As the Tea Partiers swarm town-hall meetings, and talk of nullification, the Tenth Amendment, and even secession is in the air, I can’t help thinking, Rothbard was right!

That’s Murray Newton Rothbard (1926-95), the libertarian economist and theorist whose uncompromising intelligence instructed an entire generation of the freedom movement’s leading lights.  Rothbard’s career spanned the gap between the demise of the Old Right and the rise of the Buckleyite “New Right,” which forswore the older movement’s “isolationism” and embraced a crusading interventionism and all that goes with it.  As Buckley put it in an article for Commonweal back in the 50’s,

We have to accept Big Government for the duration [of the Cold War]—for neither an offensive nor defensive war can be waged given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.

This view represented a break with the Old Right’s populist perspective, which saw the New Deal and FDR’s “brain trust” as the incarnation of the “revolutionaries in spectacles,” as Garet Garrett called them.  The Old Right saw the New Deal as a revolution from above, one in which the elites in business, media, and the academy sought to supplant the old America.  Their activism was informed by what Rothbard called (in 1992) “the basic right-wing populist insight”:

[T]he old America of individual liberty, private property, and minimal government has been replaced by a coalition of politicians and bureaucrats allied with, and even dominated by, powerful corporate and Old Money financial elites . . . and the New Class of technocrats and intellectuals, including Ivy League academics and media elites, who constitute the opinion-molding class in society.  In short, we are ruled by an updated, twentieth-century coalition of Throne and Altar, except that this Throne is various big business groups, and the Altar is secular, statist intellectuals, although mixed in with the secularists is a judicious infusion of Social Gospel, mainstream Christians.

This is the worldview of the Tea Partiers, who are now spurning the GOP and the establishment conservatives and forming their own paleo-constitutionalist critique that mirrors the populism of the Old Right in every respect.

The right-wing populist trend in American politics was derailed by Buckley & Co., who abhorred populism and sought to defend the American national-security state against assaults from both the left and the “far” right.  With the end of the Cold War, this populist spirit reappeared in the Bu­chan­an brigades and now is rising again with renewed strength.

The Tea Party movement, which encompasses a wide range of local, antitax, pro-liberty groups, really began to gain momentum with the bank bailout and the moves by the Obamaites to take control of large swathes of the American economy.

It’s no accident that both David Frum and the liberal media are appalled by this Poujadist upsurge from below: the former because all neocons hate populism, and the latter because the Tea Partiers are precisely those people—the lower-middle and working classes—whom they have always claimed to represent.  They all hate and fear the Tea Partiers precisely because they signal a return to the conservatism of Colonel McCormick’s Chicago Tribune, as opposed to Murdoch’s New York Post.

Rothbard foresaw the upsurge of pop­ulism on the right, and his analysis of what it might accomplish underscores his uncanny prescience:

The reality of the current system is that it constitutes an unholy alliance of “corporate liberal” Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who . . . are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America.  Therefore, the proper strategy of libertarians and paleos is a strategy of “right-wing populism,” that is: to expose and denounce this unholy alliance, and to call for getting this preppie-underclass-liberal media alliance off the backs of the rest of us . . .

The establishment is running scared, crying, “The extremists are coming!”  And not a moment too soon.