article is excerpted from the title essay and the introduction to
the first edition of Egalitarianism
as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays.
Introduction to First Edition
Probably the most common question that has been hurled at me –
in some exasperation – over the years is, "Why don’t you
stick to economics?"
For different reasons, this question has been thrown at me by fellow
economists and by political thinkers and activists of many different
persuasions: conservatives, liberals, and libertarians who have
disagreed with me over political doctrine and are annoyed that an
economist should venture "outside of his discipline."
Among economists, such a question is a sad reflection of the hyperspecialization
among intellectuals of the present age. I think it manifestly true
that very few of even the most dedicated economic technicians began
their interest in economics because they were fascinated by cost
curves, indifference classes, and the rest of the paraphernalia
of modern economic theory. Almost to a man, they became interested
in economics because they were interested in social and political
problems and because they realized that the really hard political
problems cannot be solved without an understanding of economics.
After all, if they were really interested mainly in equations and
tangencies on graphs, they would have become professional mathematicians
and not have devoted their energies to an economic theory that is,
at best, a third-rate application of mathematics.
what usually happens to these people is that as they learn the often
imposing structure and apparatus of economic theory, they become
so fascinated by the minutiae of technique that they lose sight
of the political and social problems that sparked their interest
in the first place. This fascination is also reinforced by the economic
structure of the economics profession (and all other academic professions)
itself: namely, that prestige, rewards, and brownie points are garnered
not by pondering the larger problems but by sticking to one’s narrow
last and becoming a leading expert on a picayune technical problem.
Among some economists, this syndrome has been carried so far that
they scorn any attention to politico-economic problems as a demeaning
and unclean impurity, even when such attention is given by economists
who have made their mark in the world of specialized technique.
And even among those economists who do deal with political problems,
any consideration devoted to such larger extra-economic matters
as property rights, the nature of government, or the importance
of justice is scorned as hopelessly "metaphysical" and
beyond the pale.
N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State, Conceived
in Liberty, What
Has Government Done to Our Money, For
a New Liberty, The
Case Against the Fed, and many
other books and articles. He was
also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and academic vice president of
the Ludwig von Mises Institute.