For a while the postwar ideological climate seemed to be the same as during the war: internationalism, statism, adulation of economic planning and the centralized state, were rampant everywhere. During the first postwar year, 1945–46, I entered Columbia Graduate School, where the intellectual atmosphere was, oppressively, just more of the same.
By early 1946 the veterans had come back from the war, and the atmosphere on campus was rife with the heady plans and illusions of various wings of the Old Left. Most of the veterans had joined the newly formed American Veterans Committee, a group confined to World War II vets with the high hope of replacing the old and reactionary American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. During these years, the AVC on campus was split between the Social Democrats on the right and the Communists and their allies on the left, and these factions set the parameters of political debate on campus.
It was in this stifling atmosphere that I first became aware that I was not totally alone; that there was such a thing as a libertarian “movement,” however small and embryonic.
A young economics professor from Brown University began to teach at Columbia in the fall of 1946: George J. Stigler, later to become a distinguished member of the free-market “Chicago School” of economics. Tall, witty, self-assured, Stigler strode into a huge class in price theory, and proceeded to confound the assorted leftists by devoting his first two lectures to an attack on rent control, and to a refutation of minimum wage laws. As Stigler left the classroom, he would be surrounded by moving circles of amazed and bewildered students, arguing with this point of view that seemed to them to be deposited all of a sudden from the Neanderthal Age.
I was of course delighted; here at last was a free-market viewpoint of intellectual substance, and not simply couched in the lurid and confused tones of the Hearst Press! Professor Stigler referred us to a pamphlet (now long out of print, and still one of the few studies of rent control) jointly written by himself and another young free-market economist, Milton Friedman, Roofs or Ceilings?, and published by an outfit called the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. Stigler explained that he and Friedman had published the pamphlet with this obscure outfit because “nobody else would publish it.” Enchanted, I wrote away for the pamphlet, and for information about the organization; and by that act I had unwittingly “entered” the libertarian movement.
FEE had been founded during 1946 by Leonard E. Read, who for many years was its president, ruler, line-setter, fundraiser, and guiding light. In those years and for many years thereafter, FEE served as the major focus and the open center for libertarian activity in the United States. Not only has virtually every prominent libertarian in the country of middle age or over served at one time or another on its staff; but by its activities FEE served as the first beacon light for attracting innumerable young libertarians into the movement.
Its earliest staff was focused around a group of free-market agricultural economists led by Dr. F.A. (“Baldy”) Harper, who had come down from Cornell, and who had already written an antistatist pamphlet, The Crisis of the Free Market, for the National Industrial Conference Board, for whom Leonard Read had worked after leaving the Los Angeles Chamber. Among the young economists coming to FEE from Cornell with Harper were Doctors Paul Poirot, William Marshall Curtiss, Ivan Bierly, and Ellis Lamborn. Coming to FEE from Los Angeles along with Read was Dr. V. Orval Watts, who had been the economist for the Los Angeles Chamber.
One of the important but unsung figures in the early postwar libertarian movement was Loren (“Red”) Miller, who had been active in municipal reform movements in Detroit and elsewhere. In Kansas City, Miller joined with William Volker, head of the William Volker Company, a leading wholesale furniture specialty distributing house for the western states, in battling against the corrupt Pendergast machine. The charismatic Miller was apparently instrumental in converting many municipal reformers throughout the country to laissez-faire; these included Volker and his nephew and heir Harold W. Luhnow.1
Luhnow, now head of the Volker Company and his uncle’s William Volker Charities Fund, had been an active isolationist before the war. Now he became an active supporter of FEE, and was particularly eager to advance the almost totally neglected cause of libertarian scholarship. Another Red Miller convert was the young administrative genius Herbert C. Cornuelle, who for a short while was executive vice president of FEE.
After the death of Volker in 1947, Luhnow began to change the orientation of the Volker Fund from conventional Kansas City charities to promoting libertarian and laissez-faire scholarship. He began valiant efforts in the later 1940s to obtain prestigious academic posts for the leaders of the Austrian School of economics, Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek.
The best he could do for Mises, who had been languishing in New York, was to find him a post as “Visiting Professor” at New York University Graduate School of Business. Mises also became a part-time staff member at FEE.
Luhnow was more successful with Hayek, arranging for a professorship at the newly established graduate Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago—after the economics department at Chicago had rejected a similar arrangement.
In both cases, however, the university refused to pay any salary to these eminent scholars. For the rest of their careers in American academia, the salaries of both Mises and Hayek were paid for by the William Volker Fund. (After the Fund collapsed in 1962, the task of financing Mises’s post at NYU was taken up by Read and a consortium of businessmen.)
After a couple of years of acting alone at the Volker Fund, Harold Luhnow decided to expand the activity of the fund in stimulating conservative and libertarian scholarship, and Herb Cornuelle went from FEE to the Volker Fund as its first liaison officer.
After a brief flurry in political agitation against rent control, Read decided to keep FEE as a purely educational organization. For its first decade, FEE published pamphlets by staff members and others, many of which were collected in a book-form series, Essays on Liberty; but probably more important was its role as an open center for the movement, in its sponsoring of seminars, meetings, and soirees, and in its hospitality to visiting and budding libertarians.
It was at and through FEE that I met or discovered all the previously “underground” channels of libertarian thought and expression: the books published during the war, the Nockians (Nock himself had died in the summer of 1945), and the continuing activities of John T. Flynn and Rose Wilder Lane (who had succeeded Nock as editor of the Economic Council Review of Books), and Human Events.
It was in the midst of this new and exhilarating milieu that I emerged from my previous rather vague “Chamber of Commerce conservatism” and became a hard-nosed and “doctrinaire” laissez-faire libertarian, believing that no man and no government had the right to aggress against another man’s person or property.
It was also in this period that I became an “isolationist.” During the years when I was becoming ever more “conservative” economically, I had done little or no independent thinking on foreign affairs; I was literally content to take my foreign policy thinking from the editorials of the good grey New York Times. It now became clear to me, however, that “isolationism” in foreign affairs was but the foreign counterpart of strictly limited government within each nation’s borders.
One of the most important influences upon me was Baldy Harper, whose quiet and gentle hospitality toward young newcomers attracted many of us to the pure libertarian creed that he espoused and exemplified—a creed all the more effective for his stressing the philosophical aspects of liberty even more than the narrowly economic.
Another was Frank Chodorov, whom I met at FEE, and thereby discovered his superb broadsheet analysis. More than any single force, Frank Chodorov—that noble, courageous, candid, and spontaneous giant of a man who compromised not one iota in his eloquent denunciations of our enemy the State—was my entree to uncompromising libertarianism.
The first time I came across Frank’s work was a true—and infinitely exhilarating—culture shock. I was at the Columbia University bookstore one day in 1947, when, amidst a raft of the usual Stalinist, Trotskyist, etc. leaflets, one pamphlet was emblazoned in red letters with its title: “Taxation is Robbery,” by Frank Chodorov.2 This was it. Once seeing those shining and irrefutable words, my ideological outlook could never be the same again. What else, indeed, was taxation if not an act of theft? And it became clear to me that there was no way whatever of defining taxation that was not also applicable to the tribute exacted by a robber gang.
Chodorov began his pamphlet by stating that there were only two basic alternative moral positions on the State and taxation. The first holds that “political institutions stem from ‘the nature of man,’ thus enjoying vicarious divinity,” or that the State is “the keystone of social integrations.” Adherents of this position have no difficulty in favoring taxation. People in the second group “hold to the primacy of the individual, whose very existence is his claim to inalienable rights”; they believe that “in the compulsory collection of dues and charges the state is merely exercising power, without regard to morals.” Chodorov unhesitatingly placed himself in this second group:
If we assume that the individual has an indisputable right to life, we must concede that he has a similar right to the enjoyment of the products of his labor. This we call a property right. The absolute right to property follows from the original right to life because one without the other is meaningless; the means to life must be identified with life itself. If the state has a prior right to the products of one’s labor, his right to existence is qualified … no such prior rights can be established, except by declaring the state the author of all rights…. We object to the taking of our property by organized society just as we do when a single unit of society commits the act. In the latter case we unhesitatingly call the act robbery, a malum in se. It is not the law which in the first instance defines robbery, it is an ethical principle, and this the law may violate but not supersede. If by the necessity of living we acquiesce to the force of law, if by long custom we lose sight of the immorality, has the principle been obliterated? Robbery is robbery, and no amount of words can make it anything else.3
The idea that taxes are simply a payment for social services rendered received only scorn from Chodorov:
Taxation for social services hints at an equitable trade. It suggests a quid pro quo, a relationship of justice. But the essential condition of trade, that it be carried on willingly, is absent from taxation; its very use of compulsion removes taxation from the field of commerce and puts it squarely into the field of politics. Taxes cannot be compared to dues paid to a voluntary organization for such services as one expects from membership, because the choice of withdrawal does not exist. In refusing to trade one may deny oneself a profit, but the only alternative to paying taxes is jail. The suggestion of equity in taxation is spurious. If we get anything for the taxes we pay it is not because we want it; it is forced on us.4
On the “ability to pay” principle of taxation, Chodorov acidly noted: “What is it but the highwayman’s rule of taking where the taking is best?” He concluded trenchantly: “There cannot be a good tax or a just one; every tax rests its case on compulsion.5
Or take another headline that screamed at me from Chodorov’s analysis: DON’T BUY BONDS!
In an age in which government savings bonds were being universally sold as a badge of patriotism, this too came as a shock. In the article, Chodorov concentrated on the basic immorality, not simply the fiscal shakiness of the federal tax-and-bond paying process.
It is typical of Frank Chodorov that his consistency, his very presence exposed the far more numerous “free-enterprise” groups for the time servers or even charlatans that they tended to be.
While other conservative groups called for a lessening of the tax burden, Chodorov called for its abolition; while others warned of the increasing burden of the public debt, Chodorov alone—and magnificently—called for its repudiation as the only moral course. For if the public debt is burdensome and immoral, then outright repudiation is the best and most moral way of getting rid of it. If the bondholders, as seemed clear, were living coercively off the taxpayer, then this legalized expropriation would have to be ended as quickly as possible. Repudiation, Chodorov wrote, “can have a salutary effect on the economy of the country, since the lessening of the tax burden leaves the citizenry more to do with. The marketplace becomes to that extent healthier and more vigorous.” Furthermore, “Repudiation commends itself also because it weakens faith in the State. Until the act is forgotten by subsequent generations, the State’s promises find few believers; its credit is shattered.”6
As for the argument that buying bonds is the public’s patriotic expression of support for fighting a war, Chodorov retorted that the true patriot would give, not lend, money to the war effort.
As a disciple of Albert Jay Nock and thus an uncompromising and consistent opponent of State power and privilege, Frank Chodorov was keenly aware of the gulf between himself and the run-of-the-mill free-enterprise and antisocialist groups. He pinpointed the difference brilliantly in his “Socialism by Default”:
The cause of private property has been championed by men who had no interest in it; their main concern has always been with the institution of privilege which has grown up alongside private property. They start by defining private property as anything that can be got by law; hence, they put their cunning to the control of the lawmaking machinery, so that the emerging laws enable them to profit at the expense of producers. They talk about the benefits of competition and work toward monopolistic practices. They extol individual initiative and support legal limitations on individuals who might challenge their ascendancy. In short, they are for the State, the enemy of private property, because they profit by its schemes. Their only objection to the State is its inclination to invade their privileged position or to extend privileges to other groups.7
Specifically, Chodorov pointed out that if the “free-enterprise” groups sincerely favored freedom, they would call for the abolition of tariffs, import quotas, government manipulation of money, subsidies to railroads, airlines and shippers, and farm price supports. The only subsidies which these groups will attack, he added, are those “which cannot be capitalized” into the value of corporate stocks, such as handouts to veterans or the unemployed. Neither do they oppose taxation; for one thing, government bondholders cannot attack the income tax, and for another, the liquor interests oppose the abolition of taxes on stills because then “every farmer could open a distillery.” And, above all, “militarism is undoubtedly the greatest waste of all, besides being the greatest threat to the freedom of the individual, and yet it is rather condoned than opposed by those whose hearts bleed for freedom, according to their literature.”8
It was largely through Chodorov and analysis that I discovered Nock, Garrett, Mencken, and the other giants of libertarian thought. In fact, it was Chodorov who gave this young and eager author his first chance to break into print—apart from letters to the press—in a delighted review of H.L. Mencken’s Chrestomathy in the August 1949 issue of analysis. It was also my first discovery of Mencken, and I was dazzled permanently by his brilliant style and wit; and I spent many months devouring as much of H.L.M. as I could get my hands on. And as a result of my article, I began to review books for Chodorov for some months to come.
The winter of 1949–50, in fact, witnessed the two most exciting and shattering intellectual events of my life: my discovery of “Austrian” economics, and my conversion to individualist anarchism.
I had gone through Columbia College and to Columbia’s graduate school in economics, passing my PhD orals in the spring of 1948, and not once had I heard of Austrian economics, except as something that had been integrated into the main body of economics by Alfred Marshall sixty years before. But I discovered at FEE that Ludwig von Mises, whom I had heard of only as contending that socialism could not calculate economically, was teaching a continuing open seminar at New York University. I began to sit in on the seminar weekly, and the group became a kind of informal meeting ground for free-market-oriented people in New York City.
I had also heard that Mises had written a book covering “everything” in economics, and when his Human Action was published that fall it came as a genuine revelation. While I had always enjoyed economics, I had never been able to find a comfortable home in economic theory: I tended to agree with institutionalist critiques of Keynesians and mathematicians, but also with the latter’s critiques of the institutionalists. No positive system seemed to make sense or to hang together. But in Mises’s Human Action I found economics as a superb architectonic, a mighty edifice with each building block related to and integrated with every other. Upon reading it, I became a dedicated “Austrian” and Misesian, and I read as much Austrian economics as I could find.
While I was an economist and had now found a home in Austrian theory, my basic motivation for being a libertarian had never been economic but moral. It is all too true that the disease of most economists is to think solely in terms of a phantom “efficiency,” and to believe that they can then make political pronouncements as pure value-free social technicians, divorced from ethics and the moral realm. While I was convinced that the free market was more efficient and would bring about a far more prosperous world than statism, my major concern was moral: the insight that coercion and aggression of one man over another was criminal and iniquitous, and must be combated and abolished.
My conversion to anarchism was a simple exercise in logic. I had engaged continually in friendly arguments about laissez-faire with left-liberal friends from graduate school. While condemning taxation, I had still felt that taxation was required for the provision of police and judicial protection and for that only. One night two friends and I had one of our usual lengthy discussions, seemingly unprofitable; but this time when they’d left, I felt that for once something vital had actually been said. As I thought back on the discussion, I realized that my friends, as liberals, had posed the following challenge to my laissez-faire position:
They: What is the legitimate basis for your laissez-faire government, for this political entity confined solely to defending person and property?
I: Well, the people get together and decide to establish such a government.
They: But if “the people” can do that, why can’t they do exactly the same thing and get together to choose a government that will build steel plants, dams, etc.?
I realized in a flash that their logic was impeccable, that laissez-faire was logically untenable, and that either I had to become a liberal, or move onward into anarchism. I became an anarchist.
Furthermore, I saw the total incompatibility of the insights of Oppenheimer and Nock on the nature of the State as conquest, with the vague “social contract” basis that I had been postulating for a laissez-faire government. I saw that the only genuine contract had to be an individual’s specifically disposing of or using his own property.
Naturally, the anarchism I had adopted was individualist and free-market, a logical extension of laissez-faire, and not the woolly communalism that marked most of contemporary anarchist thought.
On top of Mencken and Austrian economics, I now began to devour all the individualist anarchist literature I could dig up—fortunately as a New Yorker I was close to two of the best anarchist collections in the country, at Columbia and the New York Public Library. I raced through the sources not simply for scholarly interest but also to help me define my own ideological position. I was enchanted particularly with Benjamin R. Tucker’s Liberty, the great individualist anarchist magazine published for nearly three decades in the latter part of the nineteenth century. I was particularly delighted by Tucker’s incisive logic, his clear and lucid style, and his ruthless dissection of numerous “deviations” from his particular line. And Lysander Spooner, the anarchist constitutional lawyer and associate of Tucker, enchanted me by his brilliant insight into the nature of the State, his devotion to morality and justice, and his couching of anarchistic invective in a delightful legal style.
Spooner’s Letter to Grover Cleveland I discovered to be one of the greatest demolitions of statism ever written.9 And for my own personal development, I found the following passage in Spooner’s No Treason decisive in confirming and permanently fixing my hatred of the State. I was convinced that no one could read these beautifully clear lines on the nature of the State and remain unshaken:
The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.
The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account, and it is far more dastardly and shameful.
The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travelers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.10
Anarchism, in fact, was in the air in our little movement in those days. My friend and fellow Mises student, Richard Cornuelle, younger brother of Herb, was my first, and willing, convert. Anarchist ferment was also brewing at no less a place than FEE. Ellis Lamborn, one of the staff members, was openly referring to himself as an “anarchist,” and Dick smilingly reported from his own stay at FEE that he was “having increasing difficulty in coping with the anarchist’s arguments.” Dick also delightedly reported that, amidst a lengthy discussion about what name to call this newly found pure-libertarian creed—”libertarian,” “voluntaryist,” “individualist,” “true liberal,” etc.—this pioneering staff member cut in, with his midwestern twang: “Hell, ‘anarchist’ is good enough for me.”
Another leading staff member, F.A. Harper, on one of my visits to Irvington, softly pulled a copy of Tolstoy’s The Law of Love and the Law of Violence from under his desk, and thereby introduced me to the absolute pacifist variant of anarchism. Indeed, it was rumored that almost the entire staff of FEE had become anarchists by this time, with the exception of Mr. Read himself—and that even he was teetering on the brink. The closest Read ever came publicly to the brink was in his pamphlet Students of Liberty, written in 1950. After expounding on the necessity of keeping the violence of government strictly limited to defense of person and property, Read confessed that even these proposed limits left him with two telling questions to which he had not been able to find satisfactory answers.
“[C]an violence be instituted, regardless of how official or how limited in intention, without begetting violence outside officialdom and beyond the prescribed limitation?”
“Is not limitation of government, except for relatively short periods, impossible? Will not the predatory instincts of some men, which government is designed to suppress, eventually appear in the agents selected to do the suppressing? These instincts, perhaps, are inseparable companions of power…. If there be criminals among us, what is to keep them from gaining and using the power of government?”11
It is scarcely a coincidence, in fact, that the Tolstoyan influence, the contrasting of the “law of love” with the “law of violence” that constitutes government, appears as a leitmotif throughout the essay.12
The libertarian idyll at FEE came abruptly to an end in 1954, with the publication of Leonard Read’s booklet Government—An Ideal Concept. The book sent shockwaves reverberating through libertarian circles, for with this work Read moved decisively back into the progovernment camp. Read had abandoned the leadership of the anarchocapitalist camp, which could have been his for the asking, in order to take up the cudgels for the Old Order.
Before the publication of this book, not one of the numerous essays from FEE had ever said a single word in praise of government; all of their thrust had been in opposition to illegitimate government action. While anarchism had never been explicitly advocated, all of FEE’s material had been consistent with an anarchist ideal, because FEE had never positively advocated government or declared that it was a noble ideal. But now that tradition had been liquidated.
Numerous letters and lengthy manuscripts poured into FEE in protest from anarchist friends across the country. But Read was unheeding;13 among the anarchists, the cry went up that Leonard had literally “sold out,” and gossip had it that a major factor in Leonard’s backsliding was an objective and thorough report on FEE by an organization that studied and summed up institutes and foundations for potential business contributors. The outfit had cogently called FEE a “Tory anarchist” or “right-wing anarchist” organization, and the rumor was that Leonard was reacting in fear of the effect of the “anarchist” label on the tender sensibilities of FEE’s wealthy contributors.
FEE’s publication of Read’s book also had a long-lasting impact on the productivity and scholarship at FEE. For until this point, one of the working rules had been that nothing got published under FEE’s imprint except with the unanimous consent of the staff—thus insuring that the Tolstoyan concern for individual conscience would be preserved as opposed to its suppression and misrepresentation by any social organization. But here, despite heavy and virtually unanimous staff opposition, Read had highhandedly broken this social compact and had gone ahead and published his praise of government under FEE’s imprimatur. It was this attitude that launched a slow, but long and steady decline of FEE as a center of libertarian productivity and research, as well as an exodus from FEE of all its best talents, led by F.A. Harper. Read had pledged to Harper at the start of FEE in 1946 that the organization would become an institute or think tank of advanced libertarian study. These hopes had now gone a-glimmering, though Read was later to deny his failure by serenely calling FEE a designed “high school of liberty.”
The winter of 1949–50 was indeed a momentous one for me, and not only because I was converted to anarchism and Austrian economics. My adoption of Austrianism and my attendance at Mises’s seminar was to determine the course of my career for many years to come. Herb Cornuelle, now of the William Volker Fund, suggested in the fall of 1949 that I write a college textbook boiling down Mises’s Human Action into a form suitable for students. Since Mises didn’t know of me at the time, he suggested that I write a sample chapter; I did a chapter on money during the winter, and Mises’s approval led the Volker Fund to give me a multi-year grant for an Austrian textbook—a project which eventually snowballed into a large-scale treatise on Austrian economics, Man, Economy, and State, on which I began to work in early 1952. Thus began my association with the William Volker Fund, which continued for a decade, and included consulting work for the fund as a reviewer and analyst of books, journals, and manuscripts.
Indeed as FEE slipped from its high promise of productivity and scholarship, the Volker Fund began to take up the slack. Herb Cornuelle soon left the Fund to launch a brilliant career in top industrial management—a gain to industry but a great loss to the libertarian movement. His place at Volker (which by now had moved from Kansas City to Burlingame, California) was taken by his younger brother Dick, and soon other liaison officers were added, as the unique Volker Fund concept took shape. This concept involved not only the subsidizing of conservative and libertarian scholarship—conferences, fellowships, book distributions to libraries, and eventually direct book publishing—but also the granting of funds to individual scholars rather than the usual foundation technique of granting funds en masse to Establishment-type organizations and universities (such as the Social Science Research Council). Granting funds to individuals meant that the Volker Fund had to have a liaison staff far larger than those of other funds many times its comparatively modest size (approximately $17 million).
And so the Volker Fund eventually added Kenneth S. Templeton, Jr., a young historian teaching at Kent School, Connecticut; F.A. Harper, one of the exodus from FEE; Dr. Ivan R. Bierly, a doctoral student of Harper’s at Cornell and later at FEE; and H. George Resch, a recent graduate of Lawrence College and a specialist in World War II revisionism. Working within a framework of old Mr. Volker’s injunction for anonymous philanthropy, the Volker Fund never courted or received much publicity, but its contributions were vital in promoting and bringing together a large body of libertarian, revisionist, and conservative scholarship. In the field of revisionism, the Fund played a role in financing Harry Elmer Barnes’s mammoth project for a series of books on the revisionism of World War II.
By the early 1950s, all this libertarian activity forced mainstream opinion to sit up and take notice. In particular, in 1948 Herb Cornuelle and the William Volker Fund had helped Spiritual Mobilization, a right-wing Los Angeles–based organization headed by the Reverend James W. Fifield, to establish a monthly magazine, Faith and Freedom. Cornuelle installed William Johnson, a libertarian who had been his assistant in the Navy, as editor of the new magazine. Chodorov, who merged his analysis into Human Events in March 1951 and moved to Washington to become an associate editor of the latter publication, began to write a regular column for Faith and Freedom, “Along Pennsylvania Avenue.”
In 1953, the first mainstream recognition of the new libertarian movement appeared, in the form of a vituperative “brown-baiting” book by a young Methodist minister denouncing “extremists” in the Protestant churches. The book, Ralph Lord Roy’s Apostles of Discord: A Study of Organized Bigotry and Disruption on the Fringes of Protestantism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1953), had been a thesis written under the high priest of left-liberalism at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Dr. John C. Bennett. This work was part of a popular genre of the time that might be termed “extremist-baiting,” in which the self-evidently proper and correct “vital center” is defended against extremists of all sorts, but most particularly right-wingers. Thus, Roy, devoting one perfunctory chapter to attacking pro-Communist Protestants, spent the rest of the book on various kinds of right-wingers, whom he divided into two baleful groups: Apostles of Hate, and Apostles of Discord. In the slightly less menacing Ministry of Discord (along with pro-Communists and various rightists) was, in Chapter 12, “God and the ‘Libertarians,'” placed for some reason in quotation marks. But, quotation marks or not, under attack or not, we had at least gained general attention, and I suppose we should have been grateful to be placed in the Discord rather than the Hate category.
Roy denounced the intellectual “façade” of Spiritual Mobilization and its Faith and Freedom, as well as FEE, Nock, and Chodorov. His treatment was fairly accurate, although the Volker Fund managed to elude his notice; however, his inclusion of FEE under Protestantism was highly strained, based only on the fact that Leonard Read was a member of Spiritual Mobilization’s advisory committee. Also attacked in the Roy chapter was Christian Economics (CE), a bimonthly free-market tabloid edited by the veteran Howard E. Kershner, who had set up the Christian Freedom Foundation and begun publishing the CE in 1950. Kershner had been a deputy to Herbert Hoover’s food relief program after World War I, and a long-time friend of his and a fellow Quaker.
Working as columnist in CE’s New York office was long-time economic journalist Percy L. Greaves, Jr., who was becoming a faithful follower of Ludwig von Mises in Mises’s seminar. Before coming to New York to join CE in 1950, Percy had been a leading staffer of the Republican National Committee in Washington, and was the minority counsel to Senator Brewster of Maine, and the Pearl Harbor Congressional investigating committee. This experience made Percy one of the outstanding Pearl Harbor revisionists in the country. Percy was a rare example of someone with both political experience and interest in economic scholarship. While still in Washington in 1950, he thought seriously of running for US Senate from Maryland in the Republican primary. Since that turned out to be the year in which the seemingly impregnable Senator Millard E. Tydings lost to the unknown John Marshall Butler because of Joe McCarthy’s battle against him, Percy could well have become Senator that year instead of Butler. As a result, and because of his general demeanor, our group in the Mises seminar affectionately referred to Percy as “the Senator.”
THE BETRAYAL OF THE AMERICAN RIGHT
One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, “our side,” had captured a crucial word from the enemy. Other words, such as “liberal,” had been originally identified with laissez-faire libertarians, but had been captured by left-wing statists, forcing us in the 1940s to call ourselves rather feebly “true” or “classical” liberals.14
“Libertarians,” in contrast, had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is, for anti–private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over, and more properly from the view of etymology—since we were proponents of individual liberty and therefore of the individual’s right to his property.
Some libertarians, such as Frank Chodorov, continued to prefer the word “individualist.” Indeed, what Frank thought of as his major legacy to the cause, was his founding of an educational Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. Frank devoted a special October 1950 issue of analysis to “A Fifty-Year Project” to take back intellectual life from the predominant statism in America. Chodorov attributed the “transmutation of the American character from individualist to collectivist” to such turn of the twentieth century organizations as the Intercollegiate Socialist Society; what was needed was an antipode to educate and take back college youth, the future of the country. Chodorov reworked his approach in “For Our Children’s Children” to a wider audience in the September 6, 1950 issue of Human Events. As a result the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists was founded in 1953, with the aid of a $1,000 donation from J. Howard Pew of Sun Oil, in those days the leading contributor to Old Right causes, and with the help of the mailing list of FEE. After the first year in Human Events‘s offices, Chodorov moved the headquarters of ISI to the Foundation for Economic Education, when he left Human Events in the summer of 1954 to take up his duties as editor of a new monthly magazine, The Freeman, published by FEE.
This article is from chapter 7 of The Betrayal of the American Right.
- 1. On William Volker, see Herbert C. Cornuelle, “Mr. Anonymous”: The Story of William Volker (Caldwell, Id.: Caxton Printers, 1951).
- 2. Frank Chodorov, Taxation Is Robbery (Chicago: Human Events Associates, 1947), reprinted in Chodorov, Out of Step.
- 3. Chodorov, Out of Step, p. 217.
- 4. Ibid., pp.228–29.
- 5. Ibid., pp. 237, 239.
- 6. Ibid. p. 2.
- 7. Frank Chodorov, One is a Crowd (New York: Devin-Adair, 1952), pp. 93–94.
- 8. Ibid., p. 95.
- 9. Lysander Spooner, A Letter to Grover Cleveland, On His False Inaugural Address, the Usurpations and Crimes of Lawmakers and Judges, and the Consequent Poverty, Ignorance and Servitude of the People (Boston: Benjamin R. Tucker, Publisher, 1886).
- 10. Lysander Spooner, No Treason (Larkspur, Colo.: Pine Tree Press, 1966), p. 17.
- 11. Leonard E. Read, Students of Liberty (Irvington-on-Hudson: Foundation for Economic Education, 1950), p. 14.
- 12. Read’s “On That Day Began Lies,” written around the same period, begins explicitly with a quotation from Tolstoy and is written as a Tolstoyan critique of organizations that repress or violate the consciences of individual members. See “On That Day Began Lies,” Essays on Liberty, vol. I (Irvington-on-Hudson: Foundation for Economic Education, 1952), pp. 231–52.
- 13. One of the protesting manuscripts circulating among libertarians at the time was written by Mr. Mercer Parks. Parks wrote, “To defend the use of coercion to collect any reluctant taxes by contending that government ‘is merely performing its proper role of defending its members’ … is evasively inconsistent with the published beliefs of FEE staff members. So, coercion is no longer coercion, says this essay. But coercion is always coercion if it uses force to make one do something unwillingly. No matter whether the tax is equitable or inequitable, if it is taken from an unwilling person through force or threats of force by government, no matter if it be only one cent, it is secured by the use of coercion.” Mercer H. Parks, “In Support of Limited Government” (unpublished ms, March 5, 1955). A sad commentary on the size and influence of the anarchocapitalists at the time is the fact that such critiques as Parks’s could not be published for lack of any sort of outlet, outside of FEE, for the publication of libertarian writings.
- 14. Another word captured by statists was “monopoly.” From the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, “monopoly” meant simply a grant of exclusive privilege by the State to produce or sell a product. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the word had been transformed into virtually its opposite, coming to mean instead the achievement of a price on the free market that was in some sense “too high.”