The Rothbard-Paul Message

A young libertarian tells where the liberty movement should go.

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Introduction

Earlier this month, when asked in an interview about his views on anarchism, Ron Paul expressed that he believed anarchism to be a “good idea.”

To some young libertarians in the “liberty movement,” this might come as a total shock – after all, wasn’t Ron Paul a constitutionalist and a former member of congress? But to those who understand the true origins of the “Ron Paul Revolution,” and in particular the influences of Ron Paul himself, such remarks should come as no surprise.

First, Ron Paul was a close ideological ally of Murray N. Rothbard, the renowned Austrian economist, historian, and political theorist. Murray Rothbard, the author of twenty five books and literally thousands of articles, is considered by many as one of the most important and prolific libertarian scholars in history. Furthermore, grounding his libertarianism in natural law theory, Rothbard came to the conclusion that government, even if limited in size, represents an intolerable moral evil. The State, Rothbard would argue, violates the natural law by merely existing, seeing as even basic state activities, such as national defense, must be funded though theft, i.e., through compulsory taxation.

Of course, while Paul has certainly not embraced the anarcho-capitalist vision of a stateless society, Murray Rothbard has had a profound impact on Ron Paul, who admired Rothbard’s writings tremendously. According to Ron Paul:

“It would be difficult to exaggerate Professor Murray N. Rothbard’s influence on the movement for freedom and free markets. He is the living giant of Austrian economics, and he has led the now-formidable movement ever since the death of his great teacher, Ludwig von Mises, in 1971. We are all indebted to him for the living link he has provided to Mises, upon whose work he has built and expanded.”

Furthermore, Ron Paul not only recognized the important contributions set forth by Murray Rothbard, but also declared that Rothbard was an essential figure in his conversion to Austrian Economics and Libertarianism. He writes:

“Years before I ever thought of running for Congress, I came across Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression. Before reading it, my thinking was clouded by the temptation to divide these issues and ideas in partisan terms. Rothbard fixed that. America’s Great Depression was a key book in my conversion to pure free-market, libertarian thinking. The confidence I gained with ammunition supplied by Rothbard encouraged my entry into politics, since I needed the reassurance that my intuitive allegiance to liberty was shared by great thinkers. Rothbard taught me to always keep the distinction between peaceful market activity and State coercion in my mind. It served as a constant guide once I was in office.”

1. Natural Law

One clear example of Paul’s Rothbardian roots, then, can be illustrated by his opposition to the income tax on the ground that it is a form of involuntary servitude. When Ron Paul claims that the income tax is theft, moreover, his opposition is not grounded in a cost-benefit analysis, i.e., that the costs outweigh the benefits. On the contrary, he understands it to be a moral issue above anything else. The income tax should not be abolished because it is “fiscally irresponsible,” whatever that means, but because it is a form of morally reprehensible robbery.

Paul, similar to Rothbard, grounds his libertarianism in natural law. Government measures, they would both argue, should not be fought against on the ground that government is not efficient like the private sector. Instead, government measures should be opposed because all government action that violates the natural law is immoral. In a free society, the natural rights of mankind are not to be undermined by the coercive power of the State.

In a just society, nobody can steal a portion of the income of millions of people at gunpoint and call it “taxation.” Nobody cannot murder scores of thousands of innocent civilians with bombs and call it “foreign policy.” Nobody can rightly kidnap and call it “conscription.” The State, especially when it is rich and powerful, thrives by undermining the natural rights of the subjects that it claims to protect. And even the “basic” duties – such as national defense, police, prisons, and the like – that the State carries out are 1) funded through robbery and 2) have been illustrated throughout history, and especially during the twentieth century, to be incredibly dangerous powers granted to the government that can surely cause vast destruction and harm to the world. A necessary evil at best. An intolerable one at worst.

2. War and Peace

Another clear Rothbardian similarity found in Ron Paul can be displayed in his vocal opposition to American militarism. Murray Rothbard once privately noted that “I am getting more and more convinced that the war-peace question is the key to the whole libertarian business.” Like Rothbard, Ron Paul understands that opposition to empire is at the heart and soul of the libertarian movement. The warfare state, as Rothbard pointed out in War, Peace, and the State, is immoral and anti-libertarian. And as Ron Paul pointed out in The Foreign Policy of Freedom, the warfare state is costly, counterproductive, unconstitutional, and undermines the natural rights of all parties involved. And in order for government to be restrained here at home, they would both argue,  the American Empire, which significantly incentivizes the government to expand in power and domination over society and the economy, must be dismantled.

By the way, those that think an interventionist foreign policy can be defended by a true, principled libertarian should pay special attention to this insight. Nothing screams “libertarian” like bombs dropping on innocent civilians, right? Well, no. There is nothing “libertarian” about military interventionism. There is nothing “libertarian” about dropping bombs on countries that have not attacked the United States.

Of all the crimes committed by the State, war is undeniably the worst.

3. Education

Like Murray Rothbard, Paul also understood that education and persuasion are the only means through which libertarians will achieve a free society. As Daniel Sanchez points out, none of Paul’s presidential campaigns were really about becoming president.  “It is an open secret,” he writes, “that the campaign was really about education all along.”  Regarding education as the primary vehicle for the advancement of liberty, Paul himself wrote that,

“To bring about radical and permanent change in any society, our primary focus must be on the conversion of minds through education. This is a task to which Rothbard has dedicated his life. That’s why he was such a willing participant on so many occasions in the educational functions I held for interns, staffers, and Members of Congress. After speaking at a seminar I held, he expressed delight at the large turn-out, saying it “shows the extent to which our ideas have permeated politics and public opinion, far more than I had hoped or believed.”

Additionally, when asked about whether or not young people should aspire to run for congress, Ron Paul is crystal clear: don’t aspire to join the criminal gang in Washington. Don’t play the game. Don’t dirty libertarianism by compromising  it with the power elite. Political victory comes at a cost and will only be a reality once education has been utilized to win the hearts and minds of the masses. There cannot be a libertarian congress, in other words, until there is a libertarian population. Political action cannot bring about a libertarian society, and the only political campaign that can have any lasting meaning is a campaign of mass education.

If libertarians wish to have real and lasting change, while at the same time retaining their principles, then they should, again, educate themselves and persuade others of their ideas. Lew Rockwell writes, “continue to explore and discover, to read and to write, to discuss and to persuade. Violence is the tool of the state. Knowledge and the mind are the tools of free people.”

Conclusion

But in a post-Rothbard era, and in the aftermath of the Ron Paul campaigns, who is continuing the Rothbard-Paul message? Who, if anyone, stands truly on principle? Who should serve to be the intellectual pillar of the young libertarian movement?  I say, the Mises Institute.

After attending the Mises University 2014, I am even more convinced that the educational efforts of the Mises Institute are indispensible to the future of liberty. Truly, there exists no better organization in teaching young people about the Rothbard-Paul message, and there is no organization to better serve as the intellectual home of young libertarians from all over the world. Murray Rothbard, who helped start the Mises Institute, served as the academic vice president during his life. And Ron Paul, an adherent to the Austrian school of Economics, has been, and still remains, a close friend of the organization.

When it comes to understanding the real nature of the State, the Mises Institute is spot on. When it comes to opposing militarism and war propaganda, too, they stand firm as so many other organizations so easily bend. And when it comes to educating the masses about Austrian Economics, no other organization comes close in quality. The Mises Institute exists today as the World’s intellectual home of Austrian Economics and Libertarianism. It does not compromise on foreign policy or on anything else. It does not cozy up to the political class. And it does not advocate for the less evil politician.

It is continuing the Rothbard-Paul message.

Young libertarians should too.

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