Justin Raimondo's An
Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Amherst,
N.Y: Prometheus Books, 2000) is a successful treatment of the life,
thought, and political deeds of the late economist and libertarian
activist. Raimondo undertook what can only be described as a very
daunting task: to summarize intelligently the career — spanning
five decades — of a unique and brilliant public intellectual. Anyone
who has read even a portion of Rothbard's body of work could see
the hard work ahead of a writer who sought to present Rothbard's
systematic defense of liberty, a defense which jumped the
boundaries of several academic disciplines — economics, history,
philosophy, and more — and the boundaries of political parties and
movements as well.
has done it and the book is a pleasure to read as well. He does
not purport to have written the definitive biography of his subject
but to have captured the essence of Rothbard's spirit and of his
radical "project." In a world where every two-bit gathering
seeks special privileges from the state and the coercion of others
and calls this "liberation," Rothbard wished to liberate
everyone by replacing "hegemonic (state) bonds" with
the contractual freedoms of the pure market society.
sees certain "inherent qualities of mind" at work, which
made Rothbard a great organizer and "successful intellectual
entrepreneur." Rothbard's "youthful spirit," long-run
optimism, and "passion for justice" drew him into opposition
to the state's favorite activity, war, and to the "Court Intellectuals,"
who defended the state's prerogatives (pp. 11-13). Rothbard early
realized the "centrality of private property" in
a free society (p. 20).
the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Russian Poland, excelled
intellectually and, therefore, hated state-run schools. His obvious
misery there led to his being placed in private schools, where he
found greater appreciation of his talents. His political views resembled
those of his father, David Rothbard, an industrial chemist, and
Raimondo believes that Rothbard's basic beliefs were fully formed
by 1940, when he was 14. Rothbard enrolled in Columbia University
in 1942, originally as a math major. He was judged unfit for military
service and thus missed out on America's second great crusade.
took his MA in 1946. By then, he had switched to economics and had
developed a strong interest in history. He got into contact with
likeminded critics of New Deal economic and foreign policy and became
an active member of what he later labeled the Old Right and its
culture of opposition to big government. One of his first published
essays was a critique of wartime price controls prepared for a local
Republican organization. He was soon writing for analysis, Frank
Chodorov's individualist newsletter. Rothbard's writing included
a review of Ludwig von Mises's economic treatise, Human
Action, which came out in 1949. He began attending Mises'
famous economics seminar in 1950.
Rothbard had met the woman whom he would marry – JoAnn, "the
indispensable framework" of his life. He had done work for
the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and in 1952 became a
paid consultant for the Volker Fund, reviewing current articles
and books related to the cause of liberty. Rothbard's early work
convinces Raimondo that Rothbard had a "moral-political basis
[for] libertarianism" and not just an economic case for it
1954, Rothbard began writing for Faith and Freedom under
the pseudonym "Aubrey Herbert." Here he upheld the Old
Right "isolationist" outlook and clashed with the Cold
War interventionists of the New Right. Given Mises's proof that
socialist economies could not calculate rationally, Rothbard knew
that communism would collapse, given enough time. Soviet Russia
might limp along with a great show of "industrialization,"
but its command economy, with a distorted structure of production,
made the USSR a rather hollow threat. He refused to sign up for
a crusade against communism, which would only empower the US
state in manifold new ways.
1958, Rothbard had his famous clash with Ayn Rand, whom Raimondo
characterizes as a Nietzsche for the bourgeoisie. He does not shrink
from calling the Randian circle a "cult," from whose clutches
Rothbard and his friends — the Circle Bastiat – wisely removed
themselves (except for two, who stayed with the Randians). His increasing
discontent with right-wing Cold warriors led him to seek out allies
to the left. Those who don't understand his goals read this as evidence
of gross inconsistency and political dilettantism. In the early
1960s he worked with Stevenson Democrats, who seemed at that time
a relative force for peace. The rise of the New Left, the student
movement, and mass opposition to the War in Vietnam led to an attempted
"alliance" with the Left against the war. Perhaps more
importantly he and his colleagues began integrating the work of
the New Left into a broad-gauged historical revisionism capable
of critiquing all recent wars and relating this critique
to parallel develops in domestic affairs. One result was that interesting
journal Left and Right (1965-1968).
1962 Rothbard, who had gotten his PhD in 1956, finally obtained
his first full-time academic position, at Brooklyn Polytechnic.
He was surrounded by Marxists, but as Raimondo points out, this
was no hardship: he had grown up surrounded by Marxists and, anyway,
they had a common hatred for the liberal corporatist political center.
In 1969 he began publishing the Libertarian Forum, to wean
libertarians away from the New Right and build a libertarian movement.
The LF became an outlet for his personal, political journalism,
which only folded in 1984.
of this ferment was born the libertarian movement — fractious and
faction-ridden from the start. Karl Hess's famous defection from
Goldwater Republicanism in 1969 brought new people in. The high
tide of superficial media interest came in 1971, with articles in
the New York Times, the National Observer,
and elsewhere. Disillusioned post-Randians came over to libertarianism,
along with a handful of "converts" from the Left. Raimondo
never lets the reader lose sight of the fact that while all this
was going on, Rothbard was teaching and publishing major works in
economics and history — Man,
Economy and State (1962), Power
and Market (1970), For
A New Liberty (1973), and working on what became a four-volume
American history from the colonial period to the end of the American
Revolution. He was also writing in leftist publications such as
Studies on the Left and Ramparts, and indeed in any
forum that was interested in his ideas.
is a shifting array of new allies and intellectual associates of
whom Raimondo keeps track, as well as disputes and fallings-out,
but he never lets the details draw him away from his narrative.
By the mid-1970s, billionaire Charles Koch began funding libertarian
institutions in a big way and Raimondo sketches out the early history
of the Cato Institute, the role of Ed Crane, and other matters sometimes
controversial in libertarian circles. Overall, his treatment seems
quite reasonable to me. There are thumbnail sketches of such participants
as Williamson Evers and the late Roy Childs.
1977 the Journal of Libertarian Studies came into being,
under Rothbard's editorship, as a serious outlook for libertarian
scholars. The Cato "cadre" also produced Inquiry magazine
(1977-1986), in an attempt to reach a larger, educated public. At
the same time, Rothbard was increasingly embroiled in the internal
politics of the Libertarian Party, which he had joined in 1973.
Raimondo makes it clear that Rothbard's participation in the LP
was largely a "hobby" for him. A serious split came when
LP presidential candidate Ed Clark began speaking of libertarianism
as "low-tax liberalism" and he, Milton Mueller, Roy Childs,
and others tried to turn the then-popular fear of nuclear power
plants into a Libertarian campaign issue. Rothbard read them the
riot act. Coming into the 1980s, Rothbard, supported by the LP's
Radical Caucus — of which Raimondo was a founder — remained involved
in the politics of LP nominations. One result was a split between
Rothbard and the Radical Caucus.
of this seemed to slow down Rothbard's scholarly productivity. In
1982, his long-awaited Ethics
of Liberty appeared. On this work, Raimondo quotes Hans-Hermann
Hoppe, who notes that Rothbard filled a gap in libertarian theory
by making private property the bridge between pure economics (praxeology:
the logic of human action) and ethics (p. 251). The disciplines
were now gathered into in a single, consistent system of thought.
almost had to happen, a rift developed between Rothbard and the
Koch/Cato management out of their differing agendas and strategic
visions. Rothbard found a new intellectual home at the Ludwig von
Mises Institute, established in Auburn, Alabama, in 1982 by Llewellyn
H. Rockwell, Jr. With the support of the Mises Institute, he could
mentor new Austrian economists, preside over the new Review of
Austrian Economics, and pursue his scholarly work, including
the monumental two-volume History
of Economic Thought. In 1985, Rothbard became the S.J. Hall
Professor of Economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where
he was joined by a new colleague from Germany, Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
was ever the case, Rothbard's continuing intellectual endeavors
went side by side with attention to real-world events. The implosion
of Soviet communism made possible an alliance with "paleoconservative"
opponents of American empire — in opposition to mainstream conservatives
led by neoconservatives allied to the GOP. For Rothbard, it was
a reversion to his happy days in the Old Right of the 1940s and
early u201850s. This led to accusations that now the "erratic Rothbard"
had "moved to the Right," when in fact he was trying to
find the best available allies to further the cause of liberty.
By the early 1990s, working with those conservatives who opposed
George Bush's Excellent Adventure in Iraq made more sense to him
than trying to rally old hippies, liberal yuppies, and tunnel-vision
libertarians. The new mood was captured in Rothbard's speech to
the John Randolph Club, in which he exhorted his hearers to "break
the clock" of the Menshevik/Social Democratic Establishment
— the famous clock of progress which, by convenient definition,
can never be turned back (p. 293). At the same time, Rothbard had
found a new outlet for his hard-hitting personal, political journalism
in the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, or "Triple R"
recounts the 1994 Mises Institute conference on the Costs of War
in Atlanta, rightly terming it "the first major gathering"
of the antiwar Right since the America First Committee shut down
after Pearl Harbor in 1941 (p. 294). I was there and I can second
his enthusiasm; and, of course, a very good book came out of those
three days: John Denson, ed., The
Costs of War, 2d ed. (New Brunswick, N.J. Transaction
then, on January 7, 1995, this fireball of intellect, wit, and sheer
fun, was suddenly snuffed out. Fortunately, for the scholarly community
he had finished two of his projected three volumes on the history
of economic thought. Those who knew Rothbard personally, or through
his work, mourned and vowed to continue the struggle to which he
had given his life.
last major chapter seeks what few writers would attempt: to pull
out particular sections and themes from The History of Economic
Thought, explain them in layman's terms, and then link these
themes to Rothbard's overall science of liberty. For my money, he
is successful with this unlikely approach.
Thomas Kuhn's approach to the history of thought critically, rather
than as a charter for hermeneutical nihilism, Rothbard saw that
the "Whig Theory" of history was wrong and that later
thinkers were not necessarily better. To pull economics out of the
ditch into which Adam Smith had driven it, Rothbard started with
the Hellenic foundations of Western thought, came forward through
the Scholastics, and found a lost genealogy of superior economic
thinkers in Catholic Europe — the line Cantillon-Turgot-Say-Menger,
and their predecessors in Salamanca.
believes that Emil Kauder's classic journal articles of the 1950s
set Rothbard on this trail. Reversing the conventional wisdom, Kauder
argued that Catholic thinkers had been friendlier to consumption
and therefore discovered subjective value, while Calvinistic thinkers
like Adam Smith stressed labor and production and pushed pure economics
down a dead-end road for more than a century. The "axiomatic
method" of Aristotle, revived by Thomists, carried over into
the intellectual background of Austrian theory.
goes on to summarize some highlights from Rothbard's History.
Rothbard's treatment of mercantilist thought and policy — for one
— throws much light on our contemporary system: welfare-warfare
corporatism managed by faceless public/private bureaucrats. Deflating
Sir Francis Bacon and his disciple Sir William Petty for their quantophrenia
and energetic collection of meaningless data, Rothbard made the
obvious comparison with mathematical economists and other contemporary
five chapters on communism and Marxism, Rothbard underscored the
theological dimension — Marxism gave a very bad answer, cosmic unity
with the One here on earth – to what was essentially a problem
in Christian theology (that is, man's sense of estrangement from
God). Soldered together with faulty Ricardian economics, Marxism
gained a mighty following and did more than its share to make the
20th century one of mass-murder, state-worship, and terror.
connects these themes in economic history with the larger texture
of Rothbard's thought in very useful ways. His final chapter summarizes
Rothbard's legacy. All through An Enemy of the State, Raimondo
makes excellent points about Rothbard's life and work, some of which
I have saved for last. One sub-theme is Rothbard's notion of an
intellectual division of labor: he would supply theory but always
tried to find an ally who could supplement his (Rothbard's) talents
by addressing other aspects of activism and intellectual entrepreneurship.
finds in Rothbard's essay "The Real Aggressor" (April
1954) his complete later theory of politics. His research program
and his activism over four more decades were meant to work out and
use the implications of that theory. With his larger "project"
of systematizing, popularizing, and ultimately gaining a new
liberty held in mind, we can understand the logic behind Rothbard's
famous political/tactical twists and turns, which bewildered some
people. The "new liberty" was of course an expansion of
the old liberty.
writes that Rothbard understood the importance of custom — that
constant slogan of the official conservatives — but thought we could
distinguish between those customs favorable to liberty and those
which were not. He thought we could learn a lot from the past, and
he once lectured his Libertarian Forum readers that Catholic
moral thinkers had probably solved a few questions, especially since
they had been working on them about 1900 years longer than the Randians.
On the other hand, he thought we could learn a few things from the
Marxists regarding strategy and tactics, since they had some experience
correctly grasps Rothbard's nuanced "McCarthyism": Rothbard
championed Tailgunner Joe, not because he was a libertarian, but
because he had built a mass movement and was attacking the ruling
elite (p. 87). Where New Conservatives posed as titled aristocrats
and highborn gentry, Rothbard blamed the elites for statism and
hoped to rally the masses against it, a point he made in his speech
to the John Randolph Club. The task was to "identify
the specific members of the ruling class" (p. 224) — this was
the point of his political journalism, his abiding interest in the
minutiae of electoral struggles, and broadly revisionist history.
In this, he made a few enemies, a fact that left him largely undeterred,
as shown by a letter he wrote to his old colleague Robert Kephart:
"my deviation from proper attention to my career image is lifelong"
can read this book through, front to back, without losing interest
somewhere in the middle. Pretty "heroic" — to use a Rothbardianism.
Having read the story of Rothbard's life and career, those who crave
a representative sample of his more polemical writings cannot do
better than to read The
Irrepressible Rothbard (Burlingame, California: Center for
Libertarian Studies, 2000). The book is a selection of Rothbard's
personal, political journalism, as published in The Rothbard-Rockwell
Report. The late JoAnn Rothbard, Murray's wife of forty
years, writes in the preface that "writing for the Triple
R was the most fun he [Rothbard] could think of. For he had
firm opinions on almost every topic and wrote with ease" (p.
xi). Strongly held — but well-grounded — opinions and ease of writing
certainly shine through in this collection.
editor of the book, Lew Rockwell has done an excellent job of picking
some real gems. His introduction sets forth Rothbard's ongoing crusade
for liberty, his search for allies on the post-Cold War Right, his
growing frustration over crazy new isms imposed on American society,
stifling of debate by the Left, and his rising hopes for a libertarian/populist
breakout. Against those who say that Rothbard moved rightward or
became conservative, Rockwell shows that Rothbard was amazingly
consistent for someone who traded in political ideas for five decades.
are ten sections: "A Strategy for the Right" (with six
essays), "The Political Circus" (fifteen), "War"
(thirteen), "The Nationalities Question" (nine), "On
Resisting Evil" (nine), "Kulturkampf" (nine), "I
Hate Max Lerner" (fifteen), "Feminism and Other Victimologies"
(nine), "Clintonian Ugly" (four), and "Mr. First
Nighter" (four). This gives one some idea of the range of Rothbard's
interests. A list of headings cannot convey the sheer fun, wit,
and verve with which Rothbard pursues his themes and bashes his
targets. His search for truth and justice are never hidden and,
somewhere, the shades of H. L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, and Frank
Chodorov must be nodding in heartfelt agreement, if they are not
doubled over with laughter.
can only address a few highlights here. Every reader will have a
favorite section. Consider the opening essay, "A Strategy for
the Right." Rothbard had been writing memos on this matter
since the early 1950s. Too bad no one listened to him. He tells
the story of the Old ("Original") Right of the 1940s and
early u201850s, a broad coalition opposed to New Deal corporatism and
imperialism, and its unnatural death at the hands of Cold Warriors
and the National Review crowd. He treats the sociology of
the intellectuals in relation to the state to show the futility
of Friedrich Hayek's "educational" strategy for restoring
liberty. Right-wing "Fabian" infiltration into universities
and government service will always convert the would-be infiltrators
into statists and is therefore worse than a waste of time. Adapting
and adjusting to so-called reality is equally futile. He writes:
"The left-liberal vision, then, of good conservatives
is as follows: first, left-liberals, in power, make a Great Leap
Forward toward collectivism; then, when, in the course of the political
cycle, four or eight years later, conservatives come to power, they
of course are horrified at the very idea of repealing anything;
they simply slow down the rate of growth of statism, consolidating
the previous gains of the left, and providing a bit of R&R for
the next liberal Great Leap Forward" (p. 11).
heroic, principled freedom movement! as Rothbard duly notes. Reversing
the typical Cold War liberal line on Joe McCarthy — "we agree
with McCarthy's goals, we just disagree with his means"
(p. 12) – Rothbard calls for putting McCarthy's "radical, populist
means" to work for the cause of liberty, decentralization,
and cultural sanity (p. 13). Such a program will never sell itself
to the kennel-fed conservatives of the Beltway Right (to steal Pat
Buchanan's phrase), but Rothbard just didn't give a damn
about that. Actual liberty for concretely existing Americans weighed
more on his scales than the career chances of respectable conservative
operatives. If the Respectable Right preferred joining the Establishment,
they too deserved to be driven out by an awakened public.
this section we also find Rothbard calling for an opening to the
religious Right. Despite scary stories in the media, these were
ordinary Americans fed up, finally, with the militantly secularist
culture being imposed by the feds as an official anti-religion.
These Christians' leaders were betraying them for power and pelf,
making the rank-and-file perhaps ready to come into a renewed Old
Right coalition. There was nothing important in their program incompatible
with an Old Right program of free markets and radical decentralization.
(See pp. 26-32.) There is much more, but I must move on.
next section, "The Political Circus," shows off Rothbard's
detailed knowledge of American politics down to the grassroots level
and his sense of strategy and moral outrage. I can only cite a few
of his keen observations here. Thus, recounting the sad tale of
Bobby Ray Inman's rejection as secretary of defense, Rothbard finds
politicians and media heavies acting in concert (conspiracy?) to
block Inman. Motive? While at the CIA, Inman had objected to Israeli
access to virtually all US spy-satellite photographs.
essay gives Rothbard a chance to lash out at "Big Media"
as "an excessively powerful and malignant force in American
political life" — a view shared by ordinary Americans to the
eternal surprise of the elites. (See pp. 85-89.)
political/media elite's near-deification of the formerly demonized
Richard Nixon earned Rothbard's scorn in another piece (pp. 89-92).
But "Nixon's record was as empty and as bleak in foreign affairs
as in domestic." Why the apotheosis? It was part of celebrating
the Office, the holy, imperial, heaven-scraping center of worldly
power — the US Presidency, and thus the campaign was unalloyed statist
howls set off by his essay "Big-Government Libertarians"
must have been loud indeed (pp. 100-115). I recommend it, but shall
only quote the following gem here: "One problem with using
reductio ad absurdum arguments among libertarians has always
been that they are all too happy to embrace the absurdum"
(p. 104). Throughout the section Rothbard's war against the neo-conservatives
is on display, as is his permanent inquisition against Republican/conservative
sellouts (there were many). Of Newt, he writes: "he is a total
neocon, but with a wacko, futurist, technobabble, psycho-babble
twist" (p. 136). Spot on!
FDR, Rothbard really did "hate war," as the next
section demonstrates. He knew that wars invariably empower just
the people who shouldn't run our lives and give them more power
with which to meddle and dictate. Worse, it destroyed lives, property,
capital structure, and reduced the level of civilization. This was
not a starry-eyed, pacifist critique but a realistic and hard-edged
first essay here deconstructs George Herbert Walker Bush's "case"
for the Gulf War and refines the notion of a "war for oil,"
purging it of its lefty baggage by bringing in cartel theory and
a realistic analysis of political controls in the oil market. Names
are named and motives looked for (pp. 151-164). Other essays deal
with renewed Wilsonian globalism in the post-Cold War world, denounce
US meddling in the former Yugoslavia, and make sense of the allegedly
"humanitarian" US involvement in Somalia.
the pick of the litter is "Invade the World," a logical
extrapolation from US imperialists' rhetoric and actual practice.
With the advent of hypocrisy about "human rights" as a
new ideological mask of US imperialism, no one was safe. With such
ideological themes in place, intervention anywhere, at any time,
was obviously "in the national interest" — revealing,
one supposes, the essentially propagandistic role of a notion otherwise
void of content. Thus, he writes: "Invade the Entire World!
Sanctions are peanuts; we must invade every country in the world,
perhaps softening them up beforehand with a wonderful high-tech
missile bombing show courtesy of CNN" (p. 219). Faced with
such an unbridled foreign policy, "the least we at Triple-R
can do is accelerate the Climate of Hate in America, and hope for
the best" (p. 222).
Nationalities Question" section displays Rothbard's fine grasp
of numerous complex political/ethnic struggles, worldwide, issues
of the sort normally reduced to partisan slogans by Big Media, as
in: Muslims good, Serbs, bad. As a political theorist and historian,
Rothbard knew better and he knew it in detail. His general approach
involved recognizing that nationalisms exist, whatever one thinks
of them, and attempting to accommodate realities through decentralization,
partition, and secession, as his teacher Mises had also suggested.
Above all, outside powers should refrain from interventions, which
can only magnify the destruction arising from local conflicts. Our
recent experience fighting for Greater Albania is a case Rothbard
would have confronted with mordant wit.
the section "On Resisting Evil," Rothbard's analysis of
"The Menace of the Religious Left" stands out, along with
the companion essay, "Saint Hillary and the Religious Left"
(pp. 280-286). Rothbard zeroed in as follows: "the Clintonian
movement is not u2018centrist,' or simply erratic, confused, or evasive,
but… is in essence a dedicated movement of the u2018Christian' or religious
left." It has "messianic overtones" which are "collectivist,
egalitarian, multicultural, and u2018multi-gendered" (p. 282).
Not exactly a traditional Kingdom of God on Earth, but one these
people really do mean to impose.
"Kulturkampf," Rothbard skewers media bores, celebrities
(public nuisances), and politicians. Here is his answer to Mario
Cuomo, who had opined that Republicans were "Nazis" because
they disliked New York: "Yes, Mario, and you also see a veritable
cesspool of crime and mugging and filth and drug addiction and garbage
and bums amidst the most socialistic city government in the country.
How in the world could anyone criticize New York? Just look around
you, Mario. Our once wonderful city has been taken over by scum,
with the help of you and your buddies" (p. 298).
Revisited" provides a rational explanation for the drive to
make everyone drink this industrial waste produce: politically driven
intervention for private profit. So the Birchers were right for
the wrong reasons (pp. 311-318). As usual, names are named, pursuant
to Rothbard's belief that the people should know who is looting
them. There is much more, including Rothbard's observations on sports.
section "I Hate Max Lerner" includes commentary on Bill
Kristol, neo-conservatism, and liberal hysteria, as well as Lerner.
As to what causes liberal hysteria: "They become hysterical
when they perceive a rollback, or the threat thereof, of the Inevitable
March of History" (p. 339). And, frankly, who wouldn't hate
of this has been grossly politically incorrect. Nowhere is this
truer than in the section on "Feminism and Other Victimologies."
The star here is "The Great Thomas & Hill Show: Stopping
the Monstrous Regiment," which I leave for the reader to experience
(pp. 352-366). But here is some wonderful invective: "The anti-Thomas
Democrats were an odious lot. Most repellent was that gas-bag Joseph
Biden, without whose blatherings the time might have been cut by
one third" (p. 357). In an age of self-censorship this is engaging
Ugly" speaks for itself. Aside from the climate of statism
and progressive hectoring that came in with the Clintonistas, the
most appalling thing about this administration is its style. Rothbard
didn't live to see the whole thing play out. But he found it loathsome
and creepy — and he wasn't alone, just much better at articulating
those feelings. The final section "Mr. First Nighter"
is a chance to show off some of Rothbard's sharply focused film
reviews. He judged films by the standards of the old "movie-movies"
— films with organization, acting, style, real acting, and some
point bigger than the director's angst or ego. The reviews are great
fun and show off another side of Murray Rothbard.
sheer incorrectness, the name-calling (all of it well-earned, by
the way), the praise for abrasive New York ethnics, including a
few politicians, a preference for America's Old Culture, hatred
for the empire, and much more may shock tender souls. Others will
have the time of their lives with Rothbard unleashed.