by David Gordon: Making
the famous dictum of Marx: he wished both to understand and change
the world. He endeavored to apply the ideas he had developed in
his theoretical work to current politics and to bring libertarian
views to the attention of the general public. One issue for him
stood foremost. Like Randolph Bourne, he maintained that "war is
the health of the state"; he accordingly opposed an aggressive foreign
for nonintervention in foreign policy led him to champion the Old
Right. John T. Flynn, Garet Garrett, and other pre-World War II
"isolationists" shared Rothbard's belief in the close connection
between state power and bellicose foreign policy.
was quite otherwise with postwar American conservatism. Although
Rothbard was an early contributor to William Buckley's National
Review, he rejected the aggressive pursuit of the Cold War advocated
by Buckley and such members of his editorial staff as James Burnham
and Frank S. Meyer. He broke with these self-styled conservatives
and thereafter became one of their strongest opponents. For similar
reasons, he condemned their neoconservative successors.
clear the basis of his opposition to National Review foreign
policy in an essay, "For a New Isolationism," written in April 1959;
the magazine did not publish it. To those who favored a policy of
"liberation" directed against the Communist bloc, Rothbard raised
a devastating objection:
In all the
reams of material written by the Right in the last decade ,
there is never any precise spelling-out of what a policy of ultrafirmness
or toughness really entails. Let us then fill in this gap by considering
what I am sure is the toughest possible policy: an immediate
ultimatum to Khrushchev and Co. to resign and disband the whole
Communist regime; otherwise we drop the H-bomb on the Kremlin....
What is wrong with this policy? Simply that it would quickly precipitate
an H-bomb, bacteriological, chemical, global war which would destroy
the United States as well as Russia.
To this dire
picture, proponents of "rollback" would of course respond that the
Communists would surrender: Rothbard dissents, for reasons that
will be discussed in detail later. Suffice it to say here that he
thought it obvious that since "the destruction of the United States
would follow such an ultimatum, we must strongly oppose such a policy."
leads to national suicide, what is the alternative? Rothbard suggests
a return to "the ancient and traditional American policy of isolationism
and neutrality." But is this not open to a fatal objection? "But,
I [Rothbard] will hear from every side, everyone knows that isolationism
is obsolete and dead, in this age of H-bombs, guided missiles, etc."
How can America shun involvement in European power politics if Russia
has the ability to destroy us? No longer can we retreat to Fortress
To this Rothbard
has a simple response: "a program of world disarmament up to
the point where isolationism again becomes militarily practical."
If this policy were carried out, America would be safe from foreign
attack: no longer would we need to involve ourselves in foreign
quarrels. Mutual disarmament was in Russia's interest as well, so
a disarmament agreement was entirely feasible.
for objections, Rothbard anticipates that critics will charge that
a Fortress America would have crushing military expenses and be
cut off from world trade. Not at all, he responds:
never very sensible, is absurd today when we are groaning under
the fantastic budgets imposed by our nuclear arms race. Certainly
... our arms budget will be less than it is now.... The basis
of all trade is benefit to both parties.
Even if a hostile
power controlled the rest of the world, why would it not be willing
to trade with us? Unfortunately, Rothbard's arguments did not have
any effect on his bellicose antagonists.
Best of David Gordon