Swan Song of the Old Right
[This article is excerpted from chapter 10 of The Betrayal of the American Right, now available in the bookstore. An MP3 audio file of this article, narrated by Keith Hocker, is available for download.]
In addition to being staunch opponents of war and militarism, the Old Right of the postwar period had a rugged and near-libertarian honesty in domestic affairs as well. When a nationwide railroad strike loomed, it was the liberal Harry Truman who proposed to draft the strikers into the army and force them to keep working, and it was Senator Taft who led the opposition to the move as slavery.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), in those days before big business corporate liberalism had conquered it in the name of a "partnership of government and industry," took a firm laissez-faire line. Its staff economist, Noel Sargent, was a believer in the free market, and the dean of laissez-faire economics, Ludwig von Mises, was one of the NAM's consultants. In those days, the NAM was largely small-business oriented, and indeed, various small businessmen's organizations formed the business base for the organized Right. Indeed, it was in the high places of the NAM that Robert Welch learned the anti-Establishment views that were later to erupt into the John Birch Society.
But even in those early days, the handwriting was on the wall for the NAM as a laissez-faire organization. The first great turning point came in the spring of 1947, after a conservative Republican majority had captured both houses of Congress in a mass uprising of voters against the Fair Deal, and partially in reaction against the power of labor unionism. The NAM, since the inception of the Wagner Act, had been pledged, year in and year out, to outright repeal of the law, and therefore to a repeal of the special privileges that the Wagner Act gave to union organizing. When the 80th Congress opened in the winter of 1946 the NAM, which now finally had its chance to succeed in Wagner repeal, shifted its stand in a dramatic battle, in which the corporate big-business liberals defeated the old laissez-fairists, headed by B.E. Hutchinson of Chrysler, who was also a leading trustee of FEE. The NAM, on the point of a significant laissez-faire victory in labor relations, thus turned completely and called simply for extending the powers of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to regulate unions as well as business — a notion which soon took shape in the Taft-Hartley Act. It was the Taft-Hartley Act that completed the Wagner Act process of taming as well as privileging industrial unionism, and bringing the new union movement into the cozy junior partnership with big business and Big Government that we know so well today. Once again, Taft, in opposition to the purists and "extreme" rightists in Congress, played a compromising role.
One thing that the Old Right specialized in was anti-Establishment muckraking. The Hearst columns of Westbrook Pegler were a leading example.1 But particularly delightful was the anti–Wall Street muckraking of the Chicago Tribune under Colonel McCormick. For the Tribune understood clearly and zeroed in on the Wall Street-Anglophile Establishment that ran and still runs this country, and was fearless in continuing exposés of this ruling elite. The old files of the Chicago Tribune are a rich source of information for the anti-Establishment historian.2
One example is a series of articles by William Fulton and others in the Tribune, from July 15 to July 31, 1951, of what we might call "Rhodes scholar revisionism," in which the journalists traced the Rhodes scholar Anglophile influence in the foreign-policymaking bodies of the US government. The title for the series was "Rhodes' Goal: Return U.S. to British Empire." Named as Rhodes scholars were such leading American "internationalists" as Dean Rusk, George McGhee, Stanley K. Hornbeck, W. Walton Butterworth, Professor Bernadotte E. Schmitt, Ernest A. Gross (an Oxford student, though not strictly a Rhodes scholar), ditto Henry R. Luce, Clarence K. Streit, Frank Aydelotte, and many others, including tie-ins with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations, and the New York Times and Herald-Tribune.
One of the most sophisticated pieces of right-wing muckraking in this era was undertaken by the Reece Committee of the House to investigate tax-exempt foundations during 1953–54. Staffed by such leading conservatives as attorney René Wormser (brother of Felix E. Wormser, Eisenhower's Secretary of Interior) and Norman Dodd, the Reece Committee zeroed in on alleged Communist and also liberal and socialist tie-ins with the large foundations: Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, etc. But, furthermore, the committee attacked the large foundations for invariably sponsoring empirical and quantitatively oriented studies in the social sciences and thus leading these disciplines into a "scientistic" promotion of technocratic and spurious "value-freedom" to the neglect of the qualitative and the ethical. Here, the Reece Committee, following upon the searching critiques of liberal empiricism and scientism leveled by F.A. Hayek, and by the conservative University of Pennsylvania sociologist Albert H. Hobbs, hit on an extremely important flaw in the new, postwar social science, but the committee's insights were buried in an avalanche of vituperation in the Establishment press. The foundation's man on the committee, obstructing its purposes and in quiet league with the Eisenhower White House, was Rep. Wayne Hays (D-OH), a Truman and later a Lyndon Johnson Democrat.3
Some of the statements of maverick, antiquantitative social scientists to the committee make fascinating reading in the light of the rediscovery by the New Left in recent years of a critical view of empiricist, pseudo "value-free" social science. Thus University of Pennsylvania sociologist James H.S. Bossard wrote to the Reece Committee:
For some years, I have regarded with increasing apprehension the development of what I have called the comptometer school of research in social sciences. By this I mean the gathering of detailed social data and their manipulation by all the available statistical techniques. … My own interest lies more in the development of qualitative insights. This accords with my judgment of the nature of the life process, that it cannot be reduced to statistical formulas but that it is a richly diversified complex of relations.4
In a typically hard-hitting letter, Harvard sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin affirmed that foundations discriminate in favor of empirical research and "greatly discriminate against theoretical, historical, and other forms of nonempirical research," aided and abetted by discrimination on behalf of mathematical and mechanical models, "or other imitative varieties of so-called natural science sociology." The results of this social science have been in most cases "perfectly fruitless and almost sterile" or even in some cases, "rather destructive morally and mentally for this Nation."5
There was in the work of the Reece Committee, however, a grave inner contradiction, one that in the long run was probably more destructive of its work than all the sniping of Wayne Hays. This was the fact that the conservatives and quasi libertarians on the committee were wielding the coercive arm of government — the congressional committee — to harass private foundations. And for what reason? Largely because the foundations had allegedly been advocating government control over private organizations! And the Reece Committee ended by advocating government restrictions on the private foundations; in short, the committee called for further government controls over private institutions for the sin of advocating government controls over private institutions! The upshot was merely to launch the modern trend toward ever-tighter regulation of foundations, but not in any way to change their ideological or methodological drift.
Another fascinating piece of combined muckraking and analysis in this era was a large, sprawling book by Chicago Tribune reporter Frank Hughes, Prejudice and the Press.6 The Hughes book was a lengthy attack on the corporate-liberal "Commission" on the Freedom of the Press, which had been largely financed by Henry Luce and was headed by Robert M. Hutchins.7 The "Commission," which had published its report in 1947, had called for a "free" press in the modern sense of being "responsible"; in contrast, Hughes countered with a ringing affirmation of the Bill of Rights and the "old-fashioned" American ideal of the freedom of the press. Hughes pointed out that the basic idea of modern liberals is
to make the press "accountable" or "responsible" to society or the community, which … can only mean to government. … If liberty means anything at all, freedom of the press is freedom from the government.8
The great watershed, the single event that most marked the passing of the old isolationist Right, was the defeat of Senator Taft by Eisenhower in the Wall Street capture of the 1952 presidential nomination. With the Democrats vulnerable, 1952 was at last a chance for the Old Right to achieve dominance on the national scene. But the defeat of Taft in the outrageous Eisenhower theft of the nomination, coupled with the death of the great senator the following year, ended the Old Right as a significant faction of the Republican Party. In effect, it also was to end my own identification with Republicanism and with the "extreme right" on the political spectrum.
I had not been active in the Young Republican Club since the disappointment of the Dewey nomination in 1948, but I was still a member, and Ronnie Hertz, a libertarian friend of mine, exercised some clout in the club as head of its midtown luncheon committee, to which we invited isolationist and libertarian speakers. I was not a Taft enthusiast on any absolute scale, because of his repeated compromises and "sellouts" in domestic and foreign affairs, and in the climactic meeting of the club that voted for the presidential endorsement, in which Taft won a sizable minority, Ronnie and I cast our two votes for Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL). In that more innocent day, Dirksen had not yet won his stripes as the supreme political opportunist; instead, under the aegis of the Chicago Tribune, he then had a solidly "extremist" voting record, including one of the few votes cast against the draft. But in the momentous convention itself, I was of course for Taft and still more in opposition to the leftist / corporate-liberal / Wall Street takeover, which conquered on the crest of an outrageous press campaign implying that Taft had "stolen" the Southern delegations. When Taft was cheated out of the nomination, I for one walked out of the Republican Party, never to return. In the election I supported Stevenson, largely as the only way to get the Wall Street incubus off the back of the Republican Party.
It is important to note that the later, 1960s Republican right wing, the Goldwater-Buckley Right, had no connection with the old Taft Right, even organizationally. Thus, Barry Goldwater was himself an Eisenhower delegate from Arizona; the conservative warmonger Senator General Pat Hurley was an Eisenhower man from New Mexico; the two doyens of the China Lobby were anti-Taft: Representative Walter Judd (R-MN) being for Eisenhower and Senator William Knowland (R-CA) being a supporter of Governor Earl Warren, who was decisive in throwing his support to Ike on the Southern delegate question.
Richard Nixon was also instrumental in the California deal, and both Nixon and Warren went on to their suitable rewards. And furthermore, the famous Southern delegation fight was scarcely what it seemed on the surface. The Taft delegations in the South were largely Negro, hence their name of "Black and Tan," and were led by the veteran black Republican Perry Howard of Mississippi, whereas the Eisenhower delegations, the representatives of the "progressive" white suburbanite businessmen of the Southern Republican future, were known quite properly as the Lilywhites.
Meanwhile, let us note the bitter but accurate portrayal of the Taft defeat by Chicago Tribune reporter Chesly Manly two years later, as an example also of the right-wing muckraking style:
New York banks, connected with the country's great corporations by financial ties and interlocking directorates, exerted their powerful influence on the large uncommitted delegations for Eisenhower. They did it more subtly, but no less effectively, than in 1940 when they captured the Republican convention for Willkie. Having made enormous profits out of foreign aid and armaments orders, the bankers and corporation bosses understood each other perfectly. The Wall Street influence was most fruitful in the Pennsylvania delegation … and in that of Michigan. … Arthur Summerfield, Michigan's national committeeman and the largest Chevrolet dealer in the world, was rewarded for his delivery of the bulk of the Michigan delegation by appointment as Eisenhower's campaign manager and later as his Postmaster General. Charles E. Wilson, President of the General Motors Corporation, which had strong influence in the Michigan delegation, became Secretary of Defense. Winthrop W. Aldrich, head of the Chase National Bank and kinsman of the Rockefeller brothers, the front man for Wall Street, was in Chicago pulling wires for Eisenhower, and his labors paid off with an appointment as ambassador to Great Britain.9
With the election of Eisenhower, the old right wing of the Republican Party began to fade out of the picture. But Senator Taft had one final moment of glory. In the last speech on foreign policy delivered before his death, Taft attacked the foreign-policy hegemony beginning to be exercised by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles,10 the epitome of global warmongering and anticommunism, the man who hailed from the top Wall Street law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell and was a long-time counsel for the Rockefeller interests. In this speech, delivered on May 26, 1953, Taft leveled at the Dulles policies the same criticism he had made against the similar policies of Harry Truman: the system of worldwide military alliances and aid was "the complete antithesis of the UN Charter," a threat to Russian and Chinese security, and furthermore valueless for the defense of the United States.
Robert Taft (1889–1953)
Taft in particular centered his fire on Dulles's nascent policy in Southeast Asia. He was especially concerned because the United States was increasing to 70 percent its support of the costs of the fight of the French puppet regime in Indochina against the revolutionary forces of Ho Chi Minh. Taft feared — with great prescience! — that Dulles's policy, upon the inevitable defeat of French imperialism in Indochina, would lead to its eventual replacement by American imperialism, and — to Taft the worst of all possibilities — the sending of American forces to Vietnam to fight the guerrillas.
I have never felt that we should send American soldiers to the Continent of Asia, which, of course, included China proper and Indo-China, simply because we are so outnumbered in fighting a land war on the Continent of Asia that it would bring about complete exhaustion even if we were able to win. … So today, as since 1947 in Europe and 1950 in Asia, we are really trying to arm the world against Communist Russia, or at least furnish all the assistance which can be of use to them in opposing Communism.
Is this policy of uniting the free world against Communism in time of peace going to be a practical long-term policy? I have always been a skeptic on the subject of the military practicability of NATO. … I have always felt that we should not attempt to fight Russia on the ground on the Continent of Europe any more than we should attempt to fight China on the Continent of Asia.11
In the months immediately following Taft's death, American support of the French armies and of its puppet government in Vietnam was greatly increased by Dulles, but while Dulles and Nixon urged American bombing of Ho Chi Minh's forces, Eisenhower himself, who had been greatly influenced by his brief but deep association with Taft during and after the 1952 campaign, listened to such Taft supporters in his cabinet as George Humphrey and decided not to use American forces directly in Vietnam without the prior consent of Congress. By following this Taftian principle, the Eisenhower administration allowed the Great Debate in the Senate, as well as the opposition of Great Britain, to block it from an immediate Vietnam adventure."With the election of Eisenhower, the old right wing of the Republican Party began to fade out of the picture."
The ex-isolationist Alexander Wiley (R-WI) summed up the feelings of the majority of Senate Republicans when he declared, "If war comes under this administration, it could well be the end of the Republican Party."
And Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) summed up the view of the Democrats by saying that he was opposed to "sending American GIs into the mud and muck of Indochina on a bloodletting spree to perpetuate colonialism and white man's exploitation in Asia."12
As a result of these pressures, and in defiance of Dulles, Nixon, and the Pentagon, President Eisenhower moved toward the Geneva Agreement of 1954; all-out American intervention in Vietnam was mercifully postponed, though unfortunately not permanently abandoned. In death, Senator Robert Taft's influence on American foreign policy was greater, at least for the moment, than it had ever been in life.
- 1. Interestingly, every one of the delightful exposés of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt by Pegler, which caused such shock and horror among liberals at the time, has now turned out to be correct — with Pegler, of course, never receiving credit by historians for his pioneering journalism.
- 2. For the only example that I know of an appreciative attitude toward right-wing muckraking by a New Left historian, see G. William Domhoff, The Higher Circles: The Governing Class in America (New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 281–308.
- 3. A valuable summary of the Committee's work can be found in a book by its general counsel, René A. Wormser, Foundations: Their Power and Influence (New York: Devin-Adair, 1958). Some of Wormser's section heads are instructive: "Politics in the Social Sciences," "The Exclusion of the Dissident," "Foundation-Fostered Scientism," "The 'Social Engineers' and the 'Fact-Finding Mania,'" "Mass Research-Integration and Conformity." Wormser reports that the foundations were able to force the committee to fire two particularly knowledgeable staff members early in the investigation. Both of these men were libertarian oriented: my friend George B. DeHuszar, close to the Chicago Tribune people; and the Viennese economist Dr. Karl Ettinger, friend of Ludwig von Mises. Ettinger's uncompleted studies would have investigated patterns of giving in foundation support of colleges, as well as a survey of control of the learned journals as an instrument of power and their relationships with the foundations, and a study of the interlocks between foundations, research institutions, and government. For the full flavor of the Reece Committee, see the Hearings Before the Special Committee to Investigate Tax Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations, House of Representatives, 83rd Congress, 2nd session, Parts 1 and 2 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1954). For a conservative critique of scientism in that era, see Albert H. Hobbs, Social Problems and Scientism (Pittsburgh: Stackpole Co., 1953).
- 4. Hearings, p. 1188.
- 5. Ibid., p. 1191. Also see the remarks of Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman, in ibid., pp. 1193–94.
- 6. (New York: Devin-Adair, 1950).
- 7. The private "commission" included such liberal intellectuals as Zechariah Chafee, Jr., William E. Hocking, Harold Lasswell, Reinhold Niebuhr, George Schuster, Robert Redfield, Charles E. Merriam, and Archibald MacLeish; and businessman Beardsley Ruml and counsel John Dickinson.
- 8. Hughes, Prejudice and the Press, p. 5.
- 9. Chesly Manly, The Twenty-Year Revolution: From Roosevelt to Eisenhower (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1954), pp. 20–21.
- 10. The Dulles family stain on American foreign policy included John Foster's brother Allen, who headed the CIA, and his sister Eleanor, at the Asia desk of the State Department.
- 11. Robert A. Taft, "United States Foreign Policy: Forget United Nations in Korea and Far East," Vital Speeches 19, no. 17 (June 15, 1953): 530–31. Also see Leonard P. Liggio, "Why the Futile Crusade?" Left and Right 1, no. 1 (Spring, 1965): 60–62.
- 12. Bernard B. Fall, The Two Viet-Nams (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1963), pp. 227–28. Also see Liggio, "Why the Futile Crusade?" p. 62.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.