From Moderate Republican to Green Reaganite

"Let the Workers Control the Means of Production"—OK, John, I'll read this tonight.I’ve known my share of
libertarian Reaganites and I’ve known my share of libertarian
greens. But John McClaughry, the
founder of the Ethan Allen Institute
and a contributing
at Reason, might be the country’s only
libertarian Reaganite green: The same decentralist impulse that led
him to take a job as a Reagan speechwriter also made him the
chairman of the
E.F. Schumacher Society
and got him interested in worker-managed
. The mix of interests reminds me of Karl Hess, but while
Hess started his career as a Goldwaterite, McClaughry began in the
un-Goldwater camp: the “moderate Republican” sector of the ’60s,
which evidently contained multitudes.

McClaughry is now serializing his memoirs at the Front Porch
site. The
first chapter
, which covers those moderate-Republican years, is
valuable both as a glimpse into that forgotten milieu and as a look
at what happens when the government tries to get into the business
of promoting “voluntary” behavior. The young McClaughry was heavily
influenced by a libertarian text of the day, Richard Cornuelle’s

Reclaiming the American Dream
, which celebrated the
“independent sector” of voluntary mutual associations. The
political class responded to Cornuelle’s ideas by co-opting them,
with Cornuelle’s assistance; Murray Rothbard mocked
their efforts at the time, writing in The Libertarian

I don't think Hank done it this way.a “central theme” of the new [Nixon]
Administration will be a nationwide drive to stimulate “voluntary
action” against social ills. It adds that Secretary George Romney
is “in charge of planning the voluntary action effort.” This
concept needs to be savored: government, the quintessence of
coercion, is going to plan a nationwide “voluntary”
effort. George Orwell, where art thou now? War is Peace, Freedom is
Slavery, Voluntary Action is Government Planning.

The Post goes on to say that Romney, Secretary Finch, and the
President “are devotees of the idea that vast and untapped energies
of volunteers in an ‘independent sector’ can transform the Nation.”
Nixon endorsed the idea in 1965, and recently declared that “the
President should be the chief patron of citizen efforts.” And it
turns out that last year, Secretary Finch was co-author of a book
on the independent sector, with — you guessed it — Richard C.
Cornuelle, the “godfather of independent action” and head of the
Nixon task-force on independent voluntary action. Two major
programs are emerging: a mixed public-private organization
chartered by the Federal government to stimulate voluntary action
drives, and a series of Presidental awards, like the World War II
Navy “E” for Efficiency, to be bestowed by the President in person
for outstanding voluntary efforts.

Cornuelle was eventually disillusioned with all this.
(McClaughry quotes him: “I cannot imagine why I thought for a
moment that the state could be persuaded to contrive its own
undoing.”) But the more interesting disillusionment is
McClaughry’s, and one of the pleasures of McClaughry’s memoir
is the opportunity to see a young Cornuellean getting fed up with
the unfolding process. McClaughry’s sardonic account hits its peak
when he serves on Nixon’s National Voluntary Service Action
Council, chaired by “Frank Stella, a Michigan auto dealer whose
qualifications pretty much began and ended with his chairmanship of
Italians for Nixon.” By this time, Nixon’s vision of “voluntary
action” was so stunted that the council’s only concern “was the
operation of the federal government’s volunteer agencies — VISTA,
the Peace Corps, Retired Senior Volunteer Programs, the Foster
Grandparents Program and several others.” At the council’s
organizational meeting, it was decided that the new

The lost prophet of voluntarism.needed an “honorary chairperson,” an epitome of
caring, selfless service, and probity. With one heart and voice the
Council found exactly the right choice: Mrs. Patricia Nixon.
Approved by acclamation! Tongue in cheek, I moved that the staff be
asked to compile a complete list of Mrs. Nixon’s many contributions
to voluntary service. Approved! (So far as I can recall, it was
never produced.)

As the feds transformed quasi-libertarian ideas into a
bureaucratic self-parody, McClaughry himself moved in the opposite
direction, becoming more libertarian in outlook. An account of the
National Home Ownership Foundation Act (NHOF), a
McClaughry-conceived attempt to offer a decentralist alternative to
urban renewal and public housing projects, shows the bill evolving
further and further from its original form before being completely
supplanted by LBJ’s National Housing Act of 1968. McClaughry in
turn evolved “from the ‘government pump priming and assistance’
model of the NHOF to the more libertarian ‘get the hell out of the
way and let people produce’ model.” For a sense of what that shift
looked like in practice, compare McClaughry’s summary of the
National Home Ownership Foundation Act’s provisions, which included
a substantial role for federal dollars, with the ideas he was
espousing in this 1978
Reason article. “What, then, should be the government’s
role in the housing industry?” the ’78 piece concludes. “[O]ne is
hard put to disagree with Elbert Hubbard’s pungent phrase: ‘Keep
away from that wheelbarrow! What the hell do you know about

from Hit & Run

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