It was the first meeting of The John Randolph Club, held somewhere in the wilds of Texas. I was there at the urging of Murray Rothbard, who was enthusiastic about this gathering of libertarians and paleoconservatives in the wake of the Cold War’s end. With the commies out of the Kremlin, said Murray, the Old Right is back—no more warmongering on the right, except for the neocons, who would soon find themselves isolated and impotent. The paleos, he said, want to roll back the state and take back the conservative movement from the Buckleyites and the cult of Scoop Jackson.
I was skeptical, however, and my wariness only waxed hotter as I listened to the arguments against unrestricted immigration. Not being one to stay silent for very long, I leapt to my feet and demanded to know on what basis immigrants were to be excluded—did it by chance have anything to do with their skin color?
Tom Fleming, who founded the JRC along with Murray, hit back at me with a polemical fusillade—and, for once, I was actually thinking about the subject at hand. As I spluttered and tried to evade the question, it kept ringing in my ears: “What if the entire nation of Pakistan decided to emigrate to this country?”
I had no answer—at least not a coherent one. For the rest of the conference, I was strangely quiet. What would happen if millions of Pakistanis descended on these shores and implanted themselves in the midst of the freest society on earth? When I arrived home in multicultural San Francisco, I continued to contemplate the question that had managed to penetrate the thick armor of my ideology and caused me to gasp in pain—and with new understanding.
The obvious answer is that America would be irrevocably changed, and not for the better. Culture matters. My country had been eagerly shedding its culture for some time—certainly from before I reached a stage of awareness in the 1960’s. The reality eventually penetrated my ideology-encased brain, with surprising results. I had long argued for a policy of open borders and angrily attacked anyone who dared dissent. I soon realized that the libertarian society I envisioned would never come to pass if half the population observes sharia and all the rest—save for a fast-vanishing remnant—has recently voted for one or another Latin American caudillo.
America, I realized, isn’t an idea, but an actual place, with a history and a heritage that is inextricably bound up with the very ideals I professed to believe in. In thrall to an abstraction, I had reacted emotionally to a restrictionist program that seemed a blatant contradiction of my libertarian ideals. The paradox was that those very ideals, if fully implemented in a policy of open borders, would shatter all hope for anything even remotely resembling a libertarian order.
A contradiction—the very thing ideologues fear the most!
Looking back, I can only marvel at my naiveté and at my willingness to question the previously unquestionable.
Today, as the official organs of Beltway libertarianism inveigh against Donald Trump, ignoring his eminently libertarian foreign-policy proposals—abolish NATO, stay out of foreign wars, avoid a new cold war with Russia—while joining the neocons and the liberal-left in an all-inclusive Anti-Trumpian Popular Front, I can only shake my head and smile at the memory of my younger self. There but for the wisdom of Chronicles go I!
The guidance and friendship of Murray Rothbard also had a lot to do with my maturation, and looking back on the earliest meetings of the Randolph Club, I’m amazed by his prescience in predicting the right-wing populist upsurge that we are seeing today in the Trump phenomenon. Here is an excerpt from his speech to the second meeting of the JRC:
The proper strategy for the right wing must be what we can call “right-wing populism”: exciting, dynamic, tough, and confrontational, rousing and inspiring not only the exploited masses, but the often-shell-shocked right-wing intellectual cadre as well. And in this era where the intellectual and media elites are all establishment liberal-conservatives, all in a deep sense one variety or another of social democrat, all bitterly hostile to a genuine Right, we need a dynamic, charismatic leader who has the ability to short-circuit the media elites, and to reach and rouse the masses directly.
Somewhere, Murray is smiling: Above the moans and groans of the media elites, and the Beltway “libertarians,” I can hear his characteristic cackle, triumphant and unrestrained.