Frank Chodorov

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

[Excerpted from Pat Buchanan's Old Right Opposed Tariffs, April 24, 1996]

What kind of conservative is Pat Buchanan? Supporters and opponents say that he's bringing back an older tradition, which rejects the cosmopolitanism of the National Review generation, and hearkens back to the "isolationism" and America First movement of the 30s and 40s.

Mr. Buchanan doesn't dispute this, and why should he? The Old Right, though widely misunderstood, was a principled band of intellectuals and activists, many of them libertarians, who fought the "industrial regimentation" of the New Deal, and were the first to note that, in America, statism and corporativism are inseparable.

Unfortunately, despite an otherwise appealing platform, Mr. Buchanan doesn't represent Old Right economic ideals. These writers ardently defended capitalism, including big business and corporations, celebrated the profit motive, and took a strict laissez-faire attitude toward international trade. They loathed tariffs, and saw protectionism as a species of socialist planning.

Frank Chodorov was a central intellectual figure on the Right from the 1920s to the 1950s, editing the early Freeman magazine and founding Human Events and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. A prolific writer, Chodorov guided two generations of students and activists to the literature of liberty, and urged no compromise with the central state. He proudly wore the label "isolationist" and, like Mr. Buchanan today, saw entry into the two world wars as a mistake because they bolstered militarism and big government in America. To Chodorov, isolationism was "not a political policy," but the proper and "natural attitude." People are rightly concerned with family and neighbors, he said, not foreign peoples and their troubles.

But, as he made clear, Chodorov's isolationism had nothing to do with international economics. Free trade with other nations is part of the normal working of the economy, which stems from being concerned with the well being of our families. Chodorov was aghast and angered when some people tried to make "America First" mean "Buy American": that is, "economic, rather than political, isolationism.

Economic isolationism -- tariffs, quotas, embargoes, and general governmental interference with international trade--is an irritant that can well lead to war," he wrote. "To build a trade wall around a country is to invite reprisals," and generates "misunderstanding and mistrust." To Chodorov, "Free trade is natural, protectionism is political." T. Flynn, the great journalist and leader of the America First Committee, agreed with Chodorov. "The last seventy years of American history," he wrote in 1944, "have been a struggle between the ideal of free enterprise and the determination to restrain and regiment it." Business "comprises the whole immense web of producing and distributing enterprises," but tragically, "some men, for various reasons, set out to interfere in the natural workings of this immense organism.

Flynn condemns domestic industrial planning because it leads to trade barriers. "The first condition of a planned economy is that it shall be a closed economy," he wrote. That's why socialists want "an impenetrable wall around" the nation, "keeping out everybody and every kind of goods and striving for a complete self-sufficiency. Of course, this is not practical anywhere.

Though a nationalist, Flynn understood the difference between caring about one's country first and trade restriction, which he saw as having a socialist and fascist pedigree. The link between protection and planning, he pointed out, was not disputed ì even on the left. To Stuart Chase, the New Dealer who coined the term, "national planning and economic nationalism must go together or not at all.

Flynn's view, toughened with a right-wing anarchist edge, was also that of Albert Jay Nock, the social critic who inspired several generations with his biting attacks on collectivism, egalitarianism, and modernity. As a writer for Harper's, he helped make anti-statism the political center of pre-war American conservatism.

He too was against entering any foreign war, and could thus be fairly described as an "isolationist." But protectionist? "We all now know pretty well," he wrote in 1935, "that the primary reason for a tariff is that it enables the exploitation of the domestic consumer by a process indistinguishable from sheer robbery.

"By putting a tariff against the importation, say, of wool, the State permits the domestic wool-producing interests to levy a tax upon consumers of wool to the amount of the excess in price over the price determined by supply and demand in a free competitive market. These interests give the consumer nothing in return for the tax; the State gives them as beneficiaries, the privilege of levying it, and they accordingly do so."<p></p> Felix Morley was more of a traditionalist. He won the hearts of conservatives by defecting as editor of the Washington Post and later becoming editor of Human Events, as well as the author of brilliant books on federalism and foreign policy. He was an America Firster, an isolationist, and a right-wing populist to boot.

But when it came to free enterprise, there was no compromise: it must not stop at the border. "Unrestricted competition is essential to economic freedom," he wrote. "Indeed, it can be said that competition is freedom, as distinct from the personal attribute of liberty." "It follows that in an advancing civilization the objective with regard to the market will always be the removal of restrictions to trade." This is why Morley doubted that businessmen would be the best defenders of the market. They too often seek to protect themselves from competition in the name of free enterprise. "Time and again," he wrote, "those who argued for competition have, in practice, leaned toward monopolistic operations. Advocates of the free market have worked openly and surreptitiously for high tariffs and other governmental favors." As an example, he cites the industrial protectionism of the 19th century that Mr. Buchanan now praises.

The preeminent economic theorist of the Old Right was Henry Hazlitt. Kicked out of The Nation because he opposed FDR's National Recovery Act, he was made editor of The American Mercury by H.L. Mencken. During the heyday of Keynesianism, Hazlitt thrilled the free-market right with his editorials in Newsweek. He was also second to none in his hatred of all forms of government intervention, including protectionism and economic nationalism.

Hazlitt's Economics In One Lesson, still in print after fifty years, devotes two chapters to the tissue of fallacies that is the case for protectionism and subsidized exports. As Hazlitt demonstrates, "The tariff--though it may increase wages above what they would have been in the protected industries--must on net balance, when all occupations are considered, reduce real wages." As a friend of Ludwig von Mises and F.A. von Hayek, however, Hazlitt might be considered one of "those damned Austrian economists" that Mr. Buchanan warns us against reading.

There were Old Rightists who worried about free international trade, but not on Buchananite grounds. Essayist Garet Garrett came to favor closed borders because he worried about the war potential of forcing foreign consumers to buy American products, another policy Mr. Buchanan favors. At the same time, big business never had a greater champion than Garrett. A biographer rightly called him "Profit's Prophet." Whatever can be said of Mr. Buchanan's trade theories, they are not those of the Old Right. Their intellectual legacy is more likely British mercantilism, and that's one import we can do without. Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.