Mises Daily Articles

Home | Mises Library | When did the Right Unravel?

When did the Right Unravel?

The Betrayal of the American Right by Murray N. Rothbard

Tags Media and CultureHistory of the Austrian School of EconomicsPhilosophy and Methodology

09/24/2007Murray N. Rothbard

[This article is excerpted from Murray Rothbard's preface to the 1991 revision of The Betrayal of the American Right, now available in the store. See also Tom Woods's introduction.]

The manuscript of the greater part of this book, The Betrayal of the American Right, was written in 1971 and revised in 1973. Little of this original manuscript has been changed here. In a profound sense, it is more timely today than when it was first written. The book was a cry in the wilderness against what I saw as the betrayal of what I here call the "Old Right." Or, to allay confusion about various "olds" and "news," we call it the Original Right.

The Old Right arose during the 1930s as a reaction against the Great Leap Forward (or Backward) into collectivism that characterized the New Deal. That Old Right continued and flourished through the 1940s and down to about the mid-1950s. The Old Right was staunchly opposed to Big Government and the New Deal at home and abroad: that is, to both facets of the welfare-warfare state. It combated US intervention in foreign affairs and foreign wars as fervently as it opposed intervention at home.

At the present time, many conservatives have come to realize that the old feisty, antigovernment spirit of conservatives has been abraded and somehow been transformed into its statist opposite. It is tempting, and, so far as it goes, certainly correct, to put the blame on the Right's embrace in the 1970s of Truman-Humphrey Cold War liberals calling themselves "neoconservatives," and to allow these ex-Trotskyites and ex-Mensheviks not only into the tent but also to take over the show. But the thesis of the book is that those who wonder what happened to the good old cause must not stop with the neocons: that the rot started long before, with the founding in 1955 of National Review and its rapid rise to dominance of the conservative movement.

It was National Review that, consciously and cleverly, transformed the content of the Old Right into something very like its opposite, while preserving the old forms and rituals, such as lip service to the free market and to the Constitution of the United States. It was, as the great Garet Garrett said about the New Deal in the American polity, a "revolution within the form." As this book points out, the Right happened to be vulnerable to takeover at this time, its old leaders recently dead or retired. While younger, or yuppie, conservatives may puzzle at this statement, the good old days of the Old Right in politics were not the Goldwater campaign but the campaign of Robert A. Taft.

This book discusses the Old Right, details the National Review takeover, and treats the odyssey of myself and like-minded libertarians out of our formerly honored position as the "extreme" wing of the Old Right, breaking with National Review conservatism, and anxious to find a home for libertarian ideas and activities. The book was written after the end of our alliance with the New Left, which had begun promisingly in the early and mid-1960s but had ended in the mad if short-lived orgy of violence and destruction at the end of the decade. The manuscript ends with the beginning of the emergence of the libertarian movement as a separate, self-conscious ideological and even political entity in the United States, aiming to be a separate or Third Force in America drawing from the congenial elements of both Left and Right.

The inspiration for this manuscript came from Bob Kephart, then publisher of the Libertarian Review, who planned to publish books under the imprint of the Libertarian Review Press. This press did publish a collection of my essays around that time.1 Ramparts Press put a blurb for the publication of this book into its 1971 catalog, but they wanted extensive changes which I refused to make.2 I had tried, ever since the early 1960s, to get my story of the betrayal of the Old Right into print, but there were no periodicals open to this message. Particularly incensed at the Goldwater campaign of 1964, the first campaign dominated by the National Review Right, I could only air my views, very briefly, in the only extant libertarian periodical, the Los Angeles newsletter The Innovator; searching for an outlet for a longer piece, I could find only the obscure peace-Catholic quarterly Continuum.3

After that, my political views were largely aired in my own periodicals: Left and Right, 1965–1968, edited by Leonard Liggio and myself, a vehicle for alliance with the New Left; the weekly and then monthly Libertarian Forum, 1969–1984, an expression of a self-conscious libertarian movement; and, for more scholarly articles, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, founded in 1977 as a publishing arm of the Center for Libertarian Studies and still continuing. Part of the analysis in the present manuscript appeared as my "The Foreign Policy of the Old Right," Journal of Libertarian Studies 2 (Winter 1978), pp. 85–96 [download PDF].4

At about the same time The Betrayal was written, there also appeared a master's essay along similar lines by the young libertarian historian Joseph R. Stromberg.5

Of the scholarly work done since, one of the most valuable on the Old Right is the study of Frank Chodorov by Charles Hamilton.6 Also particularly valuable is Justus Doenecke's study of the response of World War II isolationists to the emergence of the Cold War, down to 1954, and Felix Morley's autobiography, particularly the last two chapters on his experience with Human Events.78

Since the 1970s, The Betrayal of the American Right has remained dormant, although copies, some barely legible, have been circulating in samizdat among young libertarian scholars.

Finally, the dramatic collapse of Communism and the Cold War in 1989, and the subsequent rethinking among both conservatives and libertarians, has recently aroused interest in The Betrayal. Study into the Old Right by Tom Fleming, editor of Chronicles, led me to dig out the manuscript, and the enthusiastic suggestion of Justin Raimondo, editor of the Libertarian Republican, inspired me to update the Betrayal and led directly to the present publication. As always, I am deeply grateful to Burt Blumert and to Lew Rockwell for their enthusiasm and help over the years, and with this publication.

  • 1. Murray N. Rothbard, Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (Washington, D.C.: Libertarian Review Press, 1974).
  • 2. I had published my view of the Old Right and its fall in Ramparts, then the leading New Left periodical. Murray N. Rothbard, "Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal," Ramparts, VI, 11 (June 15, 1968), pp. 48–52.
  • 3. Murray N. Rothbard, "The Transformation of the American Right," Continuum, II (Summer 1964), pp. 220–231. [Available in PDF.]
  • 4. The original version of this article was a paper delivered at a session on the Right at the 1972 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, a session organized by the brilliant Marxist historian Eugene D. Genovese.
  • 5. Joseph R. Stromberg, "The Cold War and the Transformation of the American Right: the Decline of Right-Wing Liberalism" (M.A. essay, Florida Atlantic University, 1971).
  • 6. Charles H. Hamilton, "Introduction," in Hamilton, ed., Fugitive Writings: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Press, 1980), pp. 11–30.
  • 7. Justus D. Doenecke, Not to the Swift: The Old Isolationists in the Cold War Era (Lewisburg, Penn.: Bucknell University Press, 1979). Also see Ronald Radosh, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975).
  • 8. An especially valuable study done before the writing of "The Betrayal" is a doctoral dissertation on the 1950s libertarian movement by Eckard Vance Toy, Jr., even though it is almost exclusively based on the fortunately extensive papers and correspondence of Seattle industrialist James W. Clise. Toy is particularly good on FEE and Spiritual Mobilization, although he neglects the William Volker Fund and does not concern himself with foreign policy. Eckard Vance Toy, Jr., "Ideology and Conflict in American Ultra-Conservatism, 1945–1960" (Ph.D. diss., University of Oregon, 1965).

Murray N. Rothbard

Murray N. Rothbard made major contributions to economics, history, political philosophy, and legal theory. He combined Austrian economics with a fervent commitment to individual liberty.