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Understanding the Neocon Takeover

Mises Daily: Tuesday, January 08, 2008 by

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If that investor idiot savant Warren Buffett has anything to do with it, we'll have eight more years of rule by the Bush and Clinton clans (1989 to 2016). Supposedly he's the king of capitalism, but he's stumping and raising millions for Hillary.

No doubt his father is rolling over in his grave. Howard Buffett was a four-term member of the House of Representatives from Nebraska. Although a Republican, he didn't resemble the neo-cons of today. On the floor of Congress, Buffett said: "Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home. Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns."

It's too bad Howard is not around. It's doubly bad that Murray Rothbard is no longer with us. Murray joined his friend Howard in Libertarian heaven 13 years ago this month. But Murray left behind work that is as relevant today as when he wrote the words years ago. Thus, Rothbard continues to have more new books published after being dead, than most economists and historians do while living. Murray's latest book, The Betrayal of the American Right, is dedicated to Howard Buffett, Frank Chodorov and the Old Right.

In Betrayal, Rothbard tells the story of the collapse of what America used to know as the right. Not from a vantage point outside the movement, but from right in the belly of the beast. Rothbard not only tells the story, but is also a key player in the story. Recent books, like John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience and Ryan Sager's The Elephant In The Room, tell part of the story, but neither had the perspective of Rothbard or the writing skill. Like all of Murray's books, the reader has a hard time putting Betrayal down. It is perfect for a long plane ride, or a rainy afternoon.

The book was written in the early 1970s and as Rothbard explains in the preface written in 1991, the book had been dormant except for copies of the manuscript that circulated clandestinely among young Libertarian scholars. Finally, due to the efforts of the Mises Institute, the book has seen the light of day. And what a bright light it shines on the neo-con takeover of the conservative movement.

Like a Murray Rothbard lecture, not only does he bring his subject to life in Betrayal, the book is a treasure trove of juicy quotes from the giants of freedom, like H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Frank Chodorov, Ron Hamowy, Baldy Harper, Garet Garrett and Isabel Paterson, not to mention some guys I hadn't heard of before like Louis Bromfield. And the book's bibliography will be indispensable to any student doing further work on the subject.

What is different about Betrayal is the autobiographical aspect of the book. The reader can feel Rothbard's excitement with the Old Right that championed individualism and laissez-faire liberalism. But, while an undergraduate at Columbia during WWII, Murray felt alone amongst "Social Democratic liberals to Communists and their allies." But the great books written in the 1940s began to attract a following and there was reason for hope. A young George J. Stigler came to Columbia to teach economics, and Murray realized he wasn't alone. He then discovered the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and was exposed to the classic works of the Old Right. "It was in the midst of this new and exhilarating milieu that I emerged from my rather vague 'Chamber of Commerce conservatism' and became a hard-nosed and 'doctrinaire' laissez-faire libertarian," wrote Rothbard, "believing that no man and no government had the right to aggress against another man's person or property."

By 1960, a disillusioned Rothbard breaks with William F. Buckley and National Review. And any of us, who have tried to work with political organizations thinking we can make a difference, will identify with this: "National Review's image of me was that of a lovable though Utopian libertarian purist who, however, must be kept strictly confined to propounding laissez-faire economics, to which National Review had a kind of residual rhetorical attachment."

But Murray never gave up hope. He cheerfully crusaded on, trying new alliances to the end. It is apropos that The Betrayal of the American Right has been published at the same time Murray's friend Ron Paul makes his heroic run at the White House. I can hear Murray cackling in the distance.