Perhaps it's time to bring back the
Forgotten by everyone save a few history buffs, primarily on the libertarian right and the Marxist left, the League was formed early in
The League saw itself as a platform for constitutionalists and classical liberals who felt estranged from both Roosevelt's
That's right -- the Liberty Leaguers didn't even like Hoover. Contrary to a lot of mythmaking,
Still, at the time, if you were a free-market constitutionalist, you could see how switching from Hoover to Roosevelt felt like falling out of the frying pan into the fire.
So in 1934 the group formed to stand up for ideas that had been called liberal for most of the preceding century. Its members weren't anarchists. In its literature, the League said it "thoroughly recognizes the obligations of our government to come to the relief of the men and women who are in distress through no fault of their own."
But they were passionate champions of economic liberty. "There is one very clear lesson to be learned from history -- namely, that governmental disregard for property rights soon leads to disregard for other rights," one of its pamphlets declared. "A bureaucracy or despotism that robs citizens of their property does not like to be haunted by its victims."
Alas, the League was a boon to FDR. With the press unabashedly on his side and the Depression still raging, it was easy to demonize the League as nothing more than malefactors of great wealth bent on protecting their privilege. The punch line at a Gridiron dinner in 1934: "If anybody's in favor of saving the Constitution, it's a sure sign he's got at least a million dollars."
FDR was less cheeky. "Give them their way and they will take the course of every autocracy of the past -- power for themselves, enslavement for the public."
The demonization campaign worked in the short term. But the League had some important long-term victories. It planted the seeds that would grow underground and blossom after the war. Diverse institutions such as the
"There seems no inherent obstacle,"
That was the plan. And it failed because conservatives and libertarians picked up the discarded weapons of the
Americans interested in neither nationalism nor socialism are once more entering an era of political homelessness. Trump won partly because too few took him seriously for too long; the "movement" needs to get moving and make fresher arguments for timeless principles.