Ralph Raico’s Early Works and The History of Classical Liberalism

Ralph_raico[A relatively new master’s thesis on Raico’s work is now available from the archives of Buffalo State College.

In this passage, the author explains some of Raico’s early work and the conflicts within the movement that partially led to Raico’s turn toward his work as a historian of classical liberalism and the West:]

By Daniel P. Stanford

The New Individualist Review was initially produced with the sponsorship of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (ISI), a non-profit educational organization founded by Frank Chodorov and whose first president was William F. Buckley, Jr. This  sponsor would eventually become problematic for the young editors [Raico and Ronald Hamowy], especially when the  subject of foreign policy arose. Unfortunately, considering the financial requirements of  such an undertaking, and the unpopular positions they were taking, Raico and Hamowy  had very little choice but to appease their sponsors.

Milton Friedman also became increasingly a source for funding. This was not  hard for Friedman, for in the 1950’s he was the most famous free market economist in the  United States. With Friedman becoming more involved, Raico again found that he had to  be careful to tone down certain content. One of the taboo subjects for Friedman was Austrian economics, which was at odds methodologically and epistemologically with the Chicago School’s positivistic approach to economics. Since Hayek was involved, he  did serve somewhat as a safety umbrella under which Raico could publish Austrian  school material.

By all accounts producing the New Individualists Review was a joy, but the most  frustrating and difficult part of the project was the appeasement of conservative types,  such as Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley Jr., watching behind the scenes. For  hardened libertarians like Raico and Hamowy, they found it nearly impossible to  compromise their ideals.

The early issues of the New Individualist Review were a clear attack on the new  statist-militarist conservative philosophy; however, this subject was quickly dropped,  apparently out of fear of offending the sponsors. Early on, Raico found himself in  increasingly hot water. Particularly because of articles by Hamowy and John P. McCarthy  which blasted conservatives, and especially the National Review on foreign policy and  civil liberties. For the remainder of The New Individualist Review’s publication, foreign  policy issues were basically put aside.

Rothbard, the ever prolific writer, was sending in article after article but was dismayed when he found much of the content was toned down. He felt that The New Individualist Review was “the outstanding theoretical journal in the student conservative movement,” however “its whole modus operandi was a commitment to the now outmoded conservative-libertarian alliance. Hence it could not serve as a libertarian organ, especially in the crucial realm of foreign policy.” Hamowy disagreed with Rothbard’s assessment when he wrote in a 1966 article that the New Individualist Review, along with the magazine Left and Right, are “the only elements resisting” the right-wing’s shift away from classical liberalism into statist-militarism.

Despite the constraints imposed on the content of the New Individualist Review, in retrospect it is clear that the journal was extremely valuable for positioning radical libertarian thought. In discussing the role of the New Individualist Review, historian of the modern libertarian movement Brian Doherty states that the “circle [Bastiat] members used it as a launching pad to establish their unique intellectual tradition.” They used the journal to “bash their ideological enemies, an opportunity to clear and claim their unique libertarian ground.”

Raico contributed articles which brought to light the historical roots of the libertarian philosophy, showing that classical liberalism could clearly be traced back  through the Western intellectual tradition. For Raico, the history of classical liberalism has been too often ignored, distorted and misunderstood. He therefore began his effort to establish classical liberalism as an important historical movement; indeed, Raico calls classical liberalism “the signature political philosophy of Western Civilization.” Although Raico would eventually trace the roots of classical liberalism back to the Greeks and the Middle Ages,his early articles for the New Individualist Review focus on the period of the Enlightenment to the nineteenth-century. This period of liberalism’s past is showcased “particularly,” says Brian Doherty, “in articles by Raico on Benjamin Constant and Wilhelm von Humboldt.”115 In addition, Raico defended the philosophic basis of historic laissez-faire liberalism in an article entitled “Is Libertarianism Amoral?” This article is still viewed as a “prescient look at the errors of the old conservative critique of libertarianism.”

Clearly, Raico’s familiarity with Mises’s Liberalism played the central role in forming Raico’s understanding of the idea of classical liberalism. Raico considers Mises’s Liberalism to be perhaps the only fully conceptualized statement of the liberal philosophy. “It [Liberalism] is the work,” he wrote, that “we must consult and ponder if we wish to understand what liberalism means and where it stands in the struggle of ideologies.” Raico maintains that Mises’s Liberalism should be used as a guide to  measure all other expositions of the concept of liberalism. Raico clearly used this foundation as he began his life-long work, conceptualizing the history of classical liberalism.

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