Whose law is it?

This has got to be settled. Since at least the early 1990s, I have thought of the statement, “Any organization not explicitly conservative turns liberal over time,” as John O’Sullivan’s Law. Many other people have done the same, as shown in these Google search results. But lately, I’ve repeatedly seen the same statement being referred to as Robert Conquest’s Law, as shown in these less abundant Google search results, as well as in reader James W.’s comment in this thread. Which is correct? Did O’Sullivan, who at the time he coined the law was editor of National Review, uh, borrow the law from Soviet historian Robert Conquest? Or did Conquest borrow O’Sullivan’s Law? Or, like Darwin and Wallace, did they discover the law independently of each other?

- end of initial entry -

Ken Hechtman writes:

It’s O’Sullivan’s Law. Here’s the original formulation from National Review, 1989:

That is explained by O’Sullivan’s First Law: All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing. I cite as supporting evidence the ACLU, the Ford Foundation, and the Episcopal Church. The reason is, of course, that people who staff such bodies tend to be the sort who don’t like private profit, business, making money, the current organization of society, and, by extension, the Western world. At which point Michels’s Iron Law of Oligarchy takes over—and the rest follows.

Here’s a Corner discussion about it:

WHO’S ON FIRST [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
Derb, in your column the other day, you mentioned Conquest’s first law. Actually, a correction—and I should have caught this pre-publication—it is (John) O’Sullivan’s law, that “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.” The 1989 article where O’Sullivan introduced it is reprinted on NRO here.
Posted at 01:48 PM

CONQUEST’S FIRST LAW [Kathryn Jean Lopez ]
In a follow-up column, John (O’S) in 1989 shared Conquest’s first law (having cited Conquest’s second, after the introduction of the O’Sullivan first, in that original O’Sullivan piece, here) with NR readers in his from the editor column: “Everyone is reactionary on the subject he is expert about.” John added, “So far, so good. But Bob Conquest warns me that it does not mean that everyone is an expert on the subject he is reactionary about. Sorry.”
Posted at 01:48 PM

The confusion comes because the O’Sullivan piece cites Conquest’s other law, “The behavior of an organization can best be predicted by assuming it to be controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies”, while a follow-up piece cites Conquest’s first law.

LA replies:

Thanks much for this. The explanation of how the confusion came about is not entirely clear, especially K-Lo’s incomprehensible second entry. But at least we get the point that Conquest had two laws, and that there was no connection between Conquest’s two laws and O’Sullivan’s law.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 05, 2008 01:13 AM | Send

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