response to the unwashed.
Not hard to see which side this author's on...
Russell Kirk, a conservative who suffers this author’s slap-dashed condemnation, once said that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that the former favor liberty over equality.
In agreement with your comments, I would amend that to read “conservatives favor real liberty over perceived equality.”
Leftists are totalitarian thugs. Period.
Holder and goons think they have an excuse to go after white middle class Americans... but it’s racist and lots of people can see it now...
Definitely worth reading, and an issue that should be discussed but won’t be, it will soon blend into obscurity.
We do see this bifurcation played out often here on FR, and the writer is correct, it seems we are as far apart as we are close together, although the libertarian is still accepted here, I sometimes wonder how long that will last.
So the author is saying who is really at fault for our current situation, both libertarians and conservatives blame the democrats, but refuse to look within and work together as Jefferson suggested would be required to maintain a free republic.
I’ve often wondered why we are so far apart, and why each sees the other as radical, it seems ideology is practiced like religion, in other words you have yours and I have mine (religion) yet both agree there is only one God, yet thousands of religions claiming to serve the one God.
Good Read to get people thinking rather than just conforming to the status-quo.
Now for awhile I will contemplate what the above comment has got me into, but I might not defend it, as it would be an endless effort, that ultimately results in personal attacks, it seems there is very little discourse anymore.
But I will probably be close to the last one to post a comment anyway as comments are somewhat few this time of day.
As for "equality," it has a place before the Courts of justice, in the sense of equal access to a fair judgment in disputes; but the idea of equalizing peoples' circumstances is an absurd repudiation of the very concept of equal treatment, and can only stifle human achievement, while working a manifest injustice against those who achieve the most, with the most obvious benefits to any community, blessed with those high achievers.
Egalitarian/collectivism is really not "liberal" in the classic sense. In my opinion, after fighting it for two generations, it is The Greatest Mischief Ever Wrought. It is an appeal to all that is base in the human experience, sapping incentives to do what is right, while rewarding all that is wrong.
Over & over again, in the American experience, we can find vivid demonstrations of what actually works in human affairs. No Conservative or Libertarian need ever apologize for the cultural heritage now under attack by compulsion driven totalitarian fanatics.
Many FReepers call themselves libertarians. They imagine being a libertarian in the classical sense. They imagine libertarianism is simply adherence to the Constitution.
They are delusional and clueless.
Modern libertarianism has been hijacked by the likes of Von Mises, Ayn Rand, Buckley, and the Pauls. The social agenda of libertarianism is enough to make your skin crawl.
It is not enough to want less government. It must be balanced with moral values.
I agree in printable with their ideology but the reality is we have a population addicted to handouts and indoctrinated thou schools and political culture of the last 60 years to believe theses things are not only something they are entitled to but should have.
Such noble and proven ideas could not win an election in the 1960’s and are even less likely to win today.
If we want our freedom we are going to have to find ways to take it from theses thieves thou trickery, then education.