Robert Wenzel reports:
Ralph Nader is out with a new book,Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. The Washington Times reports:
Among the “convergers,” he includes people “who call themselves conservatives, Libertarians, liberals, progressives, Republicans, Democrats, independents, Third Partiers, capitalists, socialists, or anarchists, or any other labels free-thinking American choose for themselves.”
He treats these designations with respect, with special attention to conservatism, which “has received a bad rap over the past century, with its philosophers misused, distorted and sometimes willfully mischaracterized .” In a chapter devoted to those thinkers, he pays special tribute to the economist Ludwig von Mises, whose work is kept alive at the renowned Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Ga., [sic] under the able and active direction of Lew Rockwell.
Mr. Nader also commends the work of Murray Rothbard, Frank Meyer and Russell Kirk…
It’s unclear whether it’s Nader himself or the Wash Times reviewer who is associating Ludwig von Mises, Rothbard, and the Mises Institute with conservatism. Mises himself vehemently denied being any sort of conservative, and thought it was unfortunate that Americans who claimed to be laissez-faire called themselves conservatives.
From Last Knight of Liberalism: (p991)
When Buckley announced National Review as “frankly, conservative,” old-world men such as Mises must have thought that, frankly, Buckley did not know what he was talking about. Mises did contribute a few pieces in the course of the first few years of National Review’s existence. But on more than one occasion, he emphasized the difference between libertarianism and conservatism. In response to birthday greetings in 1957, he wrote: “Unfortunately this cannot be changed. I am a surviving contemporary of Karl Marx, Wilhelm I, and Horatio Alger, in short: a paleo-liberal [Paläo-liberaler].”
In October 1954, Mises declined an invitation from Yale University to participate in a series called “Conservative Lectures” which was promoted with the promise that “each lecturer will work consciously toward restoration of . . . the power of the word conservative.” He noted that the word “conservative” had no political roots in America and that in Europe it meant the very opposite of the principles for which America stood:
To conserve means to preserve what exists. It is an empty program, it is merely negative, rejecting any change. . . . To conserve what exists is in present-day America tantamount to preserving those laws and institutions that the New Deal and the Fair Deal have bequeathed to the nation.
The sudden emergence of the word “conservative” highlighted a more general unease of the counter-revolutionary forces in the United States. They were quite sure what they were against: Communism, fascism, socialism, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, etc. But what did they stand for? The fact is that even in the leadership of the new movement, economic knowledge and staunch libertarian convictions were rare.
Echoing Mises, Rothbard, in his Betrayal of The American Right, approvingly quoted (on page 177) Ronald Hamowy’s description of conservatism as the ideology of “the rack, the thumbscrew, the whip, and the firing squad.”