Remembering Joey

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Delivered at the memorial service for JoAnn B. Rothbard, Madison Advenue Presbyterian Church, New York City, February 26, 2000.

"The trouble with socialism," Oscar Wilde once wrote, "is that it takes too many evenings." Indeed, the private lives of socialists are highly politicized. They must not be interested in anything — not even their families — except socialism. The theory must inform every aspect of their lives, which must be a microcosm of a socialist society: there must be no escape from the All-Embracing Theory.

The lives of Murray and JoAnn Beatrice Schumacher Rothbard illustrated the opposite principle. He was the premier anti-socialist of our time, the greatest economist of his generation, a philosopher and historian who made immense contributions. She was his lifetime helpmate, an excellent manager, an opera aficionado with a scholar’s level of knowledge, an enthusiast for liberty, a woman of remarkable personal patience, an excellent judge of character, and, above all else, a wife supremely in love with her husband, as he was with her.

Together, their lives were a microcosm of liberty, with interests spanning an extraordinary range and a private life just as rich and varied as what they accomplished together in their public life.

In the months following her death, I came across a beautiful correspondence between during their courtship, she at home in Virginia for the summer and he in New York. His letters are hilarious and charming, and hers warm and witty. They write about New York baseball, the perfidy of certain umpire, and why it was important to love the Yankees and boycott the Giants. He shared his view of child-rearing, in particular the proper technique for teaching a child how to swim. Murray’s view: throw him in the water! She took a more moderate view. These were two young people in love with life, and they adored each other.

Murray was blessed with an astonishing brilliance and intellectual creativity, but he was never one for fitting into the usual social conventions of young adulthood. Joey appeared to have understood him like no one else. She loved his genius, his humility, and his unrelenting laughter. He found her kind, gracious, and beautiful, the first person whom he could really pour his heart out to, and whom he thoroughly respected.

She used to draw up schedules for him to prevent breakfast from overlapping with the dinner hour. She would signal him when it was time to get off the phone, or write a paper for that next conference. What must it have been like to have lived with Murray, to have seen him work, to enjoy his insights and humor every day for so long?

Many of us were fortunate to be a part of their private life to some extent. And as many of us know, a Rothbardian evening was not like Wilde’s steely-eyed socialist one. They constantly entertained guests from all walks of life, freely talked to any callers curious about libertarian ideas, and spent endless hours with students and friends.

They were generous with their time, food, and books, and as anxious to learn from others as others were from them. If the socialist evening served as a fearful look into the sternness and regimentation of a centrally planned society, a Rothbardian evening seemed to suggest the limitless possibilities and hope of freedom.

For them, it wasn’t always about the great political struggle of our time. They also attended concerts, plays, jazz clubs, and films, and studied German baroque church architecture, the paintings of Caravaggio, early music, and American history. Like many great intellectuals — G.K. Chesterton comes to mind — Murray was somewhat disorganized. JoAnn was the practical partner of the team. She hosted all the parties, cooked all the food, and kept his schedule. She proofed and typed all of Murray’s manuscripts, inspired him in his research and writing, and sponsored a salon in their home that was crucial for the birth of the libertarian movement. Where he was naive, she was knowing. Service of this variety is an old-fashioned virtue, not nearly as appreciated as it should be these days.

Once when Murray was discouraged from attending a Messiah sing because he would mistakenly attempt to sing all four parts, Joey began her own sing in their home. It became an annual staple for their always large and growing set of friends in New York. Joey later developed and cultivated an intense interest in opera — more intense that Murray could ever muster — so she would frequently fly to large and important performances that couldn’t be missed, especially those of Wagner.

When Murray got to know novelist Ayn Rand, he was told by one of her devotees that he had a problem: Joey appeared to believed in God, a self-evidently irrational impulse. The Randians told Murray that if he wanted to be part of their group, she had to change. They walked out, together.

Joey loved to tell stories about Murray: how they were once tossed out of the Columbia University library for laughing, and how she knew how to find him in a dark theater on their first date: by following the laughter. Indeed, to spend even a few minutes with Murray and Joey was to find yourself laughing uproariously. Frequently the laughter concerned politics, but it might also concern anything else. Their joy together was boundless, their intellectual curiosity deep, their love of life complete.

Murray could not have accomplished what he did without her. He wrote thousands of articles and 25 books, and developed the first, fully integrated science of liberty — with her by his side, providing indispensable encouragement and support. She made his breathtaking level of productivity possible. But even more importantly, they lived good and faithful lives, to each other, to the principles they shared, and to never letting their passion for politics squeeze out the moral obligation to care for others and to embrace life to its fullest.

His unexpected and untimely death in 1995 was a devastating blow to Joey. Her health was failing and her main source of joy gone. But she knew what Murray would have her do. She stayed constantly in touch by phone. She threw herself into reading and research, becoming a real expert on the depredations of Lincoln. She gave classes at our student programs, and lectured about Murray’s thought at the Austrian Scholars Conference.

On the fourth anniversary of Murray’s death, she suffered a terrible stroke, and died months later. We are left with warm memories of their happiness together, and the multitude of ways in which she and he touched our lives.

They had their priorities straight. In their public and private lives, they exemplified the spirit of liberty, and changed our world. Rest in peace, Joey, and God bless you for making everything possible.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute editor of a daily news site, LewRockwell.com.

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