A Cram History of the Libertarian Movement. Part I Pre-1969
Samuel Edward Konkin III
In the beginning, man was free. Then he ran into his father.
Free philosophies have attempted to form throughout history, usually containing just enough contradictions or errors to have them refuted and discarded like the statist theories they were to replace. Then we came along. The first we goes back to William Godwin, the first anarchist, in the late 1700’s and traces through Josiah Warren to Lysander Spooner. The limited government freaks can probably trace their lineage to Jeremy Bentham’s Philosophical Radical Party in England (yes, dear reader, the first “radicals” were limited archists), which, thanks to its utilitarian base and John Stuart Mill, drifted toward Fabian democratic socialism. Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., Spooner was firming up a pro-property base for anarchy.
It is both fascinating to realize (as you will if you read even as little of Spooner as No Treason) that if Praxeology had been added to Spooner’s position, amending some of his views on economics, he would have reached the stage of development of the present Libertarian Movement, give or take a few deviationists, and dischartening to realize that a century has been wasted. This, gentle anarcho-objectivist, was all before Ayn Rand was a gleam in her father’s eye. Spooner was an active abolitionist, shocking his comrades by supporting Southern secession, and demanding that position as the only one consistent with slave secession from masters. His No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority was published around 1870. He, along with others, passed along the anarchist tradition to Benjamin Tucker, who was the first in his line to call himself an anarchist from the Word Go.
Tucker also threatened to be the end of the line. His magazine Liberty was recognized as the radical journal until its demise in 1908. George Bernard Shaw acknowledges his debt to Tucker for making him famous, and was briefly an anarchist himself through Tucker’s influence before continuing his meanderings on the political spectrum through fascism and socialism. Tucker also laid into the anarcho-communists of his time, setting westerners straight about Bakunin, Kropotkin, and their ilk. Supposedly, when Tucker met Kropotkin, those attending expected sparks to fly; actually they merely exchanged salutations. . .
With the onslaught of World War I and the seduction of his radical friends into what he scourged as “State Socialism,” Tucker despaired of the world and went to France, dying in obscurity just prior to the Second World war. Some of those he had influenced were followers of the school of Henry George economics, the “Single Taxers.” They believed (and still do) that Rent was immorally obtained, and that Land should not be owned privately (although anything else could). Some of them believed that government should at most collect this Rent and distribute it to the populace in the form of services; a few believed that this “social function” did not even require the state. Such a person was Albert J. Nook. Those in his Philosophical camp around the turn of the century were called Liberals (so was Herbert Spencer, whom they were also familiar with), but became Radicals with World War I and the split caused by Wilson’s “betrayal” by entering into war and foreign entanglements. Eventually, with the post-war disillusionment, these Revisionists found their war interpretation to become widely accepted, and during the twenties, Nock, H. L. Mencken, and others were well-known and popular.
The Depression and World war II caused another estrangement of these neo-Georgist quasi-anarchists with the Liberals; first, because they opposed Statist solutions of the Hoover and later Roosevelt variety to the economic problems of the day, and second, because they were opposed to Roosevelt’s imperialism against the Axis and the provocation of Japan into a totally avoidable war. These positions brought them into tactical alliance with the Old Right, an uneasy alliance. Their influence pervades—the Modern Right, as indicated by William Buckley’s inclusion of two Nock essays in his definitive book on conservatism called, Did You Ever See a Dream walking?. One of Nock’s essays was blatantly called “Anarchist’s Progress.” During this time, young Georgist Frank Chodorov was brought into an anti-statist position by Nock’s influence, and became one of the Right’s main activists, founding the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists and taking Over Mencken’s American Mercury along with Buckley and crowd. About this time, a Young Taft Republican Columbia student named Murray Rothbard read von Mises and became an economist, studying under the master himself. The Taft wing or “Old Right” continued their anti-imperialism through the Korean war, while the liberals and social democrats insisted that Americans had a Duty to save the world from Bolshevism. In 1953, Robert A. Taft died, unleashing a Wisconsin Populist named Joseph McCarthy. Chodorov’s remarks on McCarthyism indicate the beginning of the end for the alliance: “The way to get rid of Communists in government jobs is to get rid of the government jobs.” Unfortunately, William Buckley and his converted brother-in-law decided that Roman Catholicism was insufficiently motivating and declared a Holy Crusade against International Communism. They began by defending McCarthy in print, and then, as American Mercury fell into the hands of racists, founded National Review in 1955 and staffed it with bitter ex-Communists. Rothbard, who had made friends with many of these people at the time, such as NR’s ideologue, Frank Meyer, split with them in 1957 over irreconcilable foreign policy differences, as he Joined SANE and various Left peace (for him, Isolationist) groups, and the spectrum flip-flopped. Around this time the Objectivist philosophy was turning into the personality cult of Ayn Rand and Murray was invited to the formative get-togethers. Unfortunately, in 1950 he had already decided that the only consistent libertarian position was anarchy, so he knew his days were numbered. Still, he had some influence on the early Nathaniel Branden Institute students.
In 1960, the New Right got behind Barry Goldwater, who symbolized their new synthesis of pseudo-free enterprise at home and American Imperialism abroad. The Youth for Goldwater became, the following year, a more ideological youth movement, meeting at Buckley’s Sharon, Connecticut estate to form a group of young conservatives. The National Chairman was Bob Schuchman (known to Rothbard, incidentally) who demanded that the name be the Young Americans for Freedom. Schuchman was the first and only libertarian Chairman.
The Goldwater campaign of 1964 brought vast recruits to YAF, and the subsequent battles with the rising New Left, for which YAF was the only organized opposition, sustained it in between the election years. Even objectivists began to join it, though prohibited officially from it by Ayn Rand’s dictates. In 1967, a libertarian caucus was formed from free market, ISI, and FEE style conservatives, semi-objectivists, and a few Rothbardians and even Georgists. They promised to really get it together in 1969, the next biennial National Convention of YAF.
Meanwhile, Richard Nixon was elected President, fulfilling every conservative’s dream, and disillusioning every libertarian from his work with the Right, and Murray Rothbard was into the Peace and Freedom Party, with many of his youthful converts moving past him into the SDS, where founders like Carl Oglesby were battling for Anarchy against the Statist Maoists and Trotskyites who sought control of the group at any expense. Jarret Wollstein split the Objectivist camp by coming out for anarcho-objectivism and the Society for Rational Individualism. And Nathaniel Branden fell from grace.
The Southern Libertarian Messenger
Editor: David Rosinger, Editor
September, 1972 / Vol. I, No. 5