[This is Frank O’Connell’s preface to the 1992 edition of Murphey’s book Liberalism in Contemporary America.]
PREFACE TO 1992 EDITION
This ought to be a book that, in the trite phrase of the toastmaster, “needs no introduction.” It ought to be familiar to all conservatives—indeed, to all thinking people of whatever political philosophy who are concerned about the state of our civilization as the 20th century speeds to its close. That it is not, is simply one more symptom of the smothering hegemony that characterizes what the author dubs “twentieth century American Liberalism,” that label being intended to distinguish that mushy amalgam of trendy Left thinking from real (that is, Classical) Liberalism.
Those who lay claim, as do the author and this writer, to the noble title of Classical Liberal need to know this book, because it will tell them all they need to know about why their cause has not prospered, and, perhaps more importantly, what ideas have prospered in their stead—and why and how. Its republication (with new material added) of Dwight Murphey’s superb historical analysis of American Liberalism comes at a critical juncture, for Classical Liberalism finds itself challenged by two major tasks: (1) The intellectual rehabilitation and education of formerly Communist-dominated peoples, hungry for freedom and eager to erect its institutions, and (2) the need to recapture our own culture and its institutions from the ever more totalitarian grasp of American Liberalism. While Professor Murphey’s work undoubtedly will be enormously valuable in the first of those tasks, it will be absolutely indispensable to the second—the recapture of our culture and the repair of the damage done to it from the Left—both the “New Left”, born in the ‘60s (our own version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution) and the “Old Left”, whose cultural subversions, Professor Murphey shows us, have been going on for more than a century, beginning with the alienation of American intellectuals early in the nineteenth century. Professor Murphey’s work exhaustively documents the rake’s progress by which the Leftwing philosophy fraudulently calling itself “liberal” gradually displace the Classical Liberalism which was
’s birthright. In the course of doing so, he is careful to point out that American liberalism is by no means an evolutionary development or outgrowth of Classical Liberalism (as too many are inclined to accept), but rather a kind of apostasy, totally hostile in every significant respect to the principles of true Liberalism and dedicated, from the outset, to replacing them with the principles of socialism, syndicalism, collectivism, and so on—whatever, from time to time, has constituted the intellectual baggage of what Professor Murphey calls “the World Left.” Thus was the way prepared for the New Deal and, in due course, for the so-called “countercultural revolution” of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The emphasis during that era on—indeed, the apotheosizing of—“the young” (those whom Midge Decter so accurately portrayed in “Liberal Parents, Radical Children”) takes on an added significance in the light of Professor Murphey’s sparkling insights (the book is full of them): We are not, he argues, the advanced civilization we thought we were. In point of fact, mankind is still “immature” and only “partly civilized.” Shock gives way to hope as the reader realizes that, if that is true—if we and our institutions are in what he calls a state of “cosmic infancy”—then our flaws and shortcomings if children are correctable. This is not to say that errant children cannot cause grave damage, as the children of the ‘60s surely did when they ravaged the American cultural fabric. But American Liberalism had been weakening that fabric for decades, as Professor Murphey notes, in a characteristically pungent passage. Speaking of the impact of the ‘60s on conservatives, he says: “They came to see how tenuous was the hold that the American people of the mid-twentieth century, shallowly rooted and lacking in an intellectual culture appropriate to a free society, had upon fundamental values.” America
The task and the challenge, then, are to restore to our nation the “intellectual culture appropriate to a free society.” Given the staggering array of pulpits commanded by those whom Paul Johnson calls “the enemies of society,” Classical Liberals surely have their work cut out for them. That the task of exposing and discrediting those enemies will be less daunting now, we owe to Professor Murphey and his monumental work. He analyzes for us who the intellectual foe of freedom is, where he came from, how he thinks and operates—indispensable intelligence in any combat. The rest is up to us. What is needed now is the resolve!
It would be remiss to end this note without reference to one special illustration of the conspicuous gallantry with which Professor Murphey carried out his mission: In addition to his other research—massive enough—he read every issue (200 volumes) of The New Republic, as well as 100 volumes of The Nation. That he is able to write coherently at all after exposing himself to stupefaction on so vase a scale speaks volumes for his dedication, as well as his talent!
Grass Valley, California