The 1st Lying ‘War on Terror’

Murray Rothbard and the Cold War

Recently by David Gordon: Sam Konkin and Libertarian Theory

The War on Terror has been much in the news, and thinking about it makes evident a fundamental fact about the modern state. Its growth is essentially dependent on war and the threat of war. In our time, we see this not only in the battle against al-Qaeda but in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well.

Murray Rothbard exposed the war system with matchless clarity. For most of his working life, the Cold War dominated American foreign policy. Many people sympathetic to the free market claimed that in order to fight the menace of Soviet Communism, we must, albeit temporarily, acquiesce in a powerful state. Rothbard rejected this line of reasoning, arguing that Soviet policy after World War II was largely defensive. A policy of mutual disarmament and a return to the traditional American foreign policy of nonintervention would cause communism eventually to collapse from its inherent economic defects. Unfortunately, American conservatives abandoned the foreign policy of the Old Right isolationists, in good part owing to the propaganda of William F. Buckley, Jr., and his National Review cohorts, aided and abetted by the CIA.

The following books and articles by Rothbard explain and defend his views on the Cold War and its significance. I recommend that "War and Foreign Policy" be read first, but otherwise the items may be read in any order.

"War and Foreign Policy” in For a New Liberty.

Probably the best place to begin for a grasp of Rothbard's views. Gives a general argument to show that collective security against "aggression" differs from individual self-defense. Isolationism is the appropriate foreign policy. Reviews America's wars, from the Spanish-American War to the Vietnam War, and argues that all were unjustifiable. Argues that Soviet foreign policy after World War II was primarily defensive.

“Critique of Frank S. Meyer’s Memorandum,” “For a New Isolationism” in Strictly Confidential

A defense of an isolationist foreign policy, written at the height of the Cold War. Mutual disarmament will make a return to isolationism possible.

The Foreign Policy of the Old Right

Discusses the "Old Right": its leading figures were in many cases not conventional conservatives but classical liberals such as Albert Jay Nock and H. L. Mencken, as well independent leftists like John T. Flynn. Their opposition to American wars is discussed. Especially valuable for the portrayal of the last stand of the Old Right, opposition to the Korean War, which the conventional left supported.

The Betrayal of the American Right

Rothbard's most detailed account of the Old Right. Particularly valuable for its insider's look at libertarian foreign policy in the period from 1945 to the 1960s. Rothbard shows that William Buckley and his National Review subverted the peace-loving foreign policy of the Old Right, in pursuit of an Orwellian total war against Soviet communism.

The Transformation of the American Right

A 1964 article that gives a succinct presentation of Rothbard's thesis of the betrayal of the Old Right. The irrational nature of the "better dead than red" ideology is stressed. There is no need to accept either alternative.

Rothbard on Orwell: Two Essays"

Challenges the view that Orwell's 1984 was an anti-Soviet polemic. To the contrary, the novel was a protest against the Cold War system of building the power and dominance of the State through whipping up artificial war-scares.

Myths of the Cold War

Contends that the usual justifications for the Cold War are mistaken. Communists have certainly been guilty of many crimes, but this hardly makes them unique. The Soviets do not have a timetable for our destruction, and it would be wrong to risk nuclear holocaust to free nations from Communist rule.

Nations by Consent; Decomposing the Nation-State

What attitude should libertarians adopt toward nationalism? Existing boundaries of states are not sacred, and , generally, secession movements merit support. Appropriate immigration policy is discussed, and Rothbard rethinks his former support for completely open borders.

Wall Street Banks, and American Foreign Policy

Indispensable background for understanding twentieth-century American foreign policy. Shows the controlling influence of banking interests on American policy, The Morgan and Rockefeller interests and their pro-war policies are analyzed.

War, Peace, and the State

Contrary to statist propaganda , the State does not protect its citizens from foreign aggression. To the contrary, the State needs to suppress revolutions and foreign assaults in order to maintain itself. The State resorts to total mobilization, entirely willing to put the lives and liberties of its subjects at risk, to secure its place in the struggle with other States.

"Libertarians Must Never Warm to the Warfare State"

A 1977 article that criticizes libertarians who reject a non-interventionist foreign policy.

Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War"

Barnes was the leading publicist of World War I and World War II revisionism. He continued his anti-war activities after 1945, and Rothbard offers a detailed account of Barnes's opposition to the Korean War and the Cold War. Like Rothbard, Barnes adopted an anti-Cold War interpretation of Orwell's 1984.

Books by David Gordon

May 10, 2011

Political Theatre

LRC Blog

LRC Podcasts