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The Power of Persuasion

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05/20/2011Jeff Riggenbach

Joan Kennedy Taylor told interviewer Duncan Scott in 2004 that during the Barry Goldwater for President campaign of 40 years earlier,

my husband, David Dawson, and I were two of twenty-five students of Objectivism who went down to Republican Headquarters [in Manhattan] and signed up and registered as Republicans and petitioned to form a Young Republican Club. We did. We formed the Metropolitan Young Republican Club, which was an Objectivist front for Goldwater. We were all students of Objectivism. And we surprised the Young Republican movement very much because we weren't interested in patronage and we weren't interested in bingo.

What they were interested in was a collection of issues that included the right to own gold and the abolition of the military draft. "These were different enough," Joan recalled, that people had trouble figuring out whether to "place us in the liberal wing or the conservative wing of the Republicans."

Certainly, Joan would have said, if you had asked her at the time, that she and her fellow students of Objectivism were not laboring under the delusion that they were conservatives. On the contrary, she would likely have retorted (as she did years later) that she and her friends were merely "a group of New Yorkers who had become convinced that it might be possible to support laissez-faire capitalism from within the Republican Party."

They decided, when they formed the Metropolitan Young Republican Club, that their new organization would publish a newsletter called Persuasion. They voted to put Joan Kennedy Taylor in charge of this newsletter, as editor in chief. And if one reads through the 46 issues Joan managed to get into print over the next four years (Persuasion launched in September of 1964 and ceased publication with the issue of May 1968), one sees clearly that in fact these young students of Objectivism were not conservatives at all. They were libertarians.

This is nowhere more visible than in Persuasion's treatment of the draft. Conservatives certainly didn't oppose the draft, either then or later. "What is important to the Liberal," William F. Buckley Jr., perhaps the most famous American conservative of all time, had written in 1959 in his book Up from Liberalism, "is that there be choice; whereas to the conservative, what is important is, What choices will man, whose first choice was so catastrophic, go on making?"

If, for example, "man" should not choose to "serve his country" by marching off to war whenever ordered to do so by the federal government of the United States, well, then, he should be forced to do so. He should be conscripted. He should be drafted.

Three decades later, in 1990, Buckley would acknowledge that, in light of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union, and the Iron Curtain, "we do not need a universal military draft." However, he would add,

we do need a basket of other services, which could absorb the civic energies, were they proffered, of three-plus million Americans, which energies are otherwise at best dissipated, or worse, channeled into activity hostile to home and to the community — drugs, licentious sex, crime.

To guard against such catastrophic choices, Buckley would propose a program of "universal voluntary national service for men and women 18 years of age and older," under "a national service franchise administration" which would see to it that anyone who failed to "volunteer" his or her time "helping old people … assisting teachers both in instructing children and in protecting them … advancing environmental goals" and "protecting deteriorating books in libraries" would find himself or herself unable to obtain a driver's license.

Milton Friedman never went quite that far. But he did tell the New York Times Magazine for May 14, 1967, that in a time of "total war," if military and civilian authorities decreed that "there would be time and reason to expand the armed forces manifold, either universal military training to provide a trained reserve force, or stand-by provisions for conscription could be justified." Worse still was the case of conservative journalist Bruce K. Chapman, best known today as founder and president of the Discovery Institute, a Religious Right foundation devoted principally to the idea of "intelligent design." When Chapman published his "antidraft" book, Wrong Man in Uniform, in 1967, he acknowledged that "a draft was necessary in World War II" and would likely be necessary again in "future mass wars."

Conservatives, if they opposed the draft at all, tended to waffle on the issue as soon as the going got tough. Ronald Reagan, the consummate conservative politician, would exemplify this problem more than a decade later. In 1979, he told Human Events that conscription

rests on the assumption that your kids belong to the state. If we buy that assumption then it is for the state — not for parents, the community, the religious institutions or teachers — to decide who shall have what values and who shall do what work, when, where and how in our society. That assumption isn't a new one. The Nazis thought it was a great idea.

One year later, as the Republican nominee for the presidency, he promised voters to end compulsory draft registration, which had been resurrected by the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter. But in 1982, Reagan reneged on this promise, explaining that while he "remain[ed] firm in my conviction, stated in 1980, that 'only in the most severe national emergency does the Government have a claim to the mandatory service of its young people,'" and while "this Administration remains steadfast in its commitment to an all volunteer defense force" — still, it could hardly be denied that "we live in a dangerous world," and "in the event of a future threat to national safety, registration could save the United States as much as six weeks in mobilizing emergency manpower."

By 1984, Murray Rothbard could report in his memorable appraisal of Reagan's first term in the White House that things probably wouldn't have looked that much different if we'd had a president who didn't oppose the draft living on Pennsylvania Avenue: "Compulsory draft registration has been continued," Rothbard wrote, "and young resisters have been thrown into jail."

By contrast with these unreliable, wishy-washy conservatives, the libertarians at Persuasion opposed the draft — including draft registration — resolutely and absolutely. They opposed it without regard for the opinion of military and civilian authorities and without regard for the requirements of either "mass war" or "total war." They opposed it without regard for future threats to national safety. They opposed it, period. End of story.

"Conscription," David Dawson wrote in Persuasion in April 1966, "is but another form and application of tribal collectivism, but another application of the moral position that service to the values of the group is fundamentally prior to service to the values of oneself." The continued existence of the draft in the United States of 1966, Dawson wrote, was an example of what happens to a society in which "state-chosen ends … are held to be higher than those chosen by individuals for themselves." And "the principle behind American draft laws" was easily stated: "TO BE PERMANENTLY FREE, WE MUST TEMPORARILY ENSLAVE."

"Forced conscription," Dawson wrote, "violates the rights of men while purporting to provide the means of protecting them." Therefore,

to a fully consistent supporter of the rights of man, there is only one answer to the question, Is a volunteer armed forces possible? Of course. Government is formed to protect man's freedom. It is a contradiction to hold that any form of forced servitude is required to implement that protection.


the draft violates the principle that a man's labor is his property, for him to use and dispose of, rather than being a natural resource. Labor, like all other property, should be subject to trade, not coercion. Therefore, the proper military force is a voluntary and professional one.

In fact, forced servitude is not only unnecessary to safeguard freedom, it is actually counterproductive. "Again and again in the June 1966 Hearings of the House Armed Services Committee," Dawson wrote,

remarks were made which either explicitly cited or implicitly assumed that the draft had been a success in World War I, that it was what made victory possible in World War II. This belief is virtually an article of faith, even among many who were in the service.

Yet the facts were far otherwise.

I suspect that, if the facts were known, the draft impeded the war effort by delivering too many men too fast for assimilation; by delivering men who were not motivated and who therefore got in the way of those who were. Confusion, waste, and sheer idiocy resulted.[1]

As a World War II veteran, Dawson had found the armed forces generally to be inefficient. "Many of the functions now fulfilled by the armed forces at great waste and duplication," he wrote, "could be turned over to competitive private industry. This could include those parts compatible with security of such functions as supply, transportation, records keeping, storage, research, weapons testing, base maintenance, personal services and medicine." What was worse, however, was the military's enormous potential for abuse by an internationally meddlesome president. And that potential could be laid firmly at the feet of the draft law.

"Forced conscription," he wrote,

allows the President to go outside the elective, representative, Constitutional processes and commit the armed forces to acts of belligerency, knowing that if things get out of hand he has the power of the draft to provide him with whatever manpower he may need.

As it happened, a convenient example lay close to hand.

"There is no doubt that North Vietnam is totalitarian," Dawson wrote.

It is a Communist police state with all the unspeakable brutalities that such a state requires. But it is not bombing the outskirts of San Francisco, it is not pondering whether to reduce our industries to rubble or not. They may wish such power, they may have the will, but they don't have the means. If we left Vietnam tomorrow, the North Vietnamese would not pursue us. This being the case, without the draft only the call to patriotism or to adventure and/or the blandishment of money could get together an army for Vietnam. Such an army is not impossible. High pay built the radar posts in the Far North. High pay put the tunnels under New York City's rivers. The call to adventure opened the West. In my opinion, it was patriotism that put together the victorious American forces of World War II, not the draft. But if the men would not come, even for money or adventure or patriotism, then if all Congressmen and all the President's advisors wanted it, there could be no war. And isn't it right that this should be the case?

Moreover, isn't it wrong that "each month tens of thousands of … draft-age men are forcibly taken into a life that can end in death, a life of ceaseless curtailment of liberty, a life without choice"? For those as yet unconvinced, Dawson had yet another rhetorical question:

Would you grant the right to any man to come into your home at any time, and to force you with a gun to work for him at whatever task he chose? No? Then why should this right be granted to the individuals who make up the government?

The draft, Dawson argued, was "a systematized encroachment upon freedom and, to the degree that it encroaches, the society [that employs such an institution] is a slave society, not a free one." Do we wish to subject issues of public policy to rational analysis? Then we should understand that "rationality requires the end of this infamous institution."

Persuasion devoted a lot of time and space and ink to the draft. Not that it was in any sense a Johnny One Note among publications. On the contrary. In the first months of its existence, Persuasion devoted itself mostly to the Goldwater campaign and to larger questions about the various factions on the Right, the future of conservatism, and the struggle for control of the Republican Party.

In the last three years of its existence, Persuasion covered the specter of automation in American industry, the constitutionality of the income tax, the US farm program, the history of government interference in the free market in America, "right to work" laws, racism, the history of slavery in America and the lessons to be learned from it, the crisis of public education, child-labor legislation, water fluoridation, medical care for the elderly, and the crisis in American healthcare generally.

There was also a discussion by Joan of The Exploitation Theory, a 1960 reprinting as a separate book of a lengthy excerpt from Capital and Interest by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, published by the Libertarian Press of South Holland, Illinois; a detailed review (again by Joan) of Reclaiming the American Dream by Richard Cornuelle, a former executive of the Volker Fund, which Brian Doherty identifies as "the major funder of libertarian causes during the 1950s" (Cornuelle later went on to serve as publisher of the libertarian-influenced academic quarterly Critical Review); and a brief but passionate recommendation by David Dawson of The Law by Frederic Bastiat.

The articles and reviews treating these subjects were substantial. One thing that set Persuasion apart from the very beginning was the length and substance of its contents. Few articles or reviews ran under 3,500 words. The longest article the magazine ever ran, David Dawson's seven-part meditation on the draft, came in at more than 25,000 words. These articles were footnoted and boasted bibliographies of works cited. This was not the daily journalism of the op-ed page, with tossed off squibs of a few hundred words each composed on the fly by writers good at coming up with something quickly off the tops of their heads. This was serious intellectual journalism, carried out at a surprisingly high level of professionalism by a group of writers who had, before the appearance of this journal, been entirely unknown.

Most, if not all, of these people were also members of the Metropolitan Young Republican Club, which, in the beginning, published Persuasion. Most, if not all, of them were also members of the club's Committee for the Abolition of the Draft. And this helps to account, not only for the fact that the magazine carried so much antidraft analysis and commentary, but also for the fact that it played a key role in sponsoring a pair of antidraft conferences at opposite ends of the country in 1967.

This was an extraordinary accomplishment for a libertarian magazine in the mid 1960s. At this time, there were fewer than half a dozen libertarian publications in existence in this country, the most noteworthy of which were the quarterly Left & Right, edited in New York by radical economist Murray N. Rothbard and radical historian Leonard P. Liggio; the sometimes quarterly, sometimes semiannual New Individualist Review, edited in Chicago by a group of graduate students influenced by Rothbard and currently studying under Friedrich A. Hayek; the equally erratic Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, published out of Larkspur, Colorado, by the radical journalist, author, and lecturer Robert LeFevre; and the monthly Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York, a short ride up the Hudson from New York City. Left & Right, New Individualist Review, and Rampart Journal came out too infrequently to comment incisively on current events — current books and ideas and trends, yes, but current issues and events, no.

Moreover, not a one of them had the circulation to call any event to the attention of very many readers. The Freeman devoted itself to publishing homilies about the market and free trade while doing its best never to offend anyone. Yet it alone among the five or six libertarian publications in existence in the United States in 1967 had the circulation and the financial resources to even consider the idea of sponsoring a pair of conferences.

It was not The Freeman, however, but Persuasion that brought the deed off. After the Metropolitan Young Republican Club's Committee for the Abolition of the Draft, somewhat to its own surprise, scored a publicity coup with a front page article on February 2, 1967, in the Village Voice, the committee's members began to wonder if they'd been thinking too small, underestimating what they could achieve, given their resources. Their growing optimism was heightened further two months later, when, on the weekend of April 14–16, the Princeton University Symposium on World Affairs offered a panel discussion on the draft as a threat to "individual identity and freedom in the context of the mass society."

The "speakers on the Draft panel," according to an account that ran later in Persuasion,

were George Reedy, former special assistant and part-time press secretary to President Johnson, and a member of the President's National Advisory Committee on Selective Service; George Willoughby, of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors; Tom Hayden, one of the founders of … Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); and David J. Dawson, Chairman of the Committee for the Abolition of the Draft and President of the Metropolitan Young Republican Club (and, incidentally, publisher of Persuasion).

They were in the big time! They were "represented at one of the intellectual events of the year at an Ivy League University." Perhaps, after all, it was not "as hard as one might think, to start to change a culture."

So they took the plunge. And two months later, on June 23, 1967, at the Hotel America Washington in the District of Columbia, the Committee for the Abolition of the Draft of the Metropolitan Young Republican Club of New York City hosted the National Conference on Forced Service. "About 110 people" attended, "from all over the United States." The speakers were "Dr. Martin Anderson, Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and author of the well-known indictment of the federal urban-renewal program, The Federal Bulldozer," who "gave a seminar on the economics of the draft"; Henry Mark Holzer, a young attorney who had recently mounted an unsuccessful challenge to the constitutionality of the Universal Military Training and Service Act on Ninth Amendment grounds; his wife, Phyllis Tate Holzer, an attorney who had worked closely with her husband on that unsuccessful constitutional challenge; Robert Hessen, who taught US economic and business history at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business while completing his PhD in American history — he addressed the conferees on the history of the military draft; David J. Dawson of the Metropolitan Young Republican Club, the Committee for the Abolition of the Draft, and Persuasion magazine; and "Dr. Leonard Peikoff, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and Associate Lecturer in Philosophy at the Nathaniel Branden Institute [NBI]," who addressed the conferees on the various philosophical issues relevant to any inquiry into the military draft.

Leonard Peikoff, in addition to his status as an Associate Lecturer in Philosophy at NBI, was Barbara Branden's cousin and a member of Ayn Rand's inner circle. Henry Mark Holzer was Ayn Rand's attorney; he and his wife Phyllis were contributors to Rand's monthly, The Objectivist. So was Robert Hessen, who also contributed an essay on "The Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Women and Children" to Rand's 1967 anthology, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. David Dawson was Joan Kennedy Taylor's husband, and, like her, a student of Objectivism at NBI. As for Martin Anderson, he too attended lectures at NBI; he too had contributed to The Objectivist Newsletter. As Joan herself put it in her 2004 interview with Duncan Scott of the Objectivist History Project, the National Conference on Forced Service "was very much an Objectivist front."

It was a very successful Objectivist front to boot. As Joan later wrote, the conference in Washington was deemed "so successful" that "we had the same five speakers [Martin Anderson, Leonard Peikoff, Robert Hessen, David Dawson, and Henry Mark Holzer] agree to do another conference out in California." And a few weeks later, the cast reconvened in Los Angeles for yet another performance of what Holzer, at least, had begun to think of as their "traveling roadshow."[2]

Mises Academy: David Gordon teaches Ayn Rand and Objectivism

The very fact that there could be such a second conference at all — that the Metropolitan Young Republican Club and Persuasion magazine should have had sufficient resources at their disposal to take their message on the road and bring it to an entirely different audience 3,000 miles away — is testimony to the power of Ayn Rand's influence at this time. For Persuasion's circulation, and the money that circulation brought in and the contacts that circulation created with people of means who might like to contribute to a worthy political cause, was largely the creation of Ayn Rand.

Sometime during the first year of the magazine's publication, Rand let Joan know that she admired her work on Persuasion. As Joan later recalled, "She told me, 'You're a good editor. … I can tell that because [an editor of a small publication like Persuasion] might have just one or maybe two good writers, but all of your writers are good and that means the editor's good.'"

But Rand had more than just praise for Joan. She also had a suggestion. "She said, 'Take it out of the Young Republican Club — buy it from them or something like that. Set up a corporation, so that I can endorse you in The Objectivist. Because I wouldn't want to endorse anything that was specifically of a political party.'" This was an opportunity. Joan saw it and took it. She established an independent corporation, Persuasion, Inc., and took over the magazine from the Metropolitan Young Republican Club. Then Rand told her, "Now, if I do this, you realize if you do something wrong I'll have to denounce you." Joan agreed. "And so we got like a thousand subscriptions or something from Ayn's endorsement. Well, we ended up with about a thousand subscriptions, most of which were from her endorsement."

The endorsement, the only one ever extended by Rand to any political magazine, appeared in the December 1965 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter, under the headline "A Recommendation." It began with a caveat. "One cannot recommend a magazine or a periodical over whose future content one has no control," Rand wrote, "except conditionally or provisionally." She described Persuasion as "a modest little periodical which I have watched for almost a year and found to be excellent in its particular field." Persuasion, she wrote, was "not a philosophical or theoretical, but specifically a political publication," one that did "a remarkable educational job in tying current political events to wider principles, evaluating specific events in a rational frame-of-reference, and maintaining a high degree of consistency."

The magazine would be "of particular interest and value," Rand thought, "to all those who are eager to fight on the level of practical politics, but flounder hopelessly for lack of proper material." To the readers of The Objectivist Newsletter, Rand declared, "this publication deserves your attention, but we cannot guarantee or underwrite its future ideological position; judge for yourself."

It had all begun so well, so hopefully. In the end, though, it was that understanding about the possibility of being publicly denounced by Ayn Rand that came to seem too high a price to pay for a thousand subscriptions. In the end it was Joan's agreement to be denounced by Ayn Rand that led to the closing of Persuasion. Speaking nearly 40 years after the events she was describing, Joan told Duncan Scott that she gradually began to realize that she could get into a situation in which, if her husband David published something

and Ayn didn't like it, she would put pressure on me to fire David as publisher of Persuasion under the threat of being denounced in The Objectivist. Since at least half our subscribers came from that endorsement, I felt as if I'd built my house on Mount Etna. I felt that it was not a viable business situation to be in. So I decided to close the publication.


[1] Elsewhere, Dawson writes that "as many military men will admit privately, too many men were drafted [in World War II] for efficient use, with large sections of the drafted armed forces busy providing services for each other with little or no net gain." See David J. Dawson, "The Draft, Part II: Posse Praesidentis," Persuasion Vol. III, No. 5, May 1966, p. 76.

[2] Personal interview by the author with Henry Mark Holzer, July 7, 2008. In our telephone conversation of July, 16, 2008, Martin Anderson was unable to recall participating in any antidraft conference sponsored by the Metropolitan Young Republican Club in any location other than New York. Henry Mark Holzer, by contrast, recalls three such conferences — one in New York, one in Washington, and one in Los Angeles. But in a telephone conversation on July 8, 2008, another conference speaker, Robert Hessen, was able to recall only the one in Los Angeles. For the purposes of this introduction to the archived back file of Persuasion, I have chosen to go with Joan Kennedy Taylor's recollections in her 2004 interview with Duncan Scott, and with the published account of the Washington conference in Persuasion.


Jeff Riggenbach

Jeff Riggenbach was a journalist, author, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A member of the Organization of American Historians and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute, he wrote for such newspapers as the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle; such magazines as Reason, Inquiry, and Liberty; and such websites as LewRockwell.com, AntiWar.com, and RationalReview.com. His books include In Praise of Decadence (1998), Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism (2009), and Persuaded by Reason: Joan Kennedy Taylor & the Rebirth of American Individualism (2014). Drawing on vocal skills he honed in classical and all-news radio in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston, Riggenbach also narrated the audiobook versions of numerous libertarian works, many of them available on Mises.org.