by Charles Curley
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
On January 2, 2023, Lew Rockwell published a piece entitled The True Right. Conservatives (and others) have been haggling over what term “right wing” (or “conservative” or any number of other terms) really means.
Of course one could be like Humpty Dumpty (or Ayn Rand) and say that words mean whatever one wants them to mean. But that won’t do, not at all. The Internet works because the people who write the software underpinning it agree on a common set of standards. If I send you an Internet Protocol (IP) packet, you should be able to use it — if we have software that agrees on how to use that packet. Similarly, language only works if the “packets” — words — mean the same to everyone.
Which is why I have problems with Rockwell’s first sentence.
Politics is a struggle between the Right and the Left.
Really? The terms Right and Left came from the Estates General, the French legislature, called into session just prior to the French Revolution. The nobility, who tended to support the statist quo, sat to the Speaker’s right. The peasants, who tended to be in favor of changes, sat to the speaker’s left. By those admittedly rather fuzzy criteria, today libertarians would sit on the Speaker’s left (if they showed up at all), and the people we call leftists would sit on the Speaker’s right.
As David Nolan demonstrated with his Nolan Chart, the terms “Left” and “Right” aren’t very useful anyway. To paraphrase an old aphorism, two dimensions are better than one. Would Russell Kirk be comfortable sitting with Donald Trump?
There is a struggle, an age-old struggle. Murray Rothbard saw it as a struggle between liberty and the State. I prefer to frame it as the productive class versus the parasite class. C.S. Lewis fans (and likely other religious folk) might see it as a struggle between Heaven and Hell for the souls of people. These are different ways of describing the same struggle.
So when Rockwell goes on to say
Is there a unifying theme that explains where we are coming from? I believe that there is. It is belief in the free market and a noninterventionist foreign policy. This was the basis of the Old Right, which flourished before World War II but was sabotaged by the CIA agent William F. Buckley, Jr. It is the basis of the policies of the greatest person to serve in Congress in the twentieth century, Dr. Ron Paul, and the movement he inaugurated. Dr. Paul put into practice the ideas of the greatest theorist of the free society, Murray Rothbard.
he is talking about policies, not fundamental concepts. But it is fundamental concepts that drive policy, not policy that drives fundamental concepts.
Don’t get me wrong: this is a good essay, a very useful essay. There is some excellent history here, and some excellent connections. But Rockwell’s essay leaves me unsatisfied.
Part of his program is peace, that the US should no longer “go[…] abroad in search of monsters to destroy” (as John Quincy Adams once urged). But why is peace a good thing?
Another part of his program is free markets. But Rockwell never says why free markets are a good thing.
Similarly for property.
But, as the North Carolina Constitution and Washington Constitution, inter alia, remind us, “A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is essential to the security of individual right and the perpetuity of free government[.]” and, indeed, “absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty.”
Why those are good things is a question that Rothbard and Mises (whom Rockwell cites favorably) have gone to great efforts to answer. Others, not least L. Neil Smith, have tackled those questions. So I shan’t attempt to do so here. But the answers are to be found in fundamental principles.
Without fundamental principles, we are in danger of losing our places in the world. They are our anchors, and if we don’t see to our anchors, we may drag them, to our wreck and ruin. They are our masts, that hold up our yardarms and sails, so that we may at need claw our way off a lee shore.
Never forget that.
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