The Efron Affair

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article originally appeared in
Libertarian Review, May 1978, pp. 14–15.

from all over the country have been asking me what my response is
to Edith Efron’s attack – on the libertarian movement in general
and on me personally – in her "Viewpoint" column
in the February [1978] Reason. To give you an idea, consider
how you would feel if you were well-known in your community
and someone, in order to discredit you and your activities, claimed
in print that you had made certain damaging admissions to her –
admissions you had never made, but which were so dramatic they were
bound to be repeated from one end of the movement to the other.
And all this looked to be done out of malice, to destroy what you
had spent your life building up. Well, that’s about the way I

that Efron wrote about my alleged disclosures to her is untrue:
they are either lies or self-deceptions emerging from her own paranoid
fantasies. To be specific, I never tried to "take over"
any party of which Eldridge Cleaver was the head, or do anything
like it (a pretty idiotic thing for me to have attempted). In working
with leftists against the draft and the Vietnam War, I never had
the absurd notion of converting them to capitalism, either sneakily
(as Efron would have it) or otherwise. Above all, on her most dramatic
point (which virtually forms the leitmotif of her article), no one
has ever pulled a gun on me, in the ribs or in any other way. Nor,
of course, did I ever tell her any of this rubbish. It is
all preposterous nonsense, every word of it.

Efron needed
the "gun-in-the-ribs" gambit as a major theme in order
to prove to everyone’s satisfaction that all leftists are thugs
and hoodlums, and that a gun in the ribs is all you can expect from
any dealings with them. (Apparently, her pals in the Pentagon
are devoid of any lethal weaponry.) The fact that this unlikely
canard fit in so well with the point she was trying to make in her
column should have tipped off the reader to what was going on –
an exercise in personal fantasy spinning rather than political analysis.

The outrage
I feel stems from the frustration of a victim who has been falsely
accused in the public print. Efron makes a dramatic statement about
me; I deny it. What is the average reader to think? Most of them
will say, "Well – who knows? She may be right." Or,
"Who am I to judge?" – especially if they are not
personal friends of either of us. Personal friends of mine have
no trouble figuring out which one to believe. As one of them said,
I’m not the sort of person to hoard stories. It’s inconceivable
that I would have told a saga as dramatic as the "gun-in-the-ribs"
story only to someone like Efron, who has merely been an
acquaintance, or that among all my acquaintances I would have told
it only to her. Surely my friends would have heard it many
times over, and someone else would have heard it sometime, somewhere.
The reason they haven’t, of course, is that Efron created it out
of the whole cloth.

As for the
rest of Efron’s article, it is about on a par with her statements
about me: a farrago of ignorance and malice that is simply and literally
not to be believed. David
Ramsay Steele’s
article in last month’s Libertarian Review
barely scratched the surface in listing Efron’s "untruths."

charge that we libertarians are lax in saluting the greatness and
importance of free-market economists Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek
(whom she idiotically and typically places "on the conservative
side") is so ridiculous it’s embarrassing. I’ll just say that
I think what I’ve done to promote Austrian economics and
particularly the ideas of the great Mises compares rather favorably
with what Efron has done over the years. Efron’s charge that libertarians
such as myself ally ourselves only with the Left is ignorant hogwash.
We believe in allying ourselves with whoever has a libertarian
position on issues important to us. We hail a Nat Hentoff on civil
liberties and a Henry
on economics. This is not inconsistency; on the contrary,
it means that we consistently welcome people for the libertarian
positions they hold on particular issues, a welcome that in no sense
means that we endorse their stand on every conceivable question.
But to libertarians, this is nothing new. Most of us have known
for a long time that our position cuts across the conventional left-right
spectrum, that we agree with liberals on some issues and with conservatives
on others. That is because we are consistent upholders of
liberty, and they of course are not.

Her implication
that we have joined the Left in "evad[ing] mass murder in Cambodia"
is false on two important counts: first, because much of the information
that we have, and that she can self-righteously refer to, on the
monstrosity that is Cambodia comes to us from leftists who staunchly
opposed the war in Indochina, from James Forest, Jean Lacouture,
Father Ponchaud, etc.; and second, because I myself, as she well
knows, wrote a blistering attack on the Cambodian regime in Libertarian
Review. Where and when did Efron ever write on the subject before
she penned her broadside attack?

Efron’s appalling
ignorance of the libertarian movement is revealed by her lament
that the limited-government people have struck some sort of "deal"
with anarchocapitalists never to engage in discussion or debate
over their ultimate ideological differences. Efron has apparently
not been reading not only Libertarian Forum or the Journal
of Libertarian Studies, which has published numerous anarchist
critiques of Robert
, but not even Reason itself, where John Hospers
and I have squared off. The debate continues. It is only the activists
in the Libertarian Party who wisely concluded that they would get
nowhere facing concrete political issues if they spent their energies
on such theoretical questions. These disputes, while ultimately
important, are hardly relevant at present to contesting the next
election or dealing with current political situations.

Efron had no desire whatever to remedy her ignorance of the libertarian
movement before writing about it. Instead of doing research, she
seems to have relied on her imagination for facts. Her slovenliness
extends even to Inquiry,
a publication that is not, strictly speaking, libertarian, but rather
a general-interest, political-affairs magazine. What can we say
of an alleged reporter who presumes to denounce Inquiry without
having read any of it – even though she was offered
a gift of the issue that had already appeared when she wrote her

I have before
me the 12 issues of Inquiry that have come out so far. Does
it exude "sleaze," as Efron would have it? Has the enemy
put one over on its editor, Bill Evers? Hardly. There are attacks
on the Panama Canal treaties (by yours truly); the American, Communist,
and Third World governments; corruption in the US Congress; the
therapeutic state; foreign aid; the post office; and public education
(the last by "Maoist" Karl Hess, among others). There
is the moving diary of a Polish dissident, and defenses of competition
in the professions and of the rights of real nations (i.e.,
populations with a common cultural and linguistic heritage), such
as Scotland and Catalonia (not of the empires that lord it
over them). And there is Tom
in every other issue, defending the rights of Americans
against an American state that he, at least, considers to be tyrannical.
More than anything else, there’s something called quality.

For Efron –
who has not had anything to do with the libertarian movement in
ten years, and who, from the testimony of her own article, is scarcely
a libertarian at all – to presume to read people out of that
movement is unparalleled chutzpah. It’s as if I should
write an article attempting to dictate theology and ritual to the
Greek Orthodox Church, telling it whom it should expel for heresy
and whom it should revere.

Sometimes her
article is relieved by some (unconscious) humor; thus, Efron expresses
horror that a "distinguished laissez-faire economist,"
Roger LeRoy Miller, was asked to write a review of a book on the
political economy of whorehouses. What she fails to realize is that
Professor Miller has written on precisely such topics as prostitution,
as has the eminent free-market economist George
W. Hilton
– who has even spoken at a convention of COYOTE,
an organization of prostitutes defending their right to do business.

But this gaffe
is of a piece with Efron’s moral horror at the concern that libertarians
show for the freedom of speech and voluntary activities of all people,
even the most disreputable. From her sneering at such freedom, it
is obvious that her devotion to civil liberties is minimal.
Efron employs the usual conservative trick of linking civil libertarians
with the lifestyles of those whose rights they are defending. If
one defends the rights of prostitutes or drug takers, well, that
makes one a prostitute or drug taker, too. Attacking people such
as myself for being hippies and blind adherents of all aspects of
every liberation movement can only reap a horselaugh from anyone
in the least familiar with my own views and style of life over the

then, is Miss Efron? From the evidence of her article, she
is certainly a "news
" par excellence. But where have we seen
this before, this amalgam of hysterical smears and red-baiting,
joined to an ideology that scorns civil liberties and calls for
love and "reverence" for the state? There are not
many laissez-faire thinkers of the past who, though upholding limited
government, have actually loved and revered it. On the contrary
– for them, as for modern libertarians, love and reverence
have been reserved for such values as liberty and human dignity,
and even for one’s land, culture, and country. But not, ye
gods, for the state, which, even in the limited-government lexicon,
is at best simply a night watchman – a useful servant
and not something to be revered and worshiped.

Where have
we seen these tantrums, this hopped-up and wild-swinging disregard
of accuracy, this idea that checking a fact is beneath one’s dignity,
this confusion of the libertarian American Revolution with the American
state apparatus, this childish idealization of the US Constitution
(with all the abuses inherent in that document), and this constant
protest that she’s speaking out of "love" and "reverence"
while every line reeks of bitter hatred? We have seen them in the
fever swamps of the far Right, most specifically of the Randian
variety. Is this "love," this "reverence," these
old bones of the 1950s and 1960s, this dissociation from reality,
really what the libertarian movement is supposed to crawl back to?
Certainly not, and not at the behest of someone like Efron. We are
no longer an isolated sect. We are now an adult movement, we are
dealing with grown-up things, and moving around in the real world,
where facts are important. We are making an impact on the
mainstream of American life, and we have just begun.


N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic vice
president of the Mises Institute.
He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor. See
his books.

Best of Murray Rothbard

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