From his perch at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, Llewellyn Rockwell has quietly and without fanfare carried on a thirty-year war to unseat competing versions of libertarianism, to dethrone neo-conservatives, and to resurrect the Old Right. The moment he has been awaiting may have finally arrived via the unlikely vehicle of the Ron Paul presidential campaign.
At age 67, Llewellyn Rockwell (Lew to his friends) fancies himself a man of ideas, rather in the mold cast by his father, a Boston-area surgeon. “He wasn’t a whiner,” Rockwell says of his father. “He was a man of the Old Right…an admirer of Robert Taft, not least because of his non-interventionist foreign policy.” Rockwell cites the death of his older brother in Roosevelt’s “deliberate war,” and makes no bones about his own isolationist and anti-war beliefs. (He even worked briefly for Senator Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign in protest of the Vietnam War.) Among his other affiliations, today he is an advisor to Justin Raimondo’s AntiWar.com, which features such far-right luminaries as Pat Buchanan. [i]
Rockwell considers himself to be a “paleo-libertarian” — a species of political dinosaur that works to undo most of the changes in civil and human rights that have occurred since 1929.
It is Rockwell’s long and close association with Ron Paul, however, that sets him apart. Rockwell served as Paul’s Washington-based Congressional chief of staff from 1978 to 1982. When Paul ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988, Rockwell became vice chairman of the campaign. Rockwell also worked in various editorial capacities for the Ron Paul Investment Letter. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rockwell served as vice-president of Ron Paul & Associates, which published two additional newsletters. Because of the nasty bigotry and unrepentant racism found in those publications, they have become a public issue.
Of course, Paul has denied he wrote the offensive material in question; but at one point, he admitted that he is “morally responsible” for what had appeared under his name. But now, even that level of acknowledgment seems to be absent. Reporters cite a number of sources that pin Rockwell as the source of the newsletters’ vitriol, yet they also note Rockwell’s continuing denial of authorship. So the writer of the racist “Ron Paul” material remains formally unacknowledged — a trick that any other presidential candidate would find impossible to pull off.
Despite Rockwell’s denials, a fellow libertarian, Ed Crane, founder of the Washington-based Cato Institute, confirmed his status as a bigot publicly many years ago. Crane cited the “intolerant attitudes among people like … Rockwell, in ethnic and cultural matters, and even on the question of sexual diversity,” in the November 1990 edition of Liberty.
Rockwell and Paul have long shared an affinity for the John Birch Society, the legendary conspiracy-minded outfit that has enjoyed a re-birth as part of the Tea Party-inspired opposition to President Obama. Rockwell served as a contributing editor of the Bircher magazine, The New American, for most of the 1990s, while Paul was listed as a contributing editor of the periodical in 1987. The Texas Congressman has maintained his admiration for the Birchers, giving a congratulatory speech at a Texas regional conference as recently as August 2009.
Meanwhile, Rockwell and his Von Mises Institute have undergirded Ron Paul’s steadfast adherence to the ideas that guide his campaign today.
The stated goal of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute for Austrian Economics, as it is formally known, is to “undermine statism in all its form,” and its scholars repeatedly point out the difference between its goals and those of various free marketeers who do not challenge the government and state apparatus as such. Von Mises claims a 350-member “faculty,” with senior scholars and adjunct scholars at universities and institutes across the United States and Europe — including one notable adjunct at the United Arab Emirates University and two in Australia. Its annual report noted that the institute publishes thirty books a year and produces thousands of articles in print and on-line.
In 2009, the Von Mises revenue totaled over $4,800,000, an amount that was double its income in 2005—during a period of recession and contraction among many other non-profit organizations.[iv] Notably, none of these funds came from the coffers of the Koch brothers or their foundations, which support rival camps of libertarians. Rockwell’s colleagues have derisively labeled the Wichita brothers’ infamous money machine as the “Kochtopus.”
The Institute’s influence is such that in February 2011, when Paul held a Congressional subcommittee hearing on the Federal Reserve Bank, two of the three witnesses he called had an affiliation with Rockwell’s Von Mises. The lead witness, Thomas J. DiLorenzo, a professor at Loyola University in Baltimore, is also a “senior scholar” at Von Mises. DiLorenzo also maintained a direct association with the League of the South – a leading Neo-Confederate group that advocates political, cultural, and economic independence for the South. (DiLorenzo now claims his stint with the secessionists is over.) A second witness, Richard Vedder, is a professor at Ohio University in Athens, Ga., and an “adjunct” at Von Mises.
Further, Von Mises continues to count Paul among its authors, and distributes 18 of the Congressman’s book and pamphlet titles, with a few dating back to 1981. In a January 2, 2012 interview on CNN, Paul declared, “I have the Old Right point of view,” using terminology that put him firmly in Rockwell’s camp.
The Old Right emerged in the 1930s, opposing President Roosevelt’s New Deal and American entry into World War II, and suffered a near-death collapse after World War II. The onset of the Cold War ruled its America-First isolationism out of bounds for most conservatives, and William Buckley subsequently ran its legatees, including the Birch Society, out of mainstream conservatism.
“With the breakdown of communism,” Rockwell wrote in 1990, “the Old Right is back.” At the time, Rockwell counted the alliance between Buchananite paleo-conservatives at the Rockford Institute and his own paleo-libertarians at Von Mises as the basis for its re-emergence. Such a “re-alignment of the right,” as Rockwell called it, was a matter of conferences and small-circulation journals at that time.
Today, Ron Paul’s campaign and his calls to end “foreign entanglements,” abolish the Federal Reserve, get tough on immigrants, and end birthright citizenship as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, all echo the Von Mises “paleo” perspective. His startling run through the Republican primaries has bolstered the Von Mises project of rebuilding the Old Right.
Although Rockwell has no formal role in Paul’s primary campaign, he obviously remains in close contact with his comrade-in-arms. “The Paul movement has made a huge difference in bringing people to libertarian ideas,” Rockwell has said. “That was always his dream.” Citing the “vast downloads” of Von Mises material by young people, he has predicted, “I’m certain that our movement will continue to grow long past my own life.”
The Old Right has not achieved the pre-eminence that the New Right enjoyed during the Reagan years or the power that neo-conservatives wielded during the administrations of Bush I and Bush II. Yet neither is it the small, marginal phenomenon it once was. And the gains that the Old Right makes in this election year are not likely to dissipate after November.
Leonard Zeskind is the author of Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, Farrar Straus & Giroux 2009. He is president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, www.IREHR.org.