Old Right (United States)
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in the United States
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The Old Right is a branch of American conservatism that was most active in the early 20th century and opposed both New Deal domestic programs of the 1930s and U.S. entry into World War I and World War II.
Many members of this faction were associated with the Republicans of the interwar years led by Robert Taft and Herbert Hoover. Some were Democrats. They were called the "Old Right" to distinguish them from their New Right successors, such as Barry Goldwater, who came to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s and favored an interventionist foreign policy to battle international communism. Many members of the Old Right favored laissez-faire classical liberalism; some were business-oriented conservatives; others were ex-radicals who moved sharply to the right, like the novelist John Dos Passos; still others, like the Southern Agrarians, were traditionalists who dreamed of restoring a premodern communal society. The Old Right's devotion to anti-imperialism were at odds with the spreading of progressive culture and global democracy, the top-down transformation of local heritage, social and institutional engineering of the political Left and even some from the modern Right-wing. The "Old Right" was unified by their opposition to what they saw as the danger of domestic dictatorship by President Franklin Roosevelt. Most were unified by their defense of natural inequalities, tradition, limited government, and anti-imperialism, as well as their skepticism of democracy and the growing power of Washington.
Historian George H. Nash argues:
- Unlike the "moderate," internationalist, largely eastern bloc of Republicans who accepted (or at least acquiesced in) some of the "Roosevelt Revolution" and the essential premises of President Truman's foreign policy, the Republican Right at heart was counterrevolutionary. Anticollectivist, anti-Communist, anti-New Deal, passionately committed to limited government, free market economics, and congressional (as opposed to executive) prerogatives, the G.O.P. conservatives were obliged from the start to wage a constant two-front war: against liberal Democrats from without and "me-too" Republicans from within.
The Old Right emerged in opposition to the New Deal and FDR personally; it drew from multiple sources. Hoff says, "moderate Republicans and leftover Republican Progressives like Hoover composed the bulk of the Old Right by 1940, with a sprinkling of former members of the Farmer-Labor party, Non-Partisan League, and even a few midwestern prairie Socialists."
By 1937 they formed a Conservative coalition that controlled Congress until 1964. They were consistently non-interventionist and opposed entering WWII, a position exemplified by the America First Committee. Later, most opposed U.S. entry into NATO and intervention in the Korean War. "In addition to being staunch opponents of war and militarism, the Old Right of the postwar period had a rugged and near-libertarian honesty in domestic affairs as well."
This anti–New Deal movement was a coalition of multiple groups:
- intellectual individualists and libertarians, including H. L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, Garet Garrett, Raymond Moley, and Walter Lippmann;
- laissez-faire liberals, especially the heirs of the Bourbon Democrats like Albert Ritchie of Maryland and Senator James A. Reed of Missouri;
- pro-business or anti-union Republicans, such as Robert Taft of Ohio and Raymond E. Baldwin of Connecticut
- conservative Democrats from the South, such as Josiah Bailey and Harry F. Byrd;
- pro-business Democrats such as Al Smith and the founders of the American Liberty League
- powerful newspaper and magazine publishers, such as William Randolph Hearst of the Hearst chain and Colonel Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune.
- reformed radicals who had supported FDR in 1932, such as William Randolph Hearst and Father Charles Coughlin
“Of all the misascriptions of the word ‘conservative’ during the last four years, the most amusing, in an historical light, is surely the application of ‘conservative’ to the last-named. For in America throughout the twentieth century, and including four substantial wars abroad, conservatives had been steadfastly the voices of non-inflationary military budgets, and of an emphasis on trade in the world instead of American nationalism. In the two World Wars, in Korea, and in Viet Nam, the leaders of American entry into war were such renowned liberal-progressives as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy. In all four episodes conservatives, both in the national government and in the rank and file, were largely hostile to intervention; were isolationists indeed..
Jeff Riggenbach argues that some members of the Old Right were actually classical liberals and "were accepted members of the 'Left' before 1933. Yet, without changing any of their fundamental views, all of them, over the next decade, came to be thought of as exemplars of the political 'Right.'"
Other influential members of the Old Right included:
- politicians: Bennett Champ Clark, Hamilton Fish III, Howard Buffett, Kenneth S. Wherry, Eugene Siler, Robert Taft, Herbert Hoover
- businessmen: Robert E. Wood, John J. Raskob
- publishers: Frank Gannett, R.C. Hoiles
- journalists: Oswald Garrison Villard, Garet Garrett, John T. Flynn, and Westbrook Pegler
- scholars: Murray Rothbard, Harry Elmer Barnes and Frank Lawrence Owsley
- celebrities: Charles Lindbergh, Lillian Gish
- tax resistance leaders: John M. Pratt
- authors: Robert Frost, Zora Neale Hurston, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Frank Chodorov, Isabel Paterson, Louis Bromfield, Leonard Read, Francis Neilson, Felix Morley, Rose Wilder Lane
While outsiders thought Taft was the epitome of conservative Republicanism, inside the party he was repeatedly criticized by hard-liners who were alarmed by his sponsorship of New Deal-like programs, especially federal housing for the poor, and federal aid to public schools. The real estate lobby was especially fearful about public housing. Senator Kenneth Wherry discerned a "touch of socialism" in Taft, while his Ohio colleague Senator John Bricker speculated that perhaps the "socialists have gotten to Bob Taft." This distrust on the right hurt Taft's 1948 presidential ambitions.
The Southern Agrarian wing drew on some of the values and anxieties being articulated on the anti-modern right, including the desire to retain the social authority and defend the autonomy of the American states and regions, especially the South. Donald Davidson was one of the most politically active of the agrarians, especially in his criticisms of the TVA in his native Tennessee. As Murphy (2001) shows, the Southern Agrarians articulated old values of Jeffersonian Democracy:
Rejected industrial capitalism and the culture it produced. In I'll Take My Stand they called for a return to the small-scale economy of rural America as a means to preserve the cultural amenities of the society they knew. Ransom and Tate believed that only by arresting the progress of industrial capitalism and its imperatives of science and efficiency could a social order capable of fostering and validating humane values and traditional religious faith be preserved. Skeptical and unorthodox themselves, they admired the capacity of orthodox religion to provide surety in life.
Paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians are often considered the successors and torchbearers of the Old Right view in the late 20th century and the 21st century. Both of these groups often rally behind Old Right slogans such as "America First" while sharing similar views to the Old Right opposition to the New Deal. Recently, the ideas of the Old Right have seen a resurgence due to the presidential campaign of Ron Paul.
- Allitt, Patrick. The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History (2009), chapter 6
- George H. Nash, " The Republican Right from Taft to Reagan," Reviews in American History (1984) 12#2 pp 261-265 in JSTOR quote on p 261; Nash references David W. Reinhard, The Republican Right since 1945, (University Press of Kentucky, 1983)
- Joan Hoff (1975). Herbert Hoover, forgotten progressive. Little, Brown. p. 222.
- James T. Patterson, "A Conservative Coalition Forms in Congress, 1933–1939," The Journal of American History, Vol. 52, No. 4. (Mar., 1966), pp. 757–772. in JSTOR
- Rothbard, Murray. Swan Song of the Old Right, Mises Institute[dead link]
- Mencken, H.L. (2012). Diary of H. L. Mencken. Knopf Doubleday. p. 28.
- Garet Garrett and Bruce Ramsey, Defend America First: The Antiwar Editorials of the Saturday Evening Post, 1939-1942 (2003) excerpt and text search
- Harry C. McPherson, Jr., "Walter Lippmann and the American century" Foreign Affairs Fall 1980
- By Troy L. Kickler, "The Conservative Manifesto" North Carolina History Project
- George Wolfskill, The Revolt of the Conservatives: A History of the American Liberty League 1934-1940 (1962)
- David Nasaw, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst (2001)
- Richard Norton Smith, The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, 1880-1955 (2003)
- For others see Gary Dean Best, The Critical Press and the New Deal: The Press versus Presidential Power, 1933-1938 (1993)
- Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, & the Great Depression (1983)
-  Conservatism: Dream & Reality -Google Books. Accessed: 26 November 2012.
- Riggenbach, Jeff. "The Mighty Flynn," Liberty January 2006 p. 34
- David W. Reinhard, The Republican Right since 1945, (University Press of Kentucky, 1983) pp 28, 39-40
- Murphy p. 124
- Paul V. Murphy, The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (2001) pp. 5, 24
- W. James Antle III (2007-10-15). "Making the Old Right New". The American Spectator. Retrieved 2008-09-22.
- Robert Morse Crunden (1999). The superfluous men. Isi Books. ISBN 978-1-882926-30-5.
- Cole, Wayne S. America First; The Battle Against Intervention, 1940–41 (1953)
- Doenecke, Justus D. "American Isolationism, 1939–1941," Journal of Libertarian Studies, Summer/Fall 1982, 6(3), pp. 201–216. online version
- Doenecke, Justus D. "Literature of Isolationism, 1972–1983: A Bibliographic Guide" Journal of Libertarian Studies, Spring 1983, 7(1), pp. 157–184. online version
- Frohnen, Bruce; Beer, Jeremy; and Nelson, Jeffery O., eds. American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (2006)
- Murphy, Paul V. The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (2001)
- Radosh, Ronald. Prophets on the right: Profiles of conservative critics of American globalism (1978)
- Raimondo, Justin. An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (2000)
- Raimondo, Justin. Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (1993)
- Ribuffo, Leo. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Temple University Press (1983)
- Rothbard, Murray. The Betrayal of the American Right (2007)
- Schneider, Gregory L. ed. Conservatism in America Since 1930: A Reader (2003)
- Schneider, Gregory L. The Conservative Century: From Reaction to Revolution (2009) pp 1–38
- Scotchie, Joseph,. The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right (1999)