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ROGER CLAUS, An Approach for Conservatives - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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An Approach for Conservatives
THE CONSERVATIVE magazine published at the University of Wisconsin, Insight and Outlook, carries a monthly feature, The Nature of the Struggle, of which I am in charge. Much of this feature is devoted to discussion as to how we may best conduct ourselves in the war of ideas. The result of my analysis of conservative methodology will constitute the subject of this brief essay; I want to discuss methods that can and will work, and I will discuss some which can never work. But first, the problem.
Our problem, both domestic and foreign, was thrust clearly into focus on that day nine months ago when Presidential Assistant Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., stated that “the best defense against Communism is the Welfare State.” The problem was examined closely in the lead editorial of the March issue of Insight and Outlook.
Editor Gale Pfund wrote: “The Soviet Union is scoring victory after victory in the cold war, quite basically because of our own moral indecision, which prevents our taking a firm stand against the demands of Mr. Khrushchev. We, as a nation, have not firmly decided which system, capitalism or communism, ought to prevail. Ostensibly, we brandish our swords against an enemy whose avowed methods and purposes represent everything we abhor, but in reality we pursue policies more closely akin to his ideal than our own. We have overburdened private property and private ownership of the means of production with government regulations and controls. We have convinced ourselves of the equitability of the progressive income tax (which in the U.S.S.R. isn’t nearly as graduated as our own), the advisability of government handouts, the morality of federal social control, and the expediency of government intervention in the economy and federal manipulation of the money supply. All of which is closer to Karl Marx than Adam Smith.
“Although we do not necessarily hold the philosophical assumptions of historical and dialectical materialism, we nevertheless pattern our social and economic behavior directly upon the collectivist ideal. How can a nation, whose compromise with welfarism is more in sympathy with the communist ideal than the American, make a firm moral resolve that Western institutions ought to prevail and are ultimately worth fighting for? How can the United States stand up against a government whose strength and determination are unparalleled in the history of the world?
“In my time, it hasn’t been able to do either. The moral irresolve of the West is pitted against the maniacal fanaticism of those in the Kremlin who labor day and night under the absolute conviction that communism is the only proper system of political, social, and economic organization.
“We are asking the Free World to join us in a cause, the merits of which we are still not firmly convinced. The Soviets, on the other hand, profess their beliefs with admirable solidarity and firmness, and with an unwavering ideological consistency even more appealing to some nations than free American dollars.”
This, then, is the problem; this is what Lenin foresaw 38 years ago when he wrote that they would never have to attack the U. S. . . . it would fall like an overripe fruit into their hands. He foresaw the day when our Republic would abound with active anti-communists who would, at the same time, fall for such subtle claptrap as the multitudinous government planning schemes for full employment, protectionism in the tariff field, minimum wage laws, support of small business, and “cradle-to-grave” social security.
What I want to do is to tell something about what a small group of students at the University of Wisconsin is doing about this dilemma. We have found a way, and I shall attempt to convince you that it is the best way.
Ever since Time and the AP mentioned our activities I have been deluged with letters asking the same question. “How do we escape being flunked for our political activity?” Although this is a bit strong, what they really mean is, “How do we, in a hotbed of ‘liberalism,’ escape adverse comment and reprisal for our activity?” To wit, how do we escape being called “neanderthals,” “extremists,” and “reactionary know-nothings?” My answer to them is this:
Ever since the Conservative Club was formed, we have bent every effort to keep it on the highest possible intellectual plane. Our magazine is scholarly and educational; it does not rant and bait. Our speakers are the best that intellectual conservatism can produce; we have not brought a single soapbox orator whose mission would be to pour fire and hell on the leftists. Our library contains the great works of conservative scholars; we keep the inflammatory pamphlets out.
What is the result of an approach of this sort? Well, when we were first organized, I knew what was running through the minds of many of the left-wing faculty. They thought that within a few years we would die out. Or, they expected that we would hop on every extreme movement that happened along, whereupon they would be able to laugh us handily out of existence. Neither came true. Serious students of political science admired our studied approach to this new and unpopular conservatism. The more timorous came forward because we were eminently respectable. The professors were silenced because we demonstrated more regard for the true meaning of academic freedom than they did. In fact, many of them were badly shaken because they could see clearly the viability of our approach to the war of ideas.
Here is another result of this tack: the best way to win any argument is to know more about your opponent’s subject than he himself does. From my own experience, I have found that it pays to know more about socialism than most socialists; it pays to know more about Communism than any left-winger I’ve met; it pays to have learned one’s anti-communism, not from lurid depictions of internal conspiracies, but from long hours spent pouring over the works of Marx and Lenin. In short, we have done the impossible. We have restored the conservative point-of-view to respectability. And if any of you have any hopes of our cause catching on solidly across the nation, you will have to demonstrate more regard for the intellectuals than many conservatives have been willing to do thus far.
At this point you may be wondering: how can I be so positive that this method is best? Before I answer that, I will tender my thumbnail definition of a conservative, and point out its application here. The conservative holds each new innovation up against a yardstick composed of that which has proven worthwhile, viable and moral in the history and traditions of western civilization. In the adjacent sense, the conservative strives to keep what is good and workable and moral while striving to repeal and throw out what is proving to be harmful—by that same yardstick.
Now then, the intellectual approach to the promulgation of an ideology has given us a perfect example. As a matter of fact, it is more than a mere example; it, because of its success, is a conservative’s roadmap—it is a mandate that we heed the oft-quoted aphorism that “History provides the lamp of experience for guidance in the present.”
ON SEPTEMBER 12TH, 1905, ten men met at a Peck’s restaurant in New York City. Upton Sinclair made a statement to that group the importance of which is incalculable. He declared, “I decided that since the professors would not educate the students, it was up to the students to educate the professors.”
At that meeting, the Intercollegiate Society of Socialists was born. The I.S.S. started small. Jack London was the first president, and he was met with wisecracks and abuse. Feeling that education was too slow, and being dissatisfied with the conservatism of both major parties, the leftists of the time joked that “the aim of the society [was] to swat wage slavery with diplomas or smother it with degrees or something.” (That same year, 1905, a young man graduated magna cum laude from Princeton . . . his name was Norman Thomas.)
The tiny I.S.S. began to make headway in the next few years. In 1910, a petition of 300 students for a course in socialism was successful at Harvard. The president of the Harvard I.S.S., Walter Lippmann, declared: “Our object was to make reactionaries, standpatters; standpatters, conservatives; liberals, radicals; and radicals, socialists. In other words, we tried to move everyone up a peg.” About this time, the publication The Intercollegiate Socialist was formed. Among the contributors was Paul H. Douglas, who in 1915 became president of the Columbia I.S.S. By 1912, the Society could fill Carnegie Hall. Then, with its first blush of glory abated, the Society settled down to twenty years of slow arduous work. Its purpose during these years is easily discernible. The organization stressed that it was educational in nature. Its aims were, “to acquaint collegians not only with socialist doctrines, writings and theories, but also to influence college-bred men and women [who were] rapidly assuming a growing part in the weightiest affairs of the nation.”
In 1921, the Society changed its name to the Student League for Industrial Democracy. S.L.I.D. chapters were now spread over hundreds of campuses, and they continued in their avocations of leftism to the thousands of young intellectuals who were passing through the colleges. Whereas “socialism” had been a scare-word in 1905, the S.L.I.D. now claimed as national advisers such men as Clarence Darrow, Thorstein Veblen, Morris Ernst, and Paul Blanshard. On the whole, however, things remained quiet until 1932 when (as we all know) all-the-devil broke loose. Here I would stress a most significant point. How fitting it was that, upon election, Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned not to a team of political hacks, but to a “braintrust” of intellectuals. In addition, the early New Deal found S.L.I.D. graduates beginning to answer loudly the last charge that had been leveled against the effectiveness of the intellectual approach—they began to reach the grass roots. A Wayne University S.L.I.D. member, Walter Reuther, began to stir up labor; John Dewey, a League president of the 30’s, sprouted as an “authority” on education; Reinhold Niebuhr, former president of the New York League, was to become a force in the field of religion. Think of the influence exerted upon the “grass roots” by the mass media; then look at these S.L.I.D. graduates: James Wechsler, editor of the New York Post; Columnist Murray Kempton; Columnist Walter Lippmann; Columnist Max Lerner; USIA Chief Ed Murrow—the list is endless. Leaf through the S.L.I.D. and you will see that it lists hundreds of these people in positions of influence—our whole society is riddled with them! And this is not the result of a multifarious conspiracy, but of education. Now who will venture to say that this movement couldn’t reach the “grass roots”?
Nothing could be clearer than the fact that, in the last forty years, it has been the intellectuals who have steered America on a leftward bent. And I would emphasize again: the gospel of piecemeal socialism and appeasement of international communism which these men now preach from powerful positions was taught them when they were young, when they were in college. The force generated by those ten men fifty years ago has prevailed; those ten men proved conclusively what Prof. Richard Weaver has told conservatives for years . . . Ideas have consequences. Actions can be defended, but it is ideas that shape the destinies of nations.
Now then, in view of what I have just said, the answer to the problem is clear. The hopes for a conservative revival depend on the rapid formation of a new corps of conservative scholars and writers—a new leadership for what Senator Goldwater calls “the Forgotten American,” and, as you’ve seen in the newspapers, it is already on the march. For 5 years we have had an intellectual journal of conservative opinion, National Review. A nation-wide conservative group, Young Americans for Freedom, was born just last fall in the East; last month it filled Manhattan Center in New York. The rising tide of youthful conservatism is already beginning to prove that this is the best way. This is the counter-thrust which, in time, will bail out the ship of state.
WE MUST NOW carefully define the direction we are to take in this war of ideas. We do not have the three decades that it took the left. There is little doubt in my mind but that another thirty years of the current economic nonsense will preclude any worry about Communism in the United States. The problem will then be theirs—how will they raise enough capital to make the remaining hulk of the U. S. into something they would even want as a satellite? Make no mistake about it. History abounds with evidence to prove this point. A monetary collapse, for instance, would do quite as well as a hail of I.C.B.M.’s to sink America. Therefore, we must make haste. A respectable, responsible conservatism must emerge to influence the economic policies of America. This is the rule against which we must measure the vagaries of contemporary rightist philosophy. If any short-range movement, no matter how well-intentioned, impedes the development and progress of this program by casting aspersion upon the respectability or responsibility of contemporary conservatism, it has a net effect of harm! And this applies to the anti-intellectual machinations of any elements which are ideologically obsessed with domestically-rooted conspiracies and disreputable modes of combatting them.
Frank Chodorov has said, “You can’t clean the Communists out of government—they grow there.” If you root out one, he’ll be replaced in a very short time; the idea is what we must fight—fight the “-ism” not the “-ist.” William Buckley has said, “I’m sure that we can withstand the pressures emanating from the Kremlin; I am not so sure, however, that we can continue to resist the pressures emanating from Harvard University.” This pressure is, of course, modern left-liberalism. In other words, the threat of communism could be checked and the tide of socialism rolled back if it were not for the ideological millstone that statist-liberalism has placed around our necks. We could deal with Socialism-Communism with master strokes if it were not for the flock of “liberals” that jump in to the benefit of the foe.
Fighting the minions of collectivism with activist methods, albeit questionable ones, can only frustrate us. Fighting the idea can marshal the lessons of history to our cause. A thought worth remembering—what good does it do to assail the latest left-wing front group with white-hot pokers when all the while universities are turning out the Lippmanns, the Murrows, the Reuthers, and the Wechslers of tomorrow? This is the nature of the struggle!
[* ] Roger Claus is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin where he was President of the Conservative Club and an Associate Editor of its publication, Insight and Outlook. The above article was adapted by him from a speech delivered to a conservative meeting in Chicago.