Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The New Deal and the Emergence of the Old Right | Mises Institute

Posted by M. C. on January 15, 2022

Murray N. Rothbard

[This article is taken from chapter 4 of The Betrayal of the American Right.]

During the 1920s, the emerging individualists and libertarians — the Menckens, the Nocks, the Villards, and their followers — were generally considered Men of the Left; like the Left generally, they bitterly opposed the emergence of Big Government in twentieth-century America, a government allied with Big Business in a network of special privilege, a government dictating the personal drinking habits of the citizenry and repressing civil liberties, a government that had enlisted as a junior partner to British imperialism to push around nations across the globe. The individualists were opposed to this burgeoning of State monopoly, opposed to imperialism and militarism and foreign wars, opposed to the Western-imposed Versailles Treaty and League of Nations, and they were generally allied with socialists and progressives in this opposition.

All this changed, and changed drastically, however, with the advent of the New Deal. For the individualists saw the New Deal quite clearly as merely the logical extension of Hooverism and World War I: as the imposition of a fascistic government upon the economy and society, with a Bigness far worse than Theodore Roosevelt (“Roosevelt I” in Mencken’s label) or Wilson or Hoover had ever been able to achieve. The New Deal, with its burgeoning corporate state, run by Big Business and Big Unions as its junior partner, allied with corporate liberal intellectuals and using welfarist rhetoric, was perceived by these libertarians as fascism come to America. And so their astonishment and bitterness were great when they discovered that their former, and supposedly knowledgeable, allies, the socialists and progressives, instead of joining in with this insight, had rushed to embrace and even deify the New Deal, and to form its vanguard of intellectual apologists. This embrace by the Left was rapidly made unanimous when the Communist Party and its allies joined the parade with the advent of the Popular Front in 1935. And the younger generation of intellectuals, many of whom had been followers of Mencken and Villard, cast aside their individualism to join the “working class” and to take their part as Brain Trusters and planners of the seemingly new Utopia taking shape in America. The spirit of technocratic dictation over the American citizen was best expressed in the famous poem of Rex Tugwell, whose words were to be engraved in horror on all “right-wing” hearts throughout the country:

I have gathered my tools and my charts,

My plans are finished and practical.

I shall roll up my sleeves — make America over.

Only the few laissez-faire liberals saw the direct filiation between Hoover’s cartelist program and the fascistic cartelization imposed by the New Deal’s NRA and AAA, and few realized that the origin of these programs was specifically such Big Business collectivist plans as the famous Swope Plan, spawned by Gerard Swope, head of General Electric in late 1931, and adopted by most big business groups in the following year. It was, in fact, when Hoover refused to go this far, denouncing the plan as “fascism” even though he had himself been tending in that direction for years, that Henry I. Harriman, head of the US Chamber of Commerce, warned Hoover that Big Business would throw its weight to Roosevelt, who had agreed to enact the plan, and indeed was to carry out his agreement. Swope himself, Harriman, and their powerful mentor, the financier Bernard M. Baruch, were indeed heavily involved both in drafting and administering the NRA and AAA.1

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