[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
In his 1967 book Containment and Change, New Left leader and former SDS president Carl Oglesby (about whom I’ve blogged previously) wrote the following still all-too-timely passage. (If it sounds a bit like Rothbard, well, Rothbard’s Transformation of the American Right shows up in the footnotes.)
The corporate state has effective control of key elements of the communications system, exclusive control of the primary ganglia of political and economic power, and access to a matured nationalist ideology pregnant with violence and capable of justifying any reasonably sophisticated or adroit authoritarian action against organized dissent. … [T]he central feature of the fascist state is the political alliance or identity of big government and big business, and the power of such an alliance to work its will without significant restraints ….
The one and only basic question which Americans now have to ask themselves is whether or not they want to be politically free. … The superstate … may give of its bounty to those who will ritually humble themselves before it. But the state cannot give political freedom. It is neither in the nature of the state that it can give political freedom nor in the nature of political freedom that it can be given. Political freedom is not a license to be purchased or petitioned from a higher power. …
This central question is not clarified, it is obscured, by our common political categories of left, right, and center; it is not clarified, it is obscured, by the traditional American debate about socialism versus capitalism versus the Keynesian mixed economy. The socialist radical, the corporatist conservative, and the welfare-state liberal are all equally capable of leading us forward into the totalized society. Whether central planning should be conducted by government or corporate hands is a question whose realism has disappeared. The urgent question is about the locus of power in the community: Is it in the state or is it in the people? And in our American time, our American place, the main principle of the radically humanist politics is this: Any decision not made by the people in free association, whatever the content of that decision, cannot be good. … The primary task of the humanist is to describe and help to realize those political acts through which the power of the central authoritarian monolith can be broken and the political life of man reconstituted on the base of the associational, democratic, nonexclusive community. …
This is not merely a leftist’s challenge to other leftists. As much as it is in the grain of American democratic populism, it is also in the grain of the American libertarian right.
The right wing in America is presently in a state of almost eerie spiritual disarray. Under one and the same banner, joining the John Birch Society, out on the rifle range with the Minutemen, chuckling through the pages of the National Review, the conservative right wing of imperialist, authoritarian, and even monarchist disposition enjoys the fraternity of the libertarian right wing of laissez faire, free-market individualism. These two groupings could not possibly have less in common. Why have the libertarians conceded leadership to the conservatives? Why have the traditional opponents of big, militarized, central authoritarian government now joined forces with such a government’s boldest advocates?
They have done so because they have been persuaded that there is a clear and present danger that necessitates a temporary excursion from final values. They should know better. They should know that for the totalitarian imperialists there is always a clear and present danger, that it is pre-eminently through the ideology of the Foreign Threat, the myth of the tiger at the gates, that frontier and global imperialism and domestic authoritarianism have always rationalized themselves. …
It would be a piece of great good fortune for America and the world if the libertarian right could be reminded that besides the debased Republicanism of the Knowlands and the Judds there is another tradition available to them – their own: the tradition of Congressman Howard Buffett, Senator Taft’s midwestern campaign manager in 1952, who attacked the Truman Doctrine with the words: “Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns. … We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.” There is the right of Frank Chodorov, whose response to the domestic Red Menace was abruptly to the point: “The way to get rid of communists in government jobs is to abolish the jobs.” And of Dean Russell, who wrote in 1955: “Those who advocate the ‘temporary loss’ of our freedom in order to preserve it permanently are advocating only one thing: the abolition of liberty. … We are rapidly becoming a caricature of the thing we profess to hate.” Most engaging, there is the right of the tough-minded Garet Garrett, who produced in 1952 a short analysis of the totalitarian impulse of imperialism which the events of the intervening years have reverified over and again. Beginning with the words, “We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire,” Garrett’s pamphlet unerringly names the features of the imperial pathology: dominance of the national executive over Congress; subordination of domestic policy to foreign policy; ascendency of the military influence; the creation of political and military satellites; a complex of arrogance and fearfulness toward the “barbarian” and, most insidiously, casting off the national identity for an internationalist and “historic” identity – the republic is free; the empire is history’s hostage.
This style of political thought, rootedly American, is carried forward today by the Negro freedom movement and the student movement against Great Society-Free World imperialism. That these movements are called leftist means nothing. They are of the grain of American humanist individualism and voluntaristic associational action; and it is only through them that the libertarian tradition is activated and kept alive. In a strong sense, the Old Right and the New Left are morally and politically coordinate.
Yet their intersection can be missed. Their potentially redemptive union can go unattempted and unmade. On both sides, vision can be cut off by habituated responses to passé labels. The New Left can lose itself in the imported left-wing debates of the thirties, wondering what it ought to say about technocracy and Stalin. The libertarian right can remain hypnotically charmed by the authoritarian imperialists whose only ultimate love is Power, the subhuman brown-shirted power of the jingo state militant, the state rampant, the iron state possessed of its own clanking glory. If this happens, if the new realities are not penetrated and a fundamental ideological rearrangement does not take place, then this new political humanism which has shown its courage from Lowndes County to Berkeley will no doubt prove unworthy of more than a footnote in the scavenger histories of our time. And someone will finally have to make the observation that the American dream did not come true, that maybe it was quite an idle dream after all and the people never really had a chance. The superstate will glide onward in its steel and vinyl splendor, tagging and numbering us with its scientific tests, conscripting us with its computers, swaggering through exotic graveyards which it filled and where it dares to lay wreaths, smug in the ruins of its old-fashioned, man-centered promises to itself.