All evidence points to the superiority of the libertarian ideal – private property, capitalism, international trade, laissez-faire – but something is keeping the world from embracing it. That something is wrong-headed ideology, some philosophical error grown into a massive system of thought, an agenda that if unleashed would mutilate and crush civilization as we know it.
Murray Rothbard had a nose for such error. And when he smelled it, he wrote it up, exposed its underside, refuted its logic, and obliterated its intellectual foundation. That’s why he was so hated – and so loved. He is so relentless that it makes the reader squirm. But he also teaches and inspires.
Consider, for example, "anarcho-socialism." Here is an ideology that hates the state. Fine so far. Problem: it is an ideology that hates private property even more. In fact, these people believe that the state is the only reason private property exists. Rothbard writes:
"They totally fail to realize that the State has always been the great enemy and invader of the rights of property. Furthermore, scorning and detesting the free market, the profit-and-loss economy, private property, and material affluence – all of which are corollaries of each other – Anarcho-Communists wrongly identify anarchism with communal living, with tribal sharing, and with other aspects of our emerging drug-rock ‘youth culture’."
Or here’s another: those people who are forever complaining about the "ugliness" and "brutality" of urban commercial life. Rothbard writes:
"My own observation is that most of the bellyachers about the ugliness of our cities and singers of paeans to the unspoiled wilderness stubbornly remain ensconced in these very cities. Why don’t they leave? There are, even today, plenty of rural and even wilderness areas for them to live in and enjoy. Why don’t they go there and leave those of us who like and enjoy the cities in peace. Furthermore, if they got out, it would help relieve the urban ‘overcrowding’ which they also complain about."
And we’ve all heard about oppression of women under marriage. Well, listen to Rothbard’s take on it:
"The women militants who complain that they are stuck with the task of raising the children should heed the fact that, in a world without marriage, they would also be stuck with the task of earning all the income for their children’s support. I suggest that they contemplate this prospect long and hard before they continue to clamor for the abolition of marriage and the family."
And what of those who say parents should just let their kids do whatever they want and to discipline them is a violation of their rights? Thus saith Rothbard:
"The overriding fact of parent-child relations is that the child lives on the property of his parents. The child lives either in a house owned by his parents or in an apartment rented by them. Therefore, as in the case of any other ‘guest’ living on someone else’s property, he must obey the rules set down by the property owners for remaining on that property. In short, the parents have the perfect legal and moral right to lay down the rules for their children, just as they would have the right to lay down rules for the behavior of their longstanding house guest, Uncle Ezra."
So it goes through this wonderful book called Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, and Other Essays. It might just be the wildest Rothbard romp ever. Fully armed, he slices and dices crazies of all sorts, from those who would level all incomes to those who would free all people’s of the world through bombings and nuclear war. This is Rothbard providing the reader a strong does of sanity against the hordes of ideological fanatics who care not a knit for reality or reason.
But Rothbard is not one of those thinkers who, like Russell Kirk, conclude that ideology is itself a bad thing. On the contrary, Rothbard believes that ideology is critical for the defense of liberty: we must organize our ideas to make sense of the world and to have an agenda for the future.
Thus does this book also include outstanding pieces of positive theory, including "Justice and Property Rights," "War, Peace, and the State," and "Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty." It concludes with his rallying cry: "Why Be Libertarian?"
With all the political books out there, each with a partisan spin, it’s wonderful to read a thinker who doesn’t fear exposing the errors of left and right, measuring anyone and everyone against the great benchmark of the idea of liberty.
Murray 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.