“For God, for freedom and against communism”

Public domain image. (unknown author)


How conservative rhetoric modeled itself on a conspiratorial worldview

No, we are not talking about Brazil. This text exposes the way in which businessmen, politicians and academic opponents of the New Deal organized themselves in order to consolidate a “conservative front” in US politics. Having Barry Goldwater's campaign as a milestone, we observe how the “unity” took place from the promotion of three principles: (i) the defense of the free market; (ii) the defense of religious (Christian) values; and (iii) anticommunism. The aim here is to reassemble the network of connections between businessmen, research institutes, academics and politicians to illustrate how conservative rhetoric was modeled on a conspiratorial worldview. Showing that we, in Brazil, are rehashing an old political strategy.

Samuel Rosenman, a lawyer who advised Franklin Roosevelt as governor, not recognizing the business community's promising proposal to deal with the 1929 crisis, said that the Democratic presidential candidate would need "intellectual help" for the campaign. Thus formed the brain trust. Originally composed of Adolf Berle, Raymond Moley and Rexford Tugwell, all economists and professors at Columbia University, the brain trust, did more than present the bases for what came to be the New Deal, he also took the “university professor” to the “front lines” of politics. Until then, the image that was held about the academic fed the traditional view of the researcher closed in his laboratory or classroom. The names that make up the brain trust became known to the public (even holding office in the government).

O New Deal, launched a range of sectoral reform programs in the economy, seeking, mainly, to create conditions for the formation of internal savings and investment recovery. Large industrial conglomerates such as sun oil company and DuPont company, as well as large companies such as Sears, were contrary to measures recognized as government interventions. In response, republicans and democrats already in 1934 founded the American Liberty League (ALL). The League acted in lobbying and, on several occasions, appealed to Congress to oppose measures and policies that, in its view, threatened the Constitution and property rights.

The “communist threat” was the first agenda. O New Deal was embraced by the Communist Party, and the rapprochement between the Democratic Party and the Communist Party was ammunition for the opponents. These opponents of New Deal promoted a campaign against the image of “intellectuals”. Exaggerating their influence on Democratic Party politics, the US right began to portray researchers and consultants as experimentalists, “impractical”, irresponsible, arrogant and conspiratorial. although the American Liberty League failed to prevent Roosevelt's re-election, it succeeded in exploiting and exaggerating the association of academics, experts, scientists and intellectuals in general with "the left", and consequently with "the enemy".

However, it should be noted that there was no consensus among opponents of the New Deal. Generally speaking, the conservative movements of the 1930s were grouped into three large groups: libertarians, traditionalists and anticommunists. By libertarians we identify those who defended unrestricted freedom, both economic and social. By traditionalists we mean the group that united the “religious right” with “libertarian” ideas and defended economic freedom, but a State strong enough to cherish religious traditions; something that today would be called “liberal in economics and conservative in customs”. Finally, by anti-communists we refer to groups that defended the fight against communism regardless of form and instance. These three large groups organized themselves throughout the 1940s and 1950s, setting up their own collaborative networks and institutions.

In 1938, in a joint action by entrepreneurs, the American Enterprise Association (AEA). With the mission of promoting “greater public knowledge and understanding of the social and economic advantages accrued to the American people through the maintenance of the system of free and competitive enterprise”, the American Enterprise Association acted through meetings and dinners. In the 1940s the institution moved to Washington to be closer to the “sphere of power” and, in the following decade, under the direction of William J. Baroody, it became the first organization to conform to the modern parameters of what it means to be one think tanks.

Working directly with congressmen, the American Enterprise Association it became popular. In addition to periodically sending analyzes on policies and laws debated in the Houses of Congress (presenting the “positive and negative” sides of the measures), the American Enterprise Association he could be hired to carry out research or a survey on a specific issue. In other words, you, the congressman, could literally commission research to support your agendas.

William J. Baroody held a peculiar view that became popular. Understanding the political process through the notion of the free market, William J. Baroody believed that the best idea (best crafted and sold) would prevail. However, he recognized the existence of an “industry of left ideas” that stretched from the Social Sciences departments of universities – where the raw intellectual material (ideas) was mined – to the media agencies, by which they were popularized. That is, if the “market of ideas” should follow the free market model, William J. Baroody conjectured the existence of a left monopoly on political ideas. O American Enterprise Association, then, restructured itself to combat this monopoly.

Another institution that followed the same model was the Hoover War Library. In 1919, Herbert Hoover (an ex-Stanford student) donated to the university to build a project to collect and store documents relating to the First War. came to Hoover War Library. Under the influence of Herbert Hoover himself, in the 1950s, the status of a library was officially redefined and became The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, an independent research institution, reporting directly to the Board of Directors of Stanford and no longer to the president of the university. Herbert Hoover declared that it was necessary “to demonstrate the evils of the doctrine of Karl Marx – be it communism, socialism, economic materialism or atheism – to protect the American way of life from this type of ideology, its conspiracies, and to reaffirm the validity of the American system ”. Handpicked by Herbert Hoover, W. Glenn Campbell (who worked with Baroody at the AEA) was asked to take over the Hoover Institution. Campbell's name was suggested by Raymond Moley, a key member of the brain trust of Roosevelt who had become a major critic of Democratic policies throughout the 1940s.

We also highlight the creations of Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and  Mont pelerin society (MPS). Founded in 1946 – by Leonard Read, (executive and corporate director of DuPont), FEE is considered the first ThinkTanks devoted exclusively to the promotion of the free market. Economists Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises were FEE associates. Hayek even defined the institution as “the defense of our civilization against intellectual error”. A Mont pelerin society was envisioned by Hayek as an “organization that would serve as a space of free intellectual inquiry, where social scientists and expert thinkers dedicated to the idea of ​​free markets could come together to discuss and refine their thinking”. The institution had names like Karl Popper, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman among its founders. It is worth mentioning that Hayek and Mises had connections with the FEE while Friedman had with the AEA (he was part of the academic advisory board from 1956). In addition, the first MPS meeting in the United States was promoted almost through the sole effort of Jasper Crane, a former executive at DuPont Company.

Finally, another institution to which we draw attention is the John Birch Society (JBS). Founded in 1958 by businessman Robert Welch, JBS defended the belief that there was a “communist conspiracy” threatening to overthrow capitalism. The 1929 crisis had been a crisis orchestrated by an international (Jewish) elite to introduce financial insecurity in the United States and initiate communist domination. There would be infiltrators in all instances of society. JBS directs its criticism not only against Democrats, but also against famous conservatives like William F. Buckley Jr. JBS gained notoriety in the following years. At the beginning of the 1960s it had 1.500 members, in September of the same year there were more than 6.000, and in 1962 it had 60.000 members. It is also worth mentioning that throughout the 1960s, Robert Welch was a member of the Board of Directors of FEE.

These institutions are just a few examples of how these different right-wing groups have organized themselves. Unlike the 1930s generation who focused on lobbying activities. The groups of the 1940s and 1950s occupied the financial market and industrial centers, but also academia and even churches. However, despite the relative success and popularization of “right-wing” ideas, there was no consensus. On the one hand, free market advocates (such as Hayek, Mises, and Ayn Rand) advocated a minimal state, a liberalism that was not restricted to economics. On the other hand, for conservatives of religious origin (such as Buckley or Crane) the State should be minimal for freedom in the economic area, but strong enough to care for moral values. Finally, for anti-communists (like Welch), the danger of domination was imminent.

The union of these strands came through the works of William F. Buckley Jr. by National Review (NR). Founded in 1955, the National Review it became a means of convergence for the different currents of the American right. Through the magazine's editorial work, the rights came together based on three principles: (1) The “defense” of the free market; (2) Return of morality and religious traditions; and (3) The fight against communism. By articulating several voices from different perspectives, the magazine was able to highlight what they had in common. The anticommunism. After all, it was “communism” that threatened their economic freedom, their religious freedom, and their political freedom.

Fusionism, one of the names given to the union project of National Review, peaked in the 1960s with the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. Arizona State Senator (from 1953 – 1965 and after 1967 – 1987) Barry Goldwater became an icon among conservatives especially after the publication of his book The Conscience of a Conservative in 1960. The book was written by Leo Brent Bozell (journalist and brother-in-law of Buckley Jr.) ghostwriting. Leo Brent Bozell had been serving as a speechwriter for Barry Goldwater since the 1950s. Interestingly, it was Welch of JBS who gave Barry Goldwater the idea to publish the book. Barry Goldwater's (or Bozell's) book was the epitome of fusionism and gave conservatism not only an intellectual authority (by integrating academics and economics researchers to rethink alternatives to the policies of subsequent Democratic governments), but also invested these policies with a religious moral authority. Everything tied together by anti-communism and the defense of individual property (material and spiritual).

Barry Goldwater's popularity has thrust him into the spotlight. Still in 1961, Frederick Clifton White and William Rusher (the first, a political consultant specialized in organizing entrepreneurs and the second editor of the National Review) met in New York and began a plan for the Republican nomination for 1964, the proposal was to nominate a “true conservative”. Barry Goldwater's name was soon recognized. And the senator who had already turned to the AEI for academic guidance, once his campaign was official, received from him “brain trust” headlined by Baroody. The president of the AEI (In 1962 the American Enterprise Association renamed itself to American Enterprise Institute – AEI) even took a leave of absence from the institution to follow the candidate around the country, writing his speeches and devising strategies.

What we want to demonstrate is that the “Goldwater movement”, which brought fusionism to the Republican Party and helped popularize the foundations of what we now understand as “conservatism” in the United States, originated from a movement outside the Republican Party. Having among its primary architects not only religionists and free market advocates, but conspiracy theorists.

Although it was defeated at the polls, the conservative movement did not lose steam. On the contrary, it was in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s that some of the main conservative voices established themselves: 1964 was created the American Conservative Union (ACU), a lobbying organization; in 1964 was founded the The Conservative Book Club (CBC), a service that sent its members a monthly portfolio of a selection of publications by conservatives that could be purchased by mail; In 1966, with investment from the AEI, the Firing Line, hosted by Buckley, the program became the longest with the same host in the history of American television; In 1965 Irvil Kristol and Daniel Bell launched the public interest, the founding of the magazine is regarded as the beginning of the neoconservative movement.

But the anti-intellectualism and attack on Universities, founded back in the 1930s, have not ended. On the contrary. Throughout the 1950s, McCarthyism harassed and arrested professors allegedly related to the Communist Party (some actually were). Student protests and movements in fields university students were received by right-wing businessmen as personal attacks. The annual report of the president of Harvard declared in 1969 that two years ago there was a "small group of would-be revolutionaries" who "live in a fantasy world if they believe that the United States is fertile territory for this type of violence".

Donald Kendall, CEO of PepsiCo accused young Americans of “economic illiteracy” in the midst of a commencement address at western kentucky university. A year later, the CEO and co-founder of Hewler-Packard (HP), David Packard advocated at a meeting of the Committee for Corporate Support of American Universities that businesspeople stop making unrestricted donations to universities because “a 'militant minority' of the student body had taken control of most campuses”. Accusations of "babble" abound.

It was this fear of succumbing to communism and losing one's freedoms and being forbidden to profess one's faith that sustained the behaviors and discourses that can be understood as anti-intellectual or paranoid/conspiratorial on the American conservative right. take the book None Dare Call it Conspiracy, by Garry Allen and Larry Abraham (the first, a historian graduated from Stanford; the second, a businessman. Both members of JBS). The work launched in 1971 makes a direct attack on academia, accusing academics of being “sheep following the flock”. In addition, it summarizes the conspiratorial thinking of JBS, claims that the 1929 crisis was planned to establish communism, attacks the Federal Reserve, accuses the government of covering up communists and goes so far as to assert that the Communist Manifesto it is, in fact, an adaptation of the secret book of the Order of the Illuminati. The astonishing thing is that Congressman John Schmitz – who was invited to write the foreword – defended and promoted the book several times, going so far as to read the entire first chapter in one sitting. if you lift the Congressional Records dated June 28, 1972 you will find the first part of the book transcribed in full.

This fear has been manipulated and exaggerated and this has not gone unnoticed by the US right wing itself. Years later, studying the formation of the right in the 1950s and 1960s, Daniel Bell (one of the fathers of neoconservatism) defended that the ignition for the conservatism movement for a union did not happen by an ideological unit, on the contrary, it was the result of the movement. A movement that was not organic, but engineered. The ignition would have been political revolt, distrust in the state and fear. These elements would evoke the feeling that Daniel Bell classified as "dispossessed", that is, the feeling that "America" ​​was being torn away from the "American". The maintenance of a “fear” and the belief of being constantly under attack by the “left” characterized and still characterize important parts of the conservative identity in a way that we recognize patterns and formulas being readjusted in different contexts, but always presenting a certain degree of conspiratorial thinking and political paranoia.

*John Victor Uzer holds a master's degree in social history from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).


About New Deal and anti-intellectualism in the United States, we draw mainly on the classic work of Richard Hofstadter Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963) and in the thesis The Inventors of the New Deal: State and Labor in 1930s America by Flávio Limoncic, available at the USP theses repository, or in a book by Civilização Brasileira (2009).

On the formation and consolidation of the conservative right throughout the 1940s and 1950s, we recommend the works of George Nash (in this text the The conservative intellectual movement in America since 1945, 2014 edition) and by Tatiaga Poggi (here we use mainly the Neofascism on the scene: the North American conservative advance and the case of the National Alliance, from 2008).

About think tanks we base ourselves mainly on works Dark money: The hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right (2017), by Jane Mayer; Idea brokers: Think tanks and the rise of the new political elite (1993), by James Smith; Think tanks and their influence on US foreign policy (2007) by Tatiana Teixeira and in the article Business Conservatives and the Mont Pèlerin Society, by Kim Phillips-Fein in the book The Road from Mont Pélerin (2009), by the same author.

Finally, Hayek's quote on FEE is taken from the essay. The Defense of Our Civilization Against Intellectual Error published in the magazine Freeman-new series-foundation for economic education. Hoover's quote about the Hoover Instituten was removed from Idea Broker, by James Smith. And, Daniel Bell's quote about the 1950s right is taken from the article dispossessed, published in the book the radical right, by Bell himself. The 2017 edition was used in this text.

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