Thomas Molnar, R.I.P.
Andrew Cusack remembers this courageous political philosopher, historian, and author of The Counter-Revolution, who died last week in Richmond, Virginia. Molnar, who worried about the consequences when intellectuals allowed themselves to become the tools of ideology (and not the other way around), would be ignored by a modern conservative movement that had no truck for thinkers who defended the natural rights of individuals over the prerogatives of the State — even when those thinkers, like Molnar, once helped define conservatism in venues such as Modern Age and National Review.
Molnar was much like Mises. A refugee of European statism in his native Hungary — first of the Nazis, then of the communists — Molnar would escape to New York where he would first receive a Ph.D. from Columbia University and then spend a good portion of his teaching career at Brooklyn College. Also like Mises, Molnar became a voluminous writer in a second language, authoring over 40 books and many more academic and popular articles. Molnar centered his intellectual approach around the human person, whom he would defend against “manipulators of ideas and images, writers, professors, artists, journalists” and others who would dehumanize for causes based in ideology and national greatness. Later in life, Molnar would say (quoted by Cusack) that the modern media had
become more than a new Caesar, indeed a demiurge creating its own world, the events therein, the prefabricated comments, countercomments—and silence. … The more I saw of universities and campuses, publishers and journals, newspapers and television, the creation of public opinion, of policies and their outcome, the less I believed in the existence of the freedom of expression where this really mattered for the intellectual/professional establishment. For the time being, I saw more of it in Europe, anyway, than in America: over there, institutions still stood guard over certain freedoms and the conflict of ideas was genuine; over here the democratic consensus swept aside those who objected, and banalized their arguments. The difference became minimal in the course of decades.
Men like Molnar — including Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Russell Kirk, and Murray Rothbard — took William F. Buckley seriously in the 1950s when he called for an intellectual battle that stood “athwart history, yelling stop.” But Buckley embraced this history, and his death was recorded prominently in the New York Times. Thomas Molnar received a blurb in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Something tells me he would have preferred it that way.