Frank Chodorov: Mystic
[An abridgment of the introduction by Chamberlain to
Chodorov's One Is A Crowd, published in 1952. Reprinted from
Fragments, October-December 1966]
Along about 1935, America was blanketed by a literature of
crypto-collectivism. Lenin said it long ago: to make collectivism
stick in a land that has known the blessings of individualism you must
catch a whole generation in the cradle and forcibly deprive it of
tutors who have learned The bourgeois alphabet at their mothers'
knees. In a land of republican law this is impossible; no matter how
clever or omnipresent the collectivist propaganda may be, a few
culture-carriers of the old tradition will escape.
A recent preoccupation with my own intellectual autobiography has led
me to reflect on the culture-carriers who brought me back to what I
had originally soaked up unconsciously in the individualistic New
England of my childhood. Those carriers are Albert Jay Nock, Franz
Oppenheimer, Garet Garrett, Henry George, Henry David Thoreau, Isabel
Paterson, and, finally, a man who sometimes speaks in parables and who
always has a special brand of quiet humor, Frank Chodorov. He also has
the intellectual resilience that one would associate with perennial
A craftsman from the ground up, Frank Chodorov has always made his
own words pirouette with the grace and fluidity of a Paviova. Beyond
this, he is one of the few editors alive who can make individual
stylists of others merely by suggesting a shift rn emphasis here, an
excision there, a bit of structural alteration in the middle. But this
is only the least important part of the education that one can absorb
from him when he is expanding his own ruefully humorous way.
Listening to Chodorov, you won't get any meaningless gabble about "right,"
"left," "progressive," "reactionary," or
"liberal." He deals in far more fundamental distinctions.
There is, for example, the Chodorovian distinction between social
power and political power. Social power develops from the creation of
wealth by individuals working alone or in voluntary concert. Political
power, on the other hand, grows by the forcible appropriation of the
individual's social power. Chodorov sees history as an eternal
struggle between social-power and political-power philosophies. When
social power is in the ascendant, men are inclined to be inventive,
creative, resourceful, curious, tolerant, loving, and good-humored.
But when political power is waxing, men begin to burn books, to
suppress thought, and to imprison and kill their dissident brothers.
Taxation, which is the important barometer of the political power,
robs the individual of the fruits of his energy, and the standard of
life declines as men secretly rebel against extending themselves in
labor that brings them diminishing returns.
According to the Chodorov rationale, all the great political
movements of modern times are slave philosophies. They are all alike
in advocating the forcible seizure of bigger and bigger proportions of
the individual's energy. It matters not a whit whether the coercion is
done by club or the tax agent the coercion of labor is there; and such
coercion is a definition of slavery. Nor does it matter that the
energy product of one individual is spent by the government on
another; such spending makes beneficiaries into wards, and wards are
Chodorov is a mystic, but only in the sense that all men of insight
are mystics. His mystical assumption is that men are born as
individuals possessing inalienable rights. This philosophy of Natural
Rights under the Natural Law of the Universe cannot be "proved."
But neither can the opposite philosophy -- that the State has rights
-- be proved, either. If there is no such thing as natural individual
rights, with a correlative superstructure of justice organized to
maintain these rights, then the individual has no valid subjective
reason for obeying State power. True, the State can arrest the
individual and compel his loyalty, but the rebellious individual can
always find ways of flouting State power.
Since the human animal must make either one mystical assumption or
another about rights, Chodorov chooses the assumption that accords
with the desire of his nature, which is to protect itself against the
lawlessness of arbitrary power. He is mystical in the same way that
James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were mystical; and he is religious
enough to believe in Nature's God, which is to say that he believes in
The utilitarian argument is that Natural Law does not apply in the
field of ethics, since it is not demonstrable that a thief or a
murderer will always be caught and punished. But if there is no
Natural Law of Ethics, then any system of ethics is as valid as the
next - and the choice of fascism or communism or cannibalism is no "worse"
than the choice of freedom as defined by John Locke. Chodorov's answer
to the utilitarians is that men are diminished and blighted under
certain ethical systems, whereas they flourish under other systems.
And it is demonstrably the nature of man to prefer life to death, or
to the slow agony of death-in-life that goes with slave systems.
Chodorov never labors his principles in either his writing or his
speaking. Nor does he indulge in debater's tricks. He prefers a good
parable to formal argument, and he is at his best when he is raiding
the Old Testament to make a modern point.
Like all good teachers, Chodorov knows that instruction is always
improved when it comes in the form of entertainment. What he offers in
his essays as entertainment is, of course, worth ten of the ordinary
political science courses that one gets in our modern schools. It is a
measure of our educational delinquency that nobody has ever seen fit
to endow Chodorov with a university chair. But his successors will
have chairs once Chodorov has completed his mission in life, which is
to swing the newest generations into line against the idiocies of a
collectivist epoch that is now coming to an end in foolish disaster