current US foreign policy adventure drags on, it seems as
good a time as any to address a recurring charge brought against
Murray Rothbard by sundry libertarians (sic), Randians,
near-Neo-Conservatives, and other worthies. Strictly speaking,
the complaint is not that Rothbard, alone and unaided, brought
down the Saigon Government in 1975; even Rothbard's enemies
do not go quite that far. The complaint seems to be that Rothbard
u201Ccheeredu201D when that government fell, proving that he was u201Cpro-communist,u201D
had a bad attitude about these things, was crazy and immoral,
a proper handle on this apparently controversial subject,
it is best to begin with Rothbard's writings on the deaths
Deaths of States
Murray Rothbard penned two essays on the fall of the Saigon
government, a government largely invented, bankrolled, and
sustained by the United States. This invention was part of
the American project of incorporating Southeast Asia into
a kind of US-directed u201CGreater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.u201D
 The US had of course objected, in the 1930s, to the
Japanese version of such a project.
articles on the collapse of the Republic of South Vietnam
have caused much angst among those conservatives and
libertarians who never managed to question any important assumptions
about the Cold War. This angst reverberates down the
halls of time. Its echo, for some reason, is with us still.
essay, u201CThe Death of a State,u201D appeared in Rothbard's newsletter,
the Libertarian Forum in April 1975. It began on this
we are seeing these last weeks in Indochina is, for libertarians,
a particularly exhilarating experience: the death of a State,
or rather two States: Cambodia and South Vietnam. The exhilaration
stems from the fact that here is not just another coup
d'tat, in which the State apparatus remains virtually
intact and only a few oligarchs are shuffled at the top. Here
is the total and sudden collapse — the smashing — of an entire
State apparatus. Its accelerating and rapid disintegration.
Of course, the process does not now usher in any sort of libertarian
Nirvana, since another bloody State is in the process
of taking over. But the disintegration remains, and offers
us many instructive lessons. 
at the very outset, Rothbard says in effect, u201CYes, another
state will replace the one that fell, but the process
itself may prove to be interesting and instructive.u201D The excitement
— that which initially draws our interest — has to do with
the complete implosion of a state. As for how such an Einsturz
might happen, Rothbard writes that tienne de La Botie, David
Hume, and Ludwig von Mises have long since given the explanation.
put, u201Cno matter how bloody or despotic any State may be, it
rests for its existence in the long-run (and not-so-long run)
on the consent of the majority of its subjects….u201D This consent
may be u201Cpassive resignation, but the important thing is that
it rests on the willingness of the masses to obey the orders
and the commands of the State apparatusu201D up to the point,
where we see u201Ca sudden and infectious decision of the masses
to say: Enough! We've had it; we quit.u201D
was with ARVN, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam — u201Ctrained
for decades by American commanders, armed to the teeth by
the United Statesu201D — which, in the end, just quit. Rothbard
noted that the South Vietnamese government u201Chad no real roots
in popular support…. Hence its supporters were mainly only
the recipients of American largesse.u201D Further:
corollary lesson of the collapse, then, is the long-run impossibility
for an imperialist-dominated regime to survive, when opposed
by guerrilla warfare backed by the great majority of the population.
And this despite the enormous advantage in firepower and in
modern weaponry that the imperialist power, and its puppets,
then, cannot win; and we have learned this lesson after the
Johnson-Nixon regimes managed to murder a million or more
Vietnamese, North and South, along with over 50,000 American
soldiers. All that blood and treasure just to postpone the
refrain from making a comparison with any current events,
given the unpredictability involved – i.e., whether or
not any current resistance is u201Cbacked by the great
majority of the population.u201D)
also observed that u201Cit comes with ill grace indeedu201D for US
spokesmen to lament the looming u201Cbloodbath,u201D should the communists
prevail. u201CVietnamizationu201D had been an abject failure, as had
US interference in Cambodia. The Ford administration — clinging
to the wreckage of the war in Indo-China, was u201Cthe true legatee
of the Nixon administration,u201D but at least it had given up
u201Cthe budding Cowboy police state at home.u201D 
first essay provoked consternation in some libertarian circles,the
second must have increased it.
second salvo, also entitled u201CThe Death of a State,u201D appeared
in Reason Magazine, July 1975. He repeated his theme
that state collapse in Indo-China was u201Cexhilaratingu201D and elaborated
his interest in it as process. With every mathematically
inclined political scientist and international relations scholar
in the world (then and now) ransacking history for u201Ccase studiesu201D
to u201Ctestu201D their dreaded u201Crobustu201D  hypotheses and propositions,
we might well think that Rothbard could be allowed to look
at events in the light of some generalizations drawn from
political history (but apparently not).
process by which these states [South Vietnam and Cambodia]
have crumpled vindicates once again the insights of the theorists
of mass guerrilla warfare, from libertarians such as Charles
Lee in the late 18th century to the elaborations
of modern Communist theoreticians… that, after a slow, patient
protracted struggle, in which the guerrilla armies (backed
by the populace) whittle and wear down the massively superior
fire power of the State armies (generally backed by other,
imperial governments), the final blow occurs in which the
State dissolves and disintegrates with remarkable speed.
Rothbard notes that u201Cin Vietnam and Cambodia, one State has
been immediately displaced by another — not surprisingly,
since the communist-led insurgents are scarcely anarchists
or libertarians. But States exist everywhere; there is nothing
remarkable in that. What is inspiring is to actually
see the final and swift disintegration of a State.u201D
who want to quibble about the words u201Cexhilarating,u201D u201Cinspiring,u201D
and u201Crejoicingu201D might want to answer whether or not the continuance
of a state, at the price being then exacted by the RVN and
US, could be so described.
Rothbard observes that a state that forfeits u201Cmajority supportu201D
will fall: u201CIn the end, the ARVN army simply laid down their
arms and fled, ignoring the orders of their hierarchical chain
of commanders, from the President down to the non-coms.u201D
expressed another forbidden thought, noting that u201Cthe body
blow that these events have delivered to U.S. imperialismu201D
was a u201Ccause for libertarian rejoicing.u201D It was a blow to
the idea that u201Cthe United States has the moral duty, and the
permanent power, to install, prop up, and rule governments
and peoples throughout the world.u201D Given this blow, a rebirth
of non-intervention seemed more than possible.
all, Americans u201Cwere sick and tired of our long and losing
intervention in Vietnamu201D in a u201Ccontinuation of the American
policy of imperialism — the Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon-Ford
policy — that was responsible for pushing Indochina into the
arms of communism.u201D The US accomplished that feat by u201Cbolstering
and then replacing French imperialism; by propping up unpopular
and corrupt dictatorial regimes in the name of u2018freedom';
by suppressing peasant property and returning it to the imperially-created
feudal landlords,u201D and so on. Further, u201Cit was precisely the
idiotic CIA-directed right-wing coup against the popular neutralist
Prince Norodom Sihanouk that has now led to the Communist
Enterprise in South Vietnam
I wish to note an article that appeared in the Miami Herald
on South Vietnamese inflation remedies in late 1971:
South Vietnamese government announced Friday that it is
imposing price controls to curb rises that followed devaluation
of the piaster.
government also announced that it would start strict implementation
of a seldom-used 1965 law providing penalties ranging from
10 years in jail to death for spreading rumors
harmful to the national economy or seeking to increase the
cost of living.
death penalty will be applied only in extreme cases
of hoarding for profit or causing very harmful
rumors, such as that currency devaluation is imminent,
a government spokesman said.
of some commodities shot up this week, largely because of
speculation and hoarding, after Economic Minister Pham Kim
Ngoc announced on Monday that the piaster would be devalued
45 to 55 percent as part of an economic reform package.
the face of it, u201Charmful rumorsu201D about coming devaluations
would have been true, and from this we may conclude
that the Saigon government, like any other despotic state,
wanted to be able to tax the people via inflation, repress
the inevitably rising prices by controls, and arrest and possibly
kill anyone who mentioned it out loud.
regard, the Saigon sideshow was acting in the tradition of
Chiang Kai-shek – Chinese despot and Cold War hero to
the interventionist right wing (they weren't called u201Cthe China
Lobbyu201D for nothing!). Under the economic u201Cmanagementu201D of Chiang
and his close relatives, who made up the core of the Nationalist
Government, prices in China rose by a factor of 2,167 between
1937 and 1945. As Joyce and Gabriel Kolko put it, u201CIn the
end, the soldiers would not or could not fight, and much of
the government bureaucracy was forced into graft and corruption.
Translated into social and political terms, Chiang mobilized
vital potential support for the Communists and melted the
possible resistance to them.u201D
1965 and 1970, the Saigon government managed to inflate by
604%. This was not quite up to Chiang's standards, but it
did erode the confidence of bureaucrats, soldiers, and pretty
much everyone else.
Building in South Vietnam
however, is that had the Saigon government really been u201Cup
to it,u201D it would have effectively turned itself into a rather
totalitarian regime in pursuit, no doubt, of some rather fictitious
liberty to be realized after it succeeded. But I jest, since
the Saigonistas were no more about liberty than the communists
were, in the end, about equality. But at the time, if I may
be so rude as to mention it, a program of quasi-totalitarian
state-building was precisely what high-toned US Cold War liberals,
social engineers, and counterinsurgency experts were urging
upon the scattered attention of the Saigon state. 
what the soft, u201Cwinning hearts and mindsu201D school of US counterinsurgency
theorists had in mind for South Vietnam, as summarized by
D. Michael Shafer: u201Crapid incorporation of the vulnerable
inhabitants of the periphery into the center,u201D brought about
by u201Cphysical control of territory and populace; penetration
of authority throughout the country; and promotion of economic
and social development.u201D And of course these goals entailed
u201Crelocation of people to defended villagesu201D — that is, to
the so-called strategic hamlets.
in the eyes of US planners, it was necessary for South Vietnam
to u201Caddress distributional, racial, and communal problems
and remove corrupt or abusive officials.u201D Along with these
reforms, should come general u201Cincreases in the quantity of
government.u201D By carrying out their own social revolution,
assisted by US advice and superabundant firepower, the Saigon
crew would win the wavering people over, by really giving
them u201Cthe benefits only promised by the insurgents.u201D  (This last point was an especially
tall order to the extent that one of the u201Cbenefitsu201D sought
was precisely to be rid of the Saigon regime.)
school erred, Shafer continues, in u201Cassuming that leaders'
interests are the same as the national interest.u201D Don't we
all! Thus they overlooked u201Cthe possibility that for certain
elites the aim of fighting is to defend power and privilege,u201D
and consequently, the commitment of these elites to reform
might be a bit limited. Under such circumstances, u201Cincreasing
the government's security may decrease that of the population,u201D
driving them into the arms of the insurgents.
to sundry flawed assumptions rooted in the then universally
loved modernization theory, the soft school ended with u201Ca
prescriptive bent for centralized, paternalistic government.u201D
Bruce Miroff underscores the connection between modernization
theory and counterinsurgency:
and counterinsurgency were closely interwoven in New Frontier
ideology. Walt W. Rostow was a key figure here in establishing
the linkage. The Administration's leading theoretician of
economic development and modernization, Rostow was also one
of its most fervent proponents of counterinsurgency. He considered
counterinsurgency an integral branch of modernization; hence,
he told a graduating class of Green Berets at Fort Bragg in
1961: u201CYour job is to work with understanding with your fellow
citizens in the whole creative process of modernization. From
our perspective in Washington you take your place side by
side with those others who are committed to help fashion independent,
modern societies out of the revolutionary process now going
forward. I salute you as I would a group of doctors, teachers,
economic planners, agricultural experts, civil servants, or
those others who are now leading the way in fashioning new
nations and societies.u201D 
to US planners (as depicted by Shafer), success in the war
demanded u201Cthe ability to manage modernization.u201D The state
had to make u201Chard decisions: to invest, not consume; rationalize
administration; root out corruption; attack parochial political
groupings, etc.u201D Further, the planners believed u201Cthat more
government is better government. But this presupposes the
very issues at question… that government and populace share
the same goals that will be advanced by greater government
capabilities at the grassroots level.u201D And, worse luck, u201Cimproving
administrative capacity has often meant greater governmental
ability to collect taxes, enforce skewed land tenure arrangements,
raise conscripts, etc. In short, improved administrative capacity
may mean better enforcement of the status quo.u201D 
counterinsurgency theory was a general Western fad at the
time, resting on a strong record of failure or dubious successes
in Algeria, Malaya, Kenya, and elsewhere. The theorists called
for u201Ccivic actionu201D and u201Crevolutionary war.u201D Here, the threatened
state, or its allies, would use military forces to seize,
transform, and carry out the popular revolution in an approved
form. The neo-Jacobinism of the project hardly needs underlining. 
none of this actually worked all that well and the hearts-and-minds
gang were soon out, replaced by the harder-nosed cost/benefit
folk of the RAND Corporation type, who focused on how to coerce
the Vietnamese laboratory rats into submission along the lines
of rational actor models drawn from mathematized neoclassical
economics, or behaviorist psychology. 
Chomsky quotes one of these writers, Morton Halperin, as follows:
events in Vietnam also illustrate the fact that most people
tend to be motivated not by abstract appeals, but rather by
their perception of the course of action that is most likely
to lead to their own personal security and to the satisfaction
of their economic, social, and psychological desires. Thus,
for example, large-scale American bombing in South Vietnam
may have antagonized a number of people; but at the same time
it demonstrated to these people that the Vietcong could not
guarantee their security as it had been able to do before
or home invader could say as much. And one begins to wonder
if states are not only u201Cstationary banditsu201D but also stationary
terrorists. This certainly wasn't going to win any hearts
and minds, but for the planners, if those u201Csubjective factorsu201D
could not be dealt with u201Cscientificallyu201D and mathematically,
they could not be considered at all.
were the insurgents doing all this while? Eqbal Ahmad suggests
that overall, they were behaving better than the Saigon bureaucrats
and soldiers – not a difficult feat, apparently. He writes
that support for the guerrillas rested on u201Cmoral alienation
of the masses from the existing government.u201D Accordingly,
the rebels had to u201Coutadministeru201D more than u201Coutfightu201D the
government. Thus the guerrillas were working with the u201Chuman
factoru201D so invisible to US planners.
notes that there are cases like Algeria in which the rebels
u201Clostu201D militarily but won politically — and this goes straight
to the problems ofobedience and legitimacy
 that interested Rothbard.
Liberation Front operated by creating parallel hierarchies
that displaced official ones. Despite the assumptions of US
officials, this was not a case of rule by terror, despite
the occasional u201Cconversion or killing of village officials.u201D
Serious and disciplined guerrillas rejected wholesale terrorism
and laid u201Cstress on scrupulously u2018correct and just' behavior
toward civilians.u201D Their u201Cuse of terror, therefore, [was]
sociologically and psychologically selective.u201D Thus, u201C[s]uccessful
parallel hierarchiesu201D were u201Cgenerally based on extant local
patterns and experiences….u201D
the revolutionaries played to what Eric Wolf refers to as
the u201Cnatural anarchismu201D of rebelling peasants – that
is, the peasant's instinctive wish to continue his way of
life, but without tax collectors, bureaucrats, and feudal
landlords.  That NLF cadres built up an incipient state in the course
of the struggle is consistent with the history of other 20th-century
peasant-based revolutions led by Marxists. The NLF had on
their side the powerful cement of Vietnamese nationalism,
another factor the Americans contrived to miss.
Ahmad writes, the US unleashed total war, u201Cpunitive measures,
and widespread, systematic use of torture.u201D He observes: u201Cthese
wars are u2018limited' only in their consequences for the intervening
power. For the country and people under assault they are total.u201D 
once more consider what the US sought to do in South Vietnam,
namely, to build a state able to u201Cincorporateu201D the people
via u201Cphysical controlu201D and effective administration, while
carrying on an ersatz, top-down social revolution and
making a great forward leap into u201Ccentralized, paternalistic
government,u201D with the burgeoning state undertaking u201Ceconomic
and social developmentu201D; making u201Chard decisionsu201D about investment
vs. consumption, rationalizing administration, rooting out
corruption, and u201Cattack[ing] parochial political groupingsu201D;
and serving as the vanguard of forced-draft u201Curbanizationu201D
by bombing the rural population into new living arrangements.
 One theorist even suggested that the South Vietnamese
state substitute itself for u201Cintermediate structuresu201D
where those were, lamentably, missing.
 I leave to one side the obvious problem that if
the state supplies the intermediate structures, they
no longer seem very intermediate and perhaps another word
will be needed for them.
about 1965 on, American policymakers tried to substitute unrestrained
US firepower for the u201Cadministrative failureu201D of the Saigon
regime, so as to drive peasants into the u201Cprotectionu201D of that
regime, and where they could not provide support for the guerrillas.
But an ineffective and unpopular regime cannot be bombed into
strength and public esteem. So here it is: whichever side
won, the people were going to get a stronger state
than they were used to; absent the Americans, however, they
would not be carpet-bombed. Let us leave to one side for a
moment, the moral and subjective factors that seem to have
been decisive. That done, even on the American theorists'
own argument, a peasant able to see past next week into some
middle term might in fact u201Crationally calculateu201D that he would
be better off under the NLF.
their methodologically narrow definition of rationality and
their neoclassical inability to treat (and then distinguish
degrees of) time-preference, the US counterinsurgency theorists
were thoroughly at sea.
v. Chomsky, 1977
probably worth mentioning the letters-to-the-editor exchanged
between Rothbard and Noam Chomsky in Libertarian Review
in December 1977. Rothbard had written a piece in the September
issue in which he argued that democratic socialism was a chimera.
Any serious attempt to realize socialism would necessarily
lead in the direction of totalitarian rule. In a footnote,
he chided Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman for their skepticism
regarding some chilling statements attributed to Cambodian
wrote an angry letter to Libertarian Review, saying
that Rothbard had misrepresented his and Herman’s position.
Rothbard replied in kind, reiterating his point that socialism,
if undertaken seriously, required violence, brutality and
As a lifelong advocate of a laissez-faire market economy,
Rothbard was not about to defend any form of socialism. This
exchange of letters took place just when former opponents
of US intervention in Southeast Asia, many of them socialists,
were debating among themselves whether or not it was “moral”
to criticize the successor states in Southeast Asia.
view, if the bulk of a country’s people opted for socialism
in reaction to feudalism, mercantilism, and foreign domination,
that did not give the US government the right to wage a savage
imperialist war against them. In any case, Rothbard had long
rejected the Cold Warriors’ claim that all movements against
the status quo, and against western powers that propped up
existing regimes, were somehow parts of a centrally-directed
campaign of communist aggression, and that therefore, US intervention
anywhere and everywhere constituted a form of “defense.”
Rothbard had no problem opposing the war and criticizing those
who came to power in its aftermath, especially since, absent
the war, the outcomes would have been substantially different.
returned to the theme of falling states in a piece on the
Shah of Iran in Reason Magazine in June 1979. Libertarians,
he wrote, are u201Cdetermined opponents of the Leviathan State.u201D
They also have faith u201Cin the power of ideas to move mountains,
to transform society. Even to overthrow an entrenched coercive
despotism. And yet, libertarians have displayed curiously
little interest in the process by which such social transformations
can and do take place.u201D
often treated ideas u201Cas floating abstractions.u201D Hence they
overlooked the need to build a movement of people to carry
forward the idea of liberty. They would then fall into despair,
thinking that nothing can be done.
events in Iran demonstrated the power of ideas combined with
of Shah Pahlevi seemed to be irresistible. It had been in
power for decades. The shah's father had proclaimed himself
monarch and had grabbed about half the land area of the country
for his own personal use and ownership. From taxes and the
proceeds of such ownership, Pahlevi built up a formidable
military machine, fueled by enormous military, political,
and psychological aid from the United States.
the shah's u201Cengine of internal terroru201D — sustained by torture
— was quite u201Cimpressive.u201D
was the Shah now gone?
the Shah had made a lot of enemies, and deserved most of them.
Second, the opposition was able to organize around an ideology
— in this case, Islamic republicanism. Rothbard writes: u201CWhether
libertarians like the fact or not, religion has always proved
to be one of the most animating and energizing ideas that
mankind can adopt.u201D The Iranian opposition u201Cstarted with no
guns at all; it began only with a figure deeply venerated
by the Muslim masses of Iran, a figure who had been exiled
for many years for his opposition to the shah.u201D
of mullahs got the word out that the issue was u201CIslam versus
the shah.u201D Once this point was reached, u201Cthe shah, for all
his money and might, didn't stand a chance.u201D In the end, u201Cit
was the masses versus the army, with its virtual monopoly
of firepower.u201D As u201Cin all successful revolutions… finally
the army, too, becomes u2018subverted' — it is either swept up
in the revolutionary ideology, or the soldiers refuse to fire
upon their own families or upon people very like themselves.u201D 
emotional and value-laden language once more, the ever-subversive
this is how even a mighty and despotic State gets toppled.
This is how ideas effect social and political change
— through movements, through alternative visions, through
struggle. And this is a change that should gladden the hearts
of libertarians, for it shows that a Leviathan State, even
a particularly brutal and dictatorial one, can be vanquished….
precisely the same point as in the two earlier essays, Rothbard
asks his readers to u201Cnotice what I am not saying. I
am not claiming that the Khomeini republic will be particularly
libertarian.u201D This was not to be expected, nor was it the
point of his essay. u201CLibertarian rejoicing has nothing at
all to do with whatever State replaces the shah. It celebrates
the fact that a powerful, dictatorial, seemingly impregnable
State can be and has been overthrown by the force of
an idea.u201D 
it another way, a state crosses an invisible line at the Predation
Possibilities Frontier, and people quit obeying it.
the Bourgeois Counter-Revolutionary
us fast-forward to Rothbard's speech on u201CThe Future of Austrian
Economics,u201D given at the Mises Institute's Summer University
held at Stanford University in 1990. Briefly, in the course
of a talk on the history and prospects of Austrian School
economics, Rothbard took a few minutes to discuss the collapse
of communism, and particularly, the moment when the subjects
of the Rumanian communist ruler Ceausescu quit taking orders.
It was the end of the regime.
if the critics are to be believed, Rothbard u201Ccheeredu201D and
welcomed the triumph of communism in Vietnam, and then
(by the same logic) became a partisan of Islamic republicanism
in 1979. In 1990, it follows, he must have reversed his u201Cpro-communismu201D
in order to celebrate the fall of Ceausescu, and this reversal
must involve u201Ccheeringu201D and welcoming anti-Ceausescuism, bourgeois
reaction, fascist revanchism, or God knows what.
fellow, this Rothbard.
are people who could wander forty years in deserto
looking for the common thread in Rothbard's commentaries.
They could save time, however, by taking seriously what Rothbard
himself said was the common thread; for the simplest
explanation is that Rothbard rightly saw that there was something
to learn from state implosions, something of interest, maybe,
to those who cared about liberty. Such a lesson might indeed
bring a bit of cheer on a cloudy day.
The Mystery of Civil Obedience
one wonders, why Rothbard's critics are so exercised by his
comments on the fall of Saigon.
be that they are put out by his use of emotive language. Perhaps
they would be happier had he done cold, social-scientific
monographs on the subject. Doubtless they would be happier
still, had he presented his analysis in the form of advice
to state managers everywhere. u201CLook here, ye noble rulers
and bureaucrats, true friends of All Mankind,u201D he might have
said, u201Ctake care not to completely alienate your subjects,
lest ye go the way of the government of South Vietnam — a
great tragedy – and from such outcomes Heaven protect
Rothbard might have affirmed the Cold War, embraced US policy
as the standard of global right, and lamented the passing
of u201Couru201D puppet state. Even the Randians might be quiet under
such circumstances. To achieve such high-toned respectability,
all Rothbard had to do was to ignore everything he believed
and everything he had learned about US foreign policy.
Blight of Anti-Communism
before 1975, Rothbard had concluded, among other things, that
obsessive anticommunist hysteria was the key to the transformation
of the American right wing from a u201Cquasi-libertarianu201D political
force in the 1930s and forties to a state-building war party
from the early 1950s onward. As he wrote in 1968: u201Cthe major
ideological instrument of the transformation was the blight
of anti-communism, and the major carriers were Bill Buckley
and National Review.u201D 
analysis of anticommunism as a definite and distinct ideology
was already clear in a memo written for the Volker Fund in
1962. The memo was a critique of a manuscript by Frank Meyer.
The latter had written a rather standard Cold War meditation
on world communism as an unchanging monolith. In Rothbard's
view, Meyer had missed the significance of the Soviet-Chinese
split, and indeed, all other fissures within the socialist
world. Instead, Meyer chose to treat communism u201Calmost as
if it were a u2018thing' from Outer Space, a diabolic monolith
dedicated solely and simply to world conquest of power.u201D
communists were scarcely acting human beings who u201Cmight be
frightened for their own skins.u201D Consistent with such a view
he had managed to read the now ongoing debates between Soviet
spokesmen, on the one hand, and Chinese and Albanian spokesmen,
on the other, as if nothing substantial were at stake. In
Meyer's mind, apparently, the Soviets were cloaking an offensive
program of world conquest behind defensive rhetoric, while
the Chinese and their adherents were doing without the rhetoric.
a summary of recent Soviet-Chinese debates, Rothbard argued
that the Soviet leadership were quite serious about defusing
Cold War tensions and avoiding a disastrous war, or wars,
fought with modern atomic weapons. This was entirely rational
on their part: u201CNow all this is a straightforward, sensible,
candid, and non-diabolic policy, pursued eagerly and consistently,
especially since Russia adopted the Western disarmament proposals
(which we then quickly withdrew) in May 1955.u201D
added, that in an age of airpower, missiles, and hydrogen
bombs, u201Cthe main threat, not only to Communists and
to the Soviets but to all men everywhere, is total nuclear
with the Soviet position, the Chinese claimed that atomic
bombs were u201Cpaper tigersu201D and that what counted in the world
struggle for socialism was popular revolutionary will. Rothbard,
naturally, did not hold back from making an obvious comparison:
u201CIf you see a strong resemblance between the Chinese view
and analysis of the world, and that of Frank S. Meyer, you
are correct.u201D On this view, everything the other side did
or said was a trick, negotiations were futile, and we
might as well launch a war to get it all over with.
a closed ideology, anticommunism was singularly unfit
for dealing with changing realities in world politics. It
was more than fit, however, for sustaining endless expansion
of the US central state and for risking, and finding, wars.
This syndrome — a diabolical universal enemy whose very existence
demanded unceasing sacrifice to the US government in the name
of freedom — had been a central concern for Rothbard since
the mid-1950s, a concern he expressed in Faith and Freedom
in April 1954 and in an unpublished u201Cisolationistu201D manifesto
written in 1959. 
pursued his line of analysis on the relationship between state
expansion, foreign policy, and war in such papers as u201CWar,
Peace, and the Stateu201D (1963) and u201CAnatomy of the Stateu201D (1965).  Here, too, I should at least mention Rothbard's
running critique of u201Cconservatismu201D from 1957 onwards. 
it to say, that having studied the problem, Rothbard thought
that prepackaged anticommunist ideology, both as a theory
and explanation of the world, was a bit thin, by the
time the US leadership managed to bog us down in Vietnam.
Communism was bad, to be sure, and a mistaken choice in social
organization. But imperial intervention, modern warfare, strategic
(terror) bombing, and the like were also bad, even if conservative
anticommunists contrived to not notice the fact.
in its own closed, ideological universe, anticommunism became
a huge obstacle to American thought and the primary justification
for expansion of the central state. Under cover of the Cold
War, the state advanced on all fronts, carrying forward policies
once considered u201Cleftistu201D (but such labels mean less and less
these days). If anyone u201Cwonu201D the Cold War, it was state
power that did so, plain and simple. 
Obedience and Its Alternatives
happens, Rothbard was interested in the problem of civil obedience.
Put simply, the problem is, Why do people who vastly outnumber
state bureaucrats nonetheless obey them? His interest went
back many years, and certainly before LBJ got waist-deep in
the Big Muddy.
1970, Rothbard responded to an essay by Leonard Read, who
had, in Rothbard's view, cut his links to any real libertarianism
by taking the view that we must obey all existing laws, until
we can get them repealed.
 This was not the best line of attack on the problem
of u201Ccivil obedience.u201D Reflecting on the same problem, eleven
months later, he wrote: u201Cthere has never been a successful
armed revolution against a democratic government; all toppled
governments have been seen by the public to be outside themselves,
either as dictatorships or monarchies (Cuba, China, Russia,
18th Century France, 17th Century England)
or as imperial powers (the American Revolution, the Algerian
is more. It was precisely in the 1970s, when the offending
pieces on the fall of Saigon were written, that Rothbard was
working in two areas especially relevant to state collapse.
Rothbard wrote a lengthy preface to the Free Life Edition
of tienne de La Botie's Discourse
of Voluntary Servitude. La Botie was a young French
lawyer, who wrote the essay during his days as a student at
the University of Orlans, about 1550. Rothbard found La Botie's
argument elegantly simple.
sundry Huguenot treatises of the 16th century,
u201Cthe very abstraction and universality of La Botie's thought
led inexorably to radical and sweeping conclusions on the
nature of tyranny, the liberty of the people, and what needed
to be done to overthrow the former and secure the latter.u201D
La Botie built his essay u201Caround a single axiom, a single
percipient insight into the nature not only of tyranny, but
implicitly of the State apparatus itself.u201D That insight was
u201Cthat every tyranny must necessarily be grounded upon general
popular acceptanceu201D because u201Cgeneral public support is in
the very nature of all governments that endure.u201D This brought
up, u201Cwhat is, or rather should be, the central problem of
political philosophy: the mystery of civil obedience.u201D
same period, Rothbard was also deeply involved in his
multivolume history of colonial America, which culminated
in the American Revolution. The series, projected as far back
as 1962, was well under way. It had, naturally, given Rothbard
much reason to reflect on the sociology of revolutions, the
interplay between interest and ideology,  legitimacy, and the creation by American
revolutionaries of parallel hierarchies and their use of partisan
(or guerrilla) warfare.
is Rothbard on the liberal revolution in New York — Leisler's
Rebellion — set off by local conditions at the time of the
Glorious Revolution (1688) in England:
it is important when weighing the reasons for the outbreak
of a revolution, to separate this stage from the later history
of the revolutionary government after it has taken
power…. The revolution was not a class struggle of
the poor against the rich, or of the laborer against other
occupations. It was the culmination of many years of political
and economic grievances suffered by every great economic class
in the colony, by every section, by English and Dutch alike….
In short, this was truly a liberal people's revolution,
a revolution of all classes and ethnic strains in New York
against the common oppressors: the oligarchical ruling clique
and its favorites, receivers of patronage, privilege, and
monopolistic land grants from the royal government. 
this is not the end of the story: u201CAny libertarian revolution
that takes power immediately confronts a grave inner
contradiction: in the last analysis, liberty and power are
incompatible.u201D And so, u201C[a]s soon as Jacob Leisler assumed
supreme power, he, naturally, began to use it.u201D
theme in Conceived
in Liberty has to do with higher taxes, institutionalized
militarism, and arbitrary rule to which colonial authorities
resorted, for example, in aid of conquering French Canada
— u201Can Anglo-Virginian attempt at a huge land grab.u201D  Does this mean then, that for purposes of
discussing the mid-18th century Rothbard was pro-French
and pro-Catholic? It seems more likely that he was rather
consistently critical of state leaders who fomented unnecessary
wars; and if the states happened to have Brits or Americans
in them, that was of no consequence to Rothbard.
fourth volume of Conceived in Liberty, Rothbard discusses
the merits of guerrilla warfare as a strategy in the American
Revolution. He writes:
European-style, orthodox war would be heavily statist, and
would inevitably lead to the resumption of the very statism
— the taxes, the restrictions, the bureaucracy — which the
colonies were waging the revolution to escape…. What is more,
guerrilla war would be enormously more effective; for that
is the way any subjugated people — not only libertarians
— can best fight against a better-armed, but hated foe.
Ethan Allen had already shown this in Vermont, the official
leadership of the Revolution did their best to shy away from
guerrilla warfare.  Note that Rothbard isn't crying about how
unfair it is that great powers have to face u201Casymmetricalu201D
opponents who don't play fair. He is more interested in how
this form of struggle favors u201Cany subjugated people.u201D The
great power, after all, could have refrained from getting
into the empire business.
was interested in counterinsurgency, but from somewhat the
other end of the telescope. Here he comments on Lord Dunmore's
campaign in Virginia:
warfare must rest on the active support of the bulk of the
populace; the guerrilla troop is the armed spearhead of the
revolutionary masses. Its fire is directed in pinpoint fashion
against government troops and installations, and sometimes
against their relatively few allies and sympathizers. Its
aim is to dislodge the rulers from the backs of the people.
Its long-run chances of victory are excellent. But counter-revolutionary
raiding is necessarily conducted in wild and haphazard fashion,
by an armed minority against the bulk of the people.
Its aim is not simply to dislodge a ruling group, but to spread
terror among the people, to injure, harass, and disrupt the
economy. Its long-run chances of victory are slight…. The
more scrupulously the guerrillas refrain from harming the
civilian population, the more solemnly and securely the populace
will support them, while the more vigorous the counter-revolutionary
terror raids, the more bitterly hostile will the populace
become. Short-term successes for the guerrillas therefore
promote victory in the long run; short-term gains for counter-revolutionary
bands anger the people still further and insure long-run defeat.
continues: u201CIt was this sort of harassing force that Lord
Dunmore established on the Virginia coastu201D
 — but he could equally well be writing about Vietnam.
the question naturally arises, Why could Americans not u201Cgetu201D
guerrilla warfare in Vietnam? Why, having won American independence
at least partly on the strength of such tactics,
 could US leaders not foresee what lay ahead in Vietnam?
Part of the answer is the typical latter-day American reduction
of everything to technique and technology. US counterinsurgency
experts actually thought they could pull out the working parts
of guerrilla war – light weaponry, speed, surprise, etc.
— and repackage them as counter-revolutionary commando raids.
Thus they could ignore the entire political and ideological
context of the war, not to speak of other local knowledge
bearing on where the Hell they were.
Americans only understood guerrilla war back when they themselves
were the insurgents; and after the fact, many of them preferred
to remember the war as the victory of the Continental Army.
reason why Americans didn't u201Cgetu201D guerrilla war in Vietnam
stemmed from another misreading of American history: the myth
that a third of the American population supported the revolution,
a third supported George III, and a third were neutral. This
claim rested on a misunderstood letter in which John Adams
discussed Americans' views on the French Revolution,
quite another thing. In fact, the American Revolution
enjoyed majority support. 
legend strengthened US policymakers' tendency to believe that
all revolutions were the work of small minorities. The masses
were inert and manipulable. Therefore, if US and South Vietnamese
operatives could manipulate them better, all would be well.
part, Rothbard loathed state-building imperialist wars. He
believed they were bad for their foreign victims, but also
bad for the people whose state carried them out. On the other
hand, he believed in the right of a people to resist outsiders'
invasion and occupation of their home. See, for example, his
comments in 1969 on the case of Northern Ireland.
who opposes empire is not willy-nilly u201Cpro-communist,u201D u201Cpro-Islamic
Republican,u201D or u201Cpro-bourgeois reactionary,u201D depending on
the ideas embraced by a succession of movements that resist
the empire; he is someone who really does oppose empire.
Neo-, Pseudo-, and Post-Libertarianism
the materials adduced above would seem to give Rothbard's
essays on the fall of Saigon (as well as on the toppling of
the Shah) a bit of a context.
lightly hinted, Rothbard's themes were, among others, state
power, civil obedience, and war. Unlike many of his critics,
Rothbard was able to distinguish conceptually between the
US state apparatus and America. Thus the charge of systematic
u201Canti-Americanismu201D misses the mark by miles. True, Rothbard
became angry at times that Americans could not be bothered
to make the distinction, but even this complaint falls into
the category of cultural critique, and if an American can't
critique American culture, who the Hell can?
has to agree with Rothbard on these things, I suppose,
and for all I care, everyone may re-fight the Vietnam War
to his or her heart's content; but no one can reasonably say
that Rothbard's three u201CDeath of a Stateu201D essays flowed from
any partisan commitment to communism or Islamic republicanism.
In any case, it was not within Murray Rothbard's power to
bring down the Saigon regime. Had he turned his considerable
talents to shoring up that same regime, perhaps writing press
releases for USAID, he could not have saved it, either.
problem begins to withdraw to within its proper bounds. What
the critics are really saying is, u201CThis Rothbard fellow had
the wrong attitude about the Saigon government, and
a wrong attitude about that, shows that his entire
system of thought is flawed.u201D But if someone really believed,
with Rothbard, that US administrations had u201Cmanaged to murder
a million or more Vietnamese… along with over 50,000 American
soldiers,u201D he or she might well take a dim view of the whole
business, criticize it (however mildly), and actually be
glad the damned thing was finally over.
was not exactly alone in his reaction, and it is hard to see
why he and millions of other Americans who had opposed the
thing, should have put on sackcloth and ashes at the end of
an exercise they had not planned, ordered, or wanted,
an exercise they saw as unwise, futile, and criminal.
consistency speaks for itself, even if that quality is unwelcome
to certain latter-day neo- and post-libertarians. No doubt
Rothbard could have cut a bold Cold War figure, churning
out input/output analyses for the RAND Corporation, had he
not rejected such work on both methodological and ethical
grounds. This may be a cautionary tale for would-be u201Cefficiency
experts for the state.u201D And the tale remains true, even if
these parties dream they are somehow serving the rather wonderfully
hidden u201Cclassical liberalu201D and u201Ccommercial republicanu201D
spiritual essence of a particularly successful imperial
would seem to be this: liberal states, by allowing considerable
economic freedom, sit atop more productive economies than
do backward states. With lower taxes, they can still raise
great revenues and assemble superior armed force. They then
wield this armed force in projects that interest them as state
apparatchiks, while the busy commercial classes pay little
liberal states such as Britain and the United States are likely
to succeed in imperialist competition, while clunky feudal-mercantilist
or dirigiste states are not. This is the key to the
much-mooted u201Cdemocratic peaceu201D imposture. Liberal democratic
states get more revenue and win most of their wars. This tells
us nothing about the merits of those wars, and little enough
about reasons for those states' foreign policies. (Hint: doing
good may not top the list.)
ago, John Locke saw the point: u201Cthat Prince who shall be so
wise and godlike as by established laws of liberty to secure
protection and encouragement to the honest industry of Mankind
against the oppression of power and narrowness of Party will
quickly be too hard for his neighbours.u201D Thomas Paine,
too, saw it, when he wrote that, u201Cthe portion of liberty enjoyed
in England, is just enough to enslave a country by, more productively
than by despotism; and that as the real object of all despotism
is revenue, a government so formed obtains more than it could
do either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom;
and is therefore, on the ground of interest, opposed to both.u201D
And Hans-Hermann Hoppe has made the same point at greater
be interesting to look at the ambiguities of Locke as an early
semistatist modernizer,  mercantilist, participant in the slave trade,
etc., but there is no room here, and anyway, Locke has plenty
of latter-day followers in providing a liberal faade for
state activities. They are legion who stand for u201Cfree-marketu201D
Social Bonapartism — the imposing of u201Cfreedomu201D and u201Cspontaneous
orderu201D by US weaponry. That so many Chicagoites are on board
the imperial train suggests that the Chicago School always
functioned as the right wing of Cold War liberalism.
is heady brew and one can easily see why enlistments are up
in John Stuart Mill's Own Lancers and the Bentham Berets.
Instead of cultivating our own garden — dull work at best
— liberventionists have enlisted to u201CSmash Someone Else's
State,u201D or to repudiate someone else's national debt. This
creates a bit of a problem.
can someone do, who sincerely believes that markets work better
than states, that liberty is better than statism, or that
life is better than death? Well, he or she can learn to separate
America from the state, justifications from good intentions,
morality from utility, American political realities from vanished
18th-century essences, freemen from Founders, defense
from empire, and so on. There is plenty of work to be done
and, at the end of it, inquiring minds will be better able
to judge whether or not Murray Rothbard was morally bound
to praise, lionize, or at least remain silent about interventions,
bad wars, and the collapse of various states.
Carl Oglesby, Containment
and Change (New York: Macmillan, 1967), pp. 126–130;
Peter Dale Scott, u201CThe Vietnam War and the CIA-Financial
Establishment,u201D in Mark Selden, ed., Remaking
Asia: Essays on the American Uses of Power (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1974), pp. 91–154, esp. 137.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Death of a State,u201D Libertarian
Forum, VII, 4 (April 1975), p. 1.
 u201CDeath of a State,u201D p. 1.
 u201CDeath of a State,u201D pp. 1–2.
 u201CDeath of a State,u201D pp. 2–3. The u201Cbudding Cowboy
police state at homeu201D refers to the infamous u201CHuston Plan,u201D
now realized in the age of Ashcroft and his sundry Straussian-Federalist
 The word u201Crobustu201D needs a rest in all scholarly
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Death of a State,u201D Reason
Magazine, 7, 3 (July 1975), p. 31 (subsequent quotations
are from the same page).
 u201CSaigon to Impose Price Curbs With Severe Penalties,u201D
Miami Herald, November 20, 1971, p. 22-A (emphasis
 Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, The
Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy,
1945-1954 (New York: Harper & Row Publishers,
1972), pp. pp. 271–273 (quotation at 272-273); and cf. Gabriel
Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy,
1943–1945 (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), pp. 225–231,
and p. 203 for more figures on the increase of the Chinese
 Allan E. Goodman, Randolph Harris, and John
C. Wood, u201CSouth Vietnam and the Politics of Self-Support,u201D
Asian Survey, 11, 1 (January 1971), p. 14ff.
 See, for example, Charles A. Joiner, u201CThe Ubiquity
of the Administrative Role in Counterinsurgency,u201D Asian
Survey, 7, 8 (August 1967), pp. 540–554.
 D. Michael Shafer, u201CThe Unlearned Lessons of
Counterinsurgency,u201D Political Science Quarterly,
103, 1 (Spring 1988), pp. 62–63.
 Shafter, u201CUnlearned Lessons,u201D pp. 65–68.
 Bruce Miroff, Pragmatic
Illusions: The Presidential Politics of John F. Kennedy
(New York: David McKay, 1976), pp. 312–313, note 34.
 Shafer, u201CUnlearned Lessons,u201D p. 70.
 See Eqbal Ahmad, u201CRevolutionary Warfare and
Counterinsurgency,u201D in Norman Miller and Roderick Aya, eds.,
National Liberation: Revolution in the Third World
(New York: The Free Press, 1971), pp. 172-175.
 See Richard Shultz, u201CBreaking the Will of the
Enemy during the Vietnam War: The Operationalization of
the Cost-Benefit Model of Counterinsurgency Warfare,u201D Journal
of Peace Research, 15, 2 (1978), pp. 109–129.
 Ahmad, u201CRevolutionary Warfare,u201D pp. 145, 148,
 Ahmad, u201CRevolutionary Warfare,u201D pp. 157, 159,
164, and cf. 167.
 Eric R. Wolf, u201CPeasant Rebellion and Revolution,u201D
in Miller and Aya, eds., National Liberation, pp.
 Ahmad, u201CRevolutionary Warfare,u201D pp. 173–174
 On u201Curbanizationu201D by bomber, see Noam Chomsky,
American Power and the New Mandarins, pp. 12–14.
Like Dave Barry, Chomsky did not make this up; all he had
to do was quote well-placed Cold War corporate liberals.
 Charles A. Joiner, u201CThe Ubiquity of the Administrative
Role in Counterinsurgency,u201D Asian Survey, 7, 8 (August
1967), p. 553.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Myth of Democratic
Socialism,u201D Libertarian Review, September 1977, pp.
24–27, and 45 (footnote at 45).
 Libertarian Review (December 1977), pp.35–36
(Chomsky) and 36 (Rothbard).
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Death of a State,u201D
Reason Magazine, 11, 2 (June 1979), p. 53.
 Ibid., p. 58.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CConfessions of a Right-Wing
Liberal,u201D Ramparts, 6, 11 (June 15, 1968), p. 50.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CCritique of Frank Meyer's
Memorandum,u201D March 1962, pp. 2–3, 16, 18, and 22, Rothbard
Papers, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, AL. Meyer's
views may be found in his book, The
Moulding of Communists (New York: Harcourt, Brace
& Co., 1961).
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CWar, Peace and the State,u201D
as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (Auburn,
AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000), pp. 115–132,
and u201CThe Anatomy of the State, ibid., pp. 55–88.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Transformation of the
American Right,u201D Continuum, II (Summer 1964), pp.
220–231, u201CConfessions of a Right Wing Liberalu201D (see
#29), and u201CThe Foreign Policy of the Old Right,u201D Journal
of Libertarian Studies, 2, 1 (Winter 1978), pp. 85–96.
 On this aspect of the Cold War, see Daniel Deudney
and G. John Ikenberry, u201CAfter the Long War,u201D Foreign
Policy, 94 (Spring 1994), pp. 21–35.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201COn Civil Obedience,u201D Libertarian
Forum, II, 13–14 (July 1970), pp. 1–6.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CHow to Destatize,u201D Libertarian
Forum, III, 5 (June 1971), p. 1.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CIntroduction,u201D in tienne
de La Botie, The
Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude
(Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997), pp. 11, 13 (pagination
is the same as in the Free Life Editions printing, New York,
1975). See also Nannerl O. Keohane, u201CThe Radical Humanism
of Etienne de La Boetie,u201D Journal of the History of Ideas,
38, 1 (January-March 1977), pp. 119–130.)
 Murray N. Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty,
vol. I (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House Publishers,
1975), p. 434.
 Ibid., p. 435.
 Murray N. Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty,
vol. II (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1975),
pp. 226–237 and 245–268, quote at 227.
 Murray N. Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty,
vol. IV (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1979),
pp. 24–25 (emphasis supplied); and see Rothbard's sympathetic
portrait of Charles Lee, chief proponent of an American
guerrilla war, pp. 34–39.
 Ibid., p. 82.
 On the military aspects of the Revolutionary
War, see Murray N. Rothbard, u201CModern Historians Confront
the American Revolution,u201D Literature of Liberty,
I, 1 (January-March 1978), pp. 29–31, and William F.
Marina, u201CRevolution and Social Change: The American Revolution
As a People's War,u201D ibid., I, 1 (April-June 1978), pp. 5–39.
 See Rothbard, u201CModern Historians Confront the
American Revolution,u201D p. 19; and William F. Marina, u201CThe
American Revolution and the Minority Myth,u201D Modern Age,
20 (Summer 1976), pp. 298-309.
 See Murray N. Rothbard, u201CNational Liberation,u201D
Libertarian Forum, 1, 11 (1969), pp. 1–2; reprinted
in Egalitarianism As a Revolt Against Nature (Auburn,
AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000), pp. 195–198.
 So hidden that only a 33rd Degree
Straussian adept could spot it.
 John Locke, Two
Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (New
York: New American Library, 1965), p. 340 (emphasis supplied);
Selected Writings of Thomas Paine, Richard Emery
Roberts, ed. (New York: Everybody's Vacation Publishing
Co., 1945), p. 282; Hans-Hermann Hoppe, u201CBanking, Nation
States, and International Politics: A Sociological Reconstruction
of the Present Economic Order,u201D Review of Austrian Economics,
4 (1990), pp. 55–87, esp. 76–79.
 See Sheldon S. Wolin, u201CDemocracy and the Welfare
State,u201D Political Theory, 15, 4 (November 1987),
 And now, as if to prove the point, comes what
might be called u201Cparanoid expectations theoryu201D as a worthy
addition to the weaponry of Chicago-style Law and Economics.
See Eric A. Posner and Alan O. Sykes, u201COptimal War and Jus
ad Bellum,u201D Working Paper, April 2004, available at
R. Stromberg [send him mail]
is holder of the JoAnn B. Rothbard Chair in History at the Ludwig
von Mises Institute and a columnist for LewRockwell.com
and Antiwar.com. With David
Gordon, he is writing an intellectual biography of Murray N.
Rothbard. See his War,
Peace, and the State.