Frank Chodorov, A Libertarian's Libertarian
Joseph R. Stromberg
[Reprinted from The Old Cause, 30 November
LIBERTARIAN AND GEORGIST
Frank Chodorov (1887-1966) could well be called a libertarian's
libertarian. The eleventh child of Russian immigrants on the Lower
West Side of New York, he was named Fishel Chodorowsky but was "always
known as Frank Chodorov."1 A 1907 graduate of
Columbia University, he had a textile business, followed by a
mail-order clothing business, which succumbed to the Great
Depression. After this disaster, he went into saleswork, but came to
be best known as a promoter of libertarian ideas. An important
influence on Chodorov was the writings of Henry George, apostle of
free trade, free markets, and unfortunately, some would say
the "Single Tax" on land, which was supposed to alleviate
the evils of rent and private land-ownership. Sometime in the 'teens
he read George's Progress and Poverty, which had a profound
impact on his world-outlook. In 1941 he wrote of George: "His
is the philosophy of free enterprise, free trade, free men."2
Another important mentor to Chodorov was the renowned essayist
Albert Jay Nock, himself an extreme libertarian I do not mean
the word "extreme" as a criticism and Georgist.
AN 'ISOLATIONIST' PAR EXCELLENCE
In this space, I am of course most interested in Chodorov's views
on foreign policy. Along with that whole generation of libertarians,
republicans, and conservatives we call the Old Right, Chodorov was
strongly committed to nonintervention. As World War II took form, he
wrote many antiwar editorials in the old Freeman, a
publication of the Henry George School. For his pains, he was purged
as editor in 1942. He founded his own broadsheet, analysis
in 1944. In this little journal, he could truly write what he
thought. (There is some resemblance between analysis and
Dwight MacDonald's Politics in the latter's left-wing
Financial difficulties led to the merger of analysis with
another little journal, Human Events, in 1951. In 1954-1955,
Chodorov edited the new Freeman, published by the Foundation
for Economic Education (FEE). Another outlet for Chodorov's energies
was the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, founded in 1950,
later renamed the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (if I understand
the institutional continuity correctly). The latter is still in
CONSISTENT NONINTERVENTIONISM DOWN THE YEARS
Chodorov had opposed US entry into World War II. Like many on the
Old Right who had had no illusions that the great crusade would
produce a better world, he saw little reason to enlist in the
sequel, the cold war. In early 1947, Congress debated the Truman
Doctrine US aid to any government anywhere, that claimed to
be menaced by our erstwhile heroic allies, the communists
and, specifically, the proposal to aid Greece and Turkey. Chodorov
foresaw "a Byzantine Empire of the West," if Truman's
policy prevailed. He warned that "poking into Europe's business
would directly impact American liberty: "Already there is a Red
witchhunt afoot, and experience tells us that when the exigencies of
the situation require it the definition of 'Red' will include every
person who raises his voice against the going order." In the
end, "when our imperialism comes to grips with the empire of
the commissars, ... our liberties will vanish into communism."3
Of course that battle against the Greek-Turkish Aid Bill, like so
many others, was lost. In "Misguided Patriotism" (March
1951), we find Chodorov questioning the role of big business in
assisting the political establishment. The case of Charles Wilson of
General Electric was "illustrative": "He was called
by Mr. Truman when the Korean affair started.... Mr. Truman could
think of no way out but the regimentation of private life the
only cure-all in the politician's pharmacopia... He reached out into
industry for help." This "mesalliance" between
business and state could only strengthen the state at the expense of
liberty. Chodorov wrote: "To put it bluntly: Communism will not
be imported from Moscow; it will come out of Wall Street and Main
Street" if business itself failed to make the proper
distinction between state and market.4
OLD RIGHT VERSUS NEW RIGHT
In the August 1954 Freeman there was something of a debate
between young William F. Buckley, Jr., paladin of the
interventionist new right, and Chodorov. Buckley wrote that "to
beat the Soviet Union we must, to an extent, imitate the Soviet
Union" with conscription, higher taxes, and bureaucracy.
He dismissed the non-interventionists' fear that "we shall
totalitarianize ourselves to a point where life in the United States
would be indistinguishable from life in the Soviet Union, save
possibly for an enduring folkway or two."5
Chodorov "replied," in effect, that communism was an
idea, that could not be killed by military means. All we
could kill would be "natives" of other countries, who
happened to believe in that unworkable idea if, for example,
we should ever be so foolish as to "send an army into
Indochina." No, we should stand firm for the ideals of private
property and freedom "and let all natives live."6
At this late date, I think it safe to say that Washington did what
it could to make life here "indistinguishable from life in the
Soviet Union" and, as for the "enduring folkway or two,"
the entrenched academic and bureaucratic left are bent on denying us
As the battle for the soul of the right wing continued, Chodorov
made related points. He noted that we now suffered increased public
debt, high taxes, the "involuntary servitude"of peacetime
conscription, and "a bureaucracy that compares favorably with
in size with that of the Nazi regime." In the cold war, as in
hot war, "the State acquires power... and because of its
insatiable lust for power [it] is incapable of giving up any of it.
The State never abdicates." (Congressional Republicans, take
note.) Overseas, our rough-and-ready Secretary of State, John Foster
Dulles, was leaning on France to join the European Defense
Community. This reflected "a new kind of imperialism"
based on bribery and manipulation.7
Now came William S. Schlamm, right-wing immigrant and former
leftist, to argue the cold warrior's case in The Freeman.
Setting up the straw man of an "unarmed U.S., minding its own
pleasant business of freedom," he asked how we "could
avoid being overrun by a communist world monopoly of military power"?
Evidently, the non-interventionists were relying on "hunches"
that the communists weren't serious, or that God would bail them
out. But the commies were about to add "the gigantic industrial
powerhouse of western Europe to the manpower and natural resources
of Asia": against this terrible threat the "unarmed US"
again his ungrounded assumption could never prevail.
No, he would rather "pay with the recoverable loss of some of
my liberties for a chance to avoid, for centuries, the total loss of
freedom."8 Well, we can't all plan so many
centuries ahead, but it seems clear that if the commies had overrun
western Europe and managed "the gigantic industrial powerhouse"
according to their theory and praxis, they would have run it into
the ground, quickly reducing their threat to manageable proportions.
But, alas, word of the problem of economic calculation under
socialism, as formulated by Ludwig von Mises, seems not to have come
to Mr. Schlamm. As for "recoverable loss" of freedoms, I
merely ask the names of those recovered in recent memory. There may
be some, but I doubt the list is very long.
In reply, Chodorov went over the ground methodically. We were
being told to be afraid, that war was inevitable (again). But as "the
articulate fearers" admitted, their program required
conscription. This suggested that they knew that Americans would
never volunteer "to fight a war with Russia on foreign
soil." Americans had been conscripted in 1917 and for World War
II. This raised "the pertinent question: if Americans did not
want these wars should they have been compelled to fight them?"
(As often happens, here the right-wing anti-statist sounds rather
more "democratic" than his opponent.) People who would
compel Americans to fight Russia "have the dictator complex."
Giving up our freedom to an American leviathan in the name of
stopping a hypothetical foreign leviathan seemed a stacked
deck to Chodorov. Either way, we got leviathan. Actually, US
withdrawal into our own hemisphere would be advantageous by forcing
the Soviets to lengthen their supply lines if they really
were bent on attacking us. As for Europe: "it would be hard on
the Europeans if they fell into Soviet hands; but not any worse
than if we precipitated a war in which their homes became the
battlefield."9 Quite a few
saved-by-being-destroyed villages later, I think we can see that
Chodorov had a point.
VOX CLAMANTIS IN DESERTO
hodorov's cause was the anti-interventionist and antistatist faith
of the older right wing. In the hysteria of the high cold war
Truman doctrine, the "fall" of China, McCarthyism, Korea
the interventionist new rightists stampeded their constituents into
another cosmic crusade, at the successful conclusion of which they
would get their liberties back, no questions asked. I suppose it
would be rude to ask for them now, even though the proximate
justification for their surrender fell of its own weight and
lack of rational economic calculation ten years ago.
In 1962, Chodorov summed up his foreign policy ideas in his
autobiography. "Isolationism," he wrote, "is not a
political policy, it is a natural attitude of a people." Left
to their own devices, the people "do not feel any call to
impose their own customs and values on strangers." But "interventionism
is a conceit of the political leader" who finds too little for
himself to do in just presiding over a self-regulating civil
society. As a result of successful campaigns for intervention in the
past, we had not a better world but "a monstrous
bureaucracy with a vested interest in intervention" and a
nation "committed to a program of interference in the affairs
of every country in the world." Alexander had imposed Hellenism
on western Asia, the Romans imposed the pax Romana wherever
they could, and Napoleon imposed "liberty, equality, fraternity"
on Europe. Hitler spread Aryanism. Britain gave "a taste of
English civilization" to natives the world over. Chodorov saw
folly in all these imperial forms. Since we all work now in the
shadow of the fellow with the mustache, I hasten to add that I doubt
Chodorov found each empire the exact moral equivalent of the other.
What he did hope was that Americans would listen to a world tired of
our overseas therapies and know-how and "return to that
isolationism which for over a hundred years prospered the nation and
gained for us the respect and admiration of the world."<10
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- Charles H. Hamilton, ed., Fugitive
Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov (Liberty Press:
Indianapolis, 1980), "Introduction," p. 13.
- Ibid., p. 14.
- Frank Chodorov, "A
Byzantine Empire of the West," analysis, April 1947
(placed in The Congressional Record, vol. 93, part II, pp.
A2015-16, by Congressman Howard Buffett).
- Frank Chodorov, "Misguided
Patriotism," Human Events, March 14, 1947, pp. 1-4.
- William F. Buckley, Jr., "A
Dilemma of Conservatives," The Freeman, 5, 2 (August
1954), pp. 51-52.
- Frank Chodorov, "Reds Are
Natives," ibid., pp. 45-46.
- Frank Chodorov, "The
Return of 1940?", The Freeman, 5, 3 (September 1954),
p. 81, and "The New Imperialism," ibid., 5,5
(November 1954), p. 162.
- William S. Schlamm, "But
It Is Not 1940," ibid., pp. 169-171.
- Frank Chodorov, "A War to
Communize America," ibid., 171-174 (my italics in the
- Frank Chodorov, Out of
Step (New York: Devin-Adair Co., 1962), Ch. XI, "Isolationism,"