Howard Buffet was a man of the Old Right. He was a Congressman from Omaha, Nebraska in the middle of the 20th century. He was firmly opposed to government inflation. He passionately wanted to restore the dollar’s redeem-ability in gold. He was for free markets and opposed to foreign adventurism. He was Warren Buffett’s father and one of the greatest representatives of the 20th century. To understand how the ideas of conservatism changed from the middle of the 20th century to today, Howard Buffet is a great example of what “conservatism” was and what it may be again.
Sometimes it is interesting how life and history bring out connections that a person never expected. Howard Buffet graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1925. He also attended Dundee Presbyterian Church, which is a couple of blocks away from my house and is still a beautiful building today. He was personal friends with the greatest economist of the 20th century, Murray Rothbard, whose works I still find enjoyable and relevant today, even for being decades old. He was also friends with “Mr. Republican”, Robert Taft, who is almost universally considered one of the top three most influential Senators of the century, and who I also look to for inspiration. Howard Buffet was considered as the “conservative firebrand” of his time, though most conservatives today would find many of his ideas very different from their own.
Conservatives today would find many of Buffet’s ideas strange, quirky, or maybe even isolationist. This is unfortunate because Buffet’s ideas were mainstream conservatism at the time and still represent true conservatism in its real form as opposed to today’s Neo-conservatism which passes for generic “conservatism” with the general public. Howard Buffet believed in a firm gold standard and understood that true liberty could not exist without it. Buffet pointed out that the first thing that dictators such as Mao, Stalin, and Hitler do is to end the gold standard in their respective countries. This should make any citizen hesitate when considering whether the state should control the money supply or whether it should be independently held by the people. Howard Buffet’s prediction in the 1950s in which the gold window would collapse were finally proven correct in 1971. Whether a complete monetary break down happens remains to be seen but, the United States seems to be getting closer every day. Howard Buffet also pointed out that a gold standard is the only real restraint on government largesse and that scraping the gold standard would lead to runaway deficits financed by inflation. Most importantly, Howard Buffet understood how a gold standard was important to human liberty as the right to bear arms. Without the gold standard, man is a slave to the whims of bureaucrats and the banking interests.
Howard Buffet was opposed to the Korean War and was “convinced that the United States was largely responsible for the eruption of conflict in Korea”. Such a statement today would likely draw boos at a republican convention today but, this was the widely held view of most conservative republicans at the time. Howard Buffet was wise to understand the limits of government intervention at home and abroad. He correctly looked at the Korean War as an extension of Wilsonian progressivism in the Pacific. He pointed out correctly that wars such as this also bring about tyranny and socialism back home. Howard Buffet pointed out that
“Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home. Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns. Persuasion and example are the methods taught be the Carpenter of Nazareth, and if we believe in Christianity we should try to advance our ideals by his methods. We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.”
For today’s Neo-conservatives, this talk would be political heresy. No country is too small to intervene militarily. Howard Buffet also raised a similar view on the Vietnam War that the socialist Lyndon Johnson dragged us into, “When the American government conscripts a boy to go 10,000 miles to the jungles of Asia without a declaration of war by Congress (as required by the Constitution) what freedom is safe at home? Surely, profits of U.S. Steel or your private property are not more sacred than a young man’s right to life.” Once again, this would make modern Conservatives cringe: “Surely it is irresponsible to bring up who is making profits during such a noble crusade? As far as the constitution goes, we can’t let a dreary old thing like that keep us from carpet bombing a bunch of savages in Cambodia!” Though maybe strange today, Howard Buffet’s view on war is what conservatism really means. The constitution is the highest law of the land and should be obeyed. There is no quicker way to enslave free men at home than to conscript them and send them by force to wars of political convenience abroad. There is nothing American about conscription, it is a throwback to the European idea that the state owns every citizens’ life and can dispense with it at will. As Milton Friedman pointed out, and as the wars today demonstrate, there is no real need for conscription, it is simply a way to force people into a life threatening job at below market wage rates.
For conservatives to understand what conservatism really means, they should look into the history of the conservative movement. They might be surprised to find that the leaders of conservativism in the last eighty years are very different from most fraudulent politicians that claim the title “conservative” today. They might even find people like Howard Buffet staring back at them through the pages of history gently reminding us of the true meaning of the constitution.