A Hardy Weed
As the current US foreign policy adventure drags on, it seems as good a time as any to address a recurring charge brought against Murray Rothbard by sundry libertarians (sic), Randians, near-Neo-Conservatives, and other worthies. Strictly speaking, the complaint is not that Rothbard, alone and unaided, brought down the Saigon Government in 1975; even Rothbard's enemies do not go quite that far. The complaint seems to be that Rothbard u201Ccheeredu201D when that government fell, proving that he was u201Cpro-communist,u201D had a bad attitude about these things, was crazy and immoral, etc.
To get a proper handle on this apparently controversial subject, it is best to begin with Rothbard's writings on the deaths of states.
I. Deaths of States
Rothbard the u201CPro-Communistu201D
In 1975, Murray Rothbard penned two essays on the fall of the Saigon government, a government largely invented, bankrolled, and sustained by the United States. This invention was part of the American project of incorporating Southeast Asia into a kind of US-directed u201CGreater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.u201D  The US had of course objected, in the 1930s, to the Japanese version of such a project.
The two articles on the collapse of the Republic of South Vietnam have caused much angst among those conservatives and libertarians who never managed to question any important assumptions about the Cold War. This angst reverberates down the halls of time. Its echo, for some reason, is with us still.
The first essay, u201CThe Death of a State,u201D appeared in Rothbard's newsletter, the Libertarian Forum in April 1975. It began on this note:
What we are seeing these last weeks in Indochina is, for libertarians, a particularly exhilarating experience: the death of a State, or rather two States: Cambodia and South Vietnam. The exhilaration stems from the fact that here is not just another coup d'tat, in which the State apparatus remains virtually intact and only a few oligarchs are shuffled at the top. Here is the total and sudden collapse — the smashing — of an entire State apparatus. Its accelerating and rapid disintegration. Of course, the process does not now usher in any sort of libertarian Nirvana, since another bloody State is in the process of taking over. But the disintegration remains, and offers us many instructive lessons. 
Thus, at the very outset, Rothbard says in effect, u201CYes, another state will replace the one that fell, but the process itself may prove to be interesting and instructive.u201D The excitement — that which initially draws our interest — has to do with the complete implosion of a state. As for how such an Einsturz might happen, Rothbard writes that tienne de La Botie, David Hume, and Ludwig von Mises have long since given the explanation.
Simply put, u201Cno matter how bloody or despotic any State may be, it rests for its existence in the long-run (and not-so-long run) on the consent of the majority of its subjects….u201D This consent may be u201Cpassive resignation, but the important thing is that it rests on the willingness of the masses to obey the orders and the commands of the State apparatusu201D up to the point, where we see u201Ca sudden and infectious decision of the masses to say: Enough! We've had it; we quit.u201D 
So it was with ARVN, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam — u201Ctrained for decades by American commanders, armed to the teeth by the United Statesu201D — which, in the end, just quit. Rothbard noted that the South Vietnamese government u201Chad no real roots in popular support…. Hence its supporters were mainly only the recipients of American largesse.u201D Further:
A corollary lesson of the collapse, then, is the long-run impossibility for an imperialist-dominated regime to survive, when opposed by guerrilla warfare backed by the great majority of the population. And this despite the enormous advantage in firepower and in modern weaponry that the imperialist power, and its puppets, initially enjoy.
Imperialism, then, cannot win; and we have learned this lesson after the Johnson-Nixon regimes managed to murder a million or more Vietnamese, North and South, along with over 50,000 American soldiers. All that blood and treasure just to postpone the inevitable! 
(I shall refrain from making a comparison with any current events, given the unpredictability involved i.e., whether or not any current resistance is u201Cbacked by the great majority of the population.u201D)
Rothbard also observed that u201Cit comes with ill grace indeedu201D for US spokesmen to lament the looming u201Cbloodbath,u201D should the communists prevail. u201CVietnamizationu201D had been an abject failure, as had US interference in Cambodia. The Ford administration — clinging to the wreckage of the war in Indo-China, was u201Cthe true legatee of the Nixon administration,u201D but at least it had given up u201Cthe budding Cowboy police state at home.u201D 
If Rothbard's first essay provoked consternation in some libertarian circles,the second must have increased it.
Rothbard's second salvo, also entitled u201CThe Death of a State,u201D appeared in Reason Magazine, July 1975. He repeated his theme that state collapse in Indo-China was u201Cexhilaratingu201D and elaborated his interest in it as process. With every mathematically inclined political scientist and international relations scholar in the world (then and now) ransacking history for u201Ccase studiesu201D to u201Ctestu201D their dreaded u201Crobustu201D  hypotheses and propositions, we might well think that Rothbard could be allowed to look at events in the light of some generalizations drawn from political history (but apparently not).
The process by which these states [South Vietnam and Cambodia] have crumpled vindicates once again the insights of the theorists of mass guerrilla warfare, from libertarians such as Charles Lee in the late 18th century to the elaborations of modern Communist theoreticians… that, after a slow, patient protracted struggle, in which the guerrilla armies (backed by the populace) whittle and wear down the massively superior fire power of the State armies (generally backed by other, imperial governments), the final blow occurs in which the State dissolves and disintegrates with remarkable speed. 
Again, Rothbard notes that u201Cin Vietnam and Cambodia, one State has been immediately displaced by another — not surprisingly, since the communist-led insurgents are scarcely anarchists or libertarians. But States exist everywhere; there is nothing remarkable in that. What is inspiring is to actually see the final and swift disintegration of a State.u201D
Those who want to quibble about the words u201Cexhilarating,u201D u201Cinspiring,u201D and u201Crejoicingu201D might want to answer whether or not the continuance of a state, at the price being then exacted by the RVN and US, could be so described.
Again, Rothbard observes that a state that forfeits u201Cmajority supportu201D will fall: u201CIn the end, the ARVN army simply laid down their arms and fled, ignoring the orders of their hierarchical chain of commanders, from the President down to the non-coms.u201D
Now Rothbard expressed another forbidden thought, noting that u201Cthe body blow that these events have delivered to U.S. imperialismu201D was a u201Ccause for libertarian rejoicing.u201D It was a blow to the idea that u201Cthe United States has the moral duty, and the permanent power, to install, prop up, and rule governments and peoples throughout the world.u201D Given this blow, a rebirth of non-intervention seemed more than possible.
Hence the u201Crejoicing.u201D
After all, Americans u201Cwere sick and tired of our long and losing intervention in Vietnamu201D in a u201Ccontinuation of the American policy of imperialism — the Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon-Ford policy — that was responsible for pushing Indochina into the arms of communism.u201D The US accomplished that feat by u201Cbolstering and then replacing French imperialism; by propping up unpopular and corrupt dictatorial regimes in the name of u2018freedom'; by suppressing peasant property and returning it to the imperially-created feudal landlords,u201D and so on. Further, u201Cit was precisely the idiotic CIA-directed right-wing coup against the popular neutralist Prince Norodom Sihanouk that has now led to the Communist regime there.u201D
Free Enterprise in South Vietnam
In passing, I wish to note an article that appeared in the Miami Herald on South Vietnamese inflation remedies in late 1971:
The South Vietnamese government announced Friday that it is imposing price controls to curb rises that followed devaluation of the piaster.
The government also announced that it would start strict implementation of a seldom-used 1965 law providing penalties ranging from 10 years in jail to death for spreading rumors harmful to the national economy or seeking to increase the cost of living.
The death penalty will be applied only in extreme cases of hoarding for profit or causing very harmful rumors, such as that currency devaluation is imminent, a government spokesman said.
Prices of some commodities shot up this week, largely because of speculation and hoarding, after Economic Minister Pham Kim Ngoc announced on Monday that the piaster would be devalued 45 to 55 percent as part of an economic reform package. 
So, on the face of it, u201Charmful rumorsu201D about coming devaluations would have been true, and from this we may conclude that the Saigon government, like any other despotic state, wanted to be able to tax the people via inflation, repress the inevitably rising prices by controls, and arrest and possibly kill anyone who mentioned it out loud.
In this regard, the Saigon sideshow was acting in the tradition of Chiang Kai-shek Chinese despot and Cold War hero to the interventionist right wing (they weren't called u201Cthe China Lobbyu201D for nothing!). Under the economic u201Cmanagementu201D of Chiang and his close relatives, who made up the core of the Nationalist Government, prices in China rose by a factor of 2,167 between 1937 and 1945. As Joyce and Gabriel Kolko put it, u201CIn the end, the soldiers would not or could not fight, and much of the government bureaucracy was forced into graft and corruption. Translated into social and political terms, Chiang mobilized vital potential support for the Communists and melted the possible resistance to them.u201D 
Between 1965 and 1970, the Saigon government managed to inflate by 604%. This was not quite up to Chiang's standards, but it did erode the confidence of bureaucrats, soldiers, and pretty much everyone else. 
State Building in South Vietnam
The key, however, is that had the Saigon government really been u201Cup to it,u201D it would have effectively turned itself into a rather totalitarian regime in pursuit, no doubt, of some rather fictitious liberty to be realized after it succeeded. But I jest, since the Saigonistas were no more about liberty than the communists were, in the end, about equality. But at the time, if I may be so rude as to mention it, a program of quasi-totalitarian state-building was precisely what high-toned US Cold War liberals, social engineers, and counterinsurgency experts were urging upon the scattered attention of the Saigon state. 
Consider what the soft, u201Cwinning hearts and mindsu201D school of US counterinsurgency theorists had in mind for South Vietnam, as summarized by D. Michael Shafer: u201Crapid incorporation of the vulnerable inhabitants of the periphery into the center,u201D brought about by u201Cphysical control of territory and populace; penetration of authority throughout the country; and promotion of economic and social development.u201D And of course these goals entailed u201Crelocation of people to defended villagesu201D — that is, to the so-called strategic hamlets.
Further, in the eyes of US planners, it was necessary for South Vietnam to u201Caddress distributional, racial, and communal problems and remove corrupt or abusive officials.u201D Along with these reforms, should come general u201Cincreases in the quantity of government.u201D By carrying out their own social revolution, assisted by US advice and superabundant firepower, the Saigon crew would win the wavering people over, by really giving them u201Cthe benefits only promised by the insurgents.u201D  (This last point was an especially tall order to the extent that one of the u201Cbenefitsu201D sought was precisely to be rid of the Saigon regime.)
The soft school erred, Shafer continues, in u201Cassuming that leaders' interests are the same as the national interest.u201D Don't we all! Thus they overlooked u201Cthe possibility that for certain elites the aim of fighting is to defend power and privilege,u201D and consequently, the commitment of these elites to reform might be a bit limited. Under such circumstances, u201Cincreasing the government's security may decrease that of the population,u201D driving them into the arms of the insurgents.
Committed to sundry flawed assumptions rooted in the then universally loved modernization theory, the soft school ended with u201Ca prescriptive bent for centralized, paternalistic government.u201D 
Historian Bruce Miroff underscores the connection between modernization theory and counterinsurgency:
Modernization and counterinsurgency were closely interwoven in New Frontier ideology. Walt W. Rostow was a key figure here in establishing the linkage. The Administration's leading theoretician of economic development and modernization, Rostow was also one of its most fervent proponents of counterinsurgency. He considered counterinsurgency an integral branch of modernization; hence, he told a graduating class of Green Berets at Fort Bragg in 1961: u201CYour job is to work with understanding with your fellow citizens in the whole creative process of modernization. From our perspective in Washington you take your place side by side with those others who are committed to help fashion independent, modern societies out of the revolutionary process now going forward. I salute you as I would a group of doctors, teachers, economic planners, agricultural experts, civil servants, or those others who are now leading the way in fashioning new nations and societies.u201D 
According to US planners (as depicted by Shafer), success in the war demanded u201Cthe ability to manage modernization.u201D The state had to make u201Chard decisions: to invest, not consume; rationalize administration; root out corruption; attack parochial political groupings, etc.u201D Further, the planners believed u201Cthat more government is better government. But this presupposes the very issues at question… that government and populace share the same goals that will be advanced by greater government capabilities at the grassroots level.u201D And, worse luck, u201Cimproving administrative capacity has often meant greater governmental ability to collect taxes, enforce skewed land tenure arrangements, raise conscripts, etc. In short, improved administrative capacity may mean better enforcement of the status quo.u201D 
Of course, counterinsurgency theory was a general Western fad at the time, resting on a strong record of failure or dubious successes in Algeria, Malaya, Kenya, and elsewhere. The theorists called for u201Ccivic actionu201D and u201Crevolutionary war.u201D Here, the threatened state, or its allies, would use military forces to seize, transform, and carry out the popular revolution in an approved form. The neo-Jacobinism of the project hardly needs underlining. 
Of course none of this actually worked all that well and the hearts-and-minds gang were soon out, replaced by the harder-nosed cost/benefit folk of the RAND Corporation type, who focused on how to coerce the Vietnamese laboratory rats into submission along the lines of rational actor models drawn from mathematized neoclassical economics, or behaviorist psychology. 
Noam Chomsky quotes one of these writers, Morton Halperin, as follows:
The events in Vietnam also illustrate the fact that most people tend to be motivated not by abstract appeals, but rather by their perception of the course of action that is most likely to lead to their own personal security and to the satisfaction of their economic, social, and psychological desires. Thus, for example, large-scale American bombing in South Vietnam may have antagonized a number of people; but at the same time it demonstrated to these people that the Vietcong could not guarantee their security as it had been able to do before the bombing…. 
Any burglar or home invader could say as much. And one begins to wonder if states are not only u201Cstationary banditsu201D but also stationary terrorists. This certainly wasn't going to win any hearts and minds, but for the planners, if those u201Csubjective factorsu201D could not be dealt with u201Cscientificallyu201D and mathematically, they could not be considered at all.
So what were the insurgents doing all this while? Eqbal Ahmad suggests that overall, they were behaving better than the Saigon bureaucrats and soldiers not a difficult feat, apparently. He writes that support for the guerrillas rested on u201Cmoral alienation of the masses from the existing government.u201D Accordingly, the rebels had to u201Coutadministeru201D more than u201Coutfightu201D the government. Thus the guerrillas were working with the u201Chuman factoru201D so invisible to US planners.
Ahmad notes that there are cases like Algeria in which the rebels u201Clostu201D militarily but won politically — and this goes straight to the problems ofobedience and legitimacy  that interested Rothbard.
The National Liberation Front operated by creating parallel hierarchies that displaced official ones. Despite the assumptions of US officials, this was not a case of rule by terror, despite the occasional u201Cconversion or killing of village officials.u201D Serious and disciplined guerrillas rejected wholesale terrorism and laid u201Cstress on scrupulously u2018correct and just' behavior toward civilians.u201D Their u201Cuse of terror, therefore, [was] sociologically and psychologically selective.u201D Thus, u201C[s]uccessful parallel hierarchiesu201D were u201Cgenerally based on extant local patterns and experiences….u201D 
Here, the revolutionaries played to what Eric Wolf refers to as the u201Cnatural anarchismu201D of rebelling peasants that is, the peasant's instinctive wish to continue his way of life, but without tax collectors, bureaucrats, and feudal landlords.  That NLF cadres built up an incipient state in the course of the struggle is consistent with the history of other 20th-century peasant-based revolutions led by Marxists. The NLF had on their side the powerful cement of Vietnamese nationalism, another factor the Americans contrived to miss.
In response, Ahmad writes, the US unleashed total war, u201Cpunitive measures, and widespread, systematic use of torture.u201D He observes: u201Cthese wars are u2018limited' only in their consequences for the intervening power. For the country and people under assault they are total.u201D 
Let us once more consider what the US sought to do in South Vietnam, namely, to build a state able to u201Cincorporateu201D the people via u201Cphysical controlu201D and effective administration, while carrying on an ersatz, top-down social revolution and making a great forward leap into u201Ccentralized, paternalistic government,u201D with the burgeoning state undertaking u201Ceconomic and social developmentu201D; making u201Chard decisionsu201D about investment vs. consumption, rationalizing administration, rooting out corruption, and u201Cattack[ing] parochial political groupingsu201D; and serving as the vanguard of forced-draft u201Curbanizationu201D by bombing the rural population into new living arrangements.  One theorist even suggested that the South Vietnamese state substitute itself for u201Cintermediate structuresu201D where those were, lamentably, missing.  I leave to one side the obvious problem that if the state supplies the intermediate structures, they no longer seem very intermediate and perhaps another word will be needed for them.
From about 1965 on, American policymakers tried to substitute unrestrained US firepower for the u201Cadministrative failureu201D of the Saigon regime, so as to drive peasants into the u201Cprotectionu201D of that regime, and where they could not provide support for the guerrillas. But an ineffective and unpopular regime cannot be bombed into strength and public esteem. So here it is: whichever side won, the people were going to get a stronger state than they were used to; absent the Americans, however, they would not be carpet-bombed. Let us leave to one side for a moment, the moral and subjective factors that seem to have been decisive. That done, even on the American theorists' own argument, a peasant able to see past next week into some middle term might in fact u201Crationally calculateu201D that he would be better off under the NLF.
Between their methodologically narrow definition of rationality and their neoclassical inability to treat (and then distinguish degrees of) time-preference, the US counterinsurgency theorists were thoroughly at sea.
Rothbard v. Chomsky, 1977
It is probably worth mentioning the letters-to-the-editor exchanged between Rothbard and Noam Chomsky in Libertarian Review in December 1977. Rothbard had written a piece in the September issue in which he argued that democratic socialism was a chimera. Any serious attempt to realize socialism would necessarily lead in the direction of totalitarian rule. In a footnote, he chided Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman for their skepticism regarding some chilling statements attributed to Cambodian communist officials. 
Chomsky wrote an angry letter to Libertarian Review, saying that Rothbard had misrepresented his and Herman’s position. Rothbard replied in kind, reiterating his point that socialism, if undertaken seriously, required violence, brutality and statism.  As a lifelong advocate of a laissez-faire market economy, Rothbard was not about to defend any form of socialism. This exchange of letters took place just when former opponents of US intervention in Southeast Asia, many of them socialists, were debating among themselves whether or not it was “moral” to criticize the successor states in Southeast Asia.
In Rothbard’s view, if the bulk of a country’s people opted for socialism in reaction to feudalism, mercantilism, and foreign domination, that did not give the US government the right to wage a savage imperialist war against them. In any case, Rothbard had long rejected the Cold Warriors’ claim that all movements against the status quo, and against western powers that propped up existing regimes, were somehow parts of a centrally-directed campaign of communist aggression, and that therefore, US intervention anywhere and everywhere constituted a form of “defense.”
Hence, Rothbard had no problem opposing the war and criticizing those who came to power in its aftermath, especially since, absent the war, the outcomes would have been substantially different.
Rothbard the Islamicist
Rothbard returned to the theme of falling states in a piece on the Shah of Iran in Reason Magazine in June 1979. Libertarians, he wrote, are u201Cdetermined opponents of the Leviathan State.u201D They also have faith u201Cin the power of ideas to move mountains, to transform society. Even to overthrow an entrenched coercive despotism. And yet, libertarians have displayed curiously little interest in the process by which such social transformations can and do take place.u201D
Libertarians often treated ideas u201Cas floating abstractions.u201D Hence they overlooked the need to build a movement of people to carry forward the idea of liberty. They would then fall into despair, thinking that nothing can be done.
The recent events in Iran demonstrated the power of ideas combined with interest:
The regime of Shah Pahlevi seemed to be irresistible. It had been in power for decades. The shah's father had proclaimed himself monarch and had grabbed about half the land area of the country for his own personal use and ownership. From taxes and the proceeds of such ownership, Pahlevi built up a formidable military machine, fueled by enormous military, political, and psychological aid from the United States.
In addition, the shah's u201Cengine of internal terroru201D — sustained by torture — was quite u201Cimpressive.u201D
So why was the Shah now gone?
Well, the Shah had made a lot of enemies, and deserved most of them. Second, the opposition was able to organize around an ideology — in this case, Islamic republicanism. Rothbard writes: u201CWhether libertarians like the fact or not, religion has always proved to be one of the most animating and energizing ideas that mankind can adopt.u201D The Iranian opposition u201Cstarted with no guns at all; it began only with a figure deeply venerated by the Muslim masses of Iran, a figure who had been exiled for many years for his opposition to the shah.u201D
A network of mullahs got the word out that the issue was u201CIslam versus the shah.u201D Once this point was reached, u201Cthe shah, for all his money and might, didn't stand a chance.u201D In the end, u201Cit was the masses versus the army, with its virtual monopoly of firepower.u201D As u201Cin all successful revolutions… finally the army, too, becomes u2018subverted' — it is either swept up in the revolutionary ideology, or the soldiers refuse to fire upon their own families or upon people very like themselves.u201D 
Injecting emotional and value-laden language once more, the ever-subversive Rothbard writes:
And this is how even a mighty and despotic State gets toppled. This is how ideas effect social and political change — through movements, through alternative visions, through struggle. And this is a change that should gladden the hearts of libertarians, for it shows that a Leviathan State, even a particularly brutal and dictatorial one, can be vanquished….
Making precisely the same point as in the two earlier essays, Rothbard asks his readers to u201Cnotice what I am not saying. I am not claiming that the Khomeini republic will be particularly libertarian.u201D This was not to be expected, nor was it the point of his essay. u201CLibertarian rejoicing has nothing at all to do with whatever State replaces the shah. It celebrates the fact that a powerful, dictatorial, seemingly impregnable State can be and has been overthrown by the force of an idea.u201D 
To put it another way, a state crosses an invisible line at the Predation Possibilities Frontier, and people quit obeying it.
Rothbard the Bourgeois Counter-Revolutionary
Now let us fast-forward to Rothbard's speech on u201CThe Future of Austrian Economics,u201D given at the Mises Institute's Summer University held at Stanford University in 1990. Briefly, in the course of a talk on the history and prospects of Austrian School economics, Rothbard took a few minutes to discuss the collapse of communism, and particularly, the moment when the subjects of the Rumanian communist ruler Ceausescu quit taking orders. It was the end of the regime.
Now, if the critics are to be believed, Rothbard u201Ccheeredu201D and welcomed the triumph of communism in Vietnam, and then (by the same logic) became a partisan of Islamic republicanism in 1979. In 1990, it follows, he must have reversed his u201Cpro-communismu201D in order to celebrate the fall of Ceausescu, and this reversal must involve u201Ccheeringu201D and welcoming anti-Ceausescuism, bourgeois reaction, fascist revanchism, or God knows what.
An erratic fellow, this Rothbard.
There are people who could wander forty years in deserto looking for the common thread in Rothbard's commentaries. They could save time, however, by taking seriously what Rothbard himself said was the common thread; for the simplest explanation is that Rothbard rightly saw that there was something to learn from state implosions, something of interest, maybe, to those who cared about liberty. Such a lesson might indeed bring a bit of cheer on a cloudy day.
II. The Mystery of Civil Obedience
Still, one wonders, why Rothbard's critics are so exercised by his comments on the fall of Saigon.
It may be that they are put out by his use of emotive language. Perhaps they would be happier had he done cold, social-scientific monographs on the subject. Doubtless they would be happier still, had he presented his analysis in the form of advice to state managers everywhere. u201CLook here, ye noble rulers and bureaucrats, true friends of All Mankind,u201D he might have said, u201Ctake care not to completely alienate your subjects, lest ye go the way of the government of South Vietnam — a great tragedy and from such outcomes Heaven protect us all.u201D
Indeed, Rothbard might have affirmed the Cold War, embraced US policy as the standard of global right, and lamented the passing of u201Couru201D puppet state. Even the Randians might be quiet under such circumstances. To achieve such high-toned respectability, all Rothbard had to do was to ignore everything he believed and everything he had learned about US foreign policy.
The Blight of Anti-Communism
Well before 1975, Rothbard had concluded, among other things, that obsessive anticommunist hysteria was the key to the transformation of the American right wing from a u201Cquasi-libertarianu201D political force in the 1930s and forties to a state-building war party from the early 1950s onward. As he wrote in 1968: u201Cthe major ideological instrument of the transformation was the blight of anti-communism, and the major carriers were Bill Buckley and National Review.u201D 
Rothbard's analysis of anticommunism as a definite and distinct ideology was already clear in a memo written for the Volker Fund in 1962. The memo was a critique of a manuscript by Frank Meyer. The latter had written a rather standard Cold War meditation on world communism as an unchanging monolith. In Rothbard's view, Meyer had missed the significance of the Soviet-Chinese split, and indeed, all other fissures within the socialist world. Instead, Meyer chose to treat communism u201Calmost as if it were a u2018thing' from Outer Space, a diabolic monolith dedicated solely and simply to world conquest of power.u201D
For Meyer, communists were scarcely acting human beings who u201Cmight be frightened for their own skins.u201D Consistent with such a view he had managed to read the now ongoing debates between Soviet spokesmen, on the one hand, and Chinese and Albanian spokesmen, on the other, as if nothing substantial were at stake. In Meyer's mind, apparently, the Soviets were cloaking an offensive program of world conquest behind defensive rhetoric, while the Chinese and their adherents were doing without the rhetoric.
After a summary of recent Soviet-Chinese debates, Rothbard argued that the Soviet leadership were quite serious about defusing Cold War tensions and avoiding a disastrous war, or wars, fought with modern atomic weapons. This was entirely rational on their part: u201CNow all this is a straightforward, sensible, candid, and non-diabolic policy, pursued eagerly and consistently, especially since Russia adopted the Western disarmament proposals (which we then quickly withdrew) in May 1955.u201D
Rothbard added, that in an age of airpower, missiles, and hydrogen bombs, u201Cthe main threat, not only to Communists and to the Soviets but to all men everywhere, is total nuclear annihilation.u201D
In contrast with the Soviet position, the Chinese claimed that atomic bombs were u201Cpaper tigersu201D and that what counted in the world struggle for socialism was popular revolutionary will. Rothbard, naturally, did not hold back from making an obvious comparison: u201CIf you see a strong resemblance between the Chinese view and analysis of the world, and that of Frank S. Meyer, you are correct.u201D On this view, everything the other side did or said was a trick, negotiations were futile, and we might as well launch a war to get it all over with. 
As a closed ideology, anticommunism was singularly unfit for dealing with changing realities in world politics. It was more than fit, however, for sustaining endless expansion of the US central state and for risking, and finding, wars. This syndrome — a diabolical universal enemy whose very existence demanded unceasing sacrifice to the US government in the name of freedom — had been a central concern for Rothbard since the mid-1950s, a concern he expressed in Faith and Freedom in April 1954 and in an unpublished u201Cisolationistu201D manifesto written in 1959. 
Rothbard pursued his line of analysis on the relationship between state expansion, foreign policy, and war in such papers as u201CWar, Peace, and the Stateu201D (1963) and u201CAnatomy of the Stateu201D (1965).  Here, too, I should at least mention Rothbard's running critique of u201Cconservatismu201D from 1957 onwards. 
Suffice it to say, that having studied the problem, Rothbard thought that prepackaged anticommunist ideology, both as a theory and explanation of the world, was a bit thin, by the time the US leadership managed to bog us down in Vietnam. Communism was bad, to be sure, and a mistaken choice in social organization. But imperial intervention, modern warfare, strategic (terror) bombing, and the like were also bad, even if conservative anticommunists contrived to not notice the fact.
Locked in its own closed, ideological universe, anticommunism became a huge obstacle to American thought and the primary justification for expansion of the central state. Under cover of the Cold War, the state advanced on all fronts, carrying forward policies once considered u201Cleftistu201D (but such labels mean less and less these days). If anyone u201Cwonu201D the Cold War, it was state power that did so, plain and simple. 
Civil Obedience and Its Alternatives
As it happens, Rothbard was interested in the problem of civil obedience. Put simply, the problem is, Why do people who vastly outnumber state bureaucrats nonetheless obey them? His interest went back many years, and certainly before LBJ got waist-deep in the Big Muddy.
In July 1970, Rothbard responded to an essay by Leonard Read, who had, in Rothbard's view, cut his links to any real libertarianism by taking the view that we must obey all existing laws, until we can get them repealed.  This was not the best line of attack on the problem of u201Ccivil obedience.u201D Reflecting on the same problem, eleven months later, he wrote: u201Cthere has never been a successful armed revolution against a democratic government; all toppled governments have been seen by the public to be outside themselves, either as dictatorships or monarchies (Cuba, China, Russia, 18th Century France, 17th Century England) or as imperial powers (the American Revolution, the Algerian Revolution).u201D 
And there is more. It was precisely in the 1970s, when the offending pieces on the fall of Saigon were written, that Rothbard was working in two areas especially relevant to state collapse.
In 1975, Rothbard wrote a lengthy preface to the Free Life Edition of tienne de La Botie's Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. La Botie was a young French lawyer, who wrote the essay during his days as a student at the University of Orlans, about 1550. Rothbard found La Botie's argument elegantly simple.
Unlike sundry Huguenot treatises of the 16th century, u201Cthe very abstraction and universality of La Botie's thought led inexorably to radical and sweeping conclusions on the nature of tyranny, the liberty of the people, and what needed to be done to overthrow the former and secure the latter.u201D La Botie built his essay u201Caround a single axiom, a single percipient insight into the nature not only of tyranny, but implicitly of the State apparatus itself.u201D That insight was u201Cthat every tyranny must necessarily be grounded upon general popular acceptanceu201D because u201Cgeneral public support is in the very nature of all governments that endure.u201D This brought up, u201Cwhat is, or rather should be, the central problem of political philosophy: the mystery of civil obedience.u201D 
Conceived in Liberty
In the same period, Rothbard was also deeply involved in his multivolume history of colonial America, which culminated in the American Revolution. The series, projected as far back as 1962, was well under way. It had, naturally, given Rothbard much reason to reflect on the sociology of revolutions, the interplay between interest and ideology,  legitimacy, and the creation by American revolutionaries of parallel hierarchies and their use of partisan (or guerrilla) warfare.
And here is Rothbard on the liberal revolution in New York — Leisler's Rebellion — set off by local conditions at the time of the Glorious Revolution (1688) in England:
For it is important when weighing the reasons for the outbreak of a revolution, to separate this stage from the later history of the revolutionary government after it has taken power…. The revolution was not a class struggle of the poor against the rich, or of the laborer against other occupations. It was the culmination of many years of political and economic grievances suffered by every great economic class in the colony, by every section, by English and Dutch alike…. In short, this was truly a liberal people's revolution, a revolution of all classes and ethnic strains in New York against the common oppressors: the oligarchical ruling clique and its favorites, receivers of patronage, privilege, and monopolistic land grants from the royal government. 
Of course this is not the end of the story: u201CAny libertarian revolution that takes power immediately confronts a grave inner contradiction: in the last analysis, liberty and power are incompatible.u201D And so, u201C[a]s soon as Jacob Leisler assumed supreme power, he, naturally, began to use it.u201D 
Another theme in Conceived in Liberty has to do with higher taxes, institutionalized militarism, and arbitrary rule to which colonial authorities resorted, for example, in aid of conquering French Canada — u201Can Anglo-Virginian attempt at a huge land grab.u201D  Does this mean then, that for purposes of discussing the mid-18th century Rothbard was pro-French and pro-Catholic? It seems more likely that he was rather consistently critical of state leaders who fomented unnecessary wars; and if the states happened to have Brits or Americans in them, that was of no consequence to Rothbard.
In the fourth volume of Conceived in Liberty, Rothbard discusses the merits of guerrilla warfare as a strategy in the American Revolution. He writes:
A European-style, orthodox war would be heavily statist, and would inevitably lead to the resumption of the very statism — the taxes, the restrictions, the bureaucracy — which the colonies were waging the revolution to escape…. What is more, guerrilla war would be enormously more effective; for that is the way any subjugated people — not only libertarians — can best fight against a better-armed, but hated foe.
But although Ethan Allen had already shown this in Vermont, the official leadership of the Revolution did their best to shy away from guerrilla warfare.  Note that Rothbard isn't crying about how unfair it is that great powers have to face u201Casymmetricalu201D opponents who don't play fair. He is more interested in how this form of struggle favors u201Cany subjugated people.u201D The great power, after all, could have refrained from getting into the empire business.
Rothbard was interested in counterinsurgency, but from somewhat the other end of the telescope. Here he comments on Lord Dunmore's campaign in Virginia:
Guerrilla warfare must rest on the active support of the bulk of the populace; the guerrilla troop is the armed spearhead of the revolutionary masses. Its fire is directed in pinpoint fashion against government troops and installations, and sometimes against their relatively few allies and sympathizers. Its aim is to dislodge the rulers from the backs of the people. Its long-run chances of victory are excellent. But counter-revolutionary raiding is necessarily conducted in wild and haphazard fashion, by an armed minority against the bulk of the people. Its aim is not simply to dislodge a ruling group, but to spread terror among the people, to injure, harass, and disrupt the economy. Its long-run chances of victory are slight…. The more scrupulously the guerrillas refrain from harming the civilian population, the more solemnly and securely the populace will support them, while the more vigorous the counter-revolutionary terror raids, the more bitterly hostile will the populace become. Short-term successes for the guerrillas therefore promote victory in the long run; short-term gains for counter-revolutionary bands anger the people still further and insure long-run defeat.
Rothbard continues: u201CIt was this sort of harassing force that Lord Dunmore established on the Virginia coastu201D  — but he could equally well be writing about Vietnam.
In passing, the question naturally arises, Why could Americans not u201Cgetu201D guerrilla warfare in Vietnam? Why, having won American independence at least partly on the strength of such tactics,  could US leaders not foresee what lay ahead in Vietnam? Part of the answer is the typical latter-day American reduction of everything to technique and technology. US counterinsurgency experts actually thought they could pull out the working parts of guerrilla war light weaponry, speed, surprise, etc. — and repackage them as counter-revolutionary commando raids. Thus they could ignore the entire political and ideological context of the war, not to speak of other local knowledge bearing on where the Hell they were.
In short, Americans only understood guerrilla war back when they themselves were the insurgents; and after the fact, many of them preferred to remember the war as the victory of the Continental Army.
A second reason why Americans didn't u201Cgetu201D guerrilla war in Vietnam stemmed from another misreading of American history: the myth that a third of the American population supported the revolution, a third supported George III, and a third were neutral. This claim rested on a misunderstood letter in which John Adams discussed Americans' views on the French Revolution, quite another thing. In fact, the American Revolution enjoyed majority support. 
This legend strengthened US policymakers' tendency to believe that all revolutions were the work of small minorities. The masses were inert and manipulable. Therefore, if US and South Vietnamese operatives could manipulate them better, all would be well.
For his part, Rothbard loathed state-building imperialist wars. He believed they were bad for their foreign victims, but also bad for the people whose state carried them out. On the other hand, he believed in the right of a people to resist outsiders' invasion and occupation of their home. See, for example, his comments in 1969 on the case of Northern Ireland. 
Someone who opposes empire is not willy-nilly u201Cpro-communist,u201D u201Cpro-Islamic Republican,u201D or u201Cpro-bourgeois reactionary,u201D depending on the ideas embraced by a succession of movements that resist the empire; he is someone who really does oppose empire.
III. Neo-, Pseudo-, and Post-Libertarianism
All the materials adduced above would seem to give Rothbard's essays on the fall of Saigon (as well as on the toppling of the Shah) a bit of a context.
As already lightly hinted, Rothbard's themes were, among others, state power, civil obedience, and war. Unlike many of his critics, Rothbard was able to distinguish conceptually between the US state apparatus and America. Thus the charge of systematic u201Canti-Americanismu201D misses the mark by miles. True, Rothbard became angry at times that Americans could not be bothered to make the distinction, but even this complaint falls into the category of cultural critique, and if an American can't critique American culture, who the Hell can?
No one has to agree with Rothbard on these things, I suppose, and for all I care, everyone may re-fight the Vietnam War to his or her heart's content; but no one can reasonably say that Rothbard's three u201CDeath of a Stateu201D essays flowed from any partisan commitment to communism or Islamic republicanism. In any case, it was not within Murray Rothbard's power to bring down the Saigon regime. Had he turned his considerable talents to shoring up that same regime, perhaps writing press releases for USAID, he could not have saved it, either.
So the problem begins to withdraw to within its proper bounds. What the critics are really saying is, u201CThis Rothbard fellow had the wrong attitude about the Saigon government, and a wrong attitude about that, shows that his entire system of thought is flawed.u201D But if someone really believed, with Rothbard, that US administrations had u201Cmanaged to murder a million or more Vietnamese… along with over 50,000 American soldiers,u201D he or she might well take a dim view of the whole business, criticize it (however mildly), and actually be glad the damned thing was finally over.
Rothbard was not exactly alone in his reaction, and it is hard to see why he and millions of other Americans who had opposed the thing, should have put on sackcloth and ashes at the end of an exercise they had not planned, ordered, or wanted, an exercise they saw as unwise, futile, and criminal.
Rothbard's consistency speaks for itself, even if that quality is unwelcome to certain latter-day neo- and post-libertarians. No doubt Rothbard could have cut a bold Cold War figure, churning out input/output analyses for the RAND Corporation, had he not rejected such work on both methodological and ethical grounds. This may be a cautionary tale for would-be u201Cefficiency experts for the state.u201D And the tale remains true, even if these parties dream they are somehow serving the rather wonderfully hidden u201Cclassical liberalu201D and u201Ccommercial republicanu201D spiritual essence of a particularly successful imperial state. 
The truth would seem to be this: liberal states, by allowing considerable economic freedom, sit atop more productive economies than do backward states. With lower taxes, they can still raise great revenues and assemble superior armed force. They then wield this armed force in projects that interest them as state apparatchiks, while the busy commercial classes pay little enough attention.
Accordingly, liberal states such as Britain and the United States are likely to succeed in imperialist competition, while clunky feudal-mercantilist or dirigiste states are not. This is the key to the much-mooted u201Cdemocratic peaceu201D imposture. Liberal democratic states get more revenue and win most of their wars. This tells us nothing about the merits of those wars, and little enough about reasons for those states' foreign policies. (Hint: doing good may not top the list.)
Long ago, John Locke saw the point: u201Cthat Prince who shall be so wise and godlike as by established laws of liberty to secure protection and encouragement to the honest industry of Mankind against the oppression of power and narrowness of Party will quickly be too hard for his neighbours.u201D Thomas Paine, too, saw it, when he wrote that, u201Cthe portion of liberty enjoyed in England, is just enough to enslave a country by, more productively than by despotism; and that as the real object of all despotism is revenue, a government so formed obtains more than it could do either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom; and is therefore, on the ground of interest, opposed to both.u201D And Hans-Hermann Hoppe has made the same point at greater length. 
It would be interesting to look at the ambiguities of Locke as an early semistatist modernizer,  mercantilist, participant in the slave trade, etc., but there is no room here, and anyway, Locke has plenty of latter-day followers in providing a liberal faade for state activities. They are legion who stand for u201Cfree-marketu201D Social Bonapartism — the imposing of u201Cfreedomu201D and u201Cspontaneous orderu201D by US weaponry. That so many Chicagoites are on board the imperial train suggests that the Chicago School always functioned as the right wing of Cold War liberalism. 
This is heady brew and one can easily see why enlistments are up in John Stuart Mill's Own Lancers and the Bentham Berets. Instead of cultivating our own garden — dull work at best — liberventionists have enlisted to u201CSmash Someone Else's State,u201D or to repudiate someone else's national debt. This creates a bit of a problem.
What can someone do, who sincerely believes that markets work better than states, that liberty is better than statism, or that life is better than death? Well, he or she can learn to separate America from the state, justifications from good intentions, morality from utility, American political realities from vanished 18th-century essences, freemen from Founders, defense from empire, and so on. There is plenty of work to be done and, at the end of it, inquiring minds will be better able to judge whether or not Murray Rothbard was morally bound to praise, lionize, or at least remain silent about interventions, bad wars, and the collapse of various states.
 Carl Oglesby, Containment and Change (New York: Macmillan, 1967), pp. 126–130; Peter Dale Scott, u201CThe Vietnam War and the CIA-Financial Establishment,u201D in Mark Selden, ed., Remaking Asia: Essays on the American Uses of Power (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974), pp. 91154, esp. 137.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Death of a State,u201D Libertarian Forum, VII, 4 (April 1975), p. 1.
 u201CDeath of a State,u201D p. 1.
 u201CDeath of a State,u201D pp. 1–2.
 u201CDeath of a State,u201D pp. 2–3. The u201Cbudding Cowboy police state at homeu201D refers to the infamous u201CHuston Plan,u201D now realized in the age of Ashcroft and his sundry Straussian-Federalist Society cronies.
 The word u201Crobustu201D needs a rest in all scholarly fields.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Death of a State,u201D Reason Magazine, 7, 3 (July 1975), p. 31 (subsequent quotations are from the same page).
 u201CSaigon to Impose Price Curbs With Severe Penalties,u201D Miami Herald, November 20, 1971, p. 22-A (emphasis supplied).
 Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945-1954 (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1972), pp. pp. 271–273 (quotation at 272-273); and cf. Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943–1945 (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), pp. 225–231, and p. 203 for more figures on the increase of the Chinese money supply.
 Allan E. Goodman, Randolph Harris, and John C. Wood, u201CSouth Vietnam and the Politics of Self-Support,u201D Asian Survey, 11, 1 (January 1971), p. 14ff.
 See, for example, Charles A. Joiner, u201CThe Ubiquity of the Administrative Role in Counterinsurgency,u201D Asian Survey, 7, 8 (August 1967), pp. 540554.
 D. Michael Shafer, u201CThe Unlearned Lessons of Counterinsurgency,u201D Political Science Quarterly, 103, 1 (Spring 1988), pp. 6263.
 Shafter, u201CUnlearned Lessons,u201D pp. 6568.
 Bruce Miroff, Pragmatic Illusions: The Presidential Politics of John F. Kennedy (New York: David McKay, 1976), pp. 312313, note 34.
 Shafer, u201CUnlearned Lessons,u201D p. 70.
 See Eqbal Ahmad, u201CRevolutionary Warfare and Counterinsurgency,u201D in Norman Miller and Roderick Aya, eds., National Liberation: Revolution in the Third World (New York: The Free Press, 1971), pp. 172-175.
 See Richard Shultz, u201CBreaking the Will of the Enemy during the Vietnam War: The Operationalization of the Cost-Benefit Model of Counterinsurgency Warfare,u201D Journal of Peace Research, 15, 2 (1978), pp. 109129.
 Ahmad, u201CRevolutionary Warfare,u201D pp. 145, 148, and 150ff.
 Ahmad, u201CRevolutionary Warfare,u201D pp. 157, 159, 164, and cf. 167.
 Eric R. Wolf, u201CPeasant Rebellion and Revolution,u201D in Miller and Aya, eds., National Liberation, pp. 6061.
 Ahmad, u201CRevolutionary Warfare,u201D pp. 173174
 On u201Curbanizationu201D by bomber, see Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins, pp. 1214. Like Dave Barry, Chomsky did not make this up; all he had to do was quote well-placed Cold War corporate liberals.
 Charles A. Joiner, u201CThe Ubiquity of the Administrative Role in Counterinsurgency,u201D Asian Survey, 7, 8 (August 1967), p. 553.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Myth of Democratic Socialism,u201D Libertarian Review, September 1977, pp. 2427, and 45 (footnote at 45).
 Libertarian Review (December 1977), pp.3536 (Chomsky) and 36 (Rothbard).
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Death of a State,u201D Reason Magazine, 11, 2 (June 1979), p. 53.
 Ibid., p. 58.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CConfessions of a Right-Wing Liberal,u201D Ramparts, 6, 11 (June 15, 1968), p. 50.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CCritique of Frank Meyer's Memorandum,u201D March 1962, pp. 23, 16, 18, and 22, Rothbard Papers, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, AL. Meyer's views may be found in his book, The Moulding of Communists (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1961).
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CWar, Peace and the State,u201D in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000), pp. 115132, and u201CThe Anatomy of the State, ibid., pp. 5588.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CThe Transformation of the American Right,u201D Continuum, II (Summer 1964), pp. 220231, u201CConfessions of a Right Wing Liberalu201D (see #29), and u201CThe Foreign Policy of the Old Right,u201D Journal of Libertarian Studies, 2, 1 (Winter 1978), pp. 8596.
 On this aspect of the Cold War, see Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry, u201CAfter the Long War,u201D Foreign Policy, 94 (Spring 1994), pp. 2135.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201COn Civil Obedience,u201D Libertarian Forum, II, 1314 (July 1970), pp. 16.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CHow to Destatize,u201D Libertarian Forum, III, 5 (June 1971), p. 1.
 Murray N. Rothbard, u201CIntroduction,u201D in tienne de La Botie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997), pp. 11, 13 (pagination is the same as in the Free Life Editions printing, New York, 1975). See also Nannerl O. Keohane, u201CThe Radical Humanism of Etienne de La Boetie,u201D Journal of the History of Ideas, 38, 1 (January-March 1977), pp. 119130.)
 Murray N. Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty, vol. I (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House Publishers, 1975), p. 434.
 Ibid., p. 435.
 Murray N. Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty, vol. II (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1975), pp. 226237 and 245268, quote at 227.
 Murray N. Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty, vol. IV (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1979), pp. 2425 (emphasis supplied); and see Rothbard's sympathetic portrait of Charles Lee, chief proponent of an American guerrilla war, pp. 3439.
 Ibid., p. 82.
 On the military aspects of the Revolutionary War, see Murray N. Rothbard, u201CModern Historians Confront the American Revolution,u201D Literature of Liberty, I, 1 (January-March 1978), pp. 2931, and William F. Marina, u201CRevolution and Social Change: The American Revolution As a People's War,u201D ibid., I, 1 (April-June 1978), pp. 539.
 See Rothbard, u201CModern Historians Confront the American Revolution,u201D p. 19; and William F. Marina, u201CThe American Revolution and the Minority Myth,u201D Modern Age, 20 (Summer 1976), pp. 298-309.
 See Murray N. Rothbard, u201CNational Liberation,u201D Libertarian Forum, 1, 11 (1969), pp. 12; reprinted in Egalitarianism As a Revolt Against Nature (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000), pp. 195198.
 So hidden that only a 33rd Degree Straussian adept could spot it.
 John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (New York: New American Library, 1965), p. 340 (emphasis supplied); Selected Writings of Thomas Paine, Richard Emery Roberts, ed. (New York: Everybody's Vacation Publishing Co., 1945), p. 282; Hans-Hermann Hoppe, u201CBanking, Nation States, and International Politics: A Sociological Reconstruction of the Present Economic Order,u201D Review of Austrian Economics, 4 (1990), pp. 5587, esp. 7679.
 See Sheldon S. Wolin, u201CDemocracy and the Welfare State,u201D Political Theory, 15, 4 (November 1987), pp. 485489.
 And now, as if to prove the point, comes what might be called u201Cparanoid expectations theoryu201D as a worthy addition to the weaponry of Chicago-style Law and Economics. See Eric A. Posner and Alan O. Sykes, u201COptimal War and Jus ad Bellum,u201D Working Paper, April 2004, available at http://www.law.uchicago.edu/academics/publiclaw/index.html or http://ssm.com/abstract_id=546104.
April 4, 2005