Recently by Andy Duncan: Jess Huerta de Soto: Socialism, EconomicCalculation andEntrepreneurship
The remarkable thing about being an aspiring Rothbardian, is that no matter how much Rothbard you read, the next virgin Rothbard book up on your reading list is always a superb surprise.
The twists and the turns on the route are remarkable; though they are almost always consistently within the same Rothbardian memory palace and universe of thought.
As a searcher for truth in a world of lying politicians, bureaucrats, and technocrats, many of us at first pursue an initial tentative pathway through the Dead Marshes of state propaganda, state education, and other self-justifying political lies, via the guiding ministrations of Hazlitt, Rand, Heinlein, Hayek, and Mises. Eventually, however, the inevitable high pass of Rothbard is reached; it can no longer be put off, or deviated from, despite what the Cato Institute says. But what to read first when faced by that mountainous bibliography? The Bow-Tied and Bespectacled One looks down upon you from heaven and sniggers. ‘Be my guest,’ he says. ‘Pick one, while I eat a ham sandwich with Michaelangelo.’
Obviously, if you’ve read Human Action, you have to go to its ‘sequel,’ Man, Economy, and State. Though that seems a dauntingly mighty effort, particularly when the book arrives on the delivery truck, usually man-handled to your door by at least two burly delivery van drivers, who puff and pant their way up your drive, with their insignia cards being sucked into the gravitational mass of this immense Magnum Opus.
(Thank goodness for iBooks and digital delivery.)
And so the quest to ultimate Rothbardian status begins in earnest. Next up is For a New Liberty, alongside The Ethics of Liberty, which form a delightful complementary pair, all washed down with Power and Market.
At this point the aspiring Austrian may be temporarily satiated, and thus turn elsewhere for a little variety. Hoppe springs to mind, of course, and then Mises is revisited, particularly Socialism, Liberalism, Bureaucracy, Omnipotent Government, and The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, this final one being a delightfully light snapshot of our modern socialistic world, in which music industry stars can go on MTV and speak such inane unchallenged drivel as, ‘I hate capitalism, but I love spending money.’
Despite the remarkable freshness of Mises, you soon hunger for more of the Master’s Apprentice, Rothbard.
So, now it’s the magnificent and monumental Conceived in Liberty, where you have to unlearn and revise much that you had formerly taken for granted in British and American history, seen through the hugely-detailed chromatic prism of individual motivation and perseverance in the face of enormous historical odds, which after 4,000 years finally created a society which threw off the Old Order of pharaohs, kings, warriors, and priests, much to the benefit of Europe, which had to adapt quickly to avoid losing all of its tax-paying population to the wonderful liberty of the New World.
Many who have followed this familiar literary trail from the elegant Manhattan apartment of Mises down to the more urbane Amsterdam Avenue home of Rothbard, past all the gilded creatures of that locale, will know that the next port of call has to be the most distilled Rothbard book of all.
This is the simply incredible Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, in which much becomes clear that was once hidden, buried, written out of thought, or gleefully atomised in the memory hole by ruling bandit gangs writ large and their priestly hordes of intellectual bodyguards who support these bandits and their parasitic Old Order predations upon the rest of us, in return for a dishonourable pew at the trough.
Have we therefore finished our quest?
Oh, there’s a long way to go yet, my friend. Perhaps we need a temporary diversion first however, through Hoppe’s mind-bending Democracy the God That Failed, his indispensable A Theory of Capitalism and Socialism, followed swiftly by the double-bagger of The Economics and Ethics of Private Property and The Myth of National Defense.
Perhaps after this colourful detour we’re ready for some more Rothbard? But where to go next? You may think you’re hardcore by now, but you’ve only scratched the first outer layer of that vast tottering pyramid of Rothbardian books, articles, videos, and speeches, which astonishingly sprang from the resolute and presumably much-battered typewriter of just one single man.
Mises.org spoil us for choice, of course, with their innumerable windows through to the soul and collected wisdom of Rothbard, with most of his books freely available to download, and every audio tape and video tape that can be harvested from a chaotic world up there on YouTube and discussed in depth at Mises University.
One feels like Neo in that final lamentable Matrix movie, where our martial arts hero is faced with a billion Agent Smiths; which one do you attack first?
Fortunately, to shorten your quest, I now know the next one you should read; Egalitarianism As a Revolt Against Nature. It was a long time in the finding, but I finally got there.
Where to begin? As Man, Economy, and State is to Human Action, so you might say that Egalitarianism As a Revolt Against Nature is to The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, though much expanded when compared in size to that tiny work of Mises, with perhaps a little soupçon of Hayek’s Fatal Conceit thrown in for taste.
Although the History of Economic Thought is still hard to beat, and perhaps remains the pinnacle of Rothbard at his finest, I think Egalitarianism has to be right up there challenging for that coveted top spot.
This collection of essays opens in predictable enough fashion:
“For well over a century, the Left has generally been conceded to have morality, justice, and ‘idealism’ on its side; the Conservative opposition to the Left has largely been confined to the ‘impracticality’ of its ideals. A common view, for example, is that socialism is splendid ‘in theory,’ but that it cannot ‘work’ in practical life.”
Pure music to your eyes, of course, as an aspiring Rothbardian. But later in the next chapter, after the usual glorious bubbling stream of sparkling Rothbard, there’s this:
“Or rather, to be more precise, there were from the beginning two different strands within socialism: one was the right-wing, authoritarian strand, from Saint-Simon down, which glorified statism, hierarchy, and collectivism and which was thus a projection of conservatism trying to accept and dominate the new industrial civilization. The other was the left-wing, relatively libertarian strand, exemplified in their different ways by Marx and Bakunin, revolutionary and far more interested in achieving the libertarian goals of liberalism and socialism; but especially the smashing of the state apparatus to achieve the ‘withering away of the State’ and the ‘end of the exploitation of man by man.’”
The relatively libertarian strand? Of Karl Marx?!?
Well, that’s what the Cato Institute would say too, perhaps, but if you persevere it works. It fits. Like a pearly piece of grit in an oyster shell.
And these pearls just keep being strewn throughout the book, explaining how socialism was the wrong answer to the right question of challenging the Old Order, and how this wrong answer has metastasised into the horrific creatures of IMF austerity and world global government that we see gathering around us today, as vampire squid elites keep foisting their socialist paper fiat nonsense upon us, to try to drag us back a few thousand years to some kind of horrific murderous New World Order (read, Old Order) and a borderless global Romanesque Empire.
Soon we will all realise that one of the important sub-definitions of money, perhaps the most important one of all, is that money should be a store of value, and that therefore printed-from-the-Brow-of-Zeus socialised ‘currencies’ are simply not money, but are more akin to Soviet ration tickets. When that shoe eventually drops, the Old Order may try one last throw of the dice with their IMF SDR gambit or their usual joker card, a global world war.
However, these efforts will also fail, claims Rothbard.
The revolutions of the last few hundred years, particularly the Industrial Revolution, have made the world too complex for the Old Order to rule over in the manner to which it aspires. Yes, it can rule agrarian non-industrialised societies, as it did with the Inca Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Athenian-dominated Delian League – though you’ll notice that none of these once-mighty edifices lasted – however the world’s population will no longer stand for such serfdom and penury, even if it currently tolerates a pelf-extraction rate of forty or fifty percent. The ratchet of liberty has clicked, and there’s no turning back the mass-industrial technological clock, says Rothbard.
Even if we claim to be socialists, and allow the state to continually extract a pelf ‘protection’ tax rate from us of forty percent, or more, we will only tolerate a society in which we can have our iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, along with foreign travel, exotic food, windsurfing opportunities, the potential of an exciting career, and most of all some fun in our lives, rather than the endless unendurable austerity, tedium, and deference, of terminal servitude to a ruling criminal oligopoly and its supportive caste of privileged bureaucratic and priestly technocratic tax eaters.
All of what we want as modern people can only be delivered via complex industrial society, tied together with trillions of streams of disparate information held within the minds of billions of individuals. Complex industrial society, and these myriad communication pathways, can only be achieved through freedom and the final elimination of the Old Order, a fate which Rothbard brands as inevitable, in a seemingly deliberate and playful historicist swipe at Marx, the libertarian.
Witness the Soviet Union. The socialists made the terrible still-unacknowledged mistake of using Old Order methods to generate paradoxical freedom from the despised Old Order societal structure; for instance, by replacing the hated Okhrana secret police of the Tsar with the hated NKVD secret police of Stalin.
The world’s socialists were still shocked, nevertheless, when the Berlin Wall came down, despite their ideological brethren having inflicted this mass-murdering criminal regime upon the people of Russia and other countries, with one Soviet agent, Vasili Blokhin, being personally responsible, one bullet at a time, for the murder of of 7,000 Poles in one protracted session, and perhaps tens of thousands of other innocent victims over his career, all of them shot by Blokhin in the back of the neck, for which Stalin awarded this Soviet hero both the Order of the Badge of Honor and the Order of the Red Banner.
At last, despite a cover-up which had lasted many decades, aided and abetted by western governments, the socialist system was eventually seen by one and all to have failed, thus forcing many western socialists into the green socialist movement to escape from having to defend the busted flush of the laughable economic merits of red socialism, which found it impossible to even marry a right shoe together with a left shoe, without first threatening to kill someone.
And let’s not mention the laces. Those were last seen on a train to Murmansk, along with all of those one-ton nails and giant cubes of window glass.
What was best, however, was that this monstrous grey socialist dead-hand construct had been overthrown by ordinary people, as Rothbard had predicted it would be, in a relatively bloodless collapse.
This hated political construct had previously sent tens of millions of these ordinary people to die in its mindless socialist Gulag, a number far outweighing the murderous national socialist, Adolf Hitler. And yet still we see inane music industry stars wearing T-shirts branded with scarlet hammers, stars, and sickles.
The only thing the Soviet Union was perhaps good at was killing ordinary people, exporting Kalashnikovs, and producing vodka; such glory for socialism and the socialists.
However, look at Russia now, even under the former KGB general, Putin? Look what a little freedom did. For example, who would have believed 40 years ago that Max Keiser would now be broadcasting hard money truths from Moscow, while the Chairman of the Federal Reserve would be broadcasting soft money lies from Washington? Or that Russia may itself be contemplating a hard gold rouble, of which we hear constant unsubstantiated whispers, while the west descends into a sea of political paper currency?
Perhaps if Daniel Craig remakes Goldfinger as James Bond, the pivotal scene with Oddjob will be set in the Russian State Depository for Precious Metals and Gems rather than Fort Knox, to complete the monetary inversion, with perhaps a return for Xenia Onatopp instead of Pussy Galore?
And look what a little freedom did for China, which may itself be contemplating a gold or silver yuan, almost in a pastiche of Henry Hazlitt’s novel, Time Will Run Back, a book almost quite literally ahead of its time.
This unwinding of socialism will continue, says Rothbard, until it truly does wither away, to fulfil the misguided dream of Bakunin and Marx.
Naturally enough, Rothbard predicted communism’s fall, in 1974, in the pages of his startling collection of energetic essays, barely contained within Egalitarianism:
“For 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. Laissez-faire and the free market become more and more evidently necessary as an industrial system develops; radical deviations cause breakdowns and economic crises. This crisis of statism becomes particularly dramatic and acute in a fully socialist society; and hence the inevitable breakdown of statism has first become strikingly apparent in the countries of the socialist (that is, communist) camp. For socialism confronts its inner contradiction most starkly. Desperately, it tries to fulfill its proclaimed goals of industrial growth, higher standards of living for the masses, and eventual withering away of the State and is increasingly unable to do so with its collectivist means. Hence the inevitable breakdown of socialism.”
Overall, it is Rothbard’s unquenchable optimism which marks him out. Although as pessimistic as the best of us, in the short-run, when discussing Boobus Americanus or Boobus Anglicus, he is absolutely certain of the long-run outcome of our global societal fate, and that is a future of honest money, peace, freedom, prosperity, and the death of the Old Order, much though the tax-eating beneficiaries of that Old Order will kick and scream at the rest of us, on their way down and out, before we make them earn a living rather than continuously feasting upon the rest of us.
In the end, the productive will slough off the unproductive, and the Old Order will die, says Rothbard.
And so it goes on, with essay after glorious essay exploring all forms of egalitarianism and smashing them all with typical twinkling Rothbardian glee.
It is a rip-roaring masterpiece of a book, and one I’m sure Mises himself would have loved.
For all aspiring Rothbardians, it is also an essential weapon in your intellectual armoury and it will be a boost to your morale if you’re struggling to maintain a grip on your sanity in this currently insane world of hilarious Keynesian nincompoops.
Download it right now.
Reprinted with permission from The Cobden Centre.
Andy Duncan [send him mail] works as an independent educational and professional practice consultant within the quantitative finance industry.