Murray N. Rothbard: Mr. Libertarian

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Murray
N. Rothbard (1926-1995) – the greatest libertarian theorist
of the 20th century – expressed what he considered
to be the central political issue confronting mankind. He wrote,
"My own basic perspective on the history of man…is to place
central importance on the great conflict which is eternally waged
between Liberty and Power."1 Liberty v.
Power. In its most blatant form, the struggle manifests itself as
war between the peaceful, productive individual and the intrusive
State that usurps those products. The tension between freedom and
authority is hardly a new subject for political commentary. But
Rothbard managed to bring a newness to everything he touched intellectually.

Rothbard
was a system builder. Unsatisfied with past attempts to present
a "philosophy of freedom," Rothbard sought to create an
interdisciplinary system of thought that used the struggle between
Liberty and Power as its integrating theme. He explained, "Strands
and remnants of libertarian doctrines are, indeed, all around us.
… But only libertarianism takes these strands and remnants and
integrates them into a mighty, logical, and consistent system."2
Without such a systematic world view, he believed Liberty could
not succeed.

In
forty-five years of scholarship and activism, Rothbard produced
over two dozen books and thousands of articles that made sense of
the world from a radical individualist perspective. In doing so,
it is no exaggeration to say that Rothbard created the modern libertarian
movement.3 Specifically, he refined and fused
together:

  • natural
    law theory, using a basic Aristotelian or Randian approach;
  • the
    radical civil libertarianism of 19th century individualist-anarchists,
    especially Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker;
  • the
    free market philosophy of Austrian economists, in particular
    Ludwig von Mises, into which he incorporated sweeping economic
    histories; and,
  • the
    foreign policy of the American Old Right – that is, isolationism.

As
a result of the fusion, libertarianism blossomed in the ’60s as
the philosophy of absolute individual rights based on natural law
– of rights that were expressed domestically through the free
market and internationally through non-aggression (isolationism)
with its corollary of unbridled free trade. But more than this.
Following in the footsteps of his mentor, the pioneering Austrian
Economist Ludwig von Mises, Rothbard grounded human liberty in human
nature. Developing an explicit philosophy of Liberty, he drove his
insights through history to re-examine the real implications and
meaning of events, such as the American Revolution. He laid a moral
foundation for freedom, then used it to springboard into a strategy
by which to achieve it. The integration was a stunning accomplishment.
And one that stirred the love of Liberty within a generation of
scholars and activists who proudly called themselves ‘Rothbardians.’
I include myself in those ranks.

Given
that he was a lightning rod for controversy and critical analysis,
it may seem that all aspects of Rothbard’s work have been exhaustively
explored. But Rothbard has not received sufficient credit for the
monumental task of integration that he achieved with such elegance.
There are a number of reasons for this oversight. One of them is
the short shrift that academia gives to system-building in preference
to extreme specialization within disciplines that are already carefully
defined.

Rothbard
once complained, "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?’" Calling the question
a "said reflection on the hyperspecialization among intellectuals,"
Rothbard continued, "…this syndrome has been carried so far
that they scorn any attention to politico-economic problems as a
demeaning and unclean impurity…"4

Yet,
Rothbard observed, the economists he knew "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."(ix)
Rothbard simply refused to give up the youthful passion for solving
social problems. Instead, he quoted the call-to-arms of Randolph
Bourne, "The secret of life is then that this fine youthful
spirit shall never be lost…. To keep one’s reactions warm and
true is to have found the secret of perpetual youth, and perpetual
youth is salvation."5

Another
reason Rothbard has been denied due status as an integrator
has been his tendency to include what most academics would view
as "dubious" cultural references in his economic and ethical
writings. For example, in his iconoclastic essay "Egalitarianism
as a Revolt Against Nature," Rothbard unabashedly discusses
the plot of "the British anti-Utopian novel Facial Justice,
by L.P. Hartley."6 This unpretentious
approach to ideas reflected Rothbard’s eagerness to popularize the
ideas of liberty in addition to providing a scholarly basis from
which to argue toward strategy. He had a rare talent: he could express
the same argument in pop-culture or in academic terms. As he once
wrote, "Especially in an age of galloping statism, the classical
liberal, the advocate of the free market, has an obligation to carry
the struggle to all levels of society."7

Although
Rothbard’s popularizing of ideas is a key ingredient that makes
his works fresh and entertaining, even when read repeatedly, academia
would certainly frown upon using science fiction to illustrate ethical
points. In short, not only did Rothbard stray outside of a narrow
specialty – not only did he not know "his place"
– Rothbard displayed an irreverent and joyous love of ideas,
no matter where they came from. Translation: his more popular books
were not deemed ‘serious’ works.

I
have sympathy with at least one reason for which people overlook
Rothbard’s status as a system builder. His "philosophy of liberty"
is a superbly consistent whole but, for those who browse it casually
without being familiar with classical liberalism, his system may
appear to be a ill-fitting synthesis of opposites. To those steeped
in the traditional left/right analysis of politics, his insistence
on radical civil liberties may seem utterly at odds with his championing
of laissez-faire capitalism. His anarchism may seem antagonistic
to individualism, since that political position is far more generally
presented in collectivist terms.

To
clear up what might be a reasonable confusion as to the consistency
of Rothbard’s meticulous system, it is valuable to explore the manner
in which it was constructed.

The
Construction of a World View

Rothbard
self-consciously built upon traditions. The tradition that was core
to his passion and vision may well have been Austrian economics.
He considered Mises’ great work Human
Action
(1949) to be pivotal in his intellectual formation
because it resolved the many contradictions in economics with which
he had grappled as a doctoral student at Columbia University. When
Mises held his famed seminars at New York University, Rothbard attended
eagerly from the very beginning.

Mises
emphasized the key role that human psychology and behavior –
that "acting" man – played in economics. He contended
that the marketplace was not an equation that functioned according
to mathematical calculations. It was not a precise machine, but
one driven by uncertainties. It was the collective expression of
human preference and judgment, and many of its ‘mechanisms’ were
best described in psychological terms. For example, marginal utility
is analysis of how human beings value goods more as they become
scarcer and, thus, each unit must be put to its highest use. I do
not shower with water that is essential for drinking purposes.

In
Man,
Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles
(2
vols., 1962), Rothbard embodied and extended Mises’ broad approach
to economics. Llewellyn Rockwell, head of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute
wrote, "Beginning with the philosophical
foundation, Rothbard built an edifice of economic theory and an
unassailable case for the market…. The book treated economics
as a humane science, not as a branch of physics." He concluded,
"…Rothbard’s great work, was the key to the resurgence of
Austrian economics after Mises’s death."8
It is difficult to overstate the impact of Man, Economy, and
State in certain circles of scholarship. Its influence was not
limited to students of economics. For example, Rothbard’s magnum
opus was solely responsible for turning me from the advocacy of
limited government to a lifetime of work within the individualist-anarchist
tradition. My experience was a microcosm that repeated itself within
thousands of others, each reacting in his or her own manner.

For
several years after the appearance of Man, Economy, and State.
Rothbard focused on historically documenting his case for economic
liberty by dealing with specific issues. The books from this period
included The
Panic of 1819: Reactions and Policies
(1962, and his Ph.D.
dissertation), America’s
Great Depression
(1963), What
Government Has Done to Our Money
(1964), and Economic
Depressions: Causes and Cures (1969). These works fleshed out
and gave context to his economic insights. They also defied the
common economic wisdom of the day.

For
example, in the words of Rockwell, America’s
Great Depression
[applied] the Misean theory of the business
cycle to show that the 1929 crash resulted from Federal Reserve
credit expansion."9

The
true intellectual sequel of Man Economy and State, however,
was Power and Market: Government and the Economy (1970) which
carried on the earlier book’s logic by providing an overview of
the devastation caused by state intervention, with special emphasis
on the destruction wrought by taxation. The book also offered a
tantalizing but sketchy model of the stateless society.

Rothbard
was acutely aware of the deficiencies of these works with regard
to establishing a solid base for freedom. He wrote, "Economics
can help supply much of the data for a libertarian position but
it cannot establish that political philosophy itself. For political
judgments are necessarily value-judgments, political philosophy
is therefore necessarily ethical, and hence a positive ethical system
must be set forth to establish the case for individual liberty."10

Much
of Rothbard’s subsequent writing aimed at providing the necessary
"political philosophy" that would allow liberty to flourish.
Ethics
of Liberty

(1982) became his overriding moral defense of a free society. Egalitarianism
as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays
(1974) was a
popular version of this defense. It is useful to examine both works.

The
Popular Moral Case for Liberty

The
collection of his essays entitled Egalitarianism as a Revolt
Against Nature is a much neglected tour de force in terms of
popularizing the basics of liberty.

In
the foreword to this collection, the political commentator R.A.
Childs, Jr. remarked upon a contention he had heard bandied about
in intellectual circles: namely, that anarchist theory contains
no great system-builders. By this criticism, critics meant to observe
that anarchism has not benefited from the presence of profound thinkers
who have integrated divergent schools of thought – e.g. philosophy,
history, psychology, economics – into a coherent and cohesive
world view. Anarchism has lacked a system-builder, like Karl Marx,
who could create the stern stuff of ideology.

Childs
disagreed. The anarchist world – and, specifically, individualist
(or libertarian) anarchism – had produced at least one great
system-builder: Murray N. Rothbard. Although Childs gave a well-deserved
nod of respect to the theoretical contributions of Spooner and Tucker,
it is to Rothbard whom he points as the integrator and synthesizer
of theory. It was Rothbard who provided "the entire libertarian
worldview, the unique way of viewing history and world affairs…"(v)

The
essays in Egalitarianism express this integration and achieve,
in a popular non-scholarly style, nothing less than "the discipline
of liberty" upon which modern libertarianism rests. The lead
essay, bearing the same title as the book itself, sets the tone
by going back to absolute fundamentals in human nature. That is,
the essay establishes a biological case for human diversity, a diversity
upon which individual liberty must rest. As Rothbard noted, "if
individuals were as interchangeable as ants, why should anyone worry
about maximizing the opportunity for every person to develop his
mind and his faculties and his personality to the fullest extent
possible?"(x-xi) Following the example of his mentor, Mises,
he looked to ‘acting man’ in order to ground "libertarianism
in individualism and individual diversity."(xi) Indeed, the
denial of diversity (individualism) is a denial of "the very
structure of humanity and of the universe."(p.13)

In
its broadest terms, then, this was Rothbard’s framework for liberty.
Human diversity, and the need to respect that condition as one of
the most basic facts of human nature, formed the immense outer structure
within which Rothbard rolled up his sleeves to construct the specifics.

The
next essay in the collection, entitled "Left and Right,"
begins the task of sculpting specifics by placing the "current
movement and ideology [of individualism] in a world-historical context
and perspective…"(xi) It asks the empirical question, "What…of
the prospects of liberty?"(p.14) In a spirit of optimism, Rothbard
contended "while the short-run prospects for liberty at home
and abroad may seem dim, the proper attitude for the Libertarian
to take is that of unquenchable long-run optimism."(p.15) He
based his optimism on a sweeping worldview of the struggle between
Liberty and Power, which transcended the traditional Left/Right
political distinction.

Rothbard
pushed his theme of Liberty vs. Power through centuries and through
the works of such divergent writers as Lord Action, Karl Marx and
George Bernard Shaw to arrive at post World War I America. Here,
even with the surging socialism of President Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Rothbard saw nothing but hope. He chided the reigning individualists
of that day – Albert J. Nock and H.L. Mencken – for adopting
"the great error of pessimism" and "despairing."(p.28)
They simply did not understand that the world had become industrial
and "only liberty, only a free market, can organize and maintain
an industrial system, and the more that population expands and explodes,
the more necessary is the unfettered working of such an industrial
economy."(p.29)

Thus,
with a broad framework of Liberty based in human nature and set
in the historical perspective of optimism, Rothbard marched with
a jaunty step straight toward the single greatest enemy of Liberty:
the State. The next essay is entitled "The Anatomy of the State"
and it systematically argues that statism is the antithesis of individualism.
In religious terms, it is the Antichrist. This essay begins by addressing
"What the State Is Not" (pp.34-35), "What the State
Is" (pp.35-37) and, then, proceeds into a now-classic analysis
of how the State acts primarily to preserve and expand itself. (pp.37-52)
The concluding section on Social Power v. State Power briefly describes
the conflict between those who live through productive labor (society)
and those who live by usurping the products of others (the State).
It springboards directly into the fundamental principles through
which Social Power can be encouraged and maintained.

The
essay, "Justice and Property Rights," provides the "philosophic
groundwork for the libertarian axiom of non-aggression against person
and property" then goes on to derive a theory of "justice
in property rights."(xi) In a traditionally libertarian manner,
Rothbard grounds property rights in what he calls two "fundamental
premises": "(a)
the absolute property right of each individual in his own person,
his own body; this may be called the right of self-ownership; and
(b) the absolute right in the material property of the person who
first finds an unused material resource and then in some way occupies
or transforms that resource by the use of his personal energy. This
might be called the homestead principle…"

The
essay applies these premises to a panorama of issues, from land
to intellectual property to so-called ‘animal rights.’ In non-scholarly
terms, it provides broad guidelines by which to translate the principles
of property rights into a system of justice. "To sum up: all
existing property titles may be considered just under the homestead
principle, provided (a) that there may never be any property in
people; (b) that the existing property owner did not himself steal
the property; and particularly © that any identifiable just
owner (the original victim of theft or his heir) must be accorded
his property."(p.69)

(At
this point in Egalitarianism, Rothbard skipped an important
step in the construction of a philosophy of liberty; it was an oversight
that he corrected elsewhere in his writings. Namely, Egalitarianism
gives no sense at all of how the free market institutions of justice
could be best constructed or encouraged to evolve. There is no hint
of a blueprint. Without the institutionalization of liberty through
the establishment of e.g. anarchist defense agencies, the prospects
of freedom are diminished.)

In
the fifth essay of Egalitarianism, entitled "War, Peace
and the State," Rothbard explicitly interwove the isolationist
foreign policy attitudes of the Old Right into the core of libertarian
theory. Having noted elsewhere that war is the single most destructive
Statist activity – both to individualism and to morality –
he aimed at the essential task of constructing a countervailing
"libertarian theory of war and peace." Rothbard applied
the "axiom of non-aggression to an area where most Libertarians
have been weakest: war and foreign policy." (xi) With a policy
of "no compromise," Rothbard consistently applied the
principle "it is completely impermissible to violate the rights
of other innocent people," and concluded that libertarians
should condemn "all wars, regardless of motive." (78)

The
remainder of the essay collection is more haphazard, mostly reflecting
Rothbard’s specific application of the broad principles he sketched
in the first half of the book. For example, the initial and defining
essay "Egalitarianism" had stated "since egalitarians
begin with the priori axiom that all people, and hence all groups
of peoples, are uniform and equal, it then follows for them that
any and all group differences in status, prestige or authority in
society must be the result of unjust ‘oppression’ and irrational
‘discrimination.’" (7) This observation springboards into the
latter essays "Kid Lib" and "The Great Women’s Liberation
Issue: Setting It Straight," in which Rothbard analyzes two
groups who are popularly believed to be oppressed because they are
‘different.’

In
terms of Rothbard’s heritage as a system-builder, two remaining
essays within Egalitarianism are of particular interest:
"The Spooner-Tucker Doctrine: An Economist’s View" and
"Ludwig von Mises and the Paradigm for Our Age." In "The
Spooner-Tucker Doctrine," Rothbard praised the two great 19th
century American anarchists not only for realizing that government
and individual liberty were incompatible, but also for exploring
the ways in which individuals could cooperate together without the
State to achieve what Tucker called a ‘society by contract.’ They
were, in essence, social utopians as much as they were political
theorists.

Despite
his deep respect for the 19th century American tradition,
Rothbard was painfully aware of his predecessors flaws. He critiqued
a point of economic error that they both shared, "…it was
their [Tucker’s, Spooner’s] adoption of the labor theory of value
that convinced them that, rent, interest and profit were payments
exploitatively extracted from the worker." (129)

Rothbard’s
remedy for this weakness, his attempt to correct the errors of the
past century so that they did not cripple the 20th century
world view, is embodied in the last essay of Egalitarianism.
It is entitled "Ludwig von Mises and the Paradigm for Our Age."
He explained, "There is, in the body of thought known as ‘Austrian
economics,’ a scientific explanation of the workings of the free
market (and of the consequences of government intervention in that
market) which individualist anarchists could easily incorporate
into their political and social Weltanschauung." (133) This
was the point at which radical civil liberties embraced the free
market and became virtually indistinguishable: that is, economic
and civil liberties became points on the same continuum of freedom.

The
Scholarly Moral Case for Liberty – The Ethics of Liberty

Egalitarianism
was a popular work. In the Preface to The Ethics of Liberty,
Rothbard continues the theme that dominated his life in a more scholarly
fashion. He wrote, "All of my work has revolved around the
central question of human liberty. For it has been my conviction
that, while each discipline has its own autonomy and integrity,in
the final analysis all sciences and disciplines of human action
are interrelated, and can be integrated into a ‘science’ or discipline
of individual liberty."11

Through
The Ethics of Liberty – a scholarly work in political
philosophy – Rothbard laid the theoretical underpinning of
liberty. He believed, "The key to the theory of liberty is
the establishment of the rights of private property, for each individual’s
justified sphere of free action can only be set forth if his rights
of property are analyzed and established." (vi)

Thus,
Part I of Ethics comprehensively deals with the importance
of Natural Law, which has long been considered the moral underpinning
of private property. It includes Natural Law’s relationship to reason
and science; its irreconcilability with positive law; and, its role
as the foundation for natural rights.

Part
II continues in a logical flow from Natural Law into "A Theory
of Liberty." Here, Rothbard began by using what he called "one
of the most commonly derided constructions of classical economic
theory" – the Robinson Crusoe model. This approach of
considering man in isolation has been widely criticized, most prominently
by Karl Marx and his followers who believe that man cannot exist
as human being qua human without socialization. But Rothbard insisted
that it was necessary "to isolate man as against nature, thus
gaining clarity by abstracting at the beginning frontier-personal
relations." Moreover, Rothbard did not believe Crusoe lost
his essential humanity by being in isolation. For example, Crusoe
still judged the goods he had – e.g. coconuts – according
to marginal utility. He also had to produce before he could consume
and used human judgment (reason) to survive.

The
Crusoe example facilitated clear, unambiguous analysis. In isolation,
Rothbard contended that Crusoe "owns his body; his mind is
free to adopt whatever ends it wishes, and to exercise his reason
in order to discover what ends he should choose, and to learn the
recipes for employing the means at hand to attain them…."
(p.31) Then, Friday is introduced "to show how the addition
of other persons affects the discussion." (29) The discussion
being ‘man in society,’ man in relation to other human beings. Friday
is introduced in order to go beyond the economic principle of production
to the principle of exchange, both economic and psychological. Yet
the opportunity for exchange introduces the possibility of Friday
exerting force on Crusoe, or vice versa.

In
other words, a desert island offers absolutely unbridled individual
freedom to Crusoe. In society, he always confronts the threat of
possible violence. Why would he run such a risk? To Rothbard, the
answer is clear. "The process of exchange enables man to ascend
from primitive isolation to civilization: it enormously widens his
opportunities…" (p.36) Moreover, society maximizes Crusoe’s
choices if only because many of his decisions, and some of the most
important ones he could make, require the presence of other people,
e.g. the decision to have a child.

The
primary concern of man, therefore, should not lie in how to remain
in isolation, but in how to interrelate in a manner that maximizes
opportunity: that is, in a manner that minimizes the possibility
of violence. To Rothbard, the key lies in two concepts that are
at war with each other – property and crime. Indeed, Rothbard
attempts to define property in large part as a means by which to
define crime. Crime is viewed as the violation of property rights
and, thus, the usurpation of another person’s opportunities. In
Chapter 9 of Part II, entitled "Property and Criminality,"
Rothbard concludes, "We thus have a theory of the rights of
property: That every man has an absolute right to the control and
ownership of his own body, and to unused land resources that he
finds and transforms….We also have a theory of criminality: A
criminal is someone who aggresses against such property." [Emphasis
in original] (p.59)

Property
v. Crime as the defining themes of civil society were a refinement
on and a subcategory of Rothbard’s overriding theme of Liberty v.
Power. Having defined these concepts as the essentials of society,
Rothbard built upon them as a foundation to address property and
criminality as it affects such issues as land, children, animal
rights, self-defense, and the theory of contracts. Then, Rothbard
proceeded – as he inevitably did – to an analysis of the
State as the penultimate foe of Liberty.

Part
III of Ethics is entitled "The State Versus Liberty."
Chapter 22, located within this section, is entitled "The Nature
of the State." The chapter begins, "So far in this book
we have developed a theory of liberty and property rights, and have
outlined the legal code that would be necessary to defend those
rights. What of government, the State?" Rothbard pointed to
the many essential functions performed by the State, such as fire
fighting and postal delivery, then asked, "But this in no way
demonstrates that only the State can perform such functions, or,
indeed, that it performs them even passably well." (p.161)

The
stage was set to present the concluding two sections, the first
of which is entitled, "Modern Alternative Theories of Liberty."
He wrote, "Having presented our theory of liberty and property
rights, and discussed the inherent role of the State vis a vis liberty,
we turn in this part of the work to a discussion and critique of
several leading alternative theories of liberty brought forth in
the modern world, by those who are very roughly in the free-market,
or classical liberal, tradition. Whatever the other merits of these
theories, they will be seen to provide a flawed and inadequate foundation
for a systematic theory of liberty and the rights of the individual."
(199)

The
last section of Ethics proclaims itself to be moving "Toward
a Theory of Strategy for Liberty." This is different than moving
toward a strategy – a blueprint – for liberty. Instead,
it is a discussion of the methodology which should be used in order
to create a blueprint appropriate to liberty. To Rothbard, "Libertarianism…is
a philosophy seeking a policy," and it was "the responsibility
of philosophy to deal with strategy." It is precisely the goal
of moving "from the present…state of affairs to…consistent
liberty" that impelled Rothbard to lay such a meticulous foundation
of theory. (p.253)

Having
laid the necessary groundwork, however, Rothbard does not plunge
into a specific vision of liberty. He pauses to carefully establish
the boundaries of such a vision. Liberty, he declared, is not necessarily
the highest value of libertarians: it is merely the highest political
value….politics being the form of ethical philosophy that deals
with the role of violence in human society.

Always
building on a former insight or argument, Rothbard then asked, "If
liberty is to be the highest political end, then this implies that
liberty is to be pursued in the most effacious means,…."
He sets up the parameters by which a sincere libertarian must abide
to achieve Liberty. He writes, "This means that the libertarian
must be an abolitionist, i.e., he must wish to achieve the goal
of liberty as rapidly as possible." Abolitionism, then, was
a key to the policy of libertarianism. Absolute consistency was
another. "[A] strategy for liberty must not include any means
which undercut or contradict the end itself…" (p.255-256)
The rejection of utilitarian arguments in favor of the moral grounding
provided by natural law was also part of the policy of liberty.

Rothbard’s
implementation of the "policy" of libertarianism to specific
issues was scattered, in large measure, throughout hundreds of articles.
It was also expressed in the powerful For
a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto
, which is probably
the work best known to libertarians. It also is to be found in the
subtext of his sweeping four volume analysis of the American colonies
and revolution from 1620-1780, entitled Conceived
in Liberty
(1975-1979). There, institutions evolve and one
sees both the ennobling and the corruption of principles through
human endeavor.

I
have undoubtedly slighted many aspects of Rothbard’s contribution
to the literature of liberty. The fault lies in Rothbard himself
for having achieved so much in so many areas. For a more encompassing
sense of his legacy, I recommend the chronology.
For a focusing of his legacy, it is useful to quote Rothbard himself
in a passage that could apply to virtually any of his writings.
In doing so, I reiterate part of the first sentence of this essay:

"My
own basic perspective on the history of man…is to place central
importance on the great conflict which is eternally waged between
Liberty and Power…. I see liberty of the individual…as the necessary
condition for the flowering of all the other goods that mankind
cherishes: moral virtue, civilization, the arts and science, economic
prosperity…. I see history as centrally as race and conflict between
‘social power’ – the productive consequences of voluntary interactions
among men – and state power."12

A
Personal Note

Before
closing, I want to render a sense of something that history books
will not capture and future generations may not understand: namely,
the profound and benevolent impact of Murray Rothbard’s charisma
on young scholars. Although reprints of his work will display the
stunning breadth of his scholarship, they will give no clue as to
the humor that made his listeners literally laugh for hours in after-conference
sessions and gatherings at his home. When people finally walked
away from Murray – reluctant to leave a world in which ideas
were so much fun – they scattered to libraries and typewriters
to research and write up the articles he had inspired. Murray Rothbard
believed that ideas mattered. He infused you with that belief. I
still hear his voice – admittedly a bit squawky – insisting
that a certain insight was "key! it’s key to the issue!,"
and admonishing me to write it up.

Murray
had a habit of sitting with his right arm draped over his head,
the elbow resting about five inches above ear level. I remember
walking into a room where Murray was holding court for three young
men who sat attentively before him, lined up on the couch. Each
one had his right arm draped over his head. Not one realized they
were mimicking him. A whole generation of libertarian theorists
wanted to be Murray Rothbard. We adopted his slang terms, his gestures,
his eccentricities… hopefully some of his intellectual magic has
rubbed off as well.


  1. Murray N. Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty, Volume Two (Arlington
    House, New Rochelle, N.Y., 1975), p.9.
  2. Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto,
    Revised Editor (Fox & Wilkes, San Francisco, 1994), p.321.
  3. By saying this, I do not demean the contributions of pioneering
    libertarians, such as Karl Hess or Leonard Reed, who infused their
    own unique radicalism into the movement. I mean only to say that
    modern libertarianism is an identifiable structure of interconnected
    beliefs, and Rothbard was the first theorist to make those connections
    complete.
  4. Murray N. Rothbard, "Introduction," Egalitarianism
    As a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays. (Washington,
    D.C.: Libertarian Review Press, 1974) p.ix-x.
  5. Ibid, Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty, p.33.
  6. Ibid, Egalitarianism, p.4.
  7. As quoted by Rockwell, Murray
    N. Rothbard: A Legacy of Liberty
    .
  8. Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. Murray
    N. Rothbard: A Legacy of Liberty
    .
  9. Ibid.
  10. "Introduction", Egalitarianism, v.
  11. Murray Rothbard. Ethics of Liberty. Atlantic Highland,
    N.J.: Humanities Press, 1982, v.
  12. Murray N. Rothbard. Conceived in Liberty, Volume II. New
    Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1975, pp.9-10.

July
6, 2000

Wendy
McElroy is author of The
Reasonable Woman
. See more of her work at ifeminists.com
and at her personal website.

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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