Rothbard Was a Hack

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So says Jason Brennan. Now if I had to judge Rothbard solely on the basis of people’s opinions, I’d prefer the views of far more accomplished scholars than Jason Brennan — people like Robert Higgs, or indeed Ludwig von Mises himself.

First, Bob Higgs:

Murray Rothbard’s scholarship spanned an enormous range, including philosophy, methodology, economic theory, the history of economic and political thought, economic history, economic policy, law, and contemporary politics. I was well along in my career as an economist specializing in the economic history of the United States when I began to read his work. Once started, I never stopped.

Higgs then recalls the letter Murray sent in response to the manuscript for the now-classic Crisis and Leviathan:

I can still recall the deflated feeling I had after finishing the letter. I knew that I did not have sufficient life expectancy to accomplish what Murray had indicated needed to be done. Sad to say, I couldn’t read that much in a decade, even if I did nothing else, much less incorporate all of it into a coherent book. Never before had I been shown my inadequacies as a scholar in such a well-documented way — after all, even the pathetic manuscript Murray was flogging had taken me five years to draft and rested to some extent on twenty years of study and research.

We are not all destined for greatness. I made a number of revisions of my text and my footnotes along the lines suggested in Murray’s letter. Needless to say, I was not able to follow up on the great majority of his suggestions, and I have no doubt that my book was the worse for that inability. All I can say in my own defense is that the book, such as it is, did get finished and published in my lifetime. And my luck held. When Murray reviewed the book for Liberty magazine in 1987, he praised it extravagantly, breathing not a word about the shortcomings he had spent 24 pages detailing in a private communication written mainly for my benefit….

It is not likely that we shall ever have another scholar of Murray’s breadth. In his letter he referred to well over a hundred sources, many by exact author, title, publication date and publisher, even though he apologized for “not having access to the bulk of my books here in Las Vegas, nor to any decent library, so I will have to wing the citations from time to time.”

I was honored to know Murray Rothbard and privileged to work with him in a number of conferences and programs organized by the Mises Institute. I hold him to have been one of our century’s great intellectual figures, whose neglect by mainstream academicians is inexcusable.

So Bob Higgs, whose contributions to libertarian scholarship need hardly be cited, considers Rothbard “one of our century’s great intellectual figures.”

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