Libertarians are often accused, particularly by movement conservatives and moderate free-marketers, of being naive idealists who sacrifice incremental, practical improvements for some unattainable state of perfection. We are urged to compromise with the powers-that-be, to choose the lesser of evils, not to “let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”
In browsing the Rothbard archives at the Mises Institute I came across a 1947 letter from one of Rothbard’s childhood friends, written from Europe, urging Rothbard to support the Marshall Plan. Rothbard’s reply is lost, but its substance can be gleaned from the friend’s response:
11:43 am on July 7, 2005 Email Peter Klein
I arrived in Rome the day before yesterday…. I was very interested to find your weighty polemic for laissez-faire and isolationism awaiting me. Needless to say, I disagree with almost everything you say. I would argue with you only I am afraid that your case is quite hopeless. It does sadden me, however, that a person with as much information as you have should come to these disastrous conclusions. It saddens me that you should sacrifice all ideological and moral considerations (not to mention strategic, political, and economic ones) for the sake of an economic ideal….
Get this straight, all Europe looks today to the U.S. for intelligent dynamic leadership, but they are not and cannot and will not become ideal laissez-faire capitalist states overnight. It is true that many are inefficient, poor, corrupt, and confused; but that is the material we must work with. This is not the “best of all possible worlds.” For the first time the U.S. has to enter world politics on a great scale. We must overnight come to realize the significance of world strategy and the problems of every country as well as our own. If we fail, the world is lost. Never has there been such a responsibility as we have today, and you would have us crawl back in our shells and cry that we won’t play in the game unless everybody uses our rules. Well, when ideas are unable to adapt, to grow, to assert themselves they die the death, and I know that the ideals for which I stand are too important to suffer this fate….
For God’s sake, Murray, wake up!! Today is one of the great crises in history. Don’t let yourself simply be exterminated like the dinosaur because you can only look backwards. We’ve got to find a future for the world that’s not an authoritarian dictatorship and this is only going to be done if the U.S. takes a role of world leadership. The Marshall Plan may have serious failings but there is no substitute offered and we must act NOW NOW NOW NOW. If you don’t stand up and support it NOW you are doomed to be a hopeless academic (of a type I might add that will probably soon be exterminated unless strong action is taken).
Wake up, Murray, and discover what can politically, meaningfully be done and not what the textbook ideal is….”