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Source: Editors' Introduction to Chodorov's Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov, Compiled, Edited, and with an Introduction by Charles H. Hamilton (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1980).
Introduction By Charles H. Hamilton
are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up, because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society, and meanwhile your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant.
When Nock wrote this essay in 1936, he saw the job going begging. A few years later, Chodorov took that job and uniquely served to maintain the tradition of what Murray N. Rothbard has called the “old American Right”: that passionate belief in individual liberty which strongly opposed both the rising statist interventionism at home, and war and imperialism abroad. For over twenty years, he wrote hundreds of articles, edited three magazines, and helped to edit a handful of others. With his brand of political journalism, “he deeply influenced the postwar conservative movement,” as William F. Buckley once acknowledged. And his important contributions still survive on the Right and in the now burgeoning libertarian movement.
A MAN MUST HAVE A CAUSE
On February 15, 1887, two poor, Russian immigrants had their eleventh child, the only one to be born in the United States. His name was Fishel Chodorowsky, although he was always known as Frank Chodorov. He grew up on the Lower West Side of New York City, where he helped his family with their small restaurant.
He graduated from Columbia University in 1907, and until 1937 he “wandered through the years.” He taught high school for a few years. He married, and he and his wife, Celia, had two children. He ran a clothing factory in Massachusetts for a time. In 1925 he started his own small mail-order clothing firm, but it was wiped out by the Great Depression. He then held a number of sales and promotion jobs.
It was in between these jobs that Chodorov developed a passionate commitment to individualism and to the free market. Years later he was fond of saying that “a young man must have a cause.” He found his by accident. While working in Chicago (1912–17), he picked up a friend's copy of Henry George's Progress and Poverty. Assuming only that George was a fine nineteenth-century essayist, Chodorov remembers he “read the book several times, and each time I felt myself slipping into a cause.” That book was to give him a Weltanschauung that influenced all his writing.
Henry George is usually remembered for his concern over land value and the ownership of land. Land, George contended, should not be privately owned, and rent was really a social value that should not be subject to individual profiteering. This concern culminated in George's political proposal that all land rents be fully taxed—what came to be known as the single tax.
For Chodorov, the single tax was really only “a minor detail in his [Henry George's] economic and social system.” Much like Albert Jay Nock, Chodorov believed in the single tax but didn't advocate it. In fact, as a political solution, he questioned the idea of giving taxing power, of any kind, to the state. He saw no reason to believe that any power given to the state would be used for the good of society.
The broad strokes that George used in analyzing his world were what influenced Chodorov so much. For when Progress and Poverty was published in 1879, it was a stunning affirmation of the Jeffersonian and Spencerian tradition. In 1941 Chodorov put Henry George and his philosophy in that broader context:
George is the apostle of individualism; he teaches the ethical basis of private property; he stresses the function of capital in an advancing civilization; he emphasizes the greater productivity of voluntary cooperation in a free market economy, the moral degeneration of a people subjected to state direction and socialistic conformity. His is the philosophy of free enterprise, free trade, free men.
This love of liberty, this stress on the economic and social over the political, kept Chodorov close to the cause, even when, in later years, the mention of Henry George and his philosophy disappeared from his work (both because his interests had shifted and because many of the periodicals for which he wrote just would not discuss Henry George or the land question). After his debilitating stroke in 1961, on the plane back to New York City, his daughter remembers his saying, in a near delirium that must have touched very close to his center, “There is only one thing, there is only Henry George.”
WHEN WAR COMES
After those heady days of reading Progress and Poverty, Chodorov spent increasing amounts of time within the Henry George movement. Believing that his primary duty was to “teach the kids Henry George,” he gravitated toward the Henry George School of Social Science in New York City. In 1937, at the age of 50, he became its full-time director. “It proved to be something that I had spent my life preparing for.”
With great energy, Chodorov spent five years as director, during which time he firmly established the school intellectually and financially. He loved his work and he was good at it. “I got along swimmingly for about five years, training teachers (all volunteers), setting up new courses, writing syllabi, raising money, and to my joy editing a school paper called The Freeman.”
The Freeman, however, was more than a school paper. It offered Chodorov the opportunity to develop the editorial and writing skills that became his stock-in-trade. Founded by Will Lissner in November 1937, the paper aimed at “education in the philosophy of Henry George.” Authors included John Dewey, Albert Jay Nock, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, and Francis Neilson. The Freeman often dealt with issues like the land question, Georgism, the evils of taxation and communism, and the importance of capitalism.
One topic above all others concerned Chodorov when he began editing and writing for The Freeman: the coming war. He was against war, all wars, and during the late 1930s he saw one on the horizon. Presciently, he knew war was an instrument used by politicians to enhance their power and to mask economic ills of their own making. As for intellectuals, they were weaving phrases together to “bedevil the impoverished populace.” These factors, Chodorov knew, would sweep the United States into war. When “Truth Faces War Hysteria,” as he titled one of his editorials in the August 1940 issue, principle is the first thing to go by the board—and with it, freedom.
Chodorov refused to get involved with the emotionalism surrounding any war issue. Rather, he was constantly warning people about the effects of war (or the threat of war, which could be as bad). He asked the basic, long-term questions: “How will we emerge from the emergency? What manner of life confronts us?” Sadly, “the answer that any analysis of current events brings us is that Americans of the future will be slaves of the state.”
Faced with war hysteria and the knowledge that war would come, Chodorov knew his task and the task of those to whom he spoke would become even more pressing. As early as November 1938, in the article “When War Comes,” Chodorov wrote:
Those of us who try to retain some modicum of sanity will be scorned by our erstwhile friends, spit upon, persecuted, imprisoned. … We must steel ourselves for the inevitable. Every day we must repeat to ourselves as a liturgy, the truth that war is caused by the conditions that bring about poverty; that no war is justified; that no war benefits the people; that war is an instrument whereby the haves increase their hold on the have-nots; that war destroys liberty. We must train our minds, as an athlete trains his body, against the inevitable conflict with the powerful propaganda that will be used to destroy our sanity. Now, before it is too late, we must learn to think peace in the midst of war.
The war came and Chodorov dedicated himself and The Freeman “to the task of educating for an enduring peace.” But internal conflicts at the Henry George School were to lead rapidly to his ouster. Chodorov's strong support of individualism over a more ecumenical Georgism had aroused some bad feelings. And there were other conflicts with some trustees. Finally, his antiwar editorials angered many who didn't understand his principled position. Despite the obvious support of most teachers and most readers of The Freeman, Chodorov was virtually evicted by the trustees while away on a trip. The Freeman of March 1942 announced somberly, and without explanation, “Mr. Chodorov has retired from the editorship.”
The war years, of course, were hard times for the individualist, antistatist, and antiwar traditions in America. What had once been a movement of some influence plummeted to its nadir, as almost everyone got on the war bandwagon. And those who, like Chodorov, stuck to their principles usually lost their jobs, or couldn't find any outlets for their writing. The war (and the events at the Henry George School) had deeply affected Chodorov. As he looked back on it in a letter to a friend, “it seemed to me then that the only thing for me to do was to blow my brains out, which I might have done if I had not had Albert Jay Nock by my side. Sheer willpower pulled me out of my funk.” Before long, however, Chodorov was to revive the old Right tradition in what was for him “the most gratifying venture of my life.”
IT'S FUN TO FIGHT
Out of the bleak years of World War II came the beginnings of the modern conservative movement. Chodorov was there, emphasizing the things that were dear to him: individual dignity, society, natural rights, and the free market. In November 1944 he started his own foray into personal journalism with the first issue of a four-page monthly named analysis. With that, and then through the mid-1950s, Chodorov “began to shape directly the intellectual development of the postwar Right … [especially] helping the libertarian Remnant to attain selfconsciousness and intellectual coherence.” In 1969 M. Stanton Evans looked back on “the founding father” and said, “The Chodorov imprint is visible in every phase of conservative effort.”
Published from a few small rooms in lower Manhattan, analysis was, in Albert Jay Nock's estimation, “by far the best contribution to our minor literature of public affairs.” Although it survived until January 1951, it was never commercially successful. It never had, for instance, more than 4,000 subscribers.
Success in these things, however, is not measured in numbers alone. Rather, Chodorov contended, “It's fun to fight—when what you are fighting for stirs your imagination. … There is a lot of spiritual profit in being true to oneself.” Furthermore, no converts were sought. Chodorov didn't believe in them and insisted that analysis “would not attempt to teach individualism; it would attempt to find individualists.” Indeed, he found many; some of the better known of this Remnant were William F. Buckley, M. Stanton Evans, Murray N. Rothbard, Edmund A. Opitz, and James J. Martin.
Publishing analysis was a significant financial burden for Chodorov. Times were difficult even when the rent was paid by his new friend, the well-known Thoreauvian, Leonard Kleinfeld. Close friends made a frequent habit of taking Chodorov out to dinner. In March 1951, however, he merged analysis with Human Events, a newsletter begun in 1944 by Frank Hanighen, Felix Morley, and Henry Regnery. He moved to Washington, D.C., and was an associate editor for Human Events until 1954. Almost monthly he wrote articles from his individualist perspective, though often on more topical subjects than had been his custom in analysis.
The first chance Chodorov had to develop fully his world view was during the publication of analysis. It was his baby: he “slapped it on its hopeful ramp and the birthcry was antistatism.” Though always a political journalist, he wrote from a basic set of principles which he took from the classical liberal tradition, from Henry George, and from the old Right tradition of Albert Jay Nock. His antistatism came from his deep-seated belief in the individual as the basic unit in society, and in the natural laws that helped to organize individual interactions. And while freedom was uniquely an emotional experience in the spirit of each person, Chodorov emphasized the social aspect of freedom, that is, the nature of the relationships that grow between people.
In the social sphere Chodorov made a fundamental distinction between the economic and the political, or between society and the state. He learned this from Henry George and refined the distinction through his contact with Albert Jay Nock and through his reading of Franz Oppenheimer's The State. Society, for Chodorov, was the free and voluntary interactions of people, and it was through these interactions that people and civilizations prospered. “Society is an economic, not a political phenomenon. … The marketplace makes society.”
The political realm was wholly different. The state, Chodorov observed, is the institutional embodiment of the political, and uses force to accomplish its ends. It adds nothing to the material or spiritual basis of civilization. Anything the state has, it has to take from the productive sectors of society. This means, Chodorov concluded, that “between the state and the individual there is always a tug-of-war: whatever power one acquires must be to the detriment of the other. The fiction of rendering service is fostered by the state in order that it may the better pursue its purpose.”
While Chodorov scorned politicians, the problem was really an attitude: an attitude toward others and toward the use offeree to advance one's own ends, We were fast becoming, he once said, “a country of panhandlers.” Everybody sought the special privileges that the state offered only at the expense of others. Concepts of individual responsibility and voluntary cooperation dimmed and “political thought is fast crowding out all other patterns.” No one escaped the temptation to indulge in such privileges and no one escaped Chodorov's wrath and biting analysis of their indiscretions. Communists and socialists were clearly most interested in power and wouldn't hesitate to use the state. Chodorov also damned conservatives and many businesspeople for their support of special privileges for themselves. This made them little different from the communists and socialists. “In America it is the so-called capitalist who is to blame for the fulfillment of Marx's prophecies. Beguiled by the state's siren song of special privilege, the capitalists have abandoned capitalism.” This was “the crime of the capitalists.”
Since politics “has destroyed every civilization man has ever built,” Chodorov constantly advocated staying away from the political game. He strongly favored not voting. When, as a lark in the 1950s, he ran for the New Jersey State Senate, his campaign slogan was “Don't vote for me.” Chodorov believed that what was productive and creative, not to mention moral, was outside the political process. One couldn't fight the political process by joining it, so Chodorov, in all his writing, looked to the individual and education as a way to blunt the drive for privilege and collectivism.
Of course, in any society there needs to be some institutional method to protect private property and the individual's life and freedom. Chodorov called this legitimate form government, as opposed to the antisocial state. It was taxation, Chodorov felt, and in particular the income tax, that transformed social and legitimate government into an antisocial state. Not only did taxes steal from producers, but they also gave the state the capital to intervene forcefully in affairs at home and abroad. Chodorov lamented the loss of the American Revolution 129 years after it had been won: in 1913 the Sixteenth Amendment installed income taxation as a permanent part of the American political landscape. This opened the floodgates of statism. In 1954 his concern led him to write The Income Tax: Root of All Evil. In numerous articles Chodorov sought ways to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment—a third party, states rights, or not voting. He was even a founding director of the Organization to Repeal Federal Income Taxes, Inc. It all came down to one simple belief: “Taxation is nothing but organized robbery, and there the subject should be dropped.”
THE COMMIE MENACE
The mid-1950s represent a watershed period for America's political consciousness. Across the spectrum, from Left to Right, anticommunism was taking hold. Within the fledgling conservative movement, Frank Chodorov and a few others tried to stem the tide of the armored cold warriors. The issue, they said, was what it had always been: the need to support individualism and to oppose statism. Communism—in both its international and domestic forms—did represent a threat, but increasing state power and diminishing individual freedom in the process of opposing communism were not answers. In fact, increasing state power to oppose communism was, ironically, one way to bring communism to America through the back door.
Chodorov made this case from his editorship of a new Freeman, this time published by the Foundation for Economic Education. He began his duties with the July 1954 issue, but conflict with the foundation and a long illness that made work difficult for well over a year (he was now 68) forced him to leave The Freeman in 1955. In his editorials and articles he tried to uphold the isolationist old Right position, as he had earlier in the Freeman, analysis, and Human Events,
In the August 1954 issue of The Freeman, William F. Buckley pointed out the enormous fi ssure developing in conservative ranks around the question, “What are we going to do about the Soviet Union?” There were, on the one hand, the “containment conservatives,” concerned about communism but most concerned about the internal dangers of huge national defense budgets, conscription, etc. This was Chodorovs position. Then there were the “interventionist conservatives,” who advocated a program of militant action aimed at the destruction of the Soviets as quickly as possible. Buckley prophetically concluded that “the issue is there, and ultimately it will separate us.”
In an editorial in that same issue, Chodorov pointed out that, in advocating interventionism against international communism, one was advocating killing people. That usually meant conquest and imperialism. It was as though these advocates thought that “the natives carry an ideological germ that threatens our way of life,” and that by killing them the danger could be eradicated. Interventionists had missed the point: communism was neither a communicable disease nor a people that could just be destroyed. Communism was an idea. “It is better, therefore, to attack the idea than to attack the natives.” Communism was, at base, the idea of an all-powerful state ruling over enslaved people. “That, then, is the idea that we who believe in the American tradition should try to kill, and let all natives alone.”
In subsequent issues of The Freeman, Chodorov engaged William Schlamm in a contest of will over this issue of international communism. Schlamm continually raised the specter of Soviet conquest and the duty of the United States to stamp out this menace to freedom. Just as Chodorov had warned of the coming of World War II and the consequent loss of freedom, his “well-trained nostrils” detected “the aroma of a similar stew now in the making.” He reminded his readers that in any kind of war, hot or cold, the state is strengthened. Even if the war is won, the state never abdicates its newly added prerogatives. People once again lose their freedom. Statism and its threat to freedom were the crucial issues. The interventionists admitted the likelihood of a loss of freedom but they stressed the immediate danger. They were, Chodorov said, “willing to gamble with freedom. I am not.”
As the anticommunist feeling gathered steam, Chodorov warned that “we are again being told to be afraid.” Communism was indeed a threat, but Chodorov believed it would fall of its own weight because it was economically and politically an untenable system. In any case, the United States could not be the armed guardian for the whole world. The issue was war and the necessity of avoiding it. “The important thing for America now is not to let the fearmongers (or the imperialists) frighten us into a war which, no matter what the military outcome, is certain to communize our country.”
The fear of international communism bred a domestic counterpart and there were increasingly loud calls for a crackdown there too. Chodorov saw beyond this immediately. If there was a problem of communists in government, Chodorov half seriously offered this solution, “How to get rid of the communists in the government? Easy. Just abolish the jobs.”
What bothered Chodorov most of all about the concern over domestic communism was that it was leading to the persecution of ideas. “The case against the communists involves a principle of transcending importance. It is the right to be wrong. Heterodoxy is a necessary condition of a free society. … Let them rant their heads off—that is their right, which we cannot afford to infringe—but let us keep them from the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right.” If the state were to outlaw ideas, then it could outlaw any ideas, communist or anticommunist. In fact, in the January 1951 issue of analysis, Chodorov discussed a little-known case where the government had sought to obtain the list of financial supporters of an organization criticizing communist infiltration in the government. Chodorov drew the obvious conclusion: “America will not be saved by geting rid of communists. The real danger is the trend toward statism—the general attitude that condones the imprisonment of Americans for holding ideas contrary to those who wield power.”
Fighting communism rested on fighting the ideas of communism. And, as Chodorov enjoyed pointing out, that could be embarrassing. Communism was, after all, just a form of statism. “The real traitor in our midst is the power seeker.” Communists and many anticoinmunists were enamored of the same lure of power. The spy hunt, then, was really a heresy trial, one cult of power trying to suppress another. Anticommunism was becoming a smoke screen helping an entire gang of power seekers to strengthen the state for their own gain. As Chodorov predicted: “To put it bluntly: communism will not be imported from Moscow; it will come out of Wall Street and Main Street. It will show up as a disease internally induced by bad habits.”
The legacy of this conflict over what to do about communism was, of course, a hardening of the cold-war stance within the conservative movement. Despite the efforts of Chodorov and a few others, their words seem to have fallen on deaf ears. With an ease that surprised such opposing advocates in the struggle as William F. Buckley and Murray N. Rothbard, the conservative movement became a stronghold of vehement and militant anticommunism. The time was ripe for such an attitude and Chodorov faded away as an influence. As Murray N. Rothbard laments, “We should have listened more carefully to Frank Chodorov.”
ON PROMOTING INDIVIDUALISM
It was always clear to Chodorov that the ills of society came from a belief in political action and a reliance on the state. Even those with whom Chodorov would see eye to eye on the right vision of a free society were at a disadvantage if they tried to achieve their ends politically. “On the political front you are fighting a rearguard action.”
While he occasionally tinkered with “solutions” to problems, Chodorov's main concern was educational, to find the Remnant and to provide for it a different view of the world. The rest of it—changing the world—was the responsibility of a free and an aware populace. “One should concentrate on society and leave politics severely alone; which means education and more education, and ignoring the politicians altogether.”
Statism was “a state of mind, not an historical necessity,” a belief in power and privilege, in opportunism, in expediency, and in action per se. It was in the realm of ideas that Chodorov mainly worked. Believing that ideas do have consequences, he had tried to influence ideas.
From his early days at the Henry George School, Chodorov had taught liberty. F. A. Harper, himself a great teacher, remarked that Chodorov was one of the greatest Socratic teachers he had ever known. Indeed, he is often remembered best for his teaching. At his analysis office, he held classes under the rubric of the Society of Individualists. And in 1950 he set to paper the words that were to found the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. This was his last great contribution to the revival of the American Right that he had been so instrumental in fostering.
“A Fifty-Year Project” was a pamphlet that also appeared in the October 1950 issue of analysis. In it Chodorov tried to understand the “transmutation of the American character from individualist to collectivist.” What he found was that socialism had been advanced by organizations like the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, and by students who then took up the cause. There had been no real challenge from capialists—who often were just as socialistically inclined. And the individualists of the time remained in disarray. To combat this, a long-term project was needed to win the minds of youth. “Individualism can be revivified by implanting the idea in the minds of the coming generations. … The assault must be made on the campus.”
In the September 6, 1950, issue of Human Events, Chodorov reworked this pamphlet, titling it “For Our Children's Children,” and called for the beginning of such a project. The article provoked quite a lot of interest, as well as a $1,000 donation from J. Howard Pew. With the help of the Foundation for Economic Education, names were solicited and literature was sent to a few thousand students. The Intercollegiate Society of Individualists was formed, and within a few years over 30,000 students had received literature.
The ISI became an important part of the conservative movement in the 1950s and 1960s. And it was the high point in Chodorov 's care of the Remnant:
If there were no ISI, or something like it, the blackout of individualism would be as complete as the blackout of all culture during the Dark Ages. Future generations would indeed have to dig out of their own understanding the principle of the dignity of man, and out of bitter experience learn that the state can do no good. Those on the ISI list will probably be able to pass on to their offspring knowledge they cannot get in the classroom; that is the least gain from this effort.
At the same time, Chodorov was losing favor with the now well established conservative movement. His brand of uncompromising individualism, isolationism, and free market economics was often too extreme for this adolescent movement. Chodorov himself was losing patience with the inability of these new conservatives to stick to the important principles. A movement that he had done so much to nurture, protect, and teach was becoming less and less to his liking. In a moment of exasperation he quipped, “As for me, I will punch anyone who calls me a conservative in the nose. I am a radical.”
THE LAST YEARS
From 1955 to 1961 Chodorov was tied to no single project. He was 68 in 1955, and those years were taking their toll. Still, he continued to write, lecture, and work on the ISI. He received a grant from the Volker Fund to write his “autobiography,” Out of Step. And he was close to William F. Buckley, writing as a gadfly associate editor for National Review. From 1957 to 1961 he went each year to teach at the Freedom School in Colorado. While there in 1961, he suffered a massive stroke that effectively ended his career. As Robert LeFevre recalled, “I have always thought that the most difficult thing Frank ever did was in that crowning effort — actually to quit. He went down fighting.”
The next five years were very limited ones for him. He had trouble reading and writing, and spent most of that period in a nursing home. Friends visited him. And Fragments magazine, almost a testament to Chodorov, was begun by a coterie of Georgist friends. On December 28, 1966, Frank Chodorov died at the age of 79.
Through his many years of writing, lecturing, and just plain talking with people, Chodorov had had his say:
The only “constructive” idea that I can in all conscience advance, then, is that the individual put his trust in himself, not in power; that he seek to better his understanding and lift his values to a higher and still higher level; that he assume responsibility for his behavior and not shift his responsibility to committees, organizations, and, above all, a superpersonal state. Such reforms as are necessary will come of themselves when, or if, men act as intelligent and responsible human beings. There cannot be a “good” society until there are “good” men.
From his work and example, we trust there are new generations of the Remnant.