Mr. Antiwar Republican
The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft, Russell Kirk and James McClellan, Transaction, 243 pages
(The American Conservative) -- By Justin Raimondo
The reader of a conservative disposition who chances upon Russell Kirk’s 1967 The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft, now reissued by Transaction Publishers and in paperback for the first time, is bound to experience that odd tingling sensation we call déjà vu. Arguing that the New Deal had pretty much expired—having been proved a failure—before Taft had entered the national political scene and taken his place in the U.S. Senate, Kirk and his co-author James McClellan write, “And yet for the following thirteen years, Taft found it necessary to argue incessantly with leading members of his own party as to whether the Republicans should come to terms with the allegedly triumphant New Deal. Many Republicans continued in a political trauma, shocked by their defeats of 1932 and 1936, and could think only of making concessions to the new order.”
A giant leap into government control of the economy, a nation on the brink of the economic abyss, and a popular liberal Democratic president whose programs have a revolutionary air—we have been here before. Then, too, there were those on the Right who counseled retreat, accommodation, and defeatism —the David Frums of their time, who argued that labeling FDR’s panoply of government programs “socialism” was too extreme and who only served to marginalize the Republican opposition.
Taft, though not temperamentally a radical, made no bones about his opinion of the New Dealers. Many of them, he declared in a radio debate, “have no concern whatever for individual freedom. They are collectivists, like Marx and Lenin and Mussolini. They believe in planned economy; that the government should regulate every detail of industrial and commercial and agricultural life.” The New Deal represented a “policy which inevitably leads to bankruptcy and inflation of the currency” and “will not only make the poor people poorer, but it is likely to force a socialism which will utterly deprive them of individual freedom.”
Those were fighting words that very few in the cowed Republican opposition were willing to speak, although they may have believed them—or feared them—in their hearts. Taft rallied the GOP remnants and the beleaguered American Right under the banner of liberty and responsibility at a time when the headwinds of collectivism were blowing mightily from every direction. Around him he gathered a movement, which today is known as the Old Right—as distinguished from the “New” Right of William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review, which inherited from Taft and his confrères the mantle of opposition but did little to honor it. That movement is now virtually unknown or chiefly remembered by its enemies, who continue to smear it with the ignorant epithets coined by the New Dealers and their propaganda machine.
Conservatives without historical memory would seem to be a contradiction in terms, yet that is the situation in which we find ourselves some 70 years after Taft’s heyday. Conservatives seem to have forgotten their past, which is a pity because the history of their movement is rich with lessons for today, as illustrated by this modest little book...MORE...LINK