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Will the United States Survive to 1984?

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02/23/2017Ralph Raico

The title of this talk, as some of you will know, is taken from a recent book by the heroic Russian dissident intellectual, Andrei Amalrik, Will the Soviet Union Survive to 1984?1 What is implied is not that things will suddenly go kaput in 1984 — that would be too much of a coincidence — but that, in terms of the present discus­sion, for the next generation and the foreseeable future a pessimistic prognosis is in order; to put it briefly, that it is fundamentally over with the noble American experiment. What I have in mind by this is that element in the make-up of the United States which Lord Acton referred to when he said, of the cause of liberty in mid-18th century Europe:

Europe seemed incapable of becoming the home of free states. It was from America that the plain idea that men ought to mind their own business, and that the nation is responsible to Heaven for the acts of state, burst forth like a conqueror upon the world they were destined to transform under the title of the Rights of Man.

There have been, God knows, other features in the history of the United States, but there was always this also, and it has continued to serve as a reference point and refuge for the libertarian-minded in each generation; it has served to keep the United States a relatively free country.

     It is the possibility of the continuation of this ideal in any meaningful sense that I am pessimistic about. This is not to say that there are not contrary signs — very important is that it seems improbable that the United states will be able to engage in more far-away military actions such as the Indo-China War for a couple of decades; to that extent, American imperialism has become politically difficult and will for a time have to retrench. So the signs are somewhat ambiguous. But considering the domestic political situation — although it would provide a contemporary H.L. Mencken with material for unending satire on all fronts — from the point of view of libertarianism, there is little cause for anything but pessimism, in regard to the Left, to the Right and to the Middle.

     At first, it seemed as if the New Left held out a good deal of promise to a libertarian, particularly in the student movement. It was anti-authoritarian and individualistic; much of its background was provided by the '50's popular sociological works such as Whyte's Organization Man and Riesman's Lonely Crowd, which were basically individualistic and communicated the fear of uniformity and control of individuals by the sheer mindless weight of crowds. It was pacifistic. Not that pacifism is an unconditional principle; but in view of the propensity of governments to go to war at the drop of a hat (think of the thousands and millions who have died for "essential" national causes in the Crimea and against the Boers, in Flanders fields and in Viet Nam), pacifism is quite a good rule of thumb. The slogan of this earlier New Left was that everyone should be left to do his own thing — and with all the instant obsolescence of the ideas and catch­phrases of the '60's, it would be good if this one somehow survived. Essentially, this is what Hayek was talking about in his Constitution of Liberty, although he phrased it somewhat differently.

     But although a libertarian such as Thoreau was a major hero of the New Left in its earlier phase, the radical students seem never to have taken to heart the libertarian spirit that Thoreau showed in such a passage from Civil Disobedience, as the following:

the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy the idea of government which they have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on. It is excellent, we must all allow. Yet this government never of it­self furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character, inherent in the American people has done .all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.

Instead, the leftist students have become statists, and Marxist statists for the most part. The enemy for them is not primarily the State, or those who make use of the State to give them an advantage over others in the give-and-take of the market, but the market and the private sector themselves. Here they simply take over and even exaggerate the ideas of the Old Left — on the omnipotence of advertising, the shamelessness of searching for a profit, the evil inherent in exchanging goods rather than giving them away, all the tedious Galbraithian pseudo-wit on consumer habits — adding the ecology business. Almost all bright students one runs across are against commerce and the principle of exchange; it often takes real courage to defend these things against the astonishing aggressiveness of many of the leftist students (more than against their professors, who to some degree continue to respect argumentation).

     This was, however, more or less to be expected. Marxism is the most thoroughly elaborated left-wing ideology, and it comes — one might almost say — like second-nature to anyone who begins reflecting on social affairs from an unorthodox point of view. Once set out on the waters of opposition to "the System," the radical students wound up with Marxism almost inevitably.

     This has been enormously helped along by the simultaneous emergence to wide-spread public notice of a "new sort" of Marxism — that is based on the idea of "alienation," an idea which, by its vagueness and utopianism seems to have been tailor-made for the new leftists. Everything unpleasant that exists — from political apathy to sexual frustration, from the slightest inconvenience to the limiting conditions of life itself (for instance, that men must work to live) — can be ascribed to the "alienation" caused by capitalism and the class society.

     The early emphasis of the New Left on individualism has been eclipsed by a concern for ''community." As Richard Zorza, a student who has written about the Harvard strike of a couple of years ago, states: the important thing is "the right to say 'we'; that right is more precious than all others to this confronted generation. It is a right that gives us an identity and allows us dignity." In a sense, of course, there is nothing in this incompatible with individualistic libertarianism, the essence of which is anti-statism, not anti-societism. But one suspects that with many young leftists attracted by the "we" idea, it will ultimately be the political community, backed by force and revolutionary ideology, to which they will look to realize the "right to say 'we'."

     Very often, the young New Left is much worse than the old line leftists were and are. A good example is a recent book by the husband of Joan Baez, David Harris; the book is titled Goliath, and is now in paperback. (Since Soul on Ice has sold two million copies — in our repressive fascist society — it is not unlikely that Harris's book will sell at least a half million copies — although Harris was imprisoned for a less interesting crime than Cleaver's, and does not benefit from that really great name.) In Goliath, in the chapter on "The Myth of Property," we read of the dichotomy of property and need:

Property dictates that we pursue ownership. The pursuit of need follows a logic of use. When you need something, you use it. Instead, of using things, America demands they be controlled. ... In fact, the person who owns a resource owns the lives of all who must use it. ... If the world were shaped according to our need of it, then its resources would be available as a function of that need: the hungry would eat, the homeless would build homes. (italics added)

And when Harris states that: "Property is the negation of the common conglomerate man," I think I can detect a strong direct or indirect influence from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

     With this sort of mentality there is obviously no arguing, as there was with the old-line leftists. Property — whether private or public — is the right to dispose of things, generally material things. How the things of the world could conceivably be left up to the claims of needs is not broached — the very suggestion that a problem might exist is disgusting and unmasks the questioner as one who does not share in the mystical community of the well-intentioned. I would guess that there are not ten facts — ten hard facts — that Harris knows about the American economy, or capitalism at large. This sort of work — and it's an example in print of the kind of mindless thought that goes on among millions — is based simply on the undigested and unexamined personal impressions of the wide world on the part of the "thinker." The pathetic thing is that the model for all of economic activity — for all the things that keep people alive and keep them above the animal level — is the friendly communal passing of a joint. People like this want to legislate for the nations of the world.

     A similar sort of thoughtlessness has become increasingly evident among churchmen, more recently among the Catholic clergy. Their social position, of course, has become difficult in the extreme; no one takes their religious claims seriously anymore, not even they them­selves for the most part. The rationalization of the world, in Weber's sense, has proceeded too far for that, for good or bad. But the momentum of ecclesiastical institutions within society naturally continues, at least for the time being; such social formations do not suddenly disappear, simply because the ground has been taken from under them. Moreover, there are vast endowments and thousands of sinecures involved. So, deprived of their traditional raison d'être, the clergy increasingly take to politics; here they carry over the mental habits of dogmatism, contempt for rational discussion and moral authoritarianism that have always marked them as a class. Their commanding instincts are paternalistic — thus, it is only natural that their concern, as far as domestic politics go, is directed to taking the under-privileged under their wing. They are sure to prove particularly useful to the leftist main­stream in connection with the creation and dissemination of guilt, guilt for the possession of any wealth above some undefined "decent" minimum. Past masters in the art of generating guilt, the clergy will be valuable allies in the cause of transforming the traditional American pride in economic success into an anxiety-ridden defensiveness. Thus, the Christian churches, which entered modern history as the "desperate foes" of the free society — in Lord Acton's phrase — will be able to close their eyes happy in the knowledge that their old enemy has not survived them.

     The out-and-out revolutionaries, the violent ones, are even worse than the people I have been considering. It is difficult not to put a bad interpretation on Bernadine Dohrn's praise of Charles Manson (whom she, and the other people of the "Movement" who consider him to be a hero, assumed to be guilty of the Tate murders). It is clear enough at this point that those who call for a violent revolution in the United States at this time do not have the interests of the American people at heart, whatever else they may be aiming at. In this connection, I think it's a good thing that my friend Murray Rothbard has given up his support of revolution. Considering the state of opinion among would-be revolutionaries, and their only potential mass-base — liberal arts students and the black under-class — there is not the slightest chance for a libertarian-oriented revolution in the foreseeable future.

     (This is not to say that because a revolution is an illusion, then every law is sacred; there are obvious cases, such as Selective Service, where the existence of the law constitutes no presumption whatsoever that the law should be obeyed.)

     But everywhere the radical Left is in distintegration and disarray. The gushing of the totalitarian romantics over the Cuban experiment is drying up, since it is increasingly difficult to deny its failure even in its own terms; and it doesn't seem likely that anyone on the Left will be able to secrete much enthusiasm for the incipient white­collar and university-professor dictatorship in Chile.

     By and large, it appears that the American leftist radical movement will evaporate simply into a re-enforcement of the old New Deal demand for "more pro­grams" to deal with our problems. This will become the "compromise" solution that will demonstrate the "responsibility" of those who will still feel entitled to call them­selves "radicals" simply because they push for more and larger budgets, and never let up on the hysterical note of the pain and suffering existing side by side with color TV's, motor boats, etc., etc. (The logical implication of this line of thought — of emotion, really — is that an American auto-mechanic ought to feel guilty about drinking a beer, when there are Pakistani children who go without milk, and are actually starving to death. But the people I'm talking about never carry the argument beyond a step or two. Actually, there is no argument involved here at all.)

     This accommodation with New Dealism has already occurred in the case of Charles A. Reich, the celebrated author of The Greening of America, who recently wrote in the New York Times Op-Ed section:

The first affirmative requirement of a new society is a system of planning, allocation and design. Today there is no control over what any organization may invest, produce, use up, distribute. The need for planning has been obvious since before the New Deal, but we have refused to see it. It is time for us to grow up to acknowledge that the great forces of technology cannot be left the playthings of corporate expansionism and personal ambition.

Reich adds, however, that: "Planning cannot be left to the planners," and goes on to recommend a sort of long­-range comprehensive planning that will still be compatible with immediate, direct decision-making by people in small groups. How these two ideals would be reconciled doesn't begin to be a problem for Reich.

     Similarly, Jack Newfield of The Village Voice, writing on "The Death of Liberalism" in the current Play­boy, finds the "remedies" that "are as obvious as they are radical in Galbraith's concise and precise words," which are that "the cures lie in 'taxing the rich, regulating private enterprise and redeeming power and po­licy from military and civilian bureaucracy!" (This last — the attack on bureaucracy — is Galbraith's concession to the Zeitgeist.) This is pretty much of a perfect example of what I'm talking about: a self-styled radical, writing on the "Death of Libertarianism" finds the cures for our problems to lie in the thought of — of all people — the old ADA'er and hater of the world of private relations!

     Having accommodated themselves to the great statist mainstream of the twentieth century, these "radicals" will find their natural candidate in Ted Kennedy; all but the most "alienated" will flock to him. The Kennedy administration, if it comes into being, would probably enact a system of National service for young men — Kennedy's stated goal. Possibly the system will be extended to young women, as well; just as there are Gay Liberationists who demand the "right" to serve in the People's Revolutionary Army, or even the right to be drafted into the State's army, it may be possible for the image-builders to present the conscription of young women as a concession to Women's Lib. Thus, a labor draft for people in their late teens and early twenties — conscription into social work, nursing, as forest rangers and to eradicate oil slicks. It's hard to think what could be a more ironic ending for a movement that began by invoking Thoreau and the sacredness of the individual personality.

     If we consider the Right in America, the prospects are about as dim. In regard to the mass-base, there is still some residual hope in the rhetorical opposition to Big Government and High Taxes on the part of sections of the middle and upper-middle classes. But the Rightist mass-base that the author of the Emerging Republican Majority — and those who, before the last election, listened to him — pins his hopes upon, is obviously useless to libertarians, or pretty much so. A possible ray of hope here is provided by the fact that the Catholic ethnic groups which are to furnish a crucial part of this majority do not, for the most part, share the ethic of service and moral uplift that is so important to main­stream left-liberalism. (As Edward Banfield points out, in The Unheavenly City, this is largely a WASP and Jewish trait in American politics.) It may be that these ethnic groups are more healthily materialistic, and will tend to prefer lower taxes to government programs that lack any evidence of a reasonable possibility of succeeding. The idea that we must do something — in spite of the fact that there is no reason to think that the proposed "something" will do the trick, and although similar "somethings" in the past have done more harm than good — the idea that we must do this, or fail in our duty to our own social consciences, may exert little influence on the Catholic ethnics. But the not-so-very hidden idea behind the notion that a grand Republican coalition can be formed has nothing to do with libertarianism. Rather, it banks on dislike of Negroes and impatience with the "outrageous" culture of students and liberal professionals, a dislike and impatience that will draw together Southerners, Northern working-class whites and rural types. Kevin Phillips, the author of The Emerging Republican Majority — where he outlines this strategy — has expressed his disgust that obsolete "laissez-faire" economics continues to interfere with the realization of his grand design.

     Then there are the conservative intellectuals. I do not deny that some of them have a few good instincts; some of these may be activated at times, as they are with Buckley when he debates leftists. But the conservatives are neither dependable on the question of liberty, nor particularly helpful.

     In the first place, because they continue to fight silly and useless battles. The very paradigm of this is Russell Kirk's little feud, in the pages of National Review, with masturbation, which he persists in calling "onanism," against scholarship — since that wasn't Onan's sin, and no doubt in order to suggest the connection of his thought on this with the Great Tradition, not to say with the Great Chain of Being itself. Their refusal to take the obvious libertarian position on the legalization of drugs and their priggish literary harassment of pornographers are further indications of this, as is National Review's obsession with the unspeakable abomination of homosexual acts. All these Puritanical views are supposed, in their ideology, to flow from their Christian commitment. But it is a not very well kept secret among those who know anything about the American conservative movement, that by rational, if not by orthodox, standards, the Christianity of these conservative intellectuals is bogus. It is not only that they have little in common with the Gospel of Jesus, but, beyond that, that many of them show that extra nastiness and viciousness in debate that seems to be common to the Right-Wing the world over, for reasons on which Wilhelm Reich had certain ideas. ( I would strongly suggest to libertarians who might suppose, because of their familiarity with the usual run of American conservatives, that Christianity has nothing of importance to offer them, to take a look at some of the writings of a real and highly intelligent Christian, C.S. Lewis — particularly his essay, The Abolition of Man and his basically libertarian novel, That Hideous Strength.)

     The conservatives are of little use, also, be­cause they have no real sense of the meaning of the market economy, of the dignity of the act of exchange and the injustice inherent in replacing exchange by force. For them, any property that happens to be in the possession of individuals is true private property. They are bitter about welfare, but not about the proposed subsidy to Penn Central — which was evidently stopped, not by any of the conservatives in Congress, but by the old populist, Wright Patman of Texas. Conservatives have never begun to make the obvious argument against most government programs — the "Chicago" argument — that they are instruments for taking money by force from the relatively poor to give it to the relatively rich. They cannot bring themselves to make this sort of argument, because for them the fact that a person is relatively rich is already near-proof of his soundness and respectability, and thus of his right to be the recipient of government money and privileges. The position of libertarianism is much more realistic here. Classical liberalism — in the form of British classical political economy — began with an attack on government privileges for the rich: an attack on the system known as "mercantilism." "Sinister interests" and "monopoly" were the names that Adam Smith, the Philosophical Radicals and the Manchesterites gave to the wealthy and powerful who used the State to exploit the rest of society. The concept of "class conflict," in this sense, is part of the libertarian's intellectual inheritance, and it helps him to make much more sense of the contemporary world than the conservative is able to do.

     The attraction that power in the hands of the upper classes exerts on conservatives is shown also by their approval of exploitative military and "feudal" regimes in other, countries, particularly in the Third World. It is difficult to conceive why on earth anyone friendly to liberty should support the Brazilian and Greek dictatorships, and approve of American support of them. The bogusness of the conservatives' Christianity is evident here, too: the Brazilian dictatorship has been censured both by the Vatican and the bishops of Brazil for its systematic use of torture against political opponents, but I don't recall a single word in the American conservative press on what conservatives theoretically should regard as a vicious infringement of human dignity.

     Finally, and most obviously, the conservatives cannot be depended upon by libertarians because they are almost invariably nationalists and militarists. But this is so clear that I don't think it needs any elaboration.

     What then of the "Middle"? Of those who share none of the traditional ideologies, neither Marxist nor left-anarchist, conservative nor libertarian?

     All indications are that the Middle will increasingly dominated by the New Class — in the sense of the French scholar, Raymond Ruyer, who applies the term comprehensively to a social phenomenon that bridges the division of the world into socialist and so-called "capitalist" countries. This is the class that lives, directly or indirectly, from government programs and subsidies — the class that has gone beyond the market and come to rest in a fairly comfortable economic position. Included in this New Class, in the United States, are the NASA scientists and engineers (temporarily on the wane); H.E.W. sociologists and psychologists; those who have received the $500,000,000 that Congresswoman Edith Green says has been spent since 1965 by the Office of Economic Opportunity on "studies conducted by experts on research and evaluation of the poor." Also included would be municipal urbanologists; the recipients of government "cultural" subsidies, which are sure to increase to European proportions and beyond; and that great portion of the bourgeoisie that has an intimate relationship to the State — through defense contracts, of course, but also by way of programs such as urban renewal, highway and mass-transit programs, and foreign aid; also forming part of the New Class would be the Medicare and Medicaid doctors and dentists.

     In addition, and this should be emphasized, because it has very serious ideological implications, there is the element of the educational and mental health bureaucracies. (The second has been brilliantly treated by the psychiatrist and libertarian, Thomas Szasz, in a number of books; the most recent, The Manufacture of Madness, I strongly recommend to you.) The budgets for these, as is well-known, are sacred, taboo. One is half way to mental illness already, if one wants — like Reagan — to cut down on the mental health budget. There are parallels between education and psychiatry in con­temporary America that are sociologically most interesting. In both of these fields we are witnessing the creation of a vast class of state-subsidized intellectuals (or near intellectuals), who lack any accountability to the "consumers" of their "products," and who make use of this lack of accountability to promote their own cultural ideals — which are usually those of the State, as well. Of course, they always promote these personal or social ideals in the name of "culture" or "sanity" per se. It is only the know-nothings or the emotionally disturbed who could possibly doubt the burning need for the transfer of money and power to the educators and state-psychiatrists. When the two groups are allied, the result is spectacular. This has happened, for in­stance, with the issue of sex-education in the public schools, and here the two groups mutually reinforce the purity and absolute unquestionableness of their cause to such a pitch to remind one of John Lindsay, or even of Woodrow Wilson himself. To them it seems perfectly obvious that the public school teachers, who have succeeded in rendering poetry an object of hatred to millions of their subjects, should now have a go at sex.­

  • 1. This talk is unpublished as far as we can find and no date or other information was attached. Raico cites a "recent" book by Andrei Amalrik, Will the Soviet Union Survive to 1984? This book was first published in 1970. The talk has been edited for typos only.
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