Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Fifty Year Project--A Retrospective

Frank Chodorov suggested in "A Fifty Year Project" (analysis, October, 1950, reprinted in his Out of Step: The Autobiography of An Individualist (New York: Devin-Adair, 1962. 261 pp.) that libertarians

have the most challenging opportunity in education before them. It will not be an easy or quick job. It will require the kind of industry, intelligence and patience that comes with devotion to an ideal. And the only reward they can hope for is that by the end of the century the socialization of the American character will have been undone. It is, in short, a fifty-year project.

Perhaps the job should be begun by going after the pre-adolescent mind, even in the kindergarten grade. The socialists, it may be recalled, did not neglect to turn nursery rhymes to their use, and since the advent of the comic strip, the communists (or advanced socialists) have employed this medium of indoctrination. But, that is a specialized effort that could be well deferred until the college mind, the mind that will soon enter the active arena, is taken care of. The assault must begin on the campus.

Assault is the proper word, and the proper attitude, for the proposed job. The possibility of winning over the faculty might well be dismissed, simply because the faculty is largely beyond redemption; it is both the cause and the effect of the conditions that is to be corrected. The professor is by and large a product of the socialistic clubs and socialistic education of the 1920's and 30's, and thus is committed to perpetuate that line. Here and there an atavism will be found, and it will be welcomed, but the safe thing to do is to write off the faculty. That tactic, moreover, will find favor with the students, aprticularly those endowed with the gift of intellectual curiosity; to be able to controvert the dicta of the professor is always a sophomoric delight. To win the student over to the idea of individualism it is necessary to equip him with doubts regarding the collectivistic doctrines insinuated in the lecture rooms, or the text books. If the suggested undertaking should apply itself to a refutation of the "adopted" texts, especially in the fields of economics and government, a veritable revolution could be started on the campus; socialism is replete with dictates unsupported by empiric data, and therefore lends itself to easy refutation.

The apparatus for initiating the project suggests itself. It would consist of a lecture bureau manned by a secretariat and a corps of competent lecturers. The business of the bureau would be to arrange for lectures on the campus.

The lecturers--who might also be organizers, though this is not necessary, since the students interested in the subject would organize themselves--would have to be acquainted with socialistic theory, so as to point out its fallacies. Whatever the subject matter of the lecture, the doctrine of the primacy of the individual must be emphasized, thus the student will be presented with a point of view not met within his text book and will be able to challenge the text and its professorial protagonist.

However, it is unnecessary in throwing out the idea to detail an entire program. Once started, the project would develop momentum of its own; the students will see to that themselves. It might be suggested that the lectures be followed, or preceded by the organization of Individualistic Clubs, and that intercollegiate affiliation be instituted. Prizes for essays on individualism would do much to stimulate thought, and a publication offering an outlet for articles would be necessary. Out of such activities would come an esprit de corps, based on the understanding and enthusiasm of a "new" idea. The individualist would become the campus radical, just as the socialist was forty years ago, and the halo of intellectualism would descend on his brow.

Is the effort worth while? To which one could offer as answer another question: What in life is more worth while than the pursuit of an ideal?

Now that we are past the half-century mark offered by Chodorov, it is, perhaps, time to make an evaluation of our progress.

The first to take up Chodorov's cudgel were Leonard Read's Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), Chodorov's own Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (ISI) and Robert LeFevre's Freedom School. Each of these have continued along their own ways. I've lopped off discussions of a number of other groups here (Institute for Humane Studies, John Birch Society, Liberty Amendment Committee, etc.), partly because it would run my discussion too far afield.)

FEE has maintained a long-standing project to publish both established libertarian intellectuals and new thinkers and writers within libertarian circles with the periodical, The Freeman, and their lecture markets, providing an international audience for these thinkers, in addition to publishing the books written by Leonard Read, who promoted limited government laissez-faire within FEE, and others.

ISI morphed over the years into the Intercollegiate Studies Institute with an emphasis on a more conservative effort founded upon the ideas of Burke, Kirk, and the like through Modern Age and other publications and books which they supported. Taking their cue from traditionalist values, while allowing libertarians to be occasionally published, their concern has primarily been that of a support for local government/states rights position.

The Freedom School, with the efforts of a dynamic speaker and writer, the pacifist and antipolitical free market anarchist Robert LeFevre, developed courses and writings for young libertarian minds who would attend the school in Colorado (later moved to California after changing the name to Rampart College). Publishing numerous pamphlets and periodicals, including the highly regarded, but difficult-to-find, Rampart Journal, as well as writing for R.C. Hoiles' Freedom Chain newspapers, the lecturers (including Rose Wilder Lane and James J. Martin) and graduates remain some of the most important libertarian intellectuals of today.

During the early 1960's, new organizations were coming to the fore, the most important were the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI) and the Free Enterprise Institute (FEI). An entirely new group of young libertarian radicals came from these, with rather different approaches.

NBI, with the novelist Ayn Rand's approval, was Rand's outlet for espousing her philosophy of objectivism (and promoting her nonfiction, as well as her fiction). Primarily based in New York, NBI supplied lectures, periodicals and opinions which students were expected to adhere to, with little or no dissent from the heavily-structured belief system that Rand, Branden (both Nathaniel and Barbara) and others presented in the classes. Objectivists were strident in their advocacy of laissez-faire than others and purged numerous groups within and opposed other libertarians who differed in any respect from Rand. It has grown and expanded under the auspices of several post-NBI organizations and individuals with some differentiation between each group.

Andrew Galambos' Free Enterprise Institute based in the Los Angeles/Orange County, CA area provided a wide range of courses on an antipolitical free market anarchist philosophy developed by Galambos with suggestions from Al Lowi, Spencer H. MacCallum (and his grandfather, Spencer Heath), Jay S. Snelson and others. Expanding upon his unique approach toward intellectual property, his students often moved in more creative directions than many of the other groups. Volitional Science was Galambos' expression for the scientific principles underlying all aspects of his approach.

By the late 1960's and 1970's, organizational efforts had come in many new and unusual directions, from the brilliant writings of Murray Rothbard, the creation of the Society for Individual Liberty (SIL--later the International Society for Individual Liberty, ISIL), Cato Institute, the beginning of many of Antony Fisher's efforts creating classical liberal/libertarian organizations throughout the world, and political strategies culminating in the Libertarian Party.

During the 1980's through the turn of the century, we have seen many of the institutes and foundations working together through the Atlas Foundation, more student organizations than one can count, libertarian intellectuals producing papers and books which are gradually transforming every school of thought, if not by allowing an evolutionary process of changing the emphasis toward individualism and freedom, then by providing trenchant critiques of long-assumed beliefs of statist/socialist thinking which beginning and graduate students must consider when working within their own specialties.

An event which could not have been predicted was the growing reliance of the internet in allocating intellectual ideas, one which many libertarians have taken to with great alacrity. Here, libertarian ideas permeate and percolate with increasing enthusiasm. Indeed, it is almost impossible not to confront libertarian ideas and suggestions for further usage and innovation.

Looking back over the past fifty years, I would think that Chodorov would be surprised, and very pleased at what has occurred.

Now we are at the beginning of a new century. What are the directions that liberty is going to move? Which are the new battles to be fought and where is the new assault going to be made?

Any thoughts?

Addendum (from my original post in the Liberty & Power Blog:

I glossed through a lot here, nearly all of which should be considered in greater detail. William F. Buckley’s influence has been tragic in more ways than just ISI, nor do I consider ISI his (and other anticommunists’) most egregious action. He was a “Charlie Koch” gone wrong, willing to put his personal wealth behind projects during the 50’s and has remained, since then, a figure which one cannot ignore in looking at the history of the American right wing.

There was no “New Right” until the next decade. The American Right-wing of the 1950’s was comprised of a motley crew of FDR opponents, ex-commies and other anticommunists of various stripes. Their commingling was always uncomfortable for each of the groups and was disrupted constantly over foreign policy matters.

Isolationism, or perhaps rather anti-imperialism, was sneered at by ex-commies (mostly trots—James Burnham and William Schlamm come immediately to mind--who morphed into today's neocons) and the military adventurism of the anticommunists was looked at in horror (rightly so, in our opinion) by the libertarian elements. In a lot of groups (such as the John Birch Society), libertarians were purged and kicked out of managerial positions.

With ISI, there were libertarians left in mid-level positions if none were then in control. Also, with ISI, the new emphasis on social conservatism was not all that uncomfortable with libertarians, and it appeared to many that Burkean conservatism (led largely by Russell Kirk) were going to change the direction of the anticommie trots inward, away from foreign adventurism and toward an emphasis on personal lifestyles which would reflect more upon the local community and minimal involvement on a federal level.

As an addendum, I was invited into some of the leadership training at ISI by other libertarians within the organization. Much of it was standard stuff—writing letters to newspapers, talking up matters in public, etc., etc., but it provided some good experiences for a young libertarian at the time (late 60’s, early 70’s). My interests, however, were toward a more libertarian stance, and became involved with Rampart College, Invictus (an early anarchocapitalist/objectivist periodical in Los Angeles edited by Louis Rollins), Ed Butler’s Square Movement, CLA (California Libertarian Alliance, led by Dana Rohrabacher and Shawn Steele, which had splintered off from YAF and later merged with), SRI (the objectivist Students for a Rational Individualism, which later merged with), SIL (Society for Individual Liberty which is now ISIL). Libertarians were always involved in one group or another (or three) at that time!

Since then, we’ve learned that this paleoconservatism (at ISI, The Federalist Society, etc.), rather than dominating neocon thought, has splintered off and broken away from the neocon dominance in right-wing institutions, toward some fairly weak alliances with Rockwellian paleolibertarians. The Kirk/Burke apologia has been used by neocons as window-dressing more than I care to admit. Still makes their machinations more palatable to the general public and their money people.

Anyway, back to Buckley. His greatest influence has been through National Review (NR) and his books. NR is not as original as claimed today. If you compare early NR issues with the pre-FEE The Freeman, you will see that the format is the same, the writing style is the same and many of the same writers came aboard. Buckley’s NR gradually purged out libertarians (Isabel Paterson may have been the last, and the only reason Buckley wanted her was that she was a great writer) and kept the social conservatives and anticommie trots, all of whom were more to his liking, although distinct from his personal lifestyle. NR was the big fish in a small pond. With Buckley’s financing and connections, both personal and political, there was no periodical on the Right which held the attraction to intellectuals of all stripes than National Review. It may have been hated in more than a few circles, but it could not be ignored.

With NR as a springboard, Buckley would continue on as a television commentator and candidate in New York City for Mayor. There may be no other figure of the American Right as well known in both national and international circles as Buckley has become.

Chodorov and other libertarians did look at Buckley as their ally (“The enemy of our enemy is our friend”). Not true, as we have learned. We get to learn stuff over time. Even libertarians do. A half-century before, at the turn of the previous century, libertarians had active and successful alliances with all sorts of socialists as “fellow-travelers,” but, fortunately, we learned. And we learned from this experience as well. Not every libertarian has, though, and some still subscribe to an attachment to the military adventurism of our day, following the old ghosts of libertarians past into right-wing fantasies of power.

Just Ken
CLASSical Liberal


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