Left and Right

The Trouble With Conservatives

I generally criticize the Left more than the Right for three main reasons: 1) fanatical leftism has a very strong grip on much of the anarchist milieu; 2) the Left is a rising force while the Right is a declining force, and 3) a co-opted form of cultural leftism is being incorporated into the self-legitimizing ideology of the ruling class. However, far too many former leftists who become disgusted with SJWs and similar others have embraced all kinds of “right-wing” nonsense, e.g. Trumpism in the mainstream, neo-fascism on the margins, etc. In order to criticize authoritarian leftism, all we need are the historical anarchist critics of such, not Dennis Prager, Dave Rubin, Stefan Molyneaux, or Ben Shapiro and other “leftist to neocon pipelines.”

This article from 40 years ago was a reply to Ernest van den Haag by Ralph Raico. Raico was a classical liberal/libertarian and van den Haag was a former commie turned “right-wing authoritarian” like so many others in William F. Buckley’s circle who changed their political affiliation but not their attitude. This intellectual history is extremely important because it was Buckley’s “commie to reactionary” pipeline that essentially made neoconservatism and therefore figures like George W. Bush possible. This is not to say that there is not much value in the full spectrum of “conservative” or “right-wing” thought. I even wrote a book on such thinkers. But any interests of those kinds should merely be an afterthought that helps “fill the gaps” within the anti-authoritarian paradigm (for example, Carl Schmitt’s analysis of the essence of the state or Edmund Burke’s critique of abstract universalism) in the same way we might borrow selectively from leftist thought (for example, Marx’s class analysis or the Maoist critique of international relations).

By Ralph Raico

This article first appeared in The Libertarian Review for January 1980 under the title “Conservatism on the Run.”

One sign of the increasing visibility and importance of the libertarian movement is that we are coming under increasing attack from our enemies. Last spring, for instance, we were attacked editorially in the left-liberal Catholic magazine, Commonweal; and The Nation magazine, another left-wing publication, devoted a two-part article criticizing the growing influence of libertarian ideas, in particular as presented in Inquiry magazine.

But the most concerted assault to date has come not from the left, but from the right. The October 27 issue of Human Events had an attack by Joseph L. Gentili which relied heavily on National Review’s June 8 issue. In that issue, National Review dedicated not one but two cover articles to an attempt to demolish the Cato Institute, Inquiry magazine, and Libertarian Review. One was by Ernest van den Haag — a Manhattan lay-analyst; the other was by a certain Lawrence V. Cott. In the issue of August 3 there was a follow-up from many of our friends, and a response from van den Haag. I would like to use this particular conservative attack on us as an illuminating example of what is wrong with conservatism.

First of all, as to what motivated the attack. It’s obvious, of course, that it was the result of a top-level strategic decision at National Review. To my mind, it’s equally clear — and not a little gratifying — that that means they’re scared. As van den Haag says, “the libertarian ideology, [which] was once regarded as a crank nostrum, is becoming a fad.” He also complains, significantly, that “some conservatives feel that libertarianism deserves support.” What evidently worries him and other conservatives is that our philosophy is beginning to exert a strong attraction both on business people and on students and young people who may start out as conservatives.


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